A Backpack in Exile and Having Hope

I bought a backpack for my son, not that he has much need for it at the moment.  

We’re on the final countdown to the first day of school.  Every summer, we reach this place of finality and sadness mixed with celebration of the new. School Open Houses dot my calendar.  Every daytrip might be our “last before school starts.”  We pack in movie days, haircuts and ice cream outings because we want every last drop of summer, all while prepping school supplies and praying over new teachers and new classes.

We savor the now.  We hope for good in the future.  It’s both contentment and anticipation, this bittersweet place where one season ends and another begins.

That’s the same every year. 

Of course, this year has the curious taint of “pandemic” on it, which means even with so much the same it’s all a little different. 

I bought my son a backpack because the strap on his kindergarten bag broke in January.  I mended it at the time and told him it was fine because he’ll have a new backpack for next year.  Then I asked the all-important question: “What kind of backpack would you like for first grade?”

Usually, he’s a superhero kind of guy when it comes school supplies, but this time he announced he wanted a Jurassic World backpack with dinosaurs on it.  

(Just to be clear, my six-year-old son has not actually watched Jurassic Park or any of its many PG13 sequels.  But he does love dinosaurs.  A lot.  So, Jurassic World it was.)

Three weeks ago, I strolled through the school supply section of Wal-Mart on a whim. I felt a little moody that day as I walked past so many school supplies knowing we won’t need 90% of them since school is starting virtually this year. 

I love school supplies. Not buying school supplies is hard for me.  I am compelled to purchase pens, index cards, notebooks, and organizers of all sorts.

But I strolled past them all, exerting incredible self-control until I saw the Jurassic World backpack hanging on display, surrounded by superhero backpacks of all sorts.

I bought that backpack.  Sometimes you just need the reminder that a season will indeed be a season and not forever.  There will be a day when my son puts on his dinosaur backpack, steps onto the bus and heads off to school.

Sometimes you need to dig that anchor of hope down deep, deep, deep in the ocean floor.

For now, of course, the backpack hangs in our closet.  Meanwhile, he has a pencil box, some composition books, and a cleared makeshift desk all prepped for the virtual start to our school year.  My first grader feels excited that he won’t have to go to school on his birthday in October.  My older girls are excited that they won’t have to get up before dawn to start the school day.

We rejoice about what’s beautiful now.  We look forward to the beauty to come.

In the book of Jeremiah, the prophet continually urged the Israelites who were in exile to live in this same balance of contentment and hope, engage now and hope for the future.  He told them to build houses in Babylon, plant gardens, get married, have kids.  They were in exile and they would be there for a while, so settle in and make it count.  Don’t long for the future so much that you miss out on all that God is doing in this present moment.

But then, Jeremiah would remind them that one day God would lead them back home to Jerusalem.  It would come.  Exile won’t last forever.  

Jeremiah said:

There is hope for your future—
this is the Lord’s declaration—
and your children will return to their own territory (Jeremiah 31:17 CSB)

We also have hope.

Eugene Peterson wrote:

“Hope acts on the conviction that God will complete the work that he has begun even when the appearances, especially when the appearances, oppose it” (Run With the Horses).

Even though exile is hard, even though it isn’t comfortable, even though it lingers, even though it is unfamiliar and even though it isn’t ideal, God is still with us in exile and He will be with us when we trek back to Jerusalem.

His presence makes the difference in both places.

So, here I am, doing my best to help my kids kick off an unusual school year, considering how to live “in exile” with celebrations and end-of-summer activities and virtual schooling set-ups, never forgetting that one day we’ll be back in Jerusalem. 

There’s beauty now even in the hard things.  There’ll be beauty then so we have hope. 

I Didn’t Feel Ready

 

Sometimes we want to see the provision in advance.

Before we step out in “faith,” we want to know we have enough: time, money, strength, ideas, training, support.  We want our offerings to God and our ministry for Him to be perfect.

But in Hebrews, we’re told:

Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

God helps us in our time of need—not as a stockpile for our seasons of neediness.

This is a lesson I’m learning inch by inch.

For just about a whole year before it ever happened, I worried over my oldest daughter starting middle school.  I ran through every possible question about the transition.

When will the bus come?  How will she adjust to earlier morning hours?  How do we get her to school on time without waking up all the other kids? Will she need to take showers in the morning or at night?  How will her after school activities fit into the schedule?  

This might be reaching levels of extreme crazy, but there it is.  I’m a planner.  I like to consider all the possibilities.

But I also prayed.

