Altars of Uncut Stones

Originally published April 16, 2012

I picked up my daughter’s yellow spring jacket and felt weight, heaviness where it shouldn’t be.  Clearly she had stuffed her pocket at the park with her latest treasure.

Curious, I slipped my hand into her pocket and pulled out . . . a rock.  Two rocks actually, one for each pocket.

They weren’t gems, either.  No sparkles or beauty.  No monetary value.020

They were plain ordinary gravel, no different than the layer of rock on my driveway.  In fact, the one crumbled into my fingers with the slightest pressure.

I sighed.  She had been toting home rocks for about two years now.  Everywhere we went, some pebbles, gravel, or smooth stones caught her attention and ended up in her pockets.

She has even tried to remove stones from the paths at Colonial Williamsburg and the zoo and once tried to haul away a cement block from the local museum where its grand function was to hold open the door.

I put my foot down about those.

But if it fits neatly into the pocket of her jacket, she’s likely to tuck it away and add it to her “rock collection.”  Perhaps she’ll even give it a name, which usually ends up being something like “Rocky” or another equally creative moniker.

To me, they are plain, ordinary, maybe even ugly rocks.  To her, they are treasured collectibles.

She’s not the only one who finds beauty in simple stones.  God loves them, too.

As they crossed over the Jordan River, the Israelites obeyed God’s instruction, picking up 12 stones from the river bed and lugging them up the embankment onto dry land.  God told them to use those stones to build an altar.

More specifically,

“an altar of stones.  You shall wield no iron tool on them; you shall build an altar to the Lord your God of uncut stones. And you shall offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God, and you shall sacrifice peace offerings and shall eat there, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God” (Deut. 27:5-7 ESV)

Their peace offerings and sacrifices, their worship and rejoicing before the God who had carried them into the Promised Land, may have seemed more fit for an altar of finest gems.

Perhaps their greatest artisans could have finely cut diamonds, emeralds and rubies into an altar fit for worship of the Most High God.

Or, if they had to use river rocks, at the very least they could have chiseled and carved until the altar looked like a marble statue.

Yet, God was clear.  Stones, simple stones, uncut by any human tool, formed the altar fit for the offerings of His people.

Why did God even care about a detail so small?  According to Him, “If you make an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it” (Exodus 20:25).

To God, human construction on the altar stones made them unholy and profane.

That’s because God knew the danger implicit in cut stones and man-made bricks.  The moment we begin to adorn altars with human effort is the moment we shift the focus off of the God we praise.

We become idolaters.  Our worship becomes profane, admiring the human talent that made the vessel or cut the stone.

This is what God accused the people of doing in Isaiah:

I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices;a people who provoke me to my face continually, sacrificing in gardens and making offerings on bricks” (Isaiah 65:2-3 ESV).

Israel ignored God’s mandate and chose instead to offer their sacrifice among garden flowers.  They had rejected simple stones in favor of brick constructions.

Israel wanted to worship God their own way and on their own terms.  His instructions seemed superfluous and unnecessary.

In the same way, God sometimes overturns our expectations of adequate offerings and suitable worship.

He desires the simplicity of an obedient heart.

We think He needs more.  

So, we hold back our offerings until they are “fit” for Him.  We hide in the sanctuary pews until we have more to give.  We think other worshipers, who are more talented and more rehearsed, give gifts more worthy.

It isn’t, however, about being the best, most talented, or most qualified; it’s about being called.  Yours is the offering He desires.

There is beauty in the uncut stones of our worship.  It’s never about the show, never about our own talent or training; it’s not about looking good or fitting in, or processing our worship into acceptable forms—all human additions that shift focus off God and onto human ability.

Instead, it’s about responding to God in pure uncut adoration.

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 © 2013 Heather King

In Times of Need

They gave her some string, a box, some tape and a few other odds and ends and told her group of second graders to design a leprechaun trap for St. Patrick’s Day.

If they’d thrown in a bar of soap and a paperclip, MacGuyver might have been able to break out of a sealed room packed with explosives on a timed detonator with two seconds to spare.020

As it was, these kids designed a contraption that would entice the leprechaun, and then stick him to the floor when he stood on the tape, and finally capture him inside the box.

My daughter described the process to me and I asked her—Did you use peanut butter to lure him in?  Did you have a stick that would hold the box up and then collapse down when you pulled on the string?

“No, mom,” she tells me, “we didn’t have any of that.  We had to use only the things on the desk.”

I could design a successful leprechaun trap, too, if I had more supplies available.  After all, I have experience from all those years as a kid with hamsters that could escape out of the most escape-proof cage and then skitter around the house…until, of course, we laid out our peanut butter trap.

It’s one of those lessons of life, though, the making do with what you have, the realization that sometimes you face circumstances where you feel oh-so-insufficient to meet the demand.

The days are hectic, the to-do list long, and we just don’t have enough time.

The relationships are stretched to breaking, and we don’t have enough patience.

The bills are too much and those unexpected expenses keep dumping themselves down on us, and we just don’t have the money.

The need is overwhelming, weighing down on our shoulders until we’re pressed to the ground, and we just don’t have the strength, or the wisdom, or the experience, or the training, or the spiritual gifts, or the manpower.

