The amazing, astonishing, startling, unexpected grace of Christmas

I pieced the shepherd back together yesterday.

One night while I was out this past week, apparently there was a crash, the kind that happens when child meets breakable object.  The shepherd in our nativity took a tumble and  was left in pieces.  His lamb was missing wool.  He was missing a hand and a foot and a corner of his robe.

So, I puzzled it out piece by piece with a bottle of super glue until he looked presentable again.

This isn’t the first brokenness in our nativity.

There’s a wise men who has had some patching up, as well.  A few years ago, he crashed and lost his head and a foot.  Super glue saved the day then, too.

I bought the set years and years ago for $6 at a church yard sale, and I love it.  Truly love it.  It’s not porcelain white with gold trim.  It’s not handcrafted wood.  It’s not expensive or fancy.  It was a bargain,  well-loved, used, and slightly the worst for wear.

It’s been a little broken even from the beginning for me.  Our donkey came to us with one ear missing.  So, this little set has some history.

But I love it. There’s something about these figures that draws me, their individual expressions and personality,  the colorfulness of it all, maybe.

Maybe the beauty is simply this: Jesus didn’t come all pristine and showy.  He didn’t come gilded or gorgeous, lofty and high.

He came so low.  He came to  the humblest and the small.  He came to the broken.

He came to us.

I see this heart in Mary when she sang with astonishment at the angel’s message.  She would be the mother of the Savior! Her!  Not some princess or queen, not a woman of position and power, not a matriarch of a rich family,

Young.  Single.  Poor.

Mary sang:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name (Luke 1:36-49).

Her song rings with astonishment.  Not just that God would do  this miraculous work, but that He would do these great things “for me.”

In his book, Hidden Christmas, Timothy Keller writes:

We should be just as shocked that God would give us—with all our smallness and flaws—such a mighty gift.

God  does this.  He chooses the humble.   Scripture reminds us of God’s heart:

Though the Lord is great, he cares for the humble, but he keeps his distance from the proud
(Psalm 138:6 NLT)

The Lord supports the humble, but he brings the wicked down into the dust.
(Psalm 147:6 NLT)

For the Lord delights in his people; he crowns the humble with victory.
(Psalm 149:4 NLT)

So he chooses this girl Mary, and when He does she marvels at the way this is so topsy-turvy, so against the world’s expectations and plans:

He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty (Luke 1:51-53). 

He has blessed not the mighty, but the humble,  not the rich, but the hungry.

How startling that God would choose her.

And he chooses simple shepherds.  He chooses foreigners, Gentiles, from a far off nation to carry the gold and the frankincense and the myrrh to worship this new King.  He chooses the tiny town of Bethlehem; He chooses a stable, not a palace in the capital city.

How startling that God would choose them. 

It’s an astonishment we need ourselves:  How startling that God would choose us:  love us, save us, call us, use us.

Us!  Yes, us, the broken ones gathered around the nativity, held together by super glue with our cracks still evident upon up-close inspection.

 

Timothy Keller continues in his book this way:

“no Christian should ever be far from this astonishment that ‘I, I of all people, should be loved and embraced by his grace!” (Hidden Christmas)

It’s a surprise that shakes us out of complacency and into awe-filled worship.  Our God, so mighty, so worthy of praise, He “has done great things for me!”  Yes, He has done this even for me, even when I was lost, even when I’m imperfect, even when I mess up, even when I’m broken, even when I don’t  have it all together.

Such grace.  Such amazing grace.

This is the invitation to go together and not alone

“I want to come!”

This is my son.  He lives in a constant state of high-alert awareness, making sure no one in the family goes out for an adventure or for some fun without bringing him along.

We plan a movie day, just me and my girls to see a film that isn’t animated and isn’t going to hold the interest of my active four-year-old boy.

Somehow, though, without us talking to  him or even talking near him so he’ll overhear us, he manages to catch the word “movies” and pipes up with his current catchphrase, “I want to come!”

This is so hard.

I am an oldest child in a family of 5 kids.  Until I had a youngest child of my own, I had no idea how hard it can be sometimes to be the baby of the family.

He is the one who wants to play, but the others are too old to play.

He is the one who always wants to come even if we’re going somewhere he can’t go.  That means feeling left behind and that breaks his momma’s heart.