And that was so much more important.

Here’s what happened.  On the first day of school, she got up, got ready, and went to school.  She did that all year.

Just like that.

A new ministry, a schedule adjustment, an extra activity thrown in, a needy friend, a season of pouring out to others—these aren’t opportunities to freak out; they are opportunities to see God come through.

GOD GIVES US WHAT WE NEED WHEN WE NEED IT, AND NOT OFTEN BEFORE.

One of my favorite “callings” in Scripture is the moment God spoke to Jeremiah:

Then I said, “Alas, Lord God!
Behold, I do not know how to speak,
Because I am a youth.”
But the Lord said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’
Because everywhere I send you, you shall go,
And all that I command you, you shall speak.
“Do not be afraid of them,
For I am with you to deliver you,” declares the Lord (Jeremiah 1:6-8 ESV). 

On the surface, It sounds like Jeremiah thought he was too young for prophetic ministry.

But then I consider context:

the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign (Jeremiah 1:2 ESV).

Jeremiah began prophesying during the reign of Josiah, who became king when he was only eight years old.

So even if Jeremiah was in his teens or early 20s when God spoke to him, he had seen God use an eight-year-old king to lead the nation of Judah in one of its greatest spiritual revivals.

“I’m too young” doesn’t seem like a good excuse.

Maybe what Jeremiah really felt was unready and unprepared.

And that’s where I totally understand Jeremiah.

Sometimes I feel unready, too.

Like the whole transition to middle school, I wanted to know all the answers in advance and have the perfect plan already in place.

You too?

When God calls you, do you ask Him to wait until you feel “ready?”

Maybe if we train a little longer, stock up a little more, save a bit, work it all out on paper, and prepare, prepare, prepare, then we can follow God’s call.

We wait until we have extra money to give.

We wait until our gifts are perfected to offer them to others.

We wait for free time before we serve.

BUT THE TIME TO SERVE GOD ISN’T WHEN WE FEEL READY; IT’S WHEN HE ASKS US TO FOLLOW.

After all, God told Jeremiah, “I am with you.”

He promises us His presence, too!

IF WE WAIT UNTIL WE’RE “READY,” UNTIL WE’RE PREPARED, UNTIL WE’RE FULLY TRAINED, UNTIL OUR GIFT AND OUR OFFERING ARE PERFECT, UNTIL WE FEEL LIKE ENOUGH, WE’LL WAIT AND WAIT AND NEVER TAKE THAT STEP OF FAITH AND OBEDIENCE.

We’ll be trusting in ourselves rather than relying on God to be with us and to be enough for us.

Ecclesiastes 11:4 says:

If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done (TLB).

What is it you feel the Holy Spirit nudging you to do?  What season are you entering?  What task has He laid at your feet?

God will be enough for you.  He will give you everything you need exactly when you need it.  So, don’t pause until you feel ready or until you’re perfect and your gift is worthy.

Right now, right where you are, with what you have, you can follow Him where He’s calling you to go and trust Him for provision and strength for the journey.

For a while you fall, but then you skate

jeremiah 17

Last year, my little girl made it about 15 minutes on the ice skating rink before she gave up.

Her sisters kept getting better.  They started out along the wall, too, but then they let go and made progress.

But she seemed stuck .

This ice skating business was no fun.

Falling.  Falling.  Falling again.

Clinging to the side for dear life and trying desperately to stay out of everyone else’s way.

Making one s-l-o-w loop around the rink and developing blisters on her feet without much progress to show for the pain.

No fun. At all.

So she gave up.  She sat with me while her older sisters skated and then we packed up and went home.

But this year, we tried again.  She slipped on the skates, stepped out on the ice and shuffled along the wall just like before.  Only this time, she didn’t give up.

The difference wasn’t how she started; it was how she finished.

I glanced up occasionally to check her progress, but mostly I chased around my three year-old son and didn’t see the exact moment it happened, that moment she let go of the wall.

At some point, though, she skated right out into the middle of the ice, brave soul.

But in order to get to the skating part, she had to get past the falling part.

I take this to heart, because failure and falling and weakness can keep me on the sidelines.

I’d rather stick to what I know I can do, invest in guaranteed successes, and live this safe and comfortable life without change or risk.

That’s a life, though, that doesn’t rely on faith.  That’s just relying on my own strength, living on my own abilities without any room for trusting God or relying on His mercy and His strength.

Still, I fear the falling and the failing.

After all, falling is not just painful; it’s embarrassing.  Others zoom by like this is the easiest thing in the world to them and they probably feel pity for those of us hugging the ice.

