Christmas Devotions: The Neon Sign

Maps just aren’t enough for me.  I need some curious combination of maps plus highly specific step-by-step directions plus landmarks to get me anywhere.

I’m a hopeless case of lostness, the kind of girl who gets turned around in parking lots and shopping malls.  My life would be far simpler if my destinations were always marked with large neon red signs flashing, “This is it!  Turn here!!”

The prophet Isaiah knew that some day we would all see the flashing neon sign saying, “This is the Savior, the Messiah, the Christ.” He said:  “In that day they will say, ‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation’” (Isaiah 25:9).

Indeed a day will come when “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” at the very mention of Jesus’ name (Philippians 2:10).

We’re not there yet.  Many believe; many do not.

Even John the Baptist had a moment of questioning.

Years before, he had so confidently announced to a crowd around the Jordan River that Jesus was the Messiah, the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world.

But when John sat in prison, awaiting execution at the hands of a vengeful king and his devious wife, he sent his own disciples to Jesus with a question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:20).

Scripture tells us:

At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind.  So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor”  (Luke 7:21-23).

How could John know that Jesus was indeed the Savior?  Because of what He had done.  Jesus’ presence had made a difference.

Jesus’ answer to John’s question was a landmark.  It was the neon sign John needed to be comforted and reassured.  Yes, Jesus was the Messiah that Isaiah had foretold would come:

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair (Isaiah 61:1-3).

He wasn’t a Messiah who came just to be, to exist, to occupy earthly space for a time and then fulfill a checklist of requirements before returning to a heavenly throne.  He wasn’t punching some divine time clock and then zooming out the door at quitting time.

Isaiah had promised and Jesus fulfilled.  He came to kneel in the dirt, to touch lepers and heal them, to eat with sinners and to extend a hand of grace to a woman about to be stoned for adultery.  He challenged the legalism of the religious elite, called simple fishermen and tax collectors to be His closest followers, and told a crowd of listeners that the meek, the peacemakers, and the poor in spirit are the ones who will see God and inherit the earth.

And He came to die.  Not the painless and peaceful slipping away after a long life and a fulfilled old age.  He died the gross and horridly painful death of crucifixion and felt the full separation from God His Father as this perfect Lamb assumed all of the sins of mankind  . . . ever.

He lived. He died.  He rose again.  All because He loved us.  Because He loved you.  You and me, sinners steeped in sin, deserve a punishment that He endured on our behalf.  He did it because on our own, our goodness and morality could never achieve the perfection needed to enter into heaven.  We just can’t be good enough.

So, we head for destruction until the one day it gets personal for us.  It’s not just the angels and the shepherds, Mary and Joseph, and wise men from the East who bow down low and proclaim, “We have our savior.”

It’s us.

And we know it’s true because Jesus’ presence in our lives makes a difference.  At salvation and beyond, our encounters with Him change us.  His revolutionary impact on our hearts and minds transforms us bit by bit into His reflection.

In our Christmas cantata this year, we sing: “A Child has come to change the world forever.”  So He did.  So He does.  He changed the world, but has He changed your world?  We can shout it out, “We are saved!  We are saved!  We are saved!”  We can rejoice that our Savior has come.  We can proclaim the Good News to those around us.

But then we can’t remain stagnant.  Instead, we submit our lives to the Lordship of this Savior and allow Him to change us, totally and without reservation, because Jesus’ presence in our lives should still be making a difference.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2011 Heather King

No Pain, No Gain: Part I

Two hours later and my legs still feel like Jello molds.  I’m wobbling around my house as if I couldn’t pass a sheriff’s breath test–not sore, just unstable.

I’m not a gym exerciser.  The idea of working out publicly terrifies me.  All those people running on their treadmills, biking effortlessly or using mystifying exercise equipment with bars and pulleys would get a quick self-esteem boost from my presence, I’m sure.

I, on the other hand, would be reminded that I don’t know what in the world I’m doing when it comes to fitness.

But we all want to be healthy, right?

And we all want to look as if we’re pros at this whole exercise thing, right?

So, I’m more of an exercise video kind of girl from the secluded privacy of my living room.  Either that, or I’d rather just eat less and skip the exercising all together (does that really work?)

Today, I popped in a video run by a perfectly toned ballet instructor, who tells me reassuringly that she danced for years with the Virginia Ballet and now runs her studio in California.

