Altars of Uncut Stones or the Beauty of Simple Obedience

I picked up my daughter’s yellow spring jacket and felt weight, heaviness where it shouldn’t be.  Clearly she had stuffed her pocket at the park with her latest treasure.

Curious about her new discovery, I slipped my hand into her pocket and pulled out . . . a rock.  Two rocks actually, one for each pocket.

They weren’t gems, either.  No sparkles or beauty.  No monetary value.

They were plain ordinary gravel, no different than the layer of rock on my driveway.  In fact, the one crumbled into my fingers with the slightest pressure.

I sighed.  She had been toting home rocks for about two years now.  Everywhere we went, some pebbles, gravel, or smooth stones caught her attention and ended up in her pockets.

She has even tried to remove stones from the paths at Colonial Williamsburg and the zoo and once tried to carry a cement block away from the local museum where its grand function was to hold open the door.

I put my foot down about those.

But if it fits neatly into the pocket of her jacket, she’s likely to tuck it away where I can’t see and add it to her “rock collection.”  Perhaps she’ll even give it a name, which usually ends up being something like “Rocky” or another equally creative moniker.

I made the mistake of tossing “Rocky the First” back into our garden when I discovered it on her dresser.  She cried.  She searched the back garden for a glimpse of him and, finding him, carried Rocky right back inside.

To me, it was an ugly rock.  To her it was a treasured part of her collection, more like a pet than a simple object.

She’s not the only one who finds beauty in simple stones.  God loves them, too.

As they crossed over the Jordan River, the Israelites obeyed God’s instruction, picking up 12 stones from the river bed and lugging them up the embankment onto dry land.  God told them to use those stones to build an altar.

More specifically,

“an altar of stones.  You shall wield no iron tool on them; you shall build an altar to the Lord your God of uncut stones. And you shall offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God, and you shall sacrifice peace offerings and shall eat there, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God” (Deut. 27:5-7 ESV)

Their peace offerings and sacrifices, their worship and rejoicing before the God who had carried them into the Promised Land, may have seemed more fit for an altar of finest gems.

Perhaps their greatest artisans could have finely cut diamonds, emeralds and rubies into an altar fit for worship of the Most High God.

Or, if God insisted on them using river rocks, at the very least they could have chiseled and carved until the altar looked like a marble statue, perhaps of angels or a depiction of the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant, or of Joshua leading the people.

Yet, God was clear.  Stones, simple stones, uncut by any human tool, formed the altar fit for the offerings of His people.

Why did God even care about a detail so small?  According to Him, “If you make an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it” (Exodus 20:25).

To God, human construction on the altar stones made them unholy and profane.

That’s because God knew the danger implicit in cut stones and man-made bricks.  The moment we begin to adorn altars with human effort is the moment we shift the focus off of the God we praise.  Instead, we admire the human talent that made the vessel or the human ability that cut the stone.

We become idolaters.  Our worship becomes profane.

This is what God accused the people of doing in Isaiah:

I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices;a people who provoke me to my face continually, sacrificing in gardens and making offerings on bricks” (Isaiah 65:2-3 ESV).

Israel ignored God’s mandate and chose instead to offer their sacrifice among garden flowers.  They had rejected simple stones in favor of brick altars.

Israel wanted to worship God their own way and on their own terms.  His instructions seemed superfluous and unnecessary.  Their ideas seemed so much nicer, so much better, so superior, so much more religious than God’s request for pure and uncut praise.

In the same way, God sometimes overturns our expectations of adequate offerings and suitable worship.

He desires the simplicity of an obedient heart.

We think He needs more.  

So, we hold back our offerings until they are “fit” for Him.  We hide in the sanctuary pews until we have more to give.  We think other worshipers, who are more talented and more rehearsed, give gifts more worthy.

It isn’t, however, about being the best, most talented, or most qualified; it’s about being called.  Yours is the offering He desires.  It is because of your heart of obedience that He can be glorified in the sacrifices you bring.

There is beauty in the uncut stones of our worship.  It’s never about the show, never about our own talent or training; it’s not about looking good or fitting in, or processing our worship into acceptable forms—all human additions that shift focus off God and onto human ability.

Instead, it’s about responding to God in pure uncut adoration.

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

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

Weekend Walk, 03/31/2012

Hiding the Word:

It’s the first full day of Spring Break for us and my kids were up early.  My oldest daughter announced that one of her friends plans to “sleep all day” for spring break.  “How boring!” she said.

My kids plan to pack in as much activity as possible.

So, it wasn’t even 8 a.m. yet when one of my girls was inspired to start singing.  She pulled out a travel CD of Bible songs that Grammy gave them a few Christmases ago and popped it into the CD player in her bedroom.  I started hearing the chorus of “Deep and Wide” emanate through the house . . . loudly.  This daughter of mine always sings with passion.