I found myself snapping in frustration at every annoyance yesterday and it took me all day to realize why.  My emotions were just oozing out all over the place because I’m in a place of weakness.

I’m doing things that I don’t know how to do.  I’m making mistakes and then trying again.  I’m uncertain, fearful, and doubtful of success.

And that makes me cranky.

In Craving Connection, Angela Nazworth wrote:

Falling isn’t the problem.  Being so afraid to fall that you make yourself hard is the problem (p. 16).

Yes.  This.

I can choose in this season to pray through my weakness and seek His help in my need.

Or I can grow hard and I can quit.  I can refuse to bend or step out on any ice at all.

What made the difference for my daughter?  What made her choose this time to take the risk?

Maybe it was just being a little older and a bit more mature.

But there was something else.

She found a friend.  Another little girl out there skating on the ice was also seven and also in second grade and also took ballet and also liked playing Minecraft.

The friend let go of the wall, so Catherine let go of the wall, too.

Weakness so often makes us want to hide away, but the encouragement and prayers of a friend might be the very thing we need to give us:

courage in the fearful moments.

comfort when we’ve fallen (again).

and a helping hand so we’ll get back up and try anew.

Sure, sometimes our friends disappoint us and sometimes we even knock them over because we start counting on them to bear all of our weight and that’s just too much.

Jeremiah wrote:

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him.

8 They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 27:7-8 NIV).

Our confidence isn’t in our friends; they are a help and an encouragement, but they are not our only hope.

Our confidence is not in our own wobbly selves.

Our confidence is in HIM, that He’ll catch us and He’ll help us.   He’ll redeem our failures.  He’ll give us new mercy.  He’ll forgive us and shower us with grace and love us through it all.

When we are God-confident, we don’t fear heat and we have no worries even in years of drought. In all seasons—seasons of weakness and seasons of strength—He helps us be fruitful.

 

Trusting When Life Feels Shaky

anywhere-faith-quote-2-1

We were simply working on a piano lesson.  I didn’t anticipate crumbling her perspective on life, the world, and the ability to “know” truth.

But that’s what happened.

As a young music student, I learned the same lesson in music theory: a B sharp is the same exact note as a C on the piano.

Now, this was cool to me.  I thought I was “in the know” and had some incredible, deep music knowledge that only the truly initiated can possess. It was a sort of all-access pass to conversations with musicians who actually knew far more than I ever will.

That’s not what this felt like for my daughter.

I told her, “See that’s a B sharp, so you actually just play this C.  See it’s the same thing. See how cool that is?”

She did not see.

She accused me of rocking her world.  Everything she ever thought about life and existence could all be on shaky ground where B’s are really C’s and how are you ever supposed to know what’s really true?

Her whole reaction was shockingly unexpected, but I consider. I ponder what’s at stake.

Life can feel just that shaky at times.  There are things we take for granted, foundations we’ve been sure are rock-solid.

There are expectations we just know will be met.  There are promises we feel sure God will fulfill in a certain way.

Then something goes awry.

We can ride this intense roller coaster of emotions:  “Everything is great!  Everything is falling apart!  Today I definitely see everything working out!  Today everything is in despair!”

What can we truly know?

When life can shock you like that, when a moment that should be certain victory becomes defeat instead, when you trusted in God but got hurt anyway….when you look at the music and see a B sharp but you play a C….then what do we do?

Shakiness like that, doubts like that, disappointment like that may seem like they’re signs of weak faith.

We tell ourselves, “Pretend to have it all together.  Don’t admit that you’re struggling with doubt.  Don’t tell anyone you’re feeling defeated.”

But here’s what I wrote in Anywhere Faith about doubting:

“God is gracious. He knows exactly what’s in our heart in our weakest moments. He loves us and calls us anyway, not because we are worthy, but because He is worthy; not because we are able, but because He is able.

We need not exert ourselves and try to force ourselves to believe, or try to chase doubt out of our hearts. Both are just as useless. It begins to dawn on us that we can bring everything to Jesus, no matter how difficult it is; and we need not be frightened away by our doubts or our weak faith, but only tell Jesus how weak our faith is (O. Hallesby).

We can bring our doubts to Jesus. We don’t have to pretend they don’t exist or hide them away in embarrassment and shame. Instead, we can pour those doubts right out at His feet and choose to trust Him. Trust Him to answer prayer. Trust Him to do what He promises to do. Trust Him even with our doubts (#AnywhereFaith).