So, we try our best.  We draw him in.  We take him whenever we can.   That’s not everywhere and that’s not always, but we do our best.

Right in the middle of decorating our Christmas tree, last weekend, I ran out of working Christmas lights.  It had been a long and busy day full of projects, but unfinished projects are like fingernails on a chalkboard for me.   I cannot do, “let it wait until tomorrow.”

So, off I went, grabbing my bag and prepping for an emergency dash to the Wal-Mart.

My son saw my bag and sure enough said, “I want to come!”

He didn’t even know where I was going.  He just didn’t want to be left out.

Of course, making quick runs into a store is much easier without children along for the ride, but I grabbed his coat and shoes and took him with me because I could.

We drove out of our neighborhood slowly, marveling at all the Christmas lights.  We bought our supplies at the store and as we walked back out, Andrew shouted to a group of unknown bystanders, “Hey, they have a lot of Christmas stuff in there!”  Then we drove back home a slightly different way so we could see the decorations on a whole new set of houses.

The best part  of our unexpected adventure was his presence.  He was there.  He didn’t miss it.  I had drawn him in to the journey and pulled him alongside as a companion and he brought all the joy when wrestling with the lights on that tree had left me joy-depleted.

This is one of the gifts of the Christmas season: Jesus draws us in and He draws us together with others.

This is what He did for Mary, as she was commissioned to be the mother of the Messiah, right when the calling was at its most overwhelming and she could have felt both overwhelmed and all alone.  That’s when the angel said:

And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren (Luke 1:36 ESV).

You’re not in this by yourself.  Come.  Share this experience and this calling with another.

That was the invitation.

It was an invitation to do the hard thing with another rather than all alone.

And the angels made other announcements.  The heavens displayed other signs.  They shared the good news of great joy with a group of shepherds co-laboring in the fields, and a group of wise men studying the skies and ancient texts together.

These men had been working together and searching together.   Now, they became fellow-travelers and fellow-witnesses, bringing their community to Jesus and bringing Jesus to their community.

So much of me wants to hide away and hibernate by the time we hit December.  The calendar has “no more room at the inn” and my depleted resources leave me with little left to give.

But Jesus.

Jesus draws others in.

He brought His very presence right into the middle of the everyday, ordinary, needy lives of people and then invited them to come and not just to come alone, but to come together .

Maybe this Christmas can be a Christmas of invitation for us.  Maybe instead of doing alone and going alone, we can ask another, “Do you want to come?”  It can be last minute, it can be messy, it can be casual, it can be crazy.  It can be formal and planned or it can be made up as we go along.

It can be a prayer as we begin the Advent season, “Lord, draw me to you….and draw me to others.”

 

 

This is How Close God Chooses to Come

love-came-down

In December of 2008, I was directing the church Christmas cantata while pregnant.

I was early pregnant.  That means we still kept it secret and my clothing still kind of fit so no one could look at me and tell yet.

We had wrapped up the first ultrasound picture and planned to give it to our parents for Christmas that year.

Early pregnant also meant I was sick pregnant.

So, before I walked on the stage to direct the choir that night, my husband prayed for me and then gave me some practical advice, “If you need to throw up, just leave the stage and I’ll take over for you until you can come back.”

That’s love for you, right there.

Of course, since no one else knew I was pregnant, it might have looked more than a little odd to see the music director flee from the stage right in the middle of a song.  We would have had some explaining to do.

I popped a peppermint that night and managed to get through the entire choral program without exiting the stage for a frantic run to the nearest bathroom.  That meant we could keep the news about the baby safely secret until Christmas just as we had planned.

And I loved those secret days.  There’s something intimate and joyful about tucking good news away and savoring it before sharing it.

This Christmas, it’s Mary on my mind as a I remember back to those Christmases I spent holding a newborn baby myself or preparing to share the good news about a baby to come.

I remember Mary who so willingly sacrificed her plans and agenda to submit to God’s will.

Mary who trusted God.

Mary who worshiped and declared “He has done great things!”

Mary who gave thanks.

Mary who “treasured these things in her heart.”

And Mary, who carried God Himself, the Messiah and Savior, within.

Maybe she had her own bouts with nausea, but she also had this closeness to God, the very closest a human being could ever get to the divine—to carry Him within.