I am, after all, only one person and I only have these two hands. 
There are, undoubtedly, only so many hours a day. 
The dollar, sad but true, only stretches so far.

And even though we’ve said it so often before (God will provide) and sang it out so many times (You are more than enough for me), still we feel the lack and still it’s hard to see past the need.

Yet, when Jonathan stood with his armor bearer overlooking the Philistine camp, they were just two guys out scouting a more powerful enemy.  It was crazy to think they could actually win a fight.

But Jonathan knew that whatever the statistics said or however the odds might have stacked against them, “Nothing can keep the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6c).

Nothing can hinder our God from rescuing us and equipping us.  Not our lack of resources.  Not the strength of the enemy.  Not the circumstances or the “facts.”  Not our own weaknesses.

That’s why God’s people could walk away from slavery in Egypt without a battle.

Or why a teenage shepherd boy knocked a Philistine giant to the ground with a stone in a slingshot.

That’s why God built an army for David out of “men who were in trouble or in debt or who were just discontented—until David was the captain of 400 men.”  This rag-tag army came as they were, refugees, runaways, and rejects, and they managed to evade King Saul’s “3,000 elite troops from all Israel” (1 Samuel 22:2 and 24:2).

And that’s why Jonathan and his armor bearer led their nation to a great victory against the enemy that day.  It started with two men stepping out in faith and trusting that God could save them whether they had 10,000 soldiers or just themselves relying on God to rescue them.

Rescue them, He did: terrifying the enemy until they scattered in fear and sending an earthquake at just the right moment.

We just don’t know what resources God will use to provide and deliver.  We can look at our projected income all we want.  We can stare at our day planner and refine the to-do list as much as we please.

We can consider every possibility and take into account the likelihood of this or that.

But if God has decided to deliver us, then deliver us He will…whether by many or by few…and nothing will stand in His way.

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 November 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

More than a Lucky Charm

Normally, I hear her sprint across the house around 3 or so in the morning, and I open my eyes into the darkness and ask my daughter, “What do you need, baby?”

Most nights, it’s something to drink.  Or perhaps her blanket had fallen off the bed or somehow ended up scrunched up and tangled in a mesh of other blankets in the night.  So, she needs me to embark on a kind of “Blanket Recovery Mission.”

I plod along after her into the darkness, filling the cup, finding the blanket, and tucking her back into bed.

But last night she dashed across the house in the darkness and climbed right up into my arms.  When I asked her what she needed, her eyes flickered open for the briefest moment.

She whispered, “I need Mom” and then fell asleep.

My little one needed me for me, not for what I could do or provide, find or fill, but for my presence and love and the safety of that relationship.

It’s so hard to say when it’s easiest to start taking our relationship with Mighty God for granted.

Perhaps it’s when times are hardest and our conversations with Him can become an endless litany of our need and pleas for His help and intervention.  We too often want Him only for what He can do for us.

We need that job, that financial deliverance, that health, that relationship, that restoration, that guidance, that intervention, that advocacy, that victory.  Maybe we even search the Scriptures filtering out everything that doesn’t seem to fit or speak to our particular circumstance or situation.

Or perhaps we value this time with Him the least when everything is going well and we have our needs taken care of, so we have very little to say to Him besides an occasional, “thanks, God.”

Yet, while God always invites us to bring our requests and needs to His feet, surely the desire of His God-heart isn’t that we only ever ask for the drink of water or the blanket in the middle of the night.

He wants us to sit at His feet and say, “I need You, God.”482075_10151336449620893_1263122976_n

I need Your provision, yes.  Your strength.  Your help and wisdom.  All those things.

But even beyond anything You can do for me….I simply need You.  “I need Thee every hour…every hour I need Thee.”

And this is the simple truth of this life: That we need Him like breath and food and water, the very life-sources of this physical body.

Perhaps you forget this like I do at times:  Taking Him for granted….forgetting my dependency and trying to act all foolishly independent.

Like the Israelites in 1 Samuel 4, sometimes we treat God as little more than a good-luck charm that we slip out of our pocket on test days for a little extra help and good fortune.

God had promised to be with His people, deliver them, protect them from their enemies, and provide them with abundant harvests and a life of plenty…IF they obeyed Him and stayed faithful to Him.

They, of course, had wandered and strayed, disobeyed and worshiped other gods.

But when they faced a vast army of enemy Philistines, Israel was quick with a solution:

Then they said, “Let’s bring the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord from Shiloh. If we carry it into battle with us, it will save us from our enemies.” (1 Samuel 4:3b NLT).

They didn’t revere the Ark of the Covenant as the earthy dwelling place of God’s glory and they didn’t begin by repenting of all the sin that had driven them to this place of near-defeat.

To them, it was a rabbit’s foot, a pair of lucky socks, a token or totem, no different than the idols of rocks and stone carried around by the enemy.  So, they decided to drag the Ark out and carry it into battle, assuming that God would take it from there, carry the day, and fight on their behalf.

Even the Philistines revered God more in that moment.  They were terrified by news of the Ark’s arrival, knowing full well that if the One True God decided to fight that day, they had no chance of defeating the rag-tag Israelites.  The enemy knew of this God by His reputation–the Deliverer from Egypt and the God of the Plagues.