We can drag our confusion and hurt, our disappointment and doubts to the feet of God and ask Him to heal us and show us how to trust Him.anywhere-faith

Not trust in circumstances.

Not trust in others.

Not trust in ourselves.

Not trust in our own expectations or plans.

Not trust in what we think God will do.

But trust Him.  Trust His character.  Trust His love for us.

Jeremiah the prophet wrote:

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is in the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream;
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit (Jeremiah 17:7-8).

Before these verses, he tells the people “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength….” (verse 5).

In other words, don’t trust in other people. Don’t trust in human strength.

After these verses, he says, “The heart is deceitful above all things…” (verse 9).

In other words, don’t trust your own heart and emotions.

But in the moments when nothing seems to make sense and when circumstances seem impossible, we can go back to the thing we know we know that we know.

We trust in the Lord.

We sink our roots deep down in Him and we allow Him to make us fruitful and strong despite heat and drought and the crazy world where B sharps are really C naturals.

God Gives us What We Need When We Need It #AnywhereFaith

anywhere-faith-quote-3

Sometimes we want to see the provision in advance.

Before we step out in “faith,” we want to know we have enough: time, money, strength, ideas, training, support.  We want our offerings to God and our ministry for Him to be perfect.

But in Hebrews, we’re told:

Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

God helps us in our time of need—not as a stockpile for our seasons of neediness.

This is a lesson I’m learning inch by inch.

For just about a whole year before it ever happened, I worried over a “need.”  My oldest daughter started middle school this September and I’ve been running over questions about the transition since last September.

When will the bus come?  How will she adjust to earlier morning hours?  How do we get her to school on time without waking up all the other kids? Will she need to take showers in the morning or at night?  How will her after school activities fit into the schedule?  

Maybe it all sounds a bit extreme to you, but still I stressed, planned, and considered possibilities.

I prayed.

Here’s what happened.  On the first day of school, she got up, got ready, and went to school.  She’s done that every day this month.

Just like that.

A new ministry, a schedule adjustment, an extra activity thrown in, a needy friend, a season of pouring out to others—these aren’t opportunities to freak out; they are opportunities to see God come through.

God gives US what We need when WE need it, and not often before.

One of my favorite “callings” in Scripture is the moment God spoke to Jeremiah:

Then I said, “Alas, Lord God!
Behold, I do not know how to speak,
Because I am a youth.”
But the Lord said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’
Because everywhere I send you, you shall go,
And all that I command you, you shall speak.
“Do not be afraid of them,
For I am with you to deliver you,” declares the Lord (Jeremiah 1:6-8 ESV). 

On the surface, It sounds like Jeremiah thought he was too young for prophetic ministry.

But then I consider context:

the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign (Jeremiah 1:2 ESV).

Jeremiah began prophesying during the reign of Josiah, who became king when he was only eight years old.

So even if Jeremiah was in his teens or early 20s when God spoke to him, he had seen God use an eight-year-old king to lead the nation of Judah in one of its greatest spiritual revivals.

“I’m too young” doesn’t seem like a good excuse.

Maybe what Jeremiah really felt was unready and unprepared.

And that’s where I totally understand Jeremiah.

Sometimes I feel unready, too.

Like this whole transition to middle school, I wanted to know all the answers in advance and have the perfect plan already in place.

You too?

When God calls you, do you ask Him to wait until you feel “ready?”

Maybe if we train a little longer, stock up a little more, save a bit, work it all out on paper, and prepare, prepare, prepare, then we can follow God’s call.

We wait until we have extra money to give.

We wait until our gifts are perfected to offer them to others.

We wait for free time before we serve.

But the time to serve God isn’t when we feel ready; it’s when He asks us to follow.

After all, God told Jeremiah, “I am with you.”

He promises us His presence, too!

If we wait until we’re “ready,” until we’re prepared, until we’re fully trained, until our gift and our offering are perfect, until we feel like enough, we’ll wait and wait and never take that step of faith and obedience.

We’ll be trusting in ourselves rather than relying on God to be with us and to be enough for us.

Ecclesiastes 11:4 says:

If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done (TLB).

What is it you feel the Holy Spirit nudging you to do?  What season are you entering?  What task has He laid at your feet?

God will be enough for you.  He will give you everything you need exactly when you need it.  So, don’t pause until you feel ready or until you’re perfect and your gift is worthy.

Right now, right where you are, with what you have, you can follow Him where He’s calling you to go and trust Him for provision and strength for the journey.

