Raise Your Hand if You’re So Excited

“Raise your hand if you’re so excited about Christmas!”

That was my five-year-old son on repeat in the weeks before Christmas day.  He asked us often and he expected a response every time.  Everyone in the vicinity had to raise a hand quickly and high enough to  be seen. Either that, or the offending non-responder would be quizzed stringently.

Aren’t you excited for Christmas?  Why didn’t you raise hand?  Are you not really excited?

During our Christmas Eve service,  he started to fall asleep a bit ( so much excitement can wear a fellow out), so I picked him up and cradled him in my lap during the pastor’s message.  We made it almost to the end when my son sat straight up, no longer tired, and said in not quite a whisper: “Raise your hand if you’re so excited about Christmas!”

Every one of us in the pew raised our hands just a teeny bit, not high enough for anyone else in the church to see, but enough so he wouldn’t launch into the full-scale interrogation.

After Christmas, he kept the excitement going.  He enjoyed every bit of Christmas break.  Then I explained our New Year’s Eve plans and how our family usually has family game night, eats special snacks and watches funny videos on TV.

The first thing he asked as he rubbed sleep out of his eyes at 7:30 a.m. on December 31st was  if it was time yet for the game playing and  the snack eating and the funny video watching.

He was ready. Ready all day.  He quizzed me at 10  a.m. and again at noon and then afternoon right up until we (finally) started celebrating.

During the Christmas season, I felt a continual nudging as I read each part of the story: am I living with expectation?

The wise men were searching the night sky.  They were actively looking, digging deep into ancient Scriptures,  studying promises,  watching for their fulfillment.  Then, at the first sign of God on the move, they chose active obedience and pursuit.  They left behind the familiar, they traveled far from  home, because they wanted to see what God was doing.

Simeon and Anna both knew the Messiah was coming.  They had been promised  and assured of  his imminence.  With profound expectation, they lingered in the temple courts, hoping for the day they would  see the Savior with their own eyes.  And they did.  God did what He said He would do.

Am I this excited?  Am I expectant?

I’m not really. Not as excited as my son, and not as expectant as the wise men, or Simeon, or Anna.  I’m not watchful or hopeful of seeing the goodness God is doing.

Maybe you’ve started this new year with just that high level of expectation and excitement.  Or, maybe you’re more like me, limping in slowly, timidly, a little worn out from the hard season you’ve just walked through–hoping (but not certain) that the most difficult steps are finally in the past.

Maybe you’ve been waiting and there’s more waiting to be done.

I read this today:

Now the people were waiting expectantly, and all of them were questioning in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah  (Luke 3:6 CSB).

Can we all be expectant?

It wasn’t just the Christmas characters who lived with anticipation of the Messiah; it was a general buzz of anticipation.  Crowds lined the riverfront to see John the Baptist because they “were waiting expectantly,” on the lookout for a Savior.

And one day, they stood along that riverbank  and watched as Jesus Himself stepped out of the crowd and into the water to be baptized.

They were seeking and because they were seeking, they found the Lord Himself.

So,  what am I seeking?

I’m not seeking answers or direction.  I’m not seeking next steps or a Promised Land or a bright future.

This is what Scripture says:

You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13)

and

 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you (Matthew 6:33).

I can raise my hand because I’m so excited to see Jesus. Even the worn-out me who is tempted to hide away can instead be stirred up with eager expectation because I want to see the Lord and to see God’s kingdom at work in the here and now.  I’m so excited to catch glimpses of His glory this year,  knowing that He is present and He is powerful.

He is a Good God.  And He is doing Good things.

 

 

The Light Shines Best Through the Darkness #Advent

My son decisively flicks off the overhead lights in the kitchen.

This is inconvenient since I am actually cooking dinner at that precise moment.

So, I flick the lights back on and thereby initiate a light battle.

Off. On.  Off. On.

Finally, he pushes down the switch one more time and says, “Mom, it’s pretty!”

That’s when he points to the Christmas lights:  Our Victorian village with houses, stores, a library and church all glowing; The garland strung with lights surrounding our nativity scene; the Christmas tree glowing from the living room.

Everywhere there is light.

But it shows up best against the darkness and he knows it.

So, I acquiesce a bit because I understand this quest for beauty.