Yet, God, doesn’t allow Himself to be used and abused like that—not then, not now.  The Israelites lost the battle and the Philistines carried off the Ark like a war-prize, not because God couldn’t defend His people.  Because His people forgot that they needed Him, all the time, every day.

They forgot.

Today we remember to pray: God, I need You and You alone, not for any thing, but for who You are.  You are all I need.

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 © 2013 Heather King

Recalibrating the Measure

I had been wooed by the digital display and the sleek design, but I should have stuck with the tried and true older model.

The new scale promised to be scientifically accurate because of some high-quality triple sensory design. It could track the weight gain and loss of two different people by storing the weigh-in results in its memory.

So I brought it home from the store, opened the package, read the instructions, dropped it down on the floor and stepped on. Then I scowled.

This didn’t seem right.

I tried again a few days later and then after a few more days, I tried again.

According to this handy dandy super scale, I was gaining about a pound a day despite snacks of yogurt and granola, exercise sessions and water.

I could rail about the injustice of the world or blame the metabolism shifts in my 30s, but how could I argue with such a scientifically accurate device?

Finally, I carried out two scales from the cabinet: The old one with the tiny arrow that scalescrolled through the numbers and eventually landed on a miniature line and the new one with the flashing white numbers against a black display.

They were different.  A lot different.  I pushed the digital one around a bit and stepped on and off a few times.

I’d been using a faulty measure.

What else am I using as a faulty basis for my thoughts and emotions, my plans, my faith?

A.W. Tozer wrote: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.

This, after all, is our foundation, our measure by which we weigh the world, and the filter through which we understand our circumstances.

But it’s not just what we think that matters, certainly not what we say.  We can confess:

I believe God is faithful.
I believe God can provide.
I believe God forgives me.
I believe God is all-powerful.
I believe God is with me.
I believe God will never abandon me.

All that sounds good and right.  We say what we’re supposed to say.  Sing the words we’re supposed to sing.

We might even think we mean it.

But sometimes we’re really looking at the world through circumstances and emotions.  Slowly, without changing what we’re saying, we’ve still changed what we believe.

The Israelites wandering around the wilderness outside of Egypt professed belief in the God who had led them out of slavery.

When Pharaoh’s army chased them to the edge of the Red Sea, however, they complained: ”Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?” (Exodus 14:11).

When they realized they could no longer shop at the Egyptian grocery stores, they whined:  “you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (Exodus 16:3).

And when the desert diet proved restrictive, they remembered: “The fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic” (Numbers 11:5).

They said they believed in God and His miraculous power, but, as Kelly Minter writes in her study on Nehemiah:

“whenever the Israelites faced difficulty in the desert they chose to believe something false about God.  Three of the biggies were that he had abandoned them, withheld from them, or wouldn’t meet their needs” (p. 125).

It is Nehemiah’s prayer, centuries later, that reminds the people of the truth:

You did not abandon them in the wilderness
because of Your great compassion….

You did not withhold Your manna from their mouths,
and You gave them water for their thirst.

You provided for them in the wilderness 40 years
and they lacked nothing (Nehemiah 9:19-21).

But in the middle of the wilderness, with Egypt behind them and the unknown ahead, without a meal plan or a guaranteed buffet, Israel believed false things about God.

And I get that.

It’s hard to see the truth when our eyes are shut tight to the wonder of God or our bad attitude is crowding out the glory from our field of vision.

We’ve decided we’re stuck.
We’ve determined to feel unhappy.
We’ve felt cheated and gypped out of what we really want.

So we just rack up more and more circumstantial evidence, cementing what we feel.

And we believe it.  God can’t use this situation.  God abandoned me here.  God is withholding from me.  God can’t rescue, save or provide.  God doesn’t know what He’s doing.

That’s false evidence, a faulty measure, a shaky foundation.

Today, let’s pray for God’s eye-opening grace, for His perspective, for a reminder of His goodness, for revelations of truth.  Just like Nehemiah did, let’s recount the goodness of God rather than letting our dissatisfaction or hurt determine what we see and what we believe.

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 November 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

Dumbo Always Makes Me Cry

Dumbo gets me ever time.  It’s the one Disney movie I remember bawling at as a kid. I haven’t gotten over it either, not after all these years.

Once one of my girls found a storybook at the library about Dumbo.  She checked it out and then climbed up in my lap at home so I could read it to her. At first it was easy.  Baby elephant with big ears . . . Blah blah blah . . .

Everyone makes fun of him, mocking and taunting (sniffle, sniffle).

The mommy tries to defend him and they lock her up.  Dumbo gets dragged away from her, their trunks locked in embrace until the last possible second . . .

Someone please pass the tissues!  I just can’t do this story without tears.

In fact, it’s hard for me to do this story at all.  I sent the book back to the library ahead of time and I can’t bring myself to watch the movie.  My response is always so intense.

Sure it’s a cartoon elephant who ultimately flies and makes friends, but it’s still a child hurt by the cruelty of others and taken away from his mama!

In Scripture, we see people reacting even more intensely than how I snatch at tissues at the slightest Dumbo provocation.  Not because of a fictional scenario, though.

They are hearing God’s Word.