But this is the beauty of Christmas for all of us, because Jesus came to earth to be reachable and touchable by us, as well.

God came near, not just next to us or before us—but to be within us.

Scripture tells us that we as Christians carry Christ in us to a world that needs Him so.

Paul asked the Corinthian church:

Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? ( 2 Corinthians 13:5 ESV)

And to the Galatians, he said:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20 ESV)

To the Colossians, Paul declared that this was a great mystery:

To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27 ESV).

This is how close God chooses to come.

There are days, maybe especially during seasons when we run about at a frantic life-pace, when God feels so distant, so far, so unreachable.

But I remember Mary.  And I remember how Christ came within her.  And how He comes to be within us.

That’s the joy of Christmas:  How God broke through barriers and distance and the law and sin and death.  He overcame all of that to be with us and to be within us.

Max Lucado says there’s even more to this promise:

“Christ grew in Mary until he had to come out. Christ will grow in you until the same occurs. He will come out in your speech, in your actions, in your decisions. Every place you live will be a Bethlehem, and every day you live will be a Christmas. You, like Mary, will deliver Christ into the world” (In the Manger, Max Lucado).

May we pause this season to ponder anew the promise of Christ within.

What a gift that He is with us everywhere we go, that He is near and He is reachable.

But also this:  What a joy to deliver Christ to those around us, to share Him with others through word and deed.

 

10 Bible Verses about God Fulfilling His Promises (and my One Word for 2016)

verses-fulfilled

“Fulfilled.”

I prayed in those last few weeks of 2015 over my “one word” for 2016.  It’s not a prophecy or a magic trick.  It’s just a way to quiet the noise and ask God what He wants to do in the new year.  How can I join Him?  How can I prepare my heart for His intentions?

While I knew the idea of what I wanted, I couldn’t find that One Word to pull it all together

I wanted it to be about seeing God complete His work.  He’s stirred my heart in new directions, turned over soil, planted new seeds.  He’s closed doors and asked me to step down from long-term commitments.  He’s begun the work, and now I long to see the fulfilment of His promises, His plans, and the desires He’s placed on my heart.

Completion.  Fruition.  Harvest.

But there’s more.

I want to be fulfilled in Him, not always longing for more or discontent with what He’s already given.  He is enough for me.  I am sated and satisfied in Christ.  I am humble and grateful and overcome by His goodness.

Then I read one of my favorite verses in the Christmas story and I knew in that one breathless moment that this was it, where I needed to fix my attention in 2016:

And blessed is she who believed that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled. Luke 1:45 NET

Amen.

Here are 10 other verses to remind us that God fulfills His promises, He completes His work, and He does not abandon His plans for us.

  • Joshua 21:45 NIV
    Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.
  • Joshua 23:14 NIV
    “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.
  • Proverbs 13:12 NIV
  • Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
        but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.
  • Proverbs 13:19 NIV
    A longing fulfilled is sweet to the soul, but fools detest turning from evil.
  • Jeremiah 1:12 NIV
    The Lord said to me, “You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.”
  • Lamentations 2:17a NIV
    The Lord has done what he planned; he has fulfilled his word, which he decreed long ago…
  • Ezekiel 12:28 NIV
    “Therefore say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: None of my words will be delayed any longer; whatever I say will be fulfilled, declares the Sovereign Lord.’”
  • Luke 1:38 NIV
    “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
  • Philippians 1:6 NIV
    being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
  • Galatians 6:9 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.

My past “One Word” choices for the year:

Did you choose One Word for the new year?  What word or theme verse did you choose?

Christmas means God on the move

christmas15

Today, I plunked down $0.88 for a new address book.

Then, I laid its 13-year-old, well-worn predecessor to rest.

It was time.

In that old address book, I have crossed out.  I have drawn arrows.  I have swirled over old addresses and entered in new.  I have stuffed envelopes with corrected info into the pages.

This year during ‘Operation Christmas Cards,’ I flipped through that edited mess.  Seven more family members moved this year to new homes in new places.

Most of these are happy moves: The new-job, new-marriage, new-baby kind of celebration.

Others are moves of in-between, of change, of loss and sadness and finding new hope for the future.

Since I have an intense dislike, maybe even horror, of writing in pencil, though, I can’t just erase and start afresh at each new life event.

