Finding the sacred in this place

Hats and sunglasses, that’s what my son likes, and he’s amassing a collection.

When we headed to the beach this week to enjoy the weather,  he popped his Paw Patrol baseball cap on his head .

“This is my beach hat,” he announced.

Then he gave me the full run-down.  His Batman hat is for playgrounds.  His Paw Patrol hat is for the beach.  And, when he gets a Star Wars hat , that will be for the aquarium.  “My aquarium hat,” he says.

This is funny on so many levels.

For one thing, he doesn’t need an aquarium hat since we are infrequent visitors.

And for  another thing, we really and truly just grab whichever hat we can find whenever it’s time to go to wherever we’re going.  We have more than one hat precisely because we don’t always know where any given hat is at any given moment.

Hats are essential  wardrobe pieces for us.  We are fair-skinned folks who burn at the slightest hint of sunshine.

But exactly how many hats does he plan on having anyway?

Specific hats for specific places may not be practical or likely by any stretch of the imagination, and yet I love the idea of valuing place, all the individual beauty and uniqueness of this place and that place.

How something changes in us as we travel from  here to there, something about us in those destinations that might even require a new and different hat.

It’s so biblical, isn’t it, the way God’s story roots itself  in geography and location?  The Holy Land and Mount Sinai, Eden and Bethel ,right on to Bethlehem, to gardens and mountaintops, the Sea of  Galilee, the Jordan River.

God’s story in us does the same thing.

There are places that have entwined themselves with my own salvation story:  a childhood neighborhood, a college campus,  a church, a two-year sojourn in New Jersey, and the long-term settling in Virginia where God continues to work in me.

Maybe certain places in our lives are set aside for a holy work of significance.

Like the way the burning bush drew Moses’s attention out in the wilderness, and how God brought him and all of Israel back to that same holy mountain after they made it out of Egypt.

Or the way Jacob camped out at Bethel and saw a vision of a stairway to heaven and then returned to the same place years later to settle there with his family and build an altar to God.

It helps to know what places have holy significance for us, especially when we’re seeking His face.  Where do we go when we want to be alone with Jesus?  Where do we go when we’re desperate for a glimpse of Him or to hear His voice?  Where do we go when we need hush and peace and a stillness in our hearts?

Where is our Bethel?  Where is our Sinai?

Where is the place of spiritual retreat?

For  me, it’s a back deck or a porch, just one small step from inside my house to outside my house and there I am, in a peaceful place.

Sometimes, though,  I need to run away from the ordinary, everyday.  These aren’t long trips, just a drive to the botanical gardens, or to a museum, or the beach–anywhere there is beauty and there is quiet.

My go-to holy place, though, is a mobile one–it’s in a walk  The location matters less than the opportunity to stride in rhythm and not talk for about 30 minutes.   This is a sacred space for me.

It  also helps to know that God does focused work in specific places.

This is Gilgal for Saul.  That’s where the prophet Samuel sent the newly anointed King to wait before being presented to Israel.  That’s where Saul is crowned.  It’s also the same exact place where Saul loses his kingship, as he gives up waiting for Samuel and disobeys God’s instructions (1 Samuel 10:8,  11:15, 13:7).

Gilgal is where Saul both received and lost the kingship.

What if Saul had recognized the significance of the place?  Gilgal is where I wait and where God is faithful.  Maybe he would have been more patient.

Perhaps this place where you are right now is the growing place or the place of rest.  Maybe it is the land of milk and honey or maybe it is the waiting place.

It could be the place of worship or the place of calling.  Maybe it’s the place where we’re poured out or maybe it’s the well where Jesus fills us.

Where are you now?  In this place God has brought you, how is He at work?

When Your Toddler Knows Your First Name

1 john 3-1

“James”

“Daddy.”

“James on the phone.”

“Yes, Daddy is on the phone.”

“James.”

This is the back-and-forth conversation my two-year-old son and I have been having.

Over the summer, he mysteriously figured out his dad’s first name and started using it.  We’re not exactly sure how this happened.  He just started saying, “James” out of the blue.  We didn’t teach it to him.

So, for about two weeks it became:

“James on the phone.”

“James at work.”

It was “James” this and “James” that.

I kept correcting him and it took him time to understand that “Daddy” and “James” are just two names for the same person.  But while lots of people might call him “James” only a few people get to call him “Daddy.”

And, two-year-old children don’t get to call their dads by their first names.