Eighteen-year-old Josiah, for example, was king of Judah when a member of his court went to the temple to perform some administrative tasks.  There he met the High Priest, who announced that he “happened” to have found the Book of the Law.

So, the royal secretary read it and then read it aloud to King Josiah:

“When the king heard what was written in the book, God’s Revelation, he ripped his robes in dismay. And then he called for Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Acbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the royal secretary, and Asaiah the king’s personal aide. He ordered them all: “Go and pray to God for me and for this people—for all Judah! Find out what we must do in response to what is written in this book that has just been found!” (2 Kings 22:11-13 MSG).

Josiah knew that God’s Word requires a response.

In the same way, when the exiles returned to Jerusalem and stood inside the rebuilt walls of the city, Ezra the High Priest read the Book of the Law of Moses to everyone.  Men and women and kids old enough to understood stood from morning until lunch time listening to him read Scripture aloud.

Just God’s Word.  And nothing else.  For hours and hours.

They didn’t yawn, tune it out, roll their eyes, poke their neighbor, or skip attending so they could do chores or kick back with the latest release of ancient Middle-eastern epic poetry.

Instead, “Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen,’ lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground” (Nehemiah 8:5-6).

At first, the people were filled with remorse and driven to repent.  Yet, Nehemiah (their governor) and the Levites (their priests) encouraged them to celebrate instead: “And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them” (Nehemiah 8:12 ESV).

Their response to Scripture was emotional and intense.

There was true repentance and grief over how their sins had broken the heart of God.

There was a hunger for more and the willingness to stay as long as it took to hear what God had to say.

There was passionate worship with shouts of “Amen” and bowing low to the ground in awe of Mighty God.

There was joy and celebration because “they had understood the words that were declared to them.”

 How do you respond to God’s Word?

If we pick it up and read it with unemotional disinterest or with a bored and distracted mind we are missing it!

We are missing out on all the power of Scripture to revolutionize our hearts and minds, driving us to repentance, inciting us to intensely passionate worship and filling us with the kind of joy that makes us want to tell everyone what we’ve learned.

Scripture can’t be a mandatory item on our to-do list or an occasional emotional pick-me-up we drag off the shelves and dust off anytime life gets hard.

It’s got to be life and breath and food and drink to us because it holds God’s very own words, so active and relevant in our lives!  As you read, pray and ask God, “How do you want me to respond to this?”

Maybe you’ll need some of my tissues or maybe you’ll dance, but either way you’ll be giving God’s Word the response it deserves.

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, 06/09/2012: Searching for Water in the Desert

Hiding the Word:

For the last few days, we’ve been waving at each other from the rear view mirror of our cars.

At least that’s how it feels.  My husband is performing in a show for the next two weeks.  The girls and I have been flitting here and there to concerts, day trips, birthday parties, doctor’s appointments and more.  Plus we’ve started rehearsals for a show of our own.

I kiss my husband goodbye in the morning before he grabs his bagged lunch from the counter.  The next thing I know, I’m waking up to the sound of his car pulling into the driveway past my bedtime.

It’s okay.  It’s temporary.  His show will end.  Our summer groove will settle into place.  We’ll have other weeks of craziness, but nights of rest as well.

But just for today, just for this moment, I am thinking how nice it would be to chat with him about his day and talk about how all this whirlwind of life is going.  If we could talk without children interrupting, fighting, or protesting their bedtime routine, even better.

It’s why I would have failed as a Navy wife–my need for the continuance of connection.  One night without the phone call after his work day, one day when he’s up early and home late, and I miss my husband.  I make determined efforts to sit by his side and hear what happened in his life that day.

Because if you don’t make the time, it generally doesn’t just happen on its own.

How long can you go before you miss God?  How many days can slip past before you feel the void of His presence and mourn the loss of connection with Him?

If we’re walking in intimacy with our God, shouldn’t we miss Him the moment we’ve started a day without prayer or the instant we’ve flown past our quiet time?

On the busiest days, when a snack (preferably chocolate) and mindless television seem the answer to my tired body and exhausted mind, that’s exactly when I long for God the most. Because if I don’t make the time, it doesn’t just magically happen.

It’s the day when I missed my afternoon cup of tea over Scripture because I’m out and about with frenetic activity that I flop into my dining room chair in the first moments after my kids’ bedtime.  I take one long indulgent sip sweet hot tea, open up my Bible and pray, “Dear Jesus, how I’m desperate for You today.  Pleas meet me in this place.”

Since life is crazy, I’ve chosen a verse for the week that reminds us all of how desperately we should seek after intimacy with God:

O God, you are my God;
    I earnestly search for you.
My soul thirsts for you;
    my whole body longs for you
in this parched and weary land
    where there is no water
(Psalm 63:1 NLT)

This time with God isn’t a luxury.  It’s not a bonus, an extra, an amenity, or a perk.

It’s life itself.  It’s as simple as desperation for water for a soul in the desert.

Let’s seek Him earnestly this week, making it an active and engaged pursuit of His presence.  Making it a priority, not just nonchalantly hoping a few minutes of unstructured time will show up in our day.  Because if we don’t make it happen, it never will.