That’s when I realized the truth.  It wasn’t time for more corrections.  It was time for a completely fresh shart.

It was time to move on.

And it strikes me right at that moment as I fill in the blank pages A-Z, surrounded by Christmas decorations and Christmas cards, that Christmas itself is about moving.

God began that progress, journeying to us:

God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him (1 John 4:9 HCSB).

He makes the first move.  He steps into the void we can’t breach, the abyss of sin we can’t possibly cross, and He leaves the glory of heaven for our sake.

Jesus isn’t the only One who moved that first Christmas, though.

“The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth” (Luke 1:26).

Mary and Joseph loaded up the donkey and trekked slowly “from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Judea, to the City of David, which is called Bethlehem” (Luke 2:4 HCSB).

The angels arrived on the hillside to announce the Savior’s birth to shepherds and then “left them and returned to heaven” (Luke 2:15 HCSB).

Then, those shepherds in their excitement said, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened” (Luke 2:15 HCSB).

Days later, a man named Simeon was guided by the Spirit and went straight to a GOd-appointed place:  “he entered the temple complex” (Luke 2:27 HCSB).

Wise men from the east searched the night sky and could no longer remain at home, complacent, apathetic, mildly interested but not engaged when they saw the mysterious star.

No, they moved.

They committed to the journey, packing camels, loading supplies, asking questions.

They must have left so much  behind:  Family, possessions, homes, a culture they knew and friends they loved.  Maybe they left position and power in the dust in order to arrive in a foreign land as strangers and outsiders searching for a King they couldn’t describe whose name they didn’t know.

Where were they going?  They did not know.  When would their journey end?  They could not say.

Just like Abram long before, the Magi left their homes to travel to an unknown destination for an uncertain amount of time.

Friends must have called them crazy.  Family might have questioned their sanity.

Yet, they kept moving because a star “led them until it came and stopped above the place where the child was ” (Matthew 2:9 HCSB).

Christmas is about the faith of movement, about faith in action.  No standing still.  No remaining the same.  No stubbornly refusing to leave the old in pursuit of God’s work anew.

In a season steeped in tradition, God shows us that He can do the surprising and unexpected.  He is at work.  He is in motion.

Christmas is angels and shepherds, sages and a teenage girl, the righteous and the ordinary, all abandoning their plans, agendas, comfort, and homes, leaving it all behind so they would not miss what God was doing.

Are we so willing to move?

When God calls, when He is active, when He is at work and He comes to us, will we also go to Him?

I’ve finished filling this new address book now and for a while at least everything is settled and set.

Yet, I’m hushed with expectancy.  I’m at the feet of Christ with anticipation.  I’m asking the question and I’m silent, breathlessly waiting for the answer He gives:

“God, what are you doing and how can I be there?  I don’t want to miss it by refusing to move when you move. Lead me this Christmas.”

 

 

Pa rum pum pum

Glory to God

 

Pa rum pum pum.

I am practicing for the church Christmas cantata.

So is my two-year-old son.

I hear him from the backseat of the minivan, singing along with the CD, instinctively drumming his hands to The Little Drummer Boy.

Then he wiggles and bobs his head and does a little toddler dance of intense motion.

Pum pum pum, he sings.

All this Christmas season, my son has been singing this song.  It’s his favorite.  He reacts the same way every time, with participation, with whole body involvement, with spontaneous joy.

And, besides all that, it’s the one song that he knows most of the words to.

Pum pum pum.  He belts it out.

It’s not a Christmas carol I’ve ever given much thought to.  Being the realist I am, I’ve always balked at an extra-biblical kid with a drum hovering near the manger scene, rapping out a rhythm for the newborn Savior.

But as a parable….as a story digging God-centered truth down deep within me…..it’s captured my attention.

Perhaps this is because I’ve played it over and over and over again for my son and then it gets stuck in my head and I pretty much cannot escape hearing this song all….day…..long….

It’s here, this line, that gets me every time: “I have no gift to bring…that’s fit to give a King…. Shall I play for you?”

What’s more fitting than our worship?

What’s more treasured and valued by God than our praise offering?

Some of you might be fighting for the joy this season.

You could rush yourself right past the purpose of Christmas, caught up in the busyness, buried in the rush, made breathless by the expectations and demands on your time, on your attention, on your wallet, on your soul.