Besides that, “Daddy” is the personal name, the relational name.  It’s not just about what is technically on the birth certificate or what anyone can call him whether they are stranger or friend.

“Daddy” shows the privilege of intimacy, position and belonging.

And this matters, not just when we’re talking about family, but when we’re talking to God.

Why would my son choose “James” when he has the privilege of position, the right to call him “Dad?”

Why would we choose distance when God offers us His very presence?

Sometimes, that’s what we do, though.

It can creep up on us so stealthily. One morning we realize we’ve been calling God by formal names and keeping the conversations “all business” instead of making it personal.

Perhaps we’re like Israel out in the wilderness, heading out of Egypt after the grand and glorious displays of God’s might.

Usually, we say that God brought them out of Egypt so He could take them to the Promised Land.

But that wasn’t God’s first intention for His people.  Instead, He took them to Mount Sinai to meet with them.

As John Bevere writes in Drawing Near:

Remember God’s words to Pharaoh, through Moses, “”let my people go, so that they may worship me in the desert” Ex. 7:16 NIV). It was not “Let my people go, so they can inherit a land” (p. 4).

But at the foot of that holy mountain, they knew their sin stood in the way.  They could never survive the presence of the Holy God, so they told Moses,

Go near and hear all that the Lord our God will say, and speak to us all that the Lord our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.’ (Deut. 5:27 ESV).

Instead of drawing near themselves, they sent in a go-between, an intermediary. Moses could hear from God and tell them about it later.

If only they’d been prepared for His presence. If only their hearts were pure and made ready.

Instead, God said,

“Return to your tents” (Deut. 5:30 ESV).

John Bevere says:

How God’s heart must have broke, and how heavy was Moses’ heart as he returned….God brought them out of Egypt for one reason—to bring them to Himself—and they missed it” (p. 75)

I don’t want to miss it!  When God brings us to Himself, may we be ready to go up, not sent back down to tents far from His presence.

Or maybe we’re like Martha in the New Testament, who allowed busyness, stress, and too many distractions from too many worries keep her from the feet of Christ?

Maybe it’s that we fear what God will ask of us.  Like the Rich Young Ruler in Mark 10, we think we want to be with Jesus, but then He asks us to give up position or power or possessions or habits or relationships or plans and dreams.  And the choice is harder; we want God, but do we want Him more than everything else?

Or perhaps it’s the slow drift, drift, drift of our hearts, worn down by the daily grind, where time with Him is duty and not delight.

Or maybe our hearts are tender and bruised with disappointment because even though we know God is good, and even though we know He’ll never leave us, we’re hurt.  Prayers weren’t answered the way we hoped.  Expectations weren’t met.  Dreams didn’t work out.  Healing didn’t come.

So, we cradle our hearts with a wall of self-protection, not just from others—from God Himself.

But here’s what Scripture promises:

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are (1 John 3:1 ESV).

We are His children.  His beloved.

That means relationship.  It means repenting. It means talking it out when we’re hurt. It means choosing to trust.  It means drawing near and knocking down walls.

And He allows us, invites us even, to draw near, to call Him “Father,” to call Him “Dad.”

 

Not again!

hebrews 10-36

My son stepped out on the front porch this morning.

He was, thankfully, fully dressed (not just hanging out in his pajamas or, what’s worse, a t-shirt and diaper).

He even had on his winter coat and his wooly tiger hat.

But he was still wearing his Batman socks.  No shoes.  Just socks.

Who has time for shoes, anyway?  His sisters had just completed the morning dash: shoes, coats, hats and gloves, backpacks, lunch bags.

He tried to sneak outside with them at first.  He wove himself into the line and stared determinedly straight ahead, hoping to avoid my gaze and maybe escape my notice while he slipped out the door.

Of course,  I scooped him up out of the line and told him to say goodbye to the girls.

He cried instead, grabbing at their coats to either make them stay or allow him to go.

Finally, we stood at the door watching for the bus.  He pushed the door open, a little further, a little further, until he finally stepped out onto the damp porch, Batman socks and all.

Then the bus arrived, and he cried some more.

Now, this is not the first day of school.

We are now five months into this school year, halfway to summer vacation.

Still the mornings involve tears and wet Batman socks.

My son doesn’t just have to do the hard thing and say goodbye to his sisters.  He has to do it day after day, week after week, and it never really gets easy or even easier.

I realize as I watch him that sometimes I think obeying God means doing it once and being done.