Weekend Rerun:

Well-Hunting in the Desert

Originally posted on July 20, 2011

 

“Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs”
(Isaiah 35:6-7).

When we first moved into this house, we quickly discovered something unnoticed during the walk-through or inspection.  The water smelled like rotten eggs. As a result, I was brushing my teeth with bottled water and holding my breath while taking a shower.

Like any good 21st century homeowners, we Google-searched our way into solutions and scoured the Internet for answers.  Which we found.  Simply open the top of our well and shock the water with a $1 jug of bleach.

Sounded easy.  Until we realized that somewhere on this half acre of land is the top to a well that we could not find.  We knew it had to be there.  We had running water and didn’t pay the city for it.  We consulted drawings of our property and sheepishly hinted to the water specialist (whom we had to call since we couldn’t fix the stinky water ourselves, having not found the well), that we really would like to know where the well was hidden on this land of ours.  He wasn’t helpful.

We have a guess as to where it might be, but we are in some ways still well-hunters, searching for the source of our water, assuming its presence without seeing it ourselves.

I’ve been well-hunting recently in real life, too.  Like Hagar, wandering in the wilderness, running low on provisions, hopelessly lost and not able to go back and yet not certain where to go instead. Out there in her wilderness, “God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water” (Genesis 21:19).

“Open my eyes,” I’ve prayed, “to the well of your provision, to the fountain of Your presence, to the water of sustenance and hope. I want to see the well You have provided in this desert place.”

Because I’m parched and yet I feel like I’m drowning.

It’s so often God’s way to bring water and with it so much more to those in His care.

To Hagar, a well in the desert that she hadn’t seen before.

To Elijah, “bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water” to sustain him on a 40-day walk to the Mountain of God (1 Kings 19:6).

To the Israelites who complained, “there is no water to drink!,” He brought forth water from rock.

For the redeemed, He promises that “water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs” (Isaiah 35:6-7).

To the woman sitting next to a well with a jar on her shoulder, Living Water drawn up even without a bucket (John 4:10).

Out of nothing, amidst wilderness and desert, even burning sand, He brings water that heals, sustains, provides, and gives life eternal.  He brings it in abundance with bubbling springs, streams filled so quickly that they are pooling, water we could drink that would satisfy us forever.  All out of nothing.

We could spend our lives sitting by clear-running streams of water, never risking the travel through the valley.  We could pitch our tents there by the known source of water and never lose sight of the well, never grow uncomfortable, never walk far enough away to be uncertain of provision, never venture one step into the wilderness.

But we’d never make it to the Mountain of God like Elijah and the Israelites.  Never know the God Who Sees like Hagar.  Never know the Giver of Living Water like the woman at the well.

So, as we scan the horizon and see only barren land, rocks of gray and dusty earth cracked from lack of rain, we search for the well.  It’s there.  Maybe hidden now so that we cannot see, but God works in the hidden places to bring us provision at the exact moment of our need.

David searched for the well in the desert.  He wrote:

“You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1).

and

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1-2)

David, my fellow well-hunter, knew the best way to find the hidden water, even when his soul was downcast, even when he thirsted for God’s presence like a deer dehydrated after too long a journey away from the stream.

  • Put your hope in God.
  • Praise Him even in sorrow.
  • Remember what God has done.

He says: Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.  My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you (Psalm 42:5-6).

Years ago, Caedmon’s Call sang these words: “Down in the valley, dying of thirst.  Down in the valley, it seems that I’m at my worst.  My consolation is that You baptize this earth when I’m down in the valley.  Valleys fill first.”

Valleys fill first, my friend.  When God brings the water, when He rains down “showers of blessing” in their season (Ezekiel 34:26), the valley is where you will want to be so that you can fully receive all that He pours over your head.

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.

I’m Sorry: Lessons in the Art of Apologizing

As a girl, I think I read Lucy Maud Montgomery’s whole Anne of Green Gables series at least ten times.  My friends and I used to watch the movies together and even gave each other nicknames from the story.  To this day, my friend still writes notes addressed to me as “Anne” that are signed, “Diana.”

There’s a moment in the movie when Gilbert pleads for Anne’s forgiveness and says, “I’m sorry” in his Canadian accent with a puppy-dog look in his eyes.  That always sent us into giggles, a whole room full of middle school girls just tickled to pieces by his apology.

I can’t say for sure why the story of Anne has been on my mind so much lately or why I’ve been dying to watch the movies again after more than a decade.  But maybe it’s because of Gilbert’s, “I’m sorry” and the fact that those are words we’ve been hearing and saying around my house a lot lately.

Now that my baby girl is two-and-a-half, we’ve been trying to teach her the principles of personal responsibility and forgiveness. She’ll stomp her way out of her bedroom with her arms crossed tightly across her chest and her eyebrows crinkled in anger.  Then she’ll tattle.  “Lauren jumped and hit me on my arm.  Victoria dropped her book and it hit me on the head.”

Usually, it’s all just an accident, a mishap resulting from too much silliness at bedtime.

Whatever the circumstance, purposeful hurt, accident, or misunderstanding, my toddler feels the need to receive justice and isn’t in the mood to give grace.