Maybe it’s hard to see the Light of Christmas through the crushing darkness of your circumstances.

This year, though, I’m not fighting for joy; I’m fighting for worship.  For awe.  To be captivated anew by the weight of His glory.

I’m battling and warring against the ‘blahs’ of same-old, same-old.

It’s remembering that family movie nights with The Grinch, hot chocolate and popcorn, lights and wreaths, traditions, baking sessions, and picking that perfect present are fun, but they aren’t ‘it.’

It’s hearing that well-known Christmas story one more time and gasping in amazement that God came down for us.

Not rattling off Linus’s speech from the Peanuts’ Christmas movie (love that, by the way), but letting the truth sink, sink, sink into the hardened soil of my heart to  saturate me with Christ’s astonishing love.

And then responding like I should in the face of so much glory—on my knees, hands raised, heart expectant, worshipping Him as spontaneously and as wholeheartedly as a two-year-old crooning along to The Little Drummer Boy in the minivan.

My truest response to God’s greatest Gift should be an offering of praise.

That’s Mary.  She sings in worship:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior (Luke 1:46 EV).

That’s Zechariah after 9 months of silence:

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has visited and redeemed his people (Luke 1:68 ESV).

That’s the angels who spontaneously exclaim in one unified voice, praising God:

 “Glory to God in the highest
 and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:13-14 ESV).

That’s the shepherds, who high-tailed it off of that mountain to see this Savior.  They left the infant Messiah that night:

“glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:20 ESV).

That’s the wise men, journeying with anticipation and finally arriving to see Jesus:

And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh (Mathew 2:11 ESV).

At church, I tell the children playing wise men in the Christmas program to kneel and set their gifts (carefully) down as they bow.

But I tell them the truth, how those magi didn’t gingerly drop to one knee in the presence of Christ.

No, they hit their faces to the ground in adoration and humility.

In Unafraid, Susie Davis writes that the word really means:

They prostrated themselves and did him homage…laid out completely.  Hands in the dung.  Soiled robes.  Crowns knocked off.  Faces to the ground.

A poor girl from a small town.

A faithful priest.

Lowly shepherds.

Sages from afar.

The Christmas account is awash with praise: Spontaneous, heart-resonant, knees-to-the-earth surrendered worship to a Savior so worthy, to a Savior so compassionate, to a Savior so glorious.

What can I bring Him?  I am so small.

I bring Him my worship.  I give Him my all.

 

When the tiger piece doesn’t fit in the tiger space

Psalm 77

My son drops the tiger-shaped piece onto the tiger-shaped space, but it doesn’t slip in easily.  It’s askew, just a bit.

He snatches the piece up and tries again.  Puzzle piece into the puzzle….almost.  It’s slightly off again.

Bang!  Slam!  Bang!  Slam!

Subtlety isn’t his strong suit, apparently.

Over and over he tries.  He knows exactly how this puzzle should look in the end, how it will all fit together.

But it just….won’t…..go……in.

Finally, I cradle his hand with my own, helping him shift the piece, wiggle it a bit, shimmy it around until it can fit right into the puzzle with ease.

He protests with some rising pride and unwillingness to be helped:  “I can do it myself.”

But I insist.  I show him how to do it because he can’t do it on his own, not this time.  Next time, maybe.  With practice, yes.  With the skills I’ll show him, absolutely.

His resistance is familiar.  “I’ll do it myself.”

Sometimes I don’t even recognize my own little prideful tantrums and uprisings, my insistence that I do it myself, and if I just work at something long enough, maybe I’ll figure it out.

But this is what I do.

Last week, I wrestled in the night with a ‘problem.’

I felt like God was asking me to do something.  But if I did this, then that would happen and what about this possibility and that issue?  It was a train reaction of complications all initiated by my own act of obedience.

So, I lie there in bed in the middle of the night, slamming that puzzle piece down onto the board.

Slam!

What if I did this instead?

Bang!

What if I asked her to do this?

Slam!

What if we tried it this way?

Bang!

What would happen….?

Nothing fit.  I failed and failed and failed.

Finally, I stopped shoving, and straining, and making all this effort to work this out on my own and I prayed:

“God, this is not my problem.  It’s Your problem.  If You want me to do this, You’ll need to make a way for me to do this.  It’s got to be You.  All You.  Only You.  I just need to get out of the way and leave this in Your hands.”