There.  I obeyed.  Now can I go back to what I wanted to do?

Or I think that doing the hard thing is a one-time sacrifice.

There.  I forgave.  Now I’m over that.

Or, I fixed my attitude.  I took charge of my emotions.  I chose worship over self-pity.  I shut down the lies of insecurity.  I fought for contentment over jealousy.

All done.

But God sometimes asks us to do the hard thing and then to do it again and again.  He asks us to walk in daily obedience, as Eugene Peterson calls it, “a long obedience in the same direction.”

It’s taking that first step of obedience and then keep on keeping on, step after step after step without turning back or giving in or giving up.

We are dying to self daily and loading crosses onto backs morning after morning.

We are choosing forgiveness over bitterness today and tomorrow and the day after that.

I read about Moses meeting with God on that holy mountain:

The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up (Exodus 19:20 ESV).

Moses was an octogenarian mountain climber, scaling Mt. Sinai for this meeting with God’s glory.

But he didn’t just climb up once.  Oh no.

He gets up to the top and God tells him, “Go down and warn the people…..Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you….So Moses went down” (Exodus 19:21, 24, 25).

Then he had to go back up and draw “near to the thick darkness where God was” (Exodus 20:21)

Moses then “came and told the people the words of the Lord” and the Lord told Him to come up again (Exodus 24:12) so “Moses rose with his assistant Joshua and Moses went up into the mountain of God.”

Up and down and up and down Moses went.  God called him up.  Moses climbed up.  God sent him down.  Moses walked down.

At some point, I might have said “Enough, God.  I’m good here.  I’m too old and too tired for this.  Just tell me what you want me to know because I don’t want to do the hard thing anymore.  No more climbing the mountain.”

But Moses would have missed God’s glory if he had given up or refused to continue.

And the beautiful, most amazing thing is that while Moses came up, God also came down.

The Lord met Moses there on that mountain.

He does the same for us.

Yes, what He calls us to do might be difficult.

Yes, He might ask us to do it again and again and again.

But God reaches down to us and makes Himself accessible.  He is never an out-of-reach God.

He reveals His glory when we persevere and choose Him over the easy way, Him over quitting, Him over complacency, Him over everything and anything else.

Am I Asking Jesus to Leave?

She said he was afraid.

A small team from our church took VBS on the go this year, sharing the lessons, songs and games with kids in the community.prayerpresence

One of the ladies shared with us this past Sunday what that mission to area children was like.

She tells how on the last day, those little ones gathered around the teacher for the Bible story about Paul.

He was such a Bad Guy, she told them.

She told all about his past, all those mean things he did to Christians.

But then she told how he met Jesus and she read from the start of his letters to the churches, how he said the same thing over and over and over again:

“I, Paul, a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ…..”

This little boy, cuddled next to another leader, winced and sucked in his breath every single time she said it.

The Lord Jesus Christ

He’d only ever heard those words as cursing in anger and bursts of outrage in his home.

My husband puts the hurt into words, how this little boy has a “Pavlovian fear response to the name of the only One who could ever save him.”

Peter shared the truth:

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12 NIV).

We sit in that comfy sanctuary in the middle of a tiny town in rural Virginia and our hearts break because missions starts right here.

There are children who don’t even know what a Bible is or who God is or that the name of Jesus isn’t a cuss word…and they live right here.

But there’s something else….

I read in the Gospels:

 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left (Luke 8:37 NIV).

The people were afraid of Jesus at work.

They weren’t embracing the healing he offered and not the salvation either.  They sent Him away and with it they refused all hope of rescue.

All because they were afraid.

Maybe they didn’t wince at the sound of His name, but they feared Jesus’ presence.

Were they afraid of His power?

Were they afraid of shaking things up?  Afraid of what salvation might cost?  Fearful of what they might lose if they followed Him?

I remember the Israelites crowded around the base of Mt. Sinai, watching the pyrotechnical display of God’s glory, the thunder and lighting, the cloud of smoke, the trumpet blast:

When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance  and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”…The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was (Exodus 20:18-19, 21 NIV).

They trembled there at the mountain, slinking back in fear, remaining at a distance even when God invited them to come close.

This holy fear of God has its place, the reminder of His greatness and mighty power and how small we are indeed.

He is God.  I am not.

He is holy.  I am not.

We need the reawakening of awe.