So, we make a big deal out of demonstrating a proper apology to her.  The offender looks her in the eye and says very clearly, “I’m sorry for . . . ” and then hugs her to seal the reconciliation, which she normally rejects.  She’d prefer to feel angry for a while.

The goal, ultimately, is to teach her that when she pushes others or knocks over her sister’s Lego tower or messes up their projects, she needs to say, “I”m sorry” in just that same way.

We’re still working on that part.

This is all a matter of grace. It’s learning that sometimes we mess up and hurt others and we need to own up to that.  There are few things more humbling—and downright hard—then saying, “That was my fault.  I was wrong.  I’m sorry.”

Yet, grace is much easier to give when we’ve been the recipient of grace ourselves.  Likewise, it’s a little bit easier to apologize when we realize we aren’t the only ones who make mistakes sometimes.

It’s all a matter of remembering what’s been done for us already.

God makes this point throughout Scripture, reminding the nation of Israel often to remember where they came from, what they’d been through, and how God had rescued them.  That national memory needed to impact how they treated others, particularly the poor, oppressed, and weakest among them.

God said:

“You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21).

“You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34).

“You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today”
(Deuteronomy 15:15)

“Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt
(Deuteronomy 10:19).

God reminded them all the time that they were slaves in Egypt, toiling hopelessly with no freedom or self-determination.  Their sons were murdered at birth.  Their worship hindered.  For 400 years, they had been the oppressed people.

Then God rescued them and blessed them.  He led them to the Promised Land and gave them victory.

So, remember, He said, to treat foreigners, the poor, widows, and orphans well by blessing them and loving them.  Why?  Because that used to be you.

It’s no surprise, then, that Paul picks up a similar theme in the New Testament, this time reminding new believers to forgive others because Christ had delivered them and forgiven them in the same way.

Paul wrote:

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

and

bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive
(Colossians 3:13).

The nation of Israel had no excuse for treating foreigners poorly, because they had spent centuries being mistreated as foreign slaves in Egypt.

In the same way, we who were once slaves to sin, who have been forgiven, who Christ died for so graciously, have no excuse for not forgiving others.  God overlooked the fact that we didn’t deserve it.  He put aside the issue of whether some would even accept it, and He chose to give grace any way.  So must we.

We model apologizing and forgiveness for my two-year-old, hoping that she’ll learn these principles of grace.  That’s a modeling job we all should be taking on in our homes, at our jobs, with our friends, in our ministries, and in the community.  We show others that we’ve received grace, so we give grace.  We forgive, just as God in Christ forgave us.

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

Altars of Uncut Stones or the Beauty of Simple Obedience

I picked up my daughter’s yellow spring jacket and felt weight, heaviness where it shouldn’t be.  Clearly she had stuffed her pocket at the park with her latest treasure.

Curious about her new discovery, I slipped my hand into her pocket and pulled out . . . a rock.  Two rocks actually, one for each pocket.

They weren’t gems, either.  No sparkles or beauty.  No monetary value.

They were plain ordinary gravel, no different than the layer of rock on my driveway.  In fact, the one crumbled into my fingers with the slightest pressure.

I sighed.  She had been toting home rocks for about two years now.  Everywhere we went, some pebbles, gravel, or smooth stones caught her attention and ended up in her pockets.

She has even tried to remove stones from the paths at Colonial Williamsburg and the zoo and once tried to carry a cement block away from the local museum where its grand function was to hold open the door.

I put my foot down about those.

But if it fits neatly into the pocket of her jacket, she’s likely to tuck it away where I can’t see and add it to her “rock collection.”  Perhaps she’ll even give it a name, which usually ends up being something like “Rocky” or another equally creative moniker.

I made the mistake of tossing “Rocky the First” back into our garden when I discovered it on her dresser.  She cried.  She searched the back garden for a glimpse of him and, finding him, carried Rocky right back inside.

To me, it was an ugly rock.  To her it was a treasured part of her collection, more like a pet than a simple object.

She’s not the only one who finds beauty in simple stones.  God loves them, too.

As they crossed over the Jordan River, the Israelites obeyed God’s instruction, picking up 12 stones from the river bed and lugging them up the embankment onto dry land.  God told them to use those stones to build an altar.

More specifically,

“an altar of stones.  You shall wield no iron tool on them; you shall build an altar to the Lord your God of uncut stones. And you shall offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God, and you shall sacrifice peace offerings and shall eat there, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God” (Deut. 27:5-7 ESV)

Their peace offerings and sacrifices, their worship and rejoicing before the God who had carried them into the Promised Land, may have seemed more fit for an altar of finest gems.

Perhaps their greatest artisans could have finely cut diamonds, emeralds and rubies into an altar fit for worship of the Most High God.

Or, if God insisted on them using river rocks, at the very least they could have chiseled and carved until the altar looked like a marble statue, perhaps of angels or a depiction of the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant, or of Joshua leading the people.

Yet, God was clear.  Stones, simple stones, uncut by any human tool, formed the altar fit for the offerings of His people.

Why did God even care about a detail so small?  According to Him, “If you make an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it” (Exodus 20:25).

To God, human construction on the altar stones made them unholy and profane.

That’s because God knew the danger implicit in cut stones and man-made bricks.  The moment we begin to adorn altars with human effort is the moment we shift the focus off of the God we praise.  Instead, we admire the human talent that made the vessel or the human ability that cut the stone.