I want to look how she looks.

So, in moments, she had me performing plies and demi-plies and standing in first position and I pointed my toes and straightened my posture to match her.

For five minutes it was easy.  Ten minutes later, I considered limiting all future exercise attempts to nothing more coordinated or complicated than walking.  After all, I’ve been walking quite well for a few decades, so I am pretty sure I could master the basic moves.

All in all, I took from my morning exercise experience these things:

  • I do not look like the sculpted toothpick of a ballerina on the television screen nor can I move like her.
  • I may not be able to walk correctly for a week.
  • I may not have mastered the art of exercise still, but I took away a few spiritual lessons I could share with you instead.

Lesson One: It Wasn’t Always Easy for Them

This super-ballerina with the perfect shape could lift her leg sideways so that it was perpendicular with the rest her body.  She contorted herself without any evidence of pain or effort into a perfect letter T.  If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I’d have sworn it was impossible for anyone not in the circus.

She made it look easy.

It wasn’t.

Sometimes we read Scripture and feel the frustration when we don’t look like the spiritual giants we find on the pages.  We’re not David or Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist or Paul.

We stumble.  We mess it up.  We make bad choices at times and struggle with sin always.

This morning, I read, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). For a brief moment, I thought, “Sure, easy for him to say.”

But of course it wasn’t easy for James, the half-brother of Jesus, to curb his tongue and control his anger.

Years earlier, before Jesus’ public ministry had truly launched, his own family, including James, had mocked him, saying,

‘“Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.’ For even his own brothers did not believe in him” (John 7:3-5).

Disciplining your tongue and emotions is no overnight accomplishment, not for James, who once used words to taunt Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah.  Not for Paul, not for Peter–and not for you or me.

I’m sure it wasn’t a cake-walk, either, for John the Baptist to be obedient to his call.  I always assumed he lived out in the desert all alone, wearing camel hair and eating honey and wild locusts because he was just a quirky kind of guy.  Maybe he enjoyed that diet.  Maybe he wanted to stand out from the crowd with his own personal style.  People eat odd things and wear “unique” outfits all the time.

Really, though, he wasn’t following a personal health regime or starting his own fashion trend.

John the Baptist was living a life of radical obedience. Surely he smelled the fish crackling over the campfires around the river many nights and longed for a delicious, fulfilling meal.  Certainly he caught the scent of fresh bread baking in the simple homes along the Jordan River and longed not just for a slice of bread, but perhaps a family with whom to share it.

But he kept to his diet of bugs and honey and a life of solitary confinement because of self-disciplined, self-sacrificing obedience.

Paul tells us: I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27, NASB).

That Barbie-look-a-like of a ballerina on my television screen did not perform plies, tendues, and releves fresh out of her mother’s womb.  She took lessons and invested years of intense practice and focused instruction to stand and move and bend with a dancer’s ease and grace.

Don’t give up on your spiritual walk just because the girl in your Bible Study class quotes Scripture like she wrote it herself, or the mom in your prayer group sounds like she prepared her prayers in advance with a poetry instructor, or the woman in front of you during worship service knows all the words to the songs and sings like she means every word.

Don’t be discouraged when you study the Top 40 Heroes of the Faith in Scripture and feel like you fall short.

They struggled.  They messed up.  They sinned. They repented.  They studied, learned from others, were disciplined by God, and humbly grew to maturity.  Never attaining perfection on this planet, they became instead usable vessels for God’s purposes.

We all begin this Spiritual journey imperfect and the very essence of our faith is that we all need a Savior.  So, don’t give up.  Keep exercising the muscles of belief, patience, faith, and self-discipline.

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 Choose to Obey

“Therefore, my brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain”
(1 Corinthians 15:58).

Today is piano lesson day in my house.  I stopped giving lessons to other students when my youngest daughter was born, but I still teach my older girls once a week.  At times, this may seem like a raw deal to my daughters, having a teacher there not just for lessons, but for practice time, as well.  They might not fully appreciate me hovering over their shoulders and correcting their mistakes all week.  I change their hand positions when they shift their fingers too far.  I show them the right notes when they stray to a wrong key.  I remind them of the OTHER song they were supposed to practice this week, not just the song they really like.

In many ways, me being their mom and their teacher has been helpful, not just because I make sure they practice the songs the right way all week long, but also because I’m there to encourage them each day to keep going and not give up.