To read more about what people in the Bible said to God when He called them, please check out my new book, Anywhere Faith (releasing October 3rd).  

When I Fell in Love

I can’t say exactly when I fell in love with this man.

He was on stage the first time I saw him, portraying Mr. Elton in a production of Jane Austen’s Emma(my favorite), and I was an audience member.   I laughed loud and long when he delivered the first line of the play while pretending to read from a book:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

I heard my laugh hit the silence of the auditorium.  Apparently, I was the only one who got the joke (as a character from Emma read the first line from Pride and Prejudice).  And so I slumped into my chair wishing someone—anyone—shared my sense of humor.

I actually met him a week later after a college worship service.  Someone in the crowd pointed to the guy up front strumming the guitar.  “See that guy,” he said, “You just saw him on stage last week.”

Unbeknownst to me, this young guy who led worship and the drama ministry and acted in productions based on my favorite literature had just prayed a daring prayer two weeks before.

He told God he wasn’t looking for a relationship any more.  He was content to be single until God hit him over the head with a 2 x 4 and told him “Thou shalt marry this girl.”

I met him two weeks after that.

And a week after that, I was the new pianist on his praise team (and he’s still my worship leader even now).

I fell in love with the way he used his gifts and talents for God’s glory.

There was his calmness, too.  I loved my dad, but life with him wasn’t calm; it was loud much of the time and sometimes downright volatile.  This man, though, measured his words with wisdom and careful thoughtfulness.

Add to that his quick and witty humor that kept me giggling endlessly in the corner of the praise team section, and I realized that he was smarter than me and that was okay.

We’ve never been an opposites-attract kind of couple.  We’re probably two of the most alike people who God matched together.

Except for the fact that he only cares about doing what’s right and not whether it pleases anyone else while I’m a people-pleaser.

And the fact that he can rest and take time (perhaps . . . dare I say it . . .procrastinate) and I’m neurotically pushed to do and do and do relentlessly, first, fastest, and rest when you die.

I can’t say when it happened, but at some point I fell in love.jeremiah 31b

I can’t speak for him and say exactly why he fell in love with me.

Nor can I say exactly why God loves any of us either, surely not my awkward, nervous, uptight, worrying self.

Amazingly, though, this isn’t a “fall in love” kind of love at all.  God doesn’t grow to love any of us over time or awaken one morning and realize how much He cares.

He loves us.

It really is the beginning and the end of our story.

Like the first time I saw my daughters, I loved them in an instant.  I didn’t slowly grow to appreciate their character or develop feelings for them over time.

In Jeremiah, God declares:

“before I formed you in the womb I knew you”  and David similarly prayed, “you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Jeremiah 1:5, Psalm 139:13).

God loved you before you squinted your eyes at the first burst of light, screamed out and got cleaned off, bundled up and handed to your mom.

He loves you when you feel loved and when you feel overlooked, when you received a blessing and when you endured a trial.  This love of his doesn’t wax or wane, change or alter or depend on us and what we do or say or feel or think.

We’ve never been good enough, pure enough, beautiful enough, or wise enough to earn it.

But even though we’re unworthy, even when we’ve strayed, even when we’ve felt that seemingly incurable distance from Him or poured out in painful honesty what’s troubling us…

Still He loves.

He says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3).

And what can we do with this everlasting and unfailing love, so amazing and confusing because it’s far more than we deserve?

“We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Originally published September 24, 2012

 

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 © 2015 Heather King

Living With the Tension

I sing to my children, “Jesus loves me, this is I know….” and “Jesus loves the little children.”

Jesus is love.  That’s the message in the melody.

I sing (more like chant): “God is so big, so strong and so mighty! There’s nothing my God cannot do.”

And there it is, the lesson of God’s greatness, His majesty and power.

I sing again: “God is so good….God is so good….God is so good, He’s so good to me.”

His goodness, His grace, His might, His love.  I sing them as lessons, I read them on the pages of Bible storybooks and bedtime devotionals and my kids soak these in, the stepping stones of theology and doctrine.

Somehow kids can take all this in, the vast array of God’s character, the completeness of who He is, and accept it without conflict or contradiction or competition.

But we age so often into adult extremists, wanting to shove God into ill-fitting categories, taking stands along divisive theological battle-lines, innocently enough most of the time.  We don’t realize it usually.  Generations swing wide from one dangerous cliff to another, rarely achieving the balance, and we swing along with them.

We’re rarely comfortable with the tension implicit in God’s character.