Inspired, my baby girl ran into the playroom and pulled out the entire plastic drum of instruments.  The harmonica was humming, the cymbals crashing, the sleigh bells jingling, the clackers clacking, the triangle jingling.  Yes, even the kazoo was buzzing.

It was an early morning symphony of praise in my tiny house and it may have sounded like pots and pans at times down here.  To God, though, it’s spontaneity and passion must have sounded beautiful.

We are preparing to enter the Passion Week, the time when we remember Good Friday when Christ died for us and Resurrection Day when He conquered death and the grave.  When Jesus entered Jerusalem for that final week, the people filled the air with waving palm branches and shouted, Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13).

They shouted praise to Him because of false expectations and misplaced excitement.  They didn’t praise Him for being a Savior, for laying down His own life to provide redemption for their sins.

No, they hailed Him as a conqueror, rebel, and over-thrower of the earthly kingdoms.  When they realized that’s not what He was doing, they mostly abandoned Him. The palm branches stopped waving.  The people stopped shouting “Hosanna” and started shouting “Crucify Him.”

My praise can be tainted by misplaced expectations also.

So, this week, I am meditating on a verse that reminds me to praise God when He behaves the way I expect and when He doesn’t.  It’s my hope to sing praise to God with the passionate simplicity of children crooning with their Bible songs CD and clanging together toy instruments.

It seems appropriate to prepare for the Passion Week with praise:

I will bless the Lord at all times;
    his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
    let the humble hear and be glad.
 Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
    and let us exalt his name together!  (Psalm 34:1-3 ESV)

Weekend Rerun:

Am I the One, Lord?
Originally posted on April 5, 2011

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.”  2 Cor. 13:15

Twelve disciples, one Savior, reclined and relaxed, celebrating Passover together in an Upper Room.  Thirteen share in a meal of remembrance that they would always remember and that we continue to remember.   The Last Supper.  Communion.  “Do this in remembrance of me.”

Together they have eaten and laughed, declared “For His mercy endures forever” and sung hymns in worship.  They are jovial, anticipatory, expecting Christ’s triumph in Jerusalem.

Jesus leans in, “While they were eating, he said, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me’ (Matthew 26:21, NLT).

Silence.  Stillness.  Seriousness.

If Jesus said this at the end of a church service today and the pianist played the quiet first notes of the closing hymn, many of us would be nudging our neighbor or making concerted efforts NOT to stare at the person across the room.  (Or, perhaps, making lunch plans and quieting the rumbles in our stomachs.)  It’s you, it’s you, it’s you—we might think.  That sermon is for you!  That heaviness of the Holy Spirit—it’s for you!  I’ve seen your sin.   I know your need to repent.

And yet, 12 disciples, “greatly distressed, each one asked in turn, ‘Am I the one, Lord?’” (Matthew 26:22, NLT).

Am I the one, Lord?

This seeking is our salvation.  We ask the dangerous question and we allow the Holy Spirit to turn over our hearts and reveal our own true need to be at the altar and lay it down.  Or the Holy Spirit searches, finds purity of heart, and invites us to pray for those around us still struggling.

It’s our complacency and satisfaction with our spiritual dwelling place that leads to our downfall.  It’s when we stake our claim to land and decide we’ve traveled enough in this road to Christ that we edge our way to danger.  I’m pure enough.  Good enough.  I’m not lukewarm.  I’ve conquered the “big” sins.  I read my Bible.  I pray.  I’m close to God.  I have a strong ministry.

I’m good.  Right here, in this place, I’m good here.

But this journey to Christ is ongoing.  As long as we are alive on this planet, we are imperfect creatures in need of an ever-closer intimacy with our Savior.

This moving to Christ requires moving away from something else.  It’s a necessity of the road.   In order to go forward, we must leave something behind.

That was true for Israel.  God called them to Canaan when He beckoned Abram out of Mesopotamia and its many gods and idols.  God called them back to the Promised Land when He led them out of Egypt and they left slavery for freedom.

They walked towards promise, but it involved rejection—rejecting the old definition of “normal.”  It was “normal” for those in Abram’s home town to pray to statues and worship bits of stone and wood.  It was “normal” in Egypt for male babies to be slaughtered simply for population control.

It’s “normal” for us to be too busy for God, to lose it with our kids, to be selfish, to feel jealousy, to cheat, to lie, to overindulge , to worry, to rebel, to gossip. . .  We think these sins are acceptable because everyone does them and no one can be perfect.

Yet, God calls us out of “normal” and into radical.  He doesn’t ask us the hard questions to shame us or humiliate us.  He does it to draw us close to Him so that we are “being transformed . . .from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NKJV).