When I need to see into the back recesses of the cabinet, I turn the switch on.  When I’m finished digging out ingredients and just stirring them into the pot on the stove, I keep it off.

Maybe my son and I are kindred spirits in this.

Each morning, before I have shuffled over to the teapot to heat water for my tea, before I have poured cereal into the bowl for my toddler, before I have fed the cat, I journey around our home and plug in every string of Christmas lights we have.

Only then am I prepared to start the day’s routine.

And throughout the day, I work and clean and write by the light of tiny Christmas bulbs whenever possible.

The light and the glow bring me a sweet, indefinable peace and a little bit of extra joy. It reminds me that even when I feel surrounded by darkness, the Light has come.

That is what Christmas is.

That is what Christmas promises.

Isaiah prophesied:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. (Isaiah 9:2 ESV).

What a blinding revelation of God’s glory as the Light of Christ shot through the darkness into a Bethlehem night.

So many missed it, though.  So many didn’t see.

But the angels declared it.  The shepherds worshiped. The wise men followed.

And Zechariah sang a song of praise to God at his own son’s birth because he knew the Light was coming:

Through the heartfelt mercies of our God,
God’s Sunrise will break in upon us,
Shining on those in the darkness,
those sitting in the shadow of death,
Then showing us the way, one foot at a time,
down the path of peace (Luke 1:78-79 MSG).    

Maybe I enjoy my son’s pronouncements that the Christmas decorations are “pretty” because I need the reminder to actually look and see.

Too often I’m the one missing it instead of following His glory like Zechariah and those angels and shepherds and wise men long ago.

This year might have worn us down.  It might have exhausted our souls and depleted our reserves of hope.

We’re so desperate for His Light in our darkness.

This week I read in the Psalms a verse that perfectly described my heart this year:

My eyes strain to see your rescue, to see the truth of your promise fulfilled.  Psalm 119:123

We want to see.  We desperately, deeply want to see promises fulfilled, rescue coming, salvation here, prayers answered.

Yet, still we wait.

Advent reminds me to keep looking, keep straining my eyes to see, keep hunting for the Light like it’s the greatest treasure and the truest longing of my soul.

Because Advent is all about the longing, the seeking and searching, the expectant wait and the assurance that the promises are fulfilled.

Christ indeed came.

God’s people didn’t wait forever.

Finally, in God’s perfect timing, the Light cut through the darkness and it shone on His people.

But here’s what else I realize as my son points to the “pretty” lights…

Sometimes we need others to reveal the light for us.

Just like we languish in the darkness, just like we long for hope, for joy, for peace, so do those around us.

And maybe this year, instead of worrying over the darkness ourselves, we can help point to the Light just as Zechariah did in his song of praise.  Just like the angels did as they declared “Glory to God in the Highest.”

Just as the shepherds did as they ran out of the stable to tell everyone about “this thing that has happened.”

Just as the wise men did as they laid their gifts before the small Messiah.

The joy of the light isn’t just in the seeing; it’s in the sharing.

May we see the Light of Christ cut through the darkness this year.

May we also share the Light of Christ, may we seek out ways to be light so that others can learn to see, too.

Originally published 12/2/2016

There’s No Surprising Him

galatians-4

When my older girls were preschoolers, we’d keep every activity a secret until the last possible second.

If I planned to take them to the zoo, they’d find out that morning at 8:30 when I put on their sneakers and packed the cooler.

If Grandma was coming for a visit, they found out when she pulled in the driveway.  Maybe, just maybe, I’d be generous enough to clue them in a few hours before she arrived.  But that was it.  No more advance notice than that.

This parental strategy was for several reasons.

  1. Sometimes plans change, so I kept things secret so no promises were broken or kids felt disappointed.
  2. My children would pester me every hour of every day if they knew something exciting was going to happen.  “How much longer?  How many days?  How many hours…minutes….seconds?”

One year, I kept the secret that Grandma was coming right up until the night before her visit when some unforeseen event dragged the news out of me at bedtime.

Disaster ensued.  Huge childhood drama.

My oldest daughter wailed, grumped, and grew outrageously angry at me for keeping the secret.

I had not given her acceptable planning time.  She informed me, “Had I known Grandma was coming, I would have made her a project.  I had time to make a project today. Tomorrow will be too busy and I will not have time.  You should have told me!”