Nothing has happened yet.  I’m still waiting.

I keep praying about it, of course, but I’m refusing to hunt for the fix or the solution any longer.  I’m just praying, “God, take care of this, please” and then moving along with my day.

This is hard.

My mind keeps slipping into the old habit, turning that problem over and over and looking for the new angle that will make everything fit.

But I think of Mary….

At the wedding at Cana, Jesus’ mother saw the problem.

No more wine for the wedding guests.  Social faux pax!  Party disaster!

She could have brainstormed solutions and considered all the posibilities.  She could have calmed down the hostess and offered strategies and fixes.

But instead, she brought the matter to Jesus, telling Him simply, ““They have no wine” (John 2:3 ESV).

Not, “They have no wine; please make them some wine from water.”

Not, “They have no wine; please miraculously keep everyone’s glasses full.”

She just told Jesus the facts of the situation: Here’s the problem.

And then she left it there with confidence, telling the servants:  “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5 ESV).

Who knows what she expected in that moment?  What possibilities had she considered?  What solution did she have in mind?

We just know that she trusted the Savior to handle the problems she faced, every detail of them,

It’s not easy, releasing that control, opening up those hands and letting the problem fall at the feet of Jesus instead of clutching it tightly to our chest.

But it pushes us into expectancy.

We hold our breath and open ours wide and we just can’t wait to see what God will do.

God, I have no idea how to fix this. 

The problem is too big.

I am too small.

Nothing I’ve thought of is the right answer. Nothing I could do would make this right.

But You are bigger and more powerful and more creative than anything or anyone.

So, it’s up to You.  I thank You in advance.  And, I sit back and watch to see You at work. It’s going to be quite a display of Your glory.

~Amen~

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

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Devotions: How to lose at Candy Land

“Congratulations.”

That’s the word we taught our daughters to say when they lost at Candy Land.

Maybe around 2 years old when they could first maneuver those colored gingerbread men around that candy-covered game board, we taught them this massive word.

Mastering the vocabulary came difficult.  They lisped out ‘congratulations’ and we’d smile over the cuteness of a tinchristmas8y person tackling the syllables.

But more difficult than that, harder than the language itself, was the heart uprising at having to spill out “congratulations” to someone else.

Because we all want to win…all the time.  And when someone else’s gingerbread man landed on that last rainbow square right at the candy castle, that wrecked little hearts in all their innate selfishness and self-centered ways.

Oh, how the wrestling match with our enemy pride begins so young and does it ever actually end?  Will we ever slam that opponent down on that mat and claim victory over such a foe?

If Christmas is about anything, though, it’s about God coming low.

Paul writes:

 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!  (Philippians 2:5-8 NIV).

He made himself nothing.  Our God chose to be man, born all bloody and small in a stable of dust and grime, straw, animal feed, and manure.

“Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…” that’s what Paul wrote.

Yet, still pride and envy destroy us, destroy our churches, our friendships, and our ministries because we scramble and shove for the spotlight, the glory and the prize.

We may no longer be counting the squares on a Candy Land board, and yet saying that word, ‘congratulations’ with genuine joy at another’s success may come difficult.

When their ministry takes off….
When they buy that huge new house….
When they book that dream vacation…
When their kids bring home that report card….

Yet, there’s John the Baptist.

Before Jesus came along preaching and healing, John gathered crowds by the river and baptized them into repentance and renewal.  He was the long-awaited prophet, the voice crying out in the wilderness.

So, John’s followers didn’t appreciate the attention the upstart Jesus was stealing away from John’s long-term ministry. But John wasn’t bothered at all, saying, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30 NIV).

In that familiar old Christmas story, I see where this began.

I see how John learned young to step aside humbly and worship the One who is greater.  I see how he didn’t strive for his own glory or stake his own claim to attention and praise.

His mama taught him.

Elizabeth was about six months pregnant with her own miracle baby when Mary came for a surprise visit.

For six months, Elizabeth treasured the joy of a son-to-be, a prophecy spoken over her very own baby.  How she had longed for a child during those years of barrenness, and now she was truly expectant.  And not just any baby.  But the forerunner of the Messiah in her very own womb.