Eugene Peterson wrote, “Repentance, the first word in Christian immigration, sets us on the way to traveling in the light.  It is a rejection that is also an acceptance, a leaving that develops into an arriving, a no to the world that is a yes to God.”

Peter sat at that Passover table and asked the dangerous question, “Am I the one, Lord?”  He allowed the searching of his heart.  It wasn’t him.  Eleven of those at the table endured their souls being turned over and could say that they were innocent of this betrayal.

Yet, then they stopped asking.  That’s our weakness, too.   When we stop asking the Holy Spirit to search us, when we become complacent and self-assured, it’s when we will betray.

Like Peter.  Jesus predicted Peter would deny Him.  “Peter answered and said to Him, ‘Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.’  Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crowd, you will deny Me three times.’  Peter said to Him, ‘Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!’  And so said all the disciples” (Matthew 26:33-35, NKJV).

But, he was wrong.  Jesus arrested.  Jesus taken away in chains.  Jesus bullied, beaten, spat on, and mocked.  Peter in the courtyard answering the questioning accusations of others by the fire.  “I never knew the fellow.  I wasn’t one of his disciples.  I didn’t follow Him.”

He stumbled into betrayal because he was complacent.  Peter thought he knew what was in his heart, that he was right with God and strong in his faith.  So, he stopped asking, “Am I the one, Lord?” and started saying, “Not I.”

And so we must ask and keep on asking, “Search my heart, search my soul.  There is nothing else that I want more.  Shine Your light and show Your face.  In my life, Lord, have Your way, have Your way” (Hillsong United).

*******************************************************************************************************

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

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

A Plan to Be Better

I tucked my oldest girl into bed last night and she told me, “Today at school, Mrs. Davidson explained all about how people make plans to be better.  So I made a plan for the new year.”

I expected her to announce a strategy to get a dog or be a princess or learn pointe in ballet or be a famous artist–the true aspirations of her little heart.

Instead, she said, “I’m planning to get up in the morning early and get ready for school easier every day.  Did you make a plan to be better this year, mom?”

“I haven’t chosen a resolution,” I said.  “Do you have any suggestions?”

Without any hesitation or even time to take a breath, she said, “I think you should play more video games!”

Perhaps that translates to “Be a more fun mom and play with my kids more often.”  That’s certainly a resolution worth making!

David lived long before the time of New Year’s resolutions, fad diets, gym memberships, and self-help books.  Still, he wrote a psalm of “I wills” that translates into some worthy goals for all of us in 2012.

I will praise God more.

David began with this promise to God, “I will sing of your love and justice; to you, Lord, I will sing praise” (Psalm 101:1).  It’s a reminder to be grateful and to give testimony to others of God at work in your life.  Give thanks everyday.

I will strive for the blameless life.

David continued, “I will be careful to lead a blameless life .  . . I will conduct the affairs of my house with a blameless heart” (Psalm 101:2).

We can’t be perfect.  Every mom will lose it occasionally.  Every wife will mess up.  Every friend will forget. We all sin.

Yet, still we can “be careful,” as David says.  We can allow God to work on our hearts and clean out the dark and dusty places.  We can ask for His help controlling our tongue and our tempers.  We can pray that He will guide us as moms, wives, sisters and friends and help us become more godly every day.

I will guard my heart and mind.

We used to sing as kids, “Oh be careful little eyes what you see  . . .  be careful little ears what you hear . . . be careful little feet where you go”

David said it this way, “I will not look with approval on anything that is vile. I hate what faithless people do; I will have no part in it.  The perverse of heart shall be far from me;
I will have nothing to do with what is evil.” (Psalm 101:3-4).

Sometimes we excuse a little sin or shrug off feelings of discomfort about that show, or song, or movie, or book or relationship.

When God looked out on the sin-laden world during the time of Noah, He “regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled” (Genesis 6:6, NIV).

The Message says it this way: “God was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart.”

This year, consider making that your standard for what you see, what you hear, where you go and what you do.  Will this break the heart of God?

I will watch my words.

In his epistle, James wrote: “Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another” (James 4:11).

‘Slander’ sounds so harsh.  Perhaps we feel it’s okay to speak our minds or criticize when it’s the truth.

Not according to James.  Beth Moore notes in James: Mercy Triumphs: “the Greek word translated ‘slander’ in NIV also means ‘criticize’ (HCSB) and ‘speak against’ (NASB).

So, if it was said critically about another person, it was sin.  We need to be women with gracious tongues, not judgmental or critical ones.

David goes a step farther:  ” Whoever slanders their neighbor in secret, I will put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, I will not tolerate” (Psalm 101:5).   Not only was he not going to speak slander, he wouldn’t even listen to it from others.