But this is who God is: Perfect, living as the only One who can balance the holy tension between the extremes in this spiritual tug-of-war.  Labels don’t fit Him.  Our pat explanations don’t always work.  Our well-reasoned arguments fall short.

In our churches, we see this.  In our Christian books and our favorite pastors, we assume allegiances just like the early church declaring, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos” (1 Corinthians 3:4 NIV), more comfortable following humans than following our enigmatic God.

In the past, we proclaimed the importance of righteousness and living holy lives, digging ourselves into trenches of legalism and creating a Christianity more focused on moral expectations than salvation.

Now, we praise brokenness, moving past the healthiness of confession and vulnerable living, setting ourselves up all comfortable and cozy with sin–because we’re forgiven, after all.  And sin is sin and we’re already saved, so why bother reaching for holiness?

We used to drag people to the front of a sanctuary to say the sinner’s prayer and voila, pronounce them saved for all eternity.

But we’ve moved away from “cheap grace” without discipleship or fruit or revolution and now we’re “fruit” judges, examining people’s finances and the size of their homes and the cost of their shoes to determine if they’re radically committed enough to make it into heaven.

We preach messages of encouragement to one another, reminding burnt out, hard-working Christian servants that God loves us for who we are, not what we do.  We don’t need to perform for Him, don’t need to DO anything to earn His affection or merit forgiveness.

Then we tell them the church needs workers and salvation displays itself through service and how are you working for the Lord?

We categorize God into Old Testament ogre of divine retribution and New Testament Savior offering grace.

Which is God?  What is true?

Does God desire righteousness or brokenness?psalm108

Does He save us by grace alone or should our faith work itself out with fear and trembling?

Does God love us regardless of how we perform or does He want us to be working for Him?

Is God holy, just, big, good, and pure?  Or is He gracious, forgiving, all-loving, and compassionate?

Yes.

Not either/or, one or the other, this or that.

But yes and amen.

God is perfectly able to inhabit this place of holy tension.

In our faith, we “become like little children” (Matthew 18:3 NIV), simply trusting Him, accepting the truths without turning them into combat zones.

Our God is holy and gracious, just and compassionate, saving us because of His grace and calling us to serve.

We return to Scripture and see that even in the Old Testament, God is characterized by grace.  He enacted a long-established plan to save us; it wasn’t an invention of the Gospel writers of the New Testament.

Because of His great love for His people Israel, He disciplined them with captivity.  Yes, even in discipline there is love.

Jeremiah the prophet declares:

“It will be a time of trouble for my people Israel. Yet in the end they will be saved!” (Jeremiah 30:7 NLT)

and he reminds them of God’s promise:

“I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love.  With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself” (Jeremiah 31:3).

The prophet spoke of punishment and grace, captivity with the promise of freedom, destruction with the assurance of future restoration and hope.

Because this is who God is, this is His perfection, this His greatness that is beyond our capacity to understand—but that we worship.

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

It’s not the End of the World as We Know It

She grumped into the mini-van after school, plodding along, keeping her hands folded across her chest as much as possible.  She was non-verbal, totally unresponsive to my cheerful queries about her day and her friends and her teacher.  Slumping down as low as she could go in her seatbelt, her chin touched her chest, her eyes glared down at the floor.

I got the message.  Bad day.

Slowly she explained with little bits of dialogue here and there, mostly in a whine, sometimes in anger.

“The cafeteria lady put baked fruit on my tray even when I told her I didn’t want it.”

Oh and her older sister tattled on her because she stood on the school’s grass at the end of the day instead of staying on the sidewalk.

What a day.

I found myself telling this Chicken Little of mine that the sky hadn’t fallen because of a tiny scoop of unwanted baked fruit and the world hadn’t ended because her sister ratted her out for straying onto the grass.

So, was it worth freaking out, crying, yelling, and ruining her Friday afternoon over this, just this?

Of course, it all did seem like a disaster to a six-year-old.

Just like an embarrassing mistake seemed like the end of the world to me yesterday.  I was scatter-brained and forgetful and I was frustrated and angry with myself.

My husband said, “It’s okay.  It’s not the end of the world.”

Maybe that’s where my daughter gets it from, from me and how I fret so quickly over things I could just shake off my back if I chose.

Sometimes we’re fretting about the foolish things and the minor details.  We worry over lamentations3ba mistake that’s done and over with and in the past already.  We stress over hypotheticals and what if’s that never even happen.  We toss and turn over situations that God’s already provided an answer for.

And it all seems foolish in hindsight.