Yet, when Mary walked into Elizabeth’s house unexpectedly, Elizabeth didn’t give way to jealousy or territorial cattyness.  She didn’t rush to tell her own story or pridefully demand any attention for herself

She stepped aside.

She extended a joyful and genuine ‘Congratulations’ to the young woman before her.

And she worshiped.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”  (Luke 1:41-45 NIV).

Pride chains us down to a captivity of our own creation.

Looking past ourselves sets us free.

It’s the freedom of making this life less about us and all about Him and serving others.

And the lesson begins here at Christmas as Elizabeth humbly congratulates and blesses the teenage girl before her.

As Elizabeth’s own unborn son becomes the first person to worship the still unborn Savior.

And as God Himself grew within the confines of a womb, our God of light couched for a time in darkness waiting to be born.

Originally posted 12/16/2013

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

Copyright © 2014 Heather King

 

Twist, Wrap, Glue….Trust: Pursuing the Presence of Christ Through Creativity

I don’t really create so much as I copy and adapt.

Those pictures on Pinterest, the photos in that project book, the links on Facebook, all entice me to pull out the hot glue gun, some fabric or paper scraps and make a huge mess, take up far more time than I expect, and finally gaze with pride on what I created…..I mean copied.fabric flowers

I’ve been wrapping strips of fabric into flowers and covering my hands into a hot mess of “Liquid Stitch” and stabbing my fingers with the needle when I try to sew the button into the center.

I’ve taken someone else’s ideas and made them my own.

I’ve wrapped the fabric too loosely now and my flower unravels.  I begin again.  Twist, wrap, glue, twist, wrap, glue.

As I try and try (and try) again, I mediate on this:

God started from nothing.

 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters (Genesis 1:2 NIV).

No McCall’s pattern.  No Pinterest.  No step-by-step directions on the DIY channel.  No classes at Michael’s or demonstrations at Jo-Ann Fabrics.

He takes that void, that nothingness, and He brings the fullness of His plans and design with the power of His Word alone.  Then He “saw that it was good” (Gen. 1:25 NIV).

In May, I’m continuing my 12 months of pursuing the presence of Christ by sewing and baking, gardening and gluing.  I’m ‘creating’ because this is who God is.  This is His nature.  His character.

If I want to know the joy of His presence, then I join Him in His activity.

Sally Clarkson writes in The Mission of Motherhood:

Creativity is such an integral part of the image of God within all of us… Whenever we adapt an idea or try a different approach to an issue or give our personal spin to a particular endeavor, we are learning a little more about our God-given nature and the nature of our creative God.

God….He’s Creator.  God…He’s creative.

He creates beauty.  He brings light into the dark places and hope into the hopeless situations.  He brings order into chaos and joy from mourning.

I pause and examine the flower I’ve made with a critic’s eye.  It’s not exactly like that Pinterest picture.  Nothing I make ever really is.

But the beauty of its originality grows on me.  Maybe I like it well enough.  It’s perhaps a little unexpected, maybe a little unplanned, but it’s a flower and it’s fabric and in it’s own particular way, it’s created for beauty.

So, why do I insist that this Creator God who is able to do “far more than all I ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3) and can speak a few words out into a formless universe and create a planet of complex life and intricate and breathtaking beauty….

Why do I insist that He do things my way?

I do this.  I pray, “God, here’s my need.  I’m hopeless here without You. Please reach right here into this pit and save me and here’s how….”

I’ve given Him agendas, to-do lists, blueprints, and step-by-step instructions. I’ve given Him 5-year plans and 10-year plans and custom orders for the needs I face that day.

I cling to my plan and argue like a lawyer in a courtroom before an unyielding judge, and then with just a few simple words He creates and I am stunned into silence and worship.

What God does over and over is create an entirely unexpected solution for the mess I’m in.

Yet, it’s perfect.  It’s exquisite.

I think of Mary, loving Jesus as she did, the mother who rocked Him and sang to Him in the night.

She brought to Him a problem in John 2 at the Cana wedding feast.  No more wine for the guests, she told Him.  The host of the party would be so embarrassed, she told Him.

And that’s where she stopped.

She didn’t tangle Him all up in her expectations, her solutions, her suggestions or demands.

No, she laid that problem right into His hands and trusted Him to care for it in His own way.

She gave Him the opportunity to create.