I will invest in Godly friendships

David finished off the Psalm with these words:

“My eyes will be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; the one whose walk is blameless will minister to me. No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence. Every morning I will put to silence all the wicked in the land; I will cut off every evildoer from the city of the LORD” (Psalm 101:6-8).

This year, find ways to build into relationships with others who love God.  Join a small group.  Find a Christian mentor.  Choose someone to befriend who you can mentor in turn.  God never intended for us to walk this Christian life alone.

There you have it.  David’s “I will” list.

What has God placed on your heart for the new year?

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

Copyright © 2011 Heather King

Weekend Walk, 09/03/2011

I hated missing out on last week’s Weekend Walk and the opportunity to choose a verse to meditate on all week.  I hope you blazed ahead without me and chose a verse of your own.  If not, I’ll get us back on track today!

Hiding the Word:

At Women of Faith, my friend leaned over and pointed to a verse in her prayer journal that she had underlined.  It was perfect as we contemplated the imminent arrival of Hurricane Irene.  The day after the storm, I opened my devotional and found the exact same verse.  When God repeats Himself, I have learned to listen.  So, my verse for this week is simple and sweet:

Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
Matthew 28:20

This week, I’m committed to contemplating the ever-constant presence of Christ in my life.  I want to be aware of Him rather than distant from Him.  I want to rely on Him rather than be independent.

Weekend Rerun:

Your Comforts Delight My Soul, Originally Posted 02/21/2011

Last night I had a terrible dream that I was preparing to lead worship—sitting at the piano all ready to go—when I saw my cell phone bill.  Obviously, in dreams it makes total sense that I’m checking my mail just before the music starts.  Anyway, I looked at that bill and it was $1,717. Then the music started and I couldn’t worship.  I couldn’t figure out what words to sing or what notes to play.  I was playing a different song than the congregation was singing.  It was a disaster.

Obviously, I woke up in a cold sweat from this dream (who wouldn’t be freaked out by a cell phone bill and public disaster like that) and couldn’t get back to sleep for a while.  I was anxious and worried about something that only existed in my dreamworld.

Today, as I was doing my devotions, I was reminded of how so much of my worry is about “fantasy situations”—the what if’s I stress over that never actually come true.  These anxious thoughts also always affect my worship.  It is just not possible to fret and praise at the same time.

In her book, Me, Myself and Lies, Jennifer Rothschild notes that the Old English and Old High German origins of our word “worry” mean “to strangle.”  Indeed, worry strangles us, choking out hope, joy, trust and, as it says in her book, “the life-giving truth that should be filling our thought closets” (p.23).

The Psalmist wrote, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts, See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24, NIV). I have always loved that verse and I copy it into my journal every time I read it in my devotional time.  Yet, it’s not something I find easy to do.

It’s difficult sometimes to hand over our thought lives to God.  Even though we know worry harms us and our relationship with God, we don’t want God to search our hearts and test our thoughts.  Somehow worrying makes us feel in control and we feel that handing over our anxieties means truly relinquishing any modicum of control we have in our lives.

Thomas Merton said, “Anxiety comes from strain, and strain is caused by too complete a dependence on ourselves.”  It’s true that when it’s broken down, worry essentially is a lack of trust or dependence on God.  We’re telling Him—“we know that Scripture promises us You will provide, You will comfort, You will bring peace, You will be our Advocate, but I’d rather just depend on my ability to fix my circumstances.  Thanks anyway, God”

Chris Tiegreen in Worship The King goes one step even farther than that.  He calls our fear “anti-worship.”  In his devotional, he writes:

But we who worship God cannot praise him with such insecurities.  Our fears are a form of anti-worship–a clear declaration that our God might not have promised us enough, or might not be able to follow through on what He has promised.  Yes, He will let us go through hard things, but never outside of His timing or beyond His protection. So worship Him.  And don’t worry about it.

Refusing to worry, fret, stress, fear and be anxious doesn’t come to us naturally.  It is a discipline of the heart and mind.  We must reject anxious thoughts, deny our emotions the opportunity to take over our lives, and fill up with the truth of God’s Word and His promises to us.

In Psalm 94:19 it says, “In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul.” Take delight in His comfort today and consciously choose trust over fear.

In Kathryn Scott’s song, At the Foot of the Cross, she sings, “I lay every burden down at the foot of the cross.”  That’s the best place for those burdens to be—not on our back, but at His feet.

***************************************************************************************************

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

Copyright © 2011 Heather King

A Giveaway and a Trophy!

Giveaway!

I promised in my weekend post that we’d celebrate reaching the 100th entry in this devotional blog and we’ll hit the big 100 on Friday!  Thanks so much to you for traveling on this journey with me.  I pray for you–even if I don’t know who you are or what you’re going through.  God knows all these things and I ask for His hand of