But even when we’re not, even when it’s more than a six-year-old’s idea of “the end of the world,” even when it’s truly a crisis and we feel trapped and hopeless….even then we can breathe in and breathe out God’s grace.

Even then, we are not consumed.

That’s what Jeremiah wrote to the Jewish people when their city was destroyed by captors, and they had endured starvation and invasion and seen their best and brightest young people carried off into captivity in Babylon.  Even then, he wrote:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23).

Paul wrote it, too:

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
2 Corinthians 4:8

No stumbling block or obstacle is the hopeless end of the world it may seem.  Whether it’s a true crisis or an annoyance of the moment, still God is with us and because of His love, grace, and faithfulness, we can breathe in and breathe out.

We can rest in Him.

We can let it go.

At Women of Faith last summer, Patsy Clairmont reminded us that Moses wasn’t drawn to the burning bush because it was on fire.  Fires happened all the time in the heat of the desert sun.

Instead, he stepped away from his flock of sheep out of curiosity because “though the bush was on fire it did not burn up” (Exodus 3:2).

That’s our testimony also!  God allows us to walk through the fire without being burned and it is that constant faith in His care that shows others His glory.  It makes them turn aside out of curiosity and ask, “What does she have that helps her walk through these flames unscorched?”

How is it that we can move on after a hurt or show grace for a mistake?  How is it that we can look at the budget on paper and not be in despair?  How can we hear that news, accept that decision, face that tomorrow, wait what seems like forever without being thrown into crippling anxiety and overwhelming panic?

How can we stand in the middle of the fire and not be consumed?

It’s Jesus.  It’s God with us.  It’s His grace and His promise to care for us in all things whether big or small.  It’s choosing joy and choosing to trust in Him that saves us from the flames.

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

Buttercups in frozen earth and miracles of winter

A life devoted to things is a dead life, a stump;
    a God-shaped life is a flourishing tree (Proverbs 11:28 MSG)

I admired the hardiness of this little plant.

My daughters and I had embarked on a treasure-hunting walk through our town.  We collected some of the final beauties of the fall, the red leaves beginning to fade, the acorns no longer piled high across the sidewalk, but scattered piecemeal along the path.

One daughter marveled at still-intact pine cones.  Another gathered large round seeds that we carried home for further investigation and all the girls measured themselves against the shoots of this grass.061

For me, though, the marvel of the day was the simplest of all plants, a tiny yellow buttercup.

Sure, we’ve seen a million of them this year.  My youngest picks dandelions and buttercups every single time we go outside from April to October.  They are presents for Mommy, of course.

This one tiny bud, though, was the only bloom we saw along our walk that brisk day.  The gardeners had long since covered over most of their plants and mulched their flower beds for the winter.

Apparently, no one had told this buttercup that blooming season had ended, that the ground was hard and beginning to freeze over.

My daughters wanted to pick it, but for once I declined.  How could we pick so bold and determined a little plant?  Better to let it live and reap the reward of all its effort and labor to reach to the sun.

In the devotional, Streams in the Desert, L.B. Cowman writes of another determined little flower:

High in the snow-covered Alpine valleys, God works one of His miracles year after year.  In spite of the extremes of sunny days and frozen nights, a flower blooms unblemished through the crust of ice near the edge of the snow (442).

She’s writing of the soldanelle plant, which stores the energy and heat from the summer sun deep in its roots so that it can bloom even in the winter snow.

A plain old buttercup becomes a wonder, blooming as it did out of season.  Even more amazingly, the soldanelle cutting through the ice and snow reminds us of the miracle of seemingly impossible growth.

We all experience winter.  It’s just fact of life. We won’t always be spring-time fresh in our faith, bounding through life with exuberant newness and joy.053

We won’t be perpetually blooming in the summer sun, receiving grace and abundant energy as God shines down on us and we work the soil.

We won’t even be harvesting those fields forever, raking in the reward of all that time toiling in the summer sun.  One day, we’ll pick that last bit of grain from this particular harvest.

And then what?

What happens when life seems dormant and maybe even dead?

The prophet Jeremiah wrote:

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
and they never stop producing fruit
(Jeremiah 17:7-8)

Whether it’s the full-on summer heat of life leaving us parched and dying of thirst or it’s the burning frost of winter confining life to the deep underground, growth isn’t always easy or obvious.

The prophet reminds us, though, that when we place our full-out confident hope and trust in God, we’ll be reaching our roots of faith deep, deep down into God.  It’s sinking our roots far beneath the surface of superficial belief.