In the beginning, my oldest daughter asked me to quit about once a week.  Any time she got a new song that was just a little bit harder than the last one, she thought it was a good time to give up.  One minute, she would be super excited about mastering her old lesson, playing it 20 times so I can hear how great she is, and then I’d turn the page to a new song.  Some new notes.  A new hand position.  A new skill.  And she’d be discouraged and a little afraid.  She’d tell me that what she had learned was enough , that she was a great piano player because of how well she could play “Old MacDonald,” so there was clearly no need to play “Aura Lee.”

But, I’m her teacher and mom and I know better.  I know the new song isn’t too hard and that if she just gave it one good practice session, she’d regain confidence. Within a week she’d have mastered it and be ready for something new.  So, I tell her, “Don’t give up.  Keep trying.  You can do it.  The best things in life take hard work and the effort is worth it.”

Today, I feel like giving up.  I’ve looked around at where I’m at and how hard it is, and I’ve thought, “I’ve gone far enough.  I’ve exerted enough effort.  It’s just too costly and time-consuming and emotionally draining and I think I need to stop.  Take a vacation.  Escape.  Quit and do something easier.  Settle for something less.  Did you really call me to this?  Did I hear correctly or am I just off doing my own thing?  I just can’t do this anymore, God.  I’m not seeing any results, blessing or reward, so this just doesn’t seem worth it.”

Have you been there?

Have you changed your 13th diaper for a morning and thought, “I’m over this.  I’m done.   Nine months old sounds like a perfectly reasonable time to potty train.”

Have you listened to yet another fight between your kids and wanted to scream and just shut the door and hide until your husband comes home?

Have you washed every dish and bit of clothing in your house only to find the sink and hampers filled by the evening and just been totally overwhelmed by the endlessness of it all?

Have you given everything you had in ministry only to see little tangible result and watched as someone else seemed to reap success with little effort, so you just want to pack it in?

Have you worked hard to get out of debt or saved to put money aside, only to face a totally unexpected bill or rising gas prices that cut into your budget, and find that you’re never any closer to your goals no matter how hard you work or cut expenses?  And you think, “What’s the point.  Why am I trying so hard?”

But, God’s our Teacher and our Father and He knows better.

He knows that sometimes we grow tired and weary and that in those moments, it’s hard to remember the vision He gave us or the call He placed on our hearts.  He knows we just want to escape sometimes and curl up in His lap for comfort and rest, but He encourages our hearts by telling us, “Don’t give up.  Don’t run away now, not when you’re so close to the reward.  It is worth it; it is all worth it.  Just take another step, go a little further.”

Today, I’ve felt a little like John the Baptist just before the end of his life.  This man had boldly proclaimed the coming Messiah, publicly baptized Jesus and personally witnessed the Holy Spirit descending like a dove with God’s voice from heaven proclaiming, “This is My Son, in whom I am well pleased.   It may seem like if anyone in Scripture had the assurance of his calling and confidence in his ministry, it was John.

Yet, when John was in prison, he sent some of his followers to Jesus to ask, “‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:2, NIV).

As he sat in that prison, preparing for death, John must have begun to wonder, “Was it worth it?  Did I put everything on the line for the truth or for a lie?  Should I just give up?  Did I hear wrong from God?  Should I have stayed in the desert and never stood before a crowd to preach at all?  Was this guy even the Messiah or has this all been for nothing?”

So, Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see:  The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Matthew 11:4-5, NIV).   Jesus didn’t just send back a message of platitudes and inspirational quotes.  He gave John concrete evidence and specific reminders that God was at work and that it was all true and worth it.  Just like I tell my daughter at the piano, “Remember when you couldn’t play this song?  Now you can.  Remember when playing with hands together was hard?  Now it’s easy.”  I give her tangible signs of progress and success.

God gives us encouragement for those days when we question our call and think giving up sounds a whole lot better than persevering.

  • “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58, NIV).
  • “But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded” (2 Chronicles 15:7, NIV).
  • “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9, NIV).

These Scriptures remind me that it’s worth it, all the effort and sacrifice and heartache and time.  There’s a reward and blessing at the end of this as long as I don’t give up.  But, I can’t stop here.  I have to keep going, step after step after step. Even though I can’t see the end result, I can trust that to God.  All I can see is now and in this moment, I choose to obey.

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Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2011 Heather King