Oh sweet daughter, I understand.

I do truly hate surprises.  I love my planning and processing time. Springing anything on me is just asking for a meltdown and a whole lot of trouble.

Surprises rock our world a bit, even good ones.  We’re thrown off balance and take time to adjust.

And isn’t Christmas all about surprises?

Zechariah was simply performing his priestly duties when an angel appeared unexpectedly and delivered the news that he and his wife would be parents.

Gabriel arrived in the middle of an average, ordinary day and announced to a young girl named Mary that she would be the mother of the Messiah.

Joseph was sleeping when the angel told him the news in a dream.

Shepherds gathered on the hills outside of Bethlehem to watch over the sheep just as they did every single night.  But on this night, the angels declared their Savior had come.

A people who had spent hundreds of years praying for the Messiah, searching for the Messiah, waiting and longing for the Messiah were completely surprised when the Messiah came.

It’s altogether an astonishing tale.  Everyone waking up on an average day, going about their average ways, and then the most extraordinary happens: An encounter with an angel.  A miraculous sign.

God at work in their midst.

There’s only one member of this entire Christmas account who isn’t stunned and surprised by the Messiah’s birth.

God Himself.

And this brings me great comfort.

None of this was a surprise to God.

Not our need for a Savior. Not the timing.  Not that He’d send His Son to be born of a virgin in a tiny town.  Not that His Son would die on a cross to save His people from their sins.

He knew all of it.

The very first Christmas verse I can find in the Bible isn’t in the Gospels at all.  It’s in Genesis.

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15 ESV). 

The moment Adam and Eve sinned, God declared the plan of salvation, the war with Satan, and Christ’s ultimate victory.

Sometimes surprises can send me into a mad scramble.  Life takes unexpected turns.  An average ordinary day can catapult me into a crisis with a single phone call.

It feels precarious and frightening to teeter-totter every moment, never knowing when my perfect plan will be bumped into.

But this is what I know:

Even when I don’t have a plan, God does.

Nothing sends Him into a frantic search for a Plan B.  Nothing stresses Him out or tosses Him into crisis mode because He didn’t see that coming.

God knew we’d need a Savior all along and He knew exactly how to save us.

God always knows what we’re going through and what we need.  Even when we’re surprised, He is not.

So we can rest from our vigil of anxiety and loosen our tight-fisted grip on control.

Christmas reminds us that we can trust Him with today and again with tomorrow.

He has perfect plans and perfect timing and we are perfectly cared for by a God who rescues and saves.

The joy of light is in the sharing

isaiah-9

My son decisively flicks off the overhead lights in the kitchen.

This is inconvenient since I am actually cooking dinner at that precise moment.

So, I flick the lights back on and thereby initiate a light battle.

Off. On.  Off. On.

Finally, he pushes down the switch one more time and says, “Mom, it’s pretty!”

That’s when he points to the Christmas lights:  Our Victorian village with houses, stores, a library and church all glowing; The garland strung with lights surrounding our nativity scene; the Christmas tree glowing from the living room.

Everywhere there is light.

But it shows up best against the darkness and he knows it.

So, I acquiesce a bit because I understand this quest for beauty.

When I need to see into the back recesses of the cabinet, I turn the switch on.  When I’m finished digging out ingredients and just stirring them into the pot on the stove, I keep it off.

Maybe my son and I are kindred spirits in this.

Each morning, before I have shuffled over to the teapot to heat water for my tea, before I have poured cereal into the bowl for my toddler, before I have fed the cat, I journey around our home and plug in every string of Christmas lights we have.

Only then am I prepared to start the day’s routine.

And throughout the day, I work and clean and write by the light of tiny Christmas bulbs whenever possible.

The light and the glow bring me a sweet, indefinable peace and a little bit of extra joy. It reminds me that even when I feel surrounded by darkness, the Light has come.

That is what Christmas is.

That is what Christmas promises.

Isaiah prophesied:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. (Isaiah 9:2 ESV).

What a blinding revelation of God’s glory as the Light of Christ shot through the darkness into a Bethlehem night.

So many missed it, though.  So many didn’t see.

But the angels declared it.  The shepherds worshiped. The wise men followed.