Often, it’s the very drought we think will kill us or the winter that appears to cause death that actually makes us fully live, makes us more resilient, makes us more beautiful in seasons to come.

Richard Foster describes it this way:

Winter preserves and strengthens a tree.  Rather than expending its strength on the exterior surface, its sap is forced deeper and deeper into its interior depth.  In winter a tougher, more resilient life is firmly established.  Winter is necessary for the tree to survive and flourish (Prayer, p. 65).

This explains the miracle the prophet Jeremiah describes: the greenness of a tree regardless of drought and the fruitfulness of a plant in every season.  It’s the difficult seasons where we feel no life at all that God is giving us the tools we need for abundant life.

If, that is, we sink our roots deeper and deeper into him, with all the determination of a November buttercup or an Alpine soldanelle pushing through ice and snow.  We reach deeper to the Living Water of Christ and dig tenaciously into God’s Word.

And we live.  Not only that, we flourish and bloom again.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

When I Fell In Love

I can’t say exactly when I fell in love with this man.

He was on stage the first time I saw him, portraying Mr. Elton in a production of Jane Austen’s Emma (my favorite), and I was an audience member.   He delivered the first line of the whole play while pretending to read from a book:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

Immediately, I laughed aloud, until I realized that no one else seemed to get the joke.  More than a little uncomfortable, I slumped down in my chair.

(The first line of Pride and Prejudice was ‘read’ by a character in Emma.  There now, aren’t you laughing?  This is the kind of thing that strikes me as hilariously funny.)

I actually met him a week later after a college worship service.  Someone in the crowd pointed to the guy up front with the guitar.  “See that guy,” he said, “You just saw him on stage last week.”  I think I even confessed to being the girl who laughed at the first line of the play all by my lonesome self.

Unbeknownst to me, this young guy who led worship and the drama ministry and acted on stage in productions based on my favorite literature had just prayed a daring prayer two weeks before.

He told God he wasn’t looking for a relationship any more.  He was content to be single until God hit him over the head with a 2 x 4 and told him “Thou shalt marry this girl.”

There I was two weeks later being introduced to him.

And a week after that, I was the new pianist on his praise team (and he’s still my worship leader nearly 15 years later).

I fell in love with the way he used his gifts and talents for God’s glory.

There was his calmness, too.  I loved my dad, but life with him wasn’t calm; it was loud much of the time and sometimes downright volatile.  This man, though, measured his words with wisdom and careful thoughtfulness.

And the first time he dropped the word “obsequious” into a sentence effortlessly, I think I experienced whiplash. (I’m a sucker for SAT words).

Add to that his quick and witty humor that kept me giggling endlessly in the corner of the praise team section, and I realized that he was smarter than me and that was okay.

We’ve never been an opposites-attract kind of couple.  We’re probably two of the most alike people who God matched together.

Except for the fact that he only cares about doing what’s right and not whether it pleases anyone else while I’m a people-pleaser.

And the fact that he can rest and take time (perhaps . . . dare I say it . . .procrastinate) and I’m neurotically pushed to do and do and do relentlessly, first, fastest, and rest when you die.

I can’t say when it happened, but at some point I fell in love.

I can’t speak for him and say exactly why he fell in love with me.  Nor can I say exactly why God loves any of us either, surely not my awkward, nervous, uptight, worrying self.

Amazingly, though, this isn’t a “fall in love” kind of love at all.  God doesn’t grow to love any of us over time or awaken one morning and realize how much He cares.

He loves us.

It really is the beginning and the end of our story.

Like the first time I saw my daughters, I loved them in an instant.  I didn’t slowly grow to appreciate their character or develop feelings for them over time.

In Jeremiah, God declares, “before I formed you in the womb I knew you”  and David similarly prayed, “you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Jeremiah 1:5, Psalm 139:13).

God loved you before you squinted your eyes at the first burst of light, screamed out and got cleaned off, bundled up and handed to your mom.

He loves you when you feel loved and when you feel overlooked, when you received a blessing and when you endured a trial.  This love of his doesn’t wax or wane, change or alter or depend on us and what we do or say or feel or think.

We’ve never been good enough, pure enough, beautiful enough, or wise enough to earn it.

But even though we’re unworthy, even when we’ve strayed, even when we’ve felt that seemingly incurable distance from Him or poured out in painful honesty what’s troubling us…

Still He loves.

He says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3).

And what can we do with this everlasting and unfailing love, so amazing and confusing because it’s far more than we deserve?

“We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

How can you respond to God’s love today?

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King