But I wonder if we ever push God away in fear, or hide away in the shadows, remaining at a distance even when He whispers to us, ”Come…..closer….nearer….”

Are we too afraid that He’ll disrupt our lives? Or that drawing close will cost us and it will just be too much to pay?

Do we stand right there at the base of His presence and choose the safety of distance instead?

And maybe we don’t say it as bluntly as the crowd that sent Jesus away, maybe we don’t tell Him, “Can you just go off in your boat and do your work somewhere else?”

Maybe we know just enough…certainly more than a scared little boy listening to a lesson at Vacation at Bible School: yes, God loves us….yes, Jesus is our Savior. Maybe it’s just ‘blah, blah, blah’…just so many words.

Yet, maybe we shut Him out. Maybe we avoid the conviction of Scripture or the passion of all-in of worship. Maybe we want to sing “safe” songs on Sunday morning, hear “safe” messages, leave the Bible reading up to someone else, avoid the accountability of church or the nudge of the Holy Spirit to lay it all down in surrender.

Because we’re afraid.

Lord, help me stop being afraid and start drawing close to You. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be than in Your presence.

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 ‘Learn to Say, ‘No?’

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

Glowing

Originally posted on January 11, 2012

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13)

I think I must have a sign on me when I shop at Wal-Mart.  It says, “I don’t work here, but I can help you.”

I don’t mind really.  There’s something satisfying about knowing the aisle for laundry soap and the one for body soap and that they are about a mile walk away from one another.  Or that there’s tape in hardware and different tape in stationery.

Perhaps it’s that I usually shop with at least one of my kids.  Strangers probably see me and think, “She has children. I bet she’s in here ALL the time.  I’ll ask her where to find stuff.”

It seemed natural enough until I realized just how familiar I was with the Wal-Mart after trekking there more times than I’d like to admit every week for almost eight years.

I glanced down at my shopping list one day and discovered I had automatically organized it by quadrants of the store.  Every item was listed in the order I would find it on my usual route.

Now that’s a lot of time in Wal-Mart.

The time we spend anywhere shows up in our lives.  We can’t hide our influences or interests or the habits and relationships that take up the most space on our calendar. Our conversation is flavored, our mannerisms influenced, our choices altered by the way we spend our days.

It was the same for the disciples.

After Jesus’s death, resurrection and ascension to heaven, these Christ-followers became quite the trouble-makers.  They preached sermons and performed miracles all in the name of Jesus, to the dismay of the Sanhedrin or religious leaders, who thought that a dead Jesus was a problem solved.

When Peter and John were arrested and stood before the Sanhedrin, Peter—the guy arrested for giving sermons about Jesus— decided to give another sermon about Jesus.

Bold, huh?

He spoke the bottom line truth: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Was this a fisherman talking?  Was this the guy who had denied Jesus three times, now preaching salvation through the crucified Jesus to a group of men who could crucify him, too?

The Sanhedrin wondered the same thing: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13)

You couldn’t miss the miraculous change in them. “These men had been with Jesus.”  And it showed.

It should be that evident in our lives also.  Our time praying and meditating on His Word should cause a life-revolution.  People should see us and think, “I bet she knows where to find hope, joy and peace.”  They should witness the changes in us over time and think, “Clearly she’s been with the Lord.”

For Peter and John, this brought life change—spiritual insight and boldness.

For Moses, time with God impacted Him physically.  All those days in the presence of God’s glory on the mountain made his face glow–literally.  And he couldn’t cover it up with some Covergirl face powder.  Even Mary Kay couldn’t do the trick.

It was so distracting to see this glow-in-the-dark face and how it faded over time, that Moses began wearing a veil to hide it.

Paul tells us that we glow like that, too, when we’ve been with God.

Yet, he also tells us that unlike Moses, there’s no reason for us to hide the glow of glory that comes from God’s presence.  In 2 Corinthians Paul writes:

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Unlike Moses, our faces are unveiled so that all can see the transformation God works in us over time, making us ever more like His Son.  This change only happens, though, when we’ve been with Jesus.

People will be able to tell where we’re spending our time, what’s occupying our thoughts, and what our priorities are.  If it’s not God, that will show up on our faces and in our lives, too.

But I want my face to glow with God’s glory.  I want my life to be a like a sign that says, “This girl has been with Jesus.”

Just like Peter and John.   Just like Moses.  Just like Paul.  When we spend time with Christ our life will glow as we reflect Him.

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

Copyright © 2013 Heather King