And Zechariah sang a song of praise to God at his own son’s birth because he knew the Light was coming:

Through the heartfelt mercies of our God,
God’s Sunrise will break in upon us,
Shining on those in the darkness,
those sitting in the shadow of death,
Then showing us the way, one foot at a time,
down the path of peace (Luke 1:78-79 MSG).    

Maybe I enjoy my son’s pronouncements that the Christmas decorations are “pretty” because I need the reminder to actually look and see.

Too often I’m the one missing it instead of following His glory like Zechariah and those angels and shepherds and wise men long ago.

This year might have worn us down.  It might have exhausted our souls and depleted our reserves of hope.

We’re so desperate for His Light in our darkness.

This week I read in the Psalms a verse that perfectly described my heart this year:

My eyes strain to see your rescue, to see the truth of your promise fulfilled.  Psalm 119:123

We want to see.  We desperately, deeply want to see promises fulfilled, rescue coming, salvation here, prayers answered.

Yet, still we wait.

Advent reminds me to keep looking, keep straining my eyes to see, keep hunting for the Light like it’s the greatest treasure and the truest longing of my soul.

Because Advent is all about the longing, the seeking and searching, the expectant wait and the assurance that the promises are fulfilled.

Christ indeed came.

God’s people didn’t wait forever.

Finally, in God’s perfect timing, the Light cut through the darkness and it shone on His people.

But here’s what else I realize as my son points to the “pretty” lights…

Sometimes we need others to reveal the light for us.

Just like we languish in the darkness, just like we long for hope, for joy, for peace, so do those around us.

And maybe this year, instead of worrying over the darkness ourselves, we can help point to the Light just as Zechariah did in his song of praise.  Just like the angels did as they declared “Glory to God in the Highest.”

Just as the shepherds did as they ran out of the stable to tell everyone about “this thing that has happened.”

Just as the wise men did as they laid their gifts before the small Messiah.

The joy of the light isn’t just in the seeing; it’s in the sharing.

May we see the Light of Christ cut through the darkness this year.

May we also share the Light of Christ, may we seek out ways to be light so that others can learn to see, too.

The Year of the Nintendo

christmas4

That year, my brothers wanted a Nintendo for Christmas, that original Nintendo system with Mario and maybe Tetris.

They felt like they were the last kids in the neighborhood to finally get a video game system.

But, my parents delayed.  Should we have video games in the home?  Would it rot our brains and catapult us into a life of crime?

Finally my parents decided that owning a Nintendo could open up a whole new world of discipline opportunities.  When they misbehaved, my brothers could lose video game privileges.  That’d get their attention.

So, my parents bought that Nintendo for Christmas and hid it under their bed until the big day.

Only, my brothers peeked.

And they got busted.

For their punishment, on Christmas morning, they had to open up that coveted Nintendo and then put it aside.  They couldn’t play it yet.  Oh no, they had to wait several months before they could actually maneuver Mario and Luigi around drain pipes and clouds to save the princess.

My sisters and I could play the Nintendo.

My parents could play the Nintendo (if they so chose).

But my brothers had to wait, and the wait was excruciating: to be so close and yet oh so far away.

Of course, we think we know how painful waiting is.

We groan about waiting on God.

We commiserate with other Christians who complain that they are just ‘waiting.’

Oh, waiting.

I hate waiting.

Who doesn’t hate waiting?

If only God would step things up a little and get a move on.  If only He would come through for us on our own timetable.  If only He would cram Himself into our agenda.

We are anxious and hurried, demanding and impatient when God delays.

Waiting physically hurts.  It steals sleep and turns stomachs.  We pace.  We fret.  We take control.  We lose control.  We take control again.  We demand and whine, cry and manipulate.

Yet, still He lingers.

God is never rushed or harried, stressed or overcome by deadlines or the impetuousness of His own people.

He didn’t skip the 40 years of desert training for Moses and just give him a one-month crash course in leading a nation.

He didn’t speedwalk those Israelites through the wilderness.

He didn’t clear out the Promised Land in a day or build Solomon’s temple overnight.

And He did not send His Son to earth to save us one century too early.

Do we even know what that wait was like?  

How could we endure centuries of silence from heaven?

The Israelites came face to face with their desperate need for the Messiah constantly:

The sacrifices.  The bleating of the lambs.  The stench of the blood.

They couldn’t overlook or forget the deadly consequence of their sin-state.

They’d watch the slaughter today and know that they were only pure before God for one brief moment.

And then they’d sin again.

And the sacrifice would have to be made anew.

It was perpetual and constant.  Day after day, year after year of the law and rules and punishment and sin and sacrifice.

They were oppressed and persecuted.

Still, God asked them to wait.

 

At Advent, we remember the intensity of the longing for our Savior.  We recall how the world ached with its need for redemption.

And then Jesus came.

He came!

No more searching and longing, no more unfulfilled expectation, no more prophecies hanging unfulfilled.

No more need for sacrificial lambs because the Perfect Lamb had come.

No more imprisonment by sin and by the law.

No more waiting.

Simeon in the temple saw it.  He had been “waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him” (Luke 2:25 NIV).

And when he saw Jesus, he lifted that infant Lord into his own arms and praised God:

For my eyes have seen your salvation (Luke 2:30 NIV).

He saw the promise fulfilled.

Christmas reminds us that God is at work even in the waiting and the seeming silence.

Advent tells us that God fulfills and completes His work at the perfect time, but He is ever-present, even in the interludes of expectation.

We learn here from shepherds and wise men, from prophets and priests, not to give up on God.

We take this to heart.

Yes, as we wait for marriages, for jobs, for restoration, for healing, for deliverance, for provision, for peace.

We choose expectant hope over disappointment and despair.

More than that, we live ever-ready and ever-longing for Christ’s return.

As the apostle John wrote:

The one who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!  (Revelation 22:20 NET).

Come, Lord Jesus!

 

That’s What He Said

Psalm 33When my middle daughter turned six, we took her and some friends to the circus for her birthday.

Before the show, we ordered six Happy Meals from McDonald’s.  The cashier asked me each time, “Is this for a boy or a girl?”

For a girl.  All girls.  Six—yes, six—girls.

When we finally filled up every cup, unwrapped all the straws, and handed around the food, the manager popped around the corner to see us.  “Six girls!  Shew.  I just had to see all six of them.”

We assured him only three belonged to us.

At the circus, the birthday girl sat next to her friends on one end of the row.  My husband and I sat all the way on the other end. 

After each act, though, my brand new six-year-old shot all the way across six seats to climb into her Daddy’s lap.

She was scared.  Every time the music grew the least bit dramatic, she was sure the dragon in the show was coming out and it was a real dragon and it wanted to get her.

Sometimes you just need to be safe with Dad.

We need nothing less from God, open arms and the chance to climb up into His lap when life grows tense and what’s waiting behind the curtain feels ominous and overwhelming.

Later that night, I asked my girl, “Did you enjoy your birthday trip to the circus?”

“Yes,” she raved, “It was fun.  But I didn’t like that my friends kept saying, ‘The dragon is coming next!’ even when it wasn’t.  And they said “The dragon is real,” and it wasn’t.”

“Didn’t Mommy and Daddy tell you the dragon wasn’t real and you didn’t need to be afraid?”

“Mmmm-hmmmm.”

“And who do you think is most likely to tell the truth about things like that?  Mom and Dad or other kids?”

Pause for silent thought.

These were just friends, sweet, good friends who weren’t out to scare her or trick her.  They were making guesses and playing games.

Even so, she chose to listen to mistaken experts and believed their well-meaning false reports.

In the book of Matthew, some phrases jump off that page chapter after chapter:

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet . .. ” (Matthew 1:22).
“For this is what the prophet has written” (Matthew 2:5).
“And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet” (Matthew 2:15).
“Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled” (Matthew 2:17).
“So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets” (Matthew 2:23).
“This is He who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah” (Matthew 3:3).
This was “to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah” (Matthew 4:4).
“This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah” (Matthew 8:17 and 12:17).
In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah (Matthew 13:14).

Matthew tells us that God stays true to His Word.

Even though it seemed unlikely and impossible, even when it took a long time, He fulfilled every detail of His promises through Jesus.

 

In her book, The Shelter of God’s Promises, Sheila Walsh writes:

“The two Hebrew words we translate into English as “promise” are the words dabar, meaning “to say,” and omer, meaning “to speak.”  In other words, when God says something, when God speaks, that is as good as it gets He means what He says, and He says what He means.  It would appear as if we, humankind, had to invent the word promise because what we say or speak cannot always be trusted, so we upped the ante with a new word.  But when God speaks, He cannot lie” (p. 12).

The word “promise,” then, exists for our benefit, not God’s.  Every word He utters is truth, reliable truth, unwavering truth.

We combat other voices every day:

Well-meaning friends and family, even our fellow Christians, who make guesses and share opinions about what’s next for us.
Circumstances that scream reasonable-sounding assertions of hopelessness, abandonment, and utter despair.
The world shouting out its unfiltered opinion all day, every day.
Our internal dialogue with Satan’s interjections of shame, condemnation, and doubt.

But today, we can choose to ignore this fear-filled noise, climb up into Abba Father’s lap, and rest, knowing that we are His.  We are loved, safe, protected, and more, because that’s what He said is true.

Originally published on APRIL 23, 2012

Hope has a Name

Matthew 12

I froze on the sidewalk in the scorching summer heat with a six-year-old by my side and a toddler in the stroller.

We had popped into a grocery story 45 minutes from our home on a whim and then just as spontaneously decided to walk down to the Subway for lunch.

Nothing about this day was planned out or scheduled.  We could have just as easily been anywhere else at that moment.

But it was in that moment and there in that place that a stranger flew out of the doors of one of the storefronts, cigarette and phone in her hand, screaming at the air.

When she collapsed to the ground and cried so hard she almost stopped breathing, I rushed over, stooped down, placed my hands on her back and asked her what was wrong.

“My son is dead.”

That’s what she shouted.

It took time to sort through the mess of it all, how she was still on the phone and her younger son had just delivered the news that her 19-year-old boy had been killed in a car wreck.

I sat with her while others emerged. People poured out onto the sidewalk wondering about the commotion.

Pain like that can’t be contained and hushed up, quietly hidden away so as not to disturb anyone.  Pain like that is what makes us reach out to other when they collapse under the weight of their own trauma.

An older couple who had been out shopping stopped and whispered the sad truth, “We lost a son that same way.  We know what you’re going through.”

Store managers took charge of the practicalities, bringing her water, calling her boyfriend, covering her shift at work, calling emergency services to take her home.

Then a young man walked down pushing his own infant son in a stroller.  He cradled her face in his hands and told her to give it to God.

He shared his own hurt, how his oldest son was in a coma about 8 hours away after a car accident four months ago.  “What else can I do but just keep going and give it to God?”

We were eye-witnesses and onlookers to the worst moment of her life.

My son squirmed in the stroller and reached out for me, not sure what to make of the scene.  My daughter quietly looked on, staring wide-eyed at the stranger crying right there on the pavement.

I reached out to reassure them and then asked if I could pray for her, and we brought the ugliness and the pain straight to Jesus.

This woman I didn’t know looked up at me with eyes that held no hope.

We can mosey about life thinking we’re doing okay or at least we’re pushing through, but when you’re knocked down onto the sidewalk, that’s what reveals the truth about us and the hope we’ve been clinging to.

This world constantly mistakes hope for wishful thinking, anyway, and we toss around “hope” like it’s little more than a catchphrase or polite conversation.

I hope you get that job.

I hope you have a good day.

I hope it all works out for ya.

I hope you get better soon.

But as Christians, we don’t have wishful-thinking-hope.  We don’t have positive-thoughts-hope.

Hope has a name and that name is Jesus.

And his name will be the hope
    of all the world (Matthew 12:21 NLT).

Jesus gives us confident-assurance-hope.  Because of Him, we have rock-solid-hope that God is with us and that God will save us and that God won’t abandon us.

In her book, Brave Enough, Nicole Unice writes about the word “tharseo” in Scripture, how it’s used four places in the Gospels and each time it’s spoken by Jesus Himself.

To a paralyzed man lowered down to Jesus by four friends who scaled a roof and took it apart in order to help their friend:  Take heart, my son;your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2 ESV).

To the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years: “Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well” (Matthew 9:22 ESV).

To the disciples alone in the boat out on a storm-tossed sea: “But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27 ESV).

To the disciples…and to us….”I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ESV).

Nicole Unice says this word means:

Tharseo: Courage.
Jesus is near!
Forgiven sin.
Healed lives.
Powerful presence.”

Take Heart.

It’s Jesus we need.  It’s in His presence we find courage, forgiveness, healing, and yes, we find the Hope we’ve been looking for.

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

Christmas devotions: When preschoolers ask ‘why?’

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

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

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

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

Jesus.

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

She asked me:  Why?

Why was the serpent bad in that garden?

Why did Eve give the fruit to Adam, too?

Why did God choose Mary to be Jesus’ mom?

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

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

Why did He die on that wooden cross?

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

Why did Jesus walk on out of that grave?

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

I tried to keep it simple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s what we are without God.

“But…”

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

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

We bring mess.

He brings mercy.

It’s as simple as that.

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

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

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

Why did God send a Savior?

Why did He come as a baby?

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

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

Because of His mercy.

Yes, because of His grace.

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

 

Christmas devotions: How Many Days?

“Mom, how many days until Victoria’s birthday?”
Nine.

“How many days until we go see The Nutcracker?”christmas14
Nine.

“Once we see The Nutcracker, how many more days will it be until Victoria’s birthday and then to Christmas?”
Zero and Four.

“How many days until the last day of school before Christmas break?”
Seven.

“How many days until our program?”
Two.

“How many days to Christmas?  Do you know how many hours that might be?”
Thirteen and go ask your dad.

This is my house.

Every day.  All day.  From three of my four children and I’m sure if the 14-month-old could count and talk, I’d be doing this for him, too.

Mom is the walking Advent calendar, the perpetual countdown machine.  Punch in the numbers and out spits the carefully calculated response.

Unless I’ve answered enough times that day, in which case I point mutely to the calendar on the wall and let them do the math.

We are living for the countdowns and loving the promise that on appointed days at specific times, we will celebrate.  The big day will arrive.  The anticipation will give way to fulfillment.

Yet, so much of life seems to hang on uncertain hooks with undefined strength.  The deadlines are hazy.  The promise is there, but not the timing.  We can’ t count down the days and know that on this date, at this time, the one we’ve circled in red on our calendar, God will come through for us.

The waiting will end.

The promise will come.

The deliverance is here.

The prayer will be answered.

The waiting eats away at our hope; it’s the corrosion of impatient despair.

What to do?   What to do when you read the words that God will work this out but each day you wake up thinking “Maybe this is the day” and each night you lie back down, “Maybe it’s tomorrow?”

For 400 years, Israel paused.  For 400 years, they waited for the Messiah and heard only silence between the Old Testament’s end and that first moment that John the Baptist stepped out of the wilderness and yelled out for the people to repent.

In the Gospel of Mark, the very first words we have recorded from Jesus are “The time has come.” (Mark 1:15).  How appropriate.

Maybe some had long since given up hope.  The anticipation perhaps gave way to cynical apathy.  Or frenzy—maybe the desperation spurred them on to follow any false teacher with any false message of hope.

Yet, just when the perfect time had come, Jesus was there.  He wasn’t late, not for a second.  And He wasn’t early.

Paul wrote in Galatians that:

when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship (Galatians 4:4-5, NIV).

And later in Titus:

God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior (Titus 1:2-3).

The writer of Hebrews tells us:

But [that appointed time came] when Christ (the Messiah) appeared as a High Priest of the better things that have come and are to come (Hebrews 9:11 AMP).

The appointed time came and God answered.  He is faithful.

Those prophets said it centuries before:

 “For the vision is yet for the appointed time;
It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
For it will certainly come, it will not delay (Habakkuk 2:3, NASB).

God’s promises are for the appointed time.

It feels like so much hesitation and delay, but “It will not fail….wait for it….it will certainly come.”

Christmas does this.  It gives us hope for the waiting room and the silent days because God did not fail His people.  He had not abandoned them.  He never let go of the promised salvation, never wavered or faltered.  Nothing interrupted His plans.  No one stood in His way.  He never for one single second lost sight of the perfect plan for the perfect time.

Christmas is God showing up in glory in the way and on the day they least expected His presence, but in the way and on the day God planned all along.

I don’t want to miss Him showing up in my life.  I don’t want the waiting to rile up doubts.  I don’t want to settle my heart into complacency so I stop even looking for the glory and just shift my eyes to the mundane.

In the waiting, let us keep hope.  In the waiting, let us keep watch.  In the waiting, let us busy ourselves with obedience for today, trusting tomorrow to Him.

Originally posted December 12, 2011

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 many ornaments have we broken so far?

The first crash of that shattering glass hit and it was just the day after Thanksgiving.  We were only one day into the Christmas season and only about 1 hour into Operation Decorate the House.

‘Twas an accident of course.

The penguin soap dispenser hit that floor and ended in a puddle of hand soap and broken glass.

Photo by jeka81, 123rf.com

Photo by jeka81, 123rf.com

That’s decorating with kids.

Accidents happen, you know.

An hour later, another crash.  Our box of special, keepsake, treasured ornaments hit the floor and a daughter cried with remorse.

Still, a little sweeping, a little mopping, a little gluing, a little comforting and we slipped back into the decorating groove, crooning along with Bing Crosby to White Christmas.

Stuff is stuff.  Things break (especially when you’re clumsy like me, especially when you have four kids like us).

Look at our Christmas tree from afar and it still has that glow of perfect.

Look up close and you’ll see the ballerina’s feet are glued on, Noah’s ark is missing a dolphin leaping up out of the ocean waters, and the three kings no longer carry a sign: “Wise Men Still Seek Him.”

Brokenness can still be beautiful when we look with eyes of grace.

But when we squint up close to critique and criticize….when we look right past the glory and seek out the flaws…..suddenly that’s all we see.

Perfectionism is a bully.

It muscles in and takes over our perceptions.

It demands that we see only brokenness and faults.

It insists that we remain chained to the past, obsessing over mistakes, battering us over past sin, beating us up with shame.

Lysa TerKeurst writes:

My imperfections will never override God’s promises (The Best Yes).

The promise of Christmas is “God with us.”  The promise is that when we were farthest from Him, He came to us.

The promise is that we didn’t have to get it right on our own or check the boxes of the law until we’d met some prerequisite to grace.

We didn’t come worthy.

We came needy.

And He came down.

Our imperfections never negated the promise of Emmanuel’s presence.  Not then.  Not now.

He still promises us this, “And surely I will be with you always” (Matthew 28:20 NIV).

He is with us always, but not to leave us there in the brokenness.

Sometimes we stop right there at this thought: “Beauty in the brokenness.  We’re all a mess in need of a Messiah.”

Sometimes we stop right there and, dare I say it, glory in the broken?  We cling to our mess instead of releasing it to Him.

But the glory is in the Healer.  The glory is in the redemption.  The glory is in the One who puts His own pure robe of righteousness over our shaky shoulders.

He doesn’t leave us naked and ashamed.  He “has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10 NIV).

We’ll never be perfect in our own striving and strength.  True.  But we don’t have to remain stuck there in the mud.  He grips us with the hand of grace and pulls us out of that pit so we can move forward with Him.

Those disciples on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection didn’t have it all right.  They didn’t have perfect understanding.  Their belief was delicately trembling and about to topple their whole foundation of faith.

They thought Jesus had been the Messiah, yet He had died.  These rumors from ‘crazy women’ about an empty tomb left them confused and alarmed.

But Jesus walked alongside without them recognizing him, going back to the beginning, telling the story start to finish.

When He was about to leave, “they urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them.”

There at the dinner table, He broke the bread and their eyes opened wide to the truth: This was Jesus.  This was God in their midst.

I’ve spent a year pursuing the presence of Christ, and as I “Abandon Perfection” this month I’m reminded of this:

God’s presence doesn’t hinge on perfection.

God’s presence doesn’t demand perfect understanding or faith without fail.

But if I want God’s presence, then I have to invite Him in, urge Him strongly, “stay with me…..”

He can only make us whole when we trust Him with the pieces, all of them:

God made my life complete
    when I placed all the pieces before him. Psalm 18:20 MSG

We bring all the pieces.  We don’t hold any back.

We lay them at His feet, not running away or hiding from Him.  We come into His presence, broken as we are, and He makes us whole and holy, and He stays with us.

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 Abandon Perfection?

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