We become idolaters.  Our worship becomes profane.

This is what God accused the people of doing in Isaiah:

I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices;a people who provoke me to my face continually, sacrificing in gardens and making offerings on bricks” (Isaiah 65:2-3 ESV).

Israel ignored God’s mandate and chose instead to offer their sacrifice among garden flowers.  They had rejected simple stones in favor of brick altars.

Israel wanted to worship God their own way and on their own terms.  His instructions seemed superfluous and unnecessary.  Their ideas seemed so much nicer, so much better, so superior, so much more religious than God’s request for pure and uncut praise.

In the same way, God sometimes overturns our expectations of adequate offerings and suitable worship.

He desires the simplicity of an obedient heart.

We think He needs more.  

So, we hold back our offerings until they are “fit” for Him.  We hide in the sanctuary pews until we have more to give.  We think other worshipers, who are more talented and more rehearsed, give gifts more worthy.

It isn’t, however, about being the best, most talented, or most qualified; it’s about being called.  Yours is the offering He desires.  It is because of your heart of obedience that He can be glorified in the sacrifices you bring.

There is beauty in the uncut stones of our worship.  It’s never about the show, never about our own talent or training; it’s not about looking good or fitting in, or processing our worship into acceptable forms—all human additions that shift focus off God and onto human ability.

Instead, it’s about responding to God in pure uncut adoration.

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, 03/10/2012

Hiding the Word:

We’ve returned home after a long and exciting family day at our area Awana games.  Our two oldest girls competed in Sparks-A-Rama for the first time.  We cheered them on from the bleechers as they popped balloons, dodged balls, and ran like lightning-ish around the gym floor.

Our coaches and the kids worked hard for weeks to practice the games, to learn the rules, and to develop discipline, listening skills, teamwork and kindness.

I was so proud of our team. Not only that, but I loved the sweet cheerleading of my youngest daughter as she sat in the stands and picked her sisters out from the crowd.  Whether they were racing or sitting on the line while another team played, Catherine didn’t stop yelling, “Go, Toria! Go Lauren!”

We all need people in the stands cheering us on, whether we’re in the thick of the battle or resting for a few quiet moments.  God has commissioned us all with pom poms and asked us to call out our words of praise, perseverance, and encouragement for others.

So, that’s the verse that’s on my heart for the week.  It’s a challenge to each of us to be the cheerleader that someone else needs.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11, NIV).

Weekend Rerun:

The Giving of Courage
Originally Published 04/27/2011

 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing,
but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Hebrews 20:24-25 

My sweet baby girl is my cheerleader.  I finish putting the clothes in the dryer and she claps her hands excitedly for me.  I change her diaper; she shouts yay!  yay!  and applauds with enthusiasm.   I drop the last of her toys into the basket and she does a happy dance and showers me with praise.  When I slide the last puzzle piece into place with her, she cheers and shouts.  If you spent the tiniest bit of time in my home, you’d think I won an Olympic medal every hour all day long because my “crowd goes wild” just that often.  My little crowd of one tiny, joyful cheerleader.

Has someone been a cheerleader for you before? 

You sit tired in the pew at church after the rush of Sunday morning preparation, but you made it and all your children sit next to you with clean clothes on.  Small victories.  Then a comforting hand reaches across your shoulder and a friend tells you, “Great job.  You’re such a great mom.”

You push your cart through the grocery store and try to efficiently and frugally shop all while monitoring the arms and legs of your various kids and periodically reminding them to use “inside voices,” when an unknown woman whispers to you, “Your children are so well-behaved.”

You pour yourself out into the ministry you know God has called you to and yet there are those moments and days when you wonder if it really matters, if it does any good, if anybody is blessed by it, if it’s worth the time and effort you spend on it.  Then, you sort through the bills after collecting your mail and find buried in there a card from a friend, a note of appreciation and thanks, a prayer, a verse.

You’ve been struggling.  Life is hard.  You don’t know what decisions to make.  You’re hurting and overwhelmed.  Then an email arrives and a friend says, “I’m praying for you.”

God uses others to bring us these messages of hope and encouragement at just the right moments in our lives, filling needs we can’t even always identify. It’s one of the reasons He designed us to travel together—He knows our hearts sometimes need this cheerleading from others.  When we stray from the group, when we go off on our own and try to live faith solo, we are easy prey for attack.  The Israelites learned this on their journey out of Egypt: “Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt.  When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God” (Deuteronomy 25:17-18, NIV).

If your heart is weary and in need of some encouragement today, look to your right and your left for your group; be sure that you are connected and not lagging behind.  Perhaps the first step needs to come from you in a search for the Christian community that will walk alongside you and encourage you along the journey to the Promised Land.

But you can also ask God for the refreshing your heart needs.  He knows exactly what will fill your spirit, giving you strength to overcome fatigue, guidance when you need direction, laughter when your heart lacks joy.  As the Israelites journeyed in the wilderness, God led them to an oasis: “They came to Elim where there were twelve springs of water and seventy date palms, and they camped there beside the waters” (Exodus 15:27).    Priscilla Shirer writes: “‘Twelve springs of water’ to match the twelve tribes of Israel.  What a great illustration of God’s overwhelming care and specific concern for His people.  He knows exactly what it takes to refresh you.”