I look at the stack of fabric flowers I’ve made and they form for me a prayer:

God, help me remember that You are the Masterful Creator and I can trust You.  You make all things beautiful in Your time.  Whatever need I have or problem I face, I leave in Your hands.

To read more about this 12-month journey of pursuing the presence of Christ, you can follow the links below!  Won’t you join me this month as I ‘Create Beauty’?

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

Copyright © 2014 Heather King

 

It’s When They’re Quiet That You Need to Be Worried…

It’s when they’re quiet that you need to be worried.

That’s parental advice passed down through generations, usually learned from personal experience.

I learned my lesson, too.

My oldest girl did this thing when she was three years old called a “tantrum.”  Maybe you’ve heard of them?  Maybe you’ve seen one . . . or thrown one.

After a particularly rowdy tantrum on the car ride home one day, she stomped into the house still screaming, ran into my bathroom and slammed the door.

Unfazed, I took my time setting her baby sister down for a nap and tossing my keys and arm-full of papers and baby paraphernalia onto the kitchen counter.  I breathed in deep breaths of Mom sanity.

Then I realized that the banshee wail had subsided into silence, frighteningly loud silence.

Throwing open my bathroom door, I saw my red-faced preschooler crouched on the carpet, her hands covering her head as she sobbed.

On the floor next to her was her hair.

Her hair!

Her long, totally beautiful, golden curly hair.  In her rage, she had climbed onto my bathroom counter and dug through to the bottom of my makeup case where I hid the hair scissors.  Then she had systematically snipped off the two pig-tails on the tip-top of her head.

She was bawling.  I was bawling.  We raced to the local hair salon and plopped her up in the chair for a rescue mission.  Our superhero that day sported a comb and some clippers.

Sometimes we think silence means inactivity and stagnation, abandonment and loneliness, but instead it’s often a sign of focused activity.

With kids, that might mean trouble.

With God, though, as heart-wrenching and full of despair as His silence is, we needn’t fear the quiet.  It’s often a promise that He’s at work right there in the middle of your circumstances, deeply involved in your life.

This was me not long ago.  I thought I had it figured out, what God was doing and how He was at work and how He planned to bless and care for us, but I was wrong.psalm55

The thing about cramming God into boxes is that He shatters the confines of the cardboard.

So, when life didn’t go as I had planned, I cried out to Him: What are you doing?  What does this mean?

Why can’t I hear You?

The silence is so oppressive and filled with overwhelming sadness.  We just want to hear His voice, His quiet voice or His booming command, His encouraging cheer, or His tender whisper.  Whatever He wants to say, we’re desperate to hear it.

Because we feel afraid.

I drove off that night on an arbitrary errand, alone in my car, praying away in the quiet.  Then I hit the play button on the CD for our church Christmas cantata:

“Peace, oh my soul, weary from the struggle
Don’t be afraid, Love knows your deepest need.
There is a light shining in the darkness.
There is no shadow where it cannot reach.
Peace, peace, Jesus has come
O soul, be still, receive your King”

The song faded and one lone voice cut through the silence:

“The Lord is with you . . . Fear not, Mary ….For nothing is impossible with God….Joseph, fear not.  Fear not!  For unto us a child is born, to us a Son is given…Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy…Fear not!  They will call Him Immanuel–which means, ‘God with us.’  Fear not, for I am with you”

My husband asked me when I flopped on the couch later, “Were you crying?”

How could I do anything but cry?

I had been desperate for the slightest trickle of His voice and He had drenched me in His Word.

But even when I didn’t hear Him, God was still there, still active, still with me. That hadn’t changed.

In his book, Greater, Steven Furtick writes:

God is often working behind the scenes of your life, orchestrating His destiny for you.  Even though you don’t have a clue what He’s up to.  Just because you haven’t heard God call your name or tell you specifically what to do with your life doesn’t mean He’s not conspiring great things for you.

Sometimes we feel like Job: “I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me” (Job 30:20).

But even in the silence we can hold to the promise:

As for me, I call to God, and the Lord saves me.
Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress,
and he hears my voice
(Psalm 55:16-17).

He hears you.  And when He chooses to speak, the wave of His voice might wash over you and knock you off your feet and carry you to safety.  For now, just keep listening, keep waiting, and don’t be afraid of the silence.

Originally published October 5, 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 © 2014 Heather King