He is the shepherd who knows His sheep.  “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,  he refreshes my soul” (Psalm 23:2-3).  Sometimes we sheep feel the hunger and thirst; we know we are empty and in need of filling, but we depend on a Shepherd to guide us to the perfect place for refreshing and provision.

And when He has led us beside the waters so perfect and the green pastures so filling, we have a testimony to share with others, a story to help them along the way as well.  Like the Psalmist, we declare:

“Return to your rest, my soul,
for the LORD has been good to you.
For you, LORD, have delivered me from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before the LORD in the land of the living” (Psalm 116:7-8).

We who have received encouragement, in turn encourage others through our testimony.  This encouraging truly is the giving of courage, placing it into the heart of another.  Isn’t that what this cheerleading does? It renews our strength so that we persevere and press on.  God asks us to do this for one another, to stand on the sidelines of a race and cheer, shout, and applaud for the runners: Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11, NIV).

How can you be a cheerleader for someone else today?

*********************************************************************************************************

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

Two steps forward and two steps back (or so it seems)

This was an unfortunate setback.

A few weeks ago, my husband gently suggested that it may be time for a serious attempt at potty training my two-year-old.

Now, to understand how I felt about this I first have to tell you potty training my two older girls was no easy task.  In fact, it’s fair to say that I’ve never felt as much like a failure in my life as when I was pleading with a toddler just to sit on the potty chair.

I laid awake at night designing reward charts and incentive plans.
I prayed for help from Almighty God so that my kids would be ready for preschool.
I bought books, movies, stickers, M&Ms, toys, and more to bribe them into success.
I avoided all moms who proudly announced their genius 18-month old had been perfectly trained with absolutely no effort in all of a day.

But my husband is a good husband and I’m a good wife.  So, when he asked me to start potty training my toddler, I plunged into what I was sure would be months and months of misery, stress and clean-up.

I pulled out the trusty movie, Potty Power.  I explained underwear to my daughter.  Every 15 minutes, I picked her up and carried her to the bathroom.

And a miracle happened.  A real live, genuine miracle of God.

She figured it out.  She wanted to learn.  She graduated to underwear in a matter of days.  I bet God never had anyone thank Him so much for help potty training her child.

And then.

Then there was the setback.  One week of sickness kicked my baby girl back into Pull-Ups and made her absolutely terrified of a trip to the bathroom.  Now my sanity is loosely held together by a can of Resolve and a bottle of Febreze.

I was discouraged.  She was scared and confused.  We’re baby-stepping our way forward, hoping to regain lost ground.

Have you ever encountered a setback that left you dazed, uncertain, and full of fear?

Perhaps you stepped out in obedience to what you believed was God’s call, but circumstances shifted, obstacles arose, and you’re not reaching the goal.  Perhaps you’ve even begun to question whether you heard God clearly and made the right decision in the first place.

Sometimes God’s plan just doesn’t make sense to us.

For the Israelites leaving slavery in Egypt, the most logical route to the Promised Land was straight along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.  After a few battles with the Philistines, the Isrealites thought they’d march right into Canaan after no more than a month-long journey.

God had other plans.  Exodus 13:17 tells us: “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.'”

Sometimes God takes us the long way around for our own benefit.  In her book One in a Million, Prisicllar Shirer writes that “the wilderness is often safer than the alternative” (p 73).  God chose the wilderness for His people.  Maybe He’s chosen it for you, as well, for your protection and personal growth.

Even after the Israelites followed the pillars of cloud and fire in the direction God had chosen to take them, there were still setbacks.  In Exodus 14:2, God said, “Tell the people of Israel to turn back.”

Turn back?

God led them one way only to turn them around and march them off in a different direction?  Did it seem like God had momentarily lost His compass in the desert?

And yet, this turning back placed the Israelites on the banks of the Red Sea and the only way across now was through His miraculous deliverance.

He turned them around so that He could save them.

So, what do we do as we make confusing desert tracks in the wilderness in our efforts to follow God’s lead?

We could give up.  We could question our listening skills.  We could doubt God’s leadership.  We could stomp off and follow our own course.

Or we could remain focused on our goal and the passion God has placed in our hearts.  That’s the only way the Israelites made it to the Promised Land.  It’s the only way we’ll receive all that God has promised us.

It’s also the only way Nehemiah saw the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt.  Kelly Minter in her book Nehemiah: A Heart That Can Break, writes:

“After verbal assaults, physical threats, discouraged laborers, abuses of power and economic distress, Nehemiah never diverted his focus from the wall.  The process may have been slowed and altered as a result of enemies and wayward citizens, but the goal never changed.”

In fact, Nehemiah himself writes, “I also persevered in the work on this wall” (Nehemiah 5:16, ESV).

He continued to build despite threats, fear, confusion, discouragement, distractions and disappointments.  He continued to build despite setbacks.   He never stopped placing brick on top of brick on top of brick in obedience to God.

What has God asked you to build?  Choose today to place another brick on this wall instead of giving up because of obstacles and disappointments.  Choose to “persevere in the work on this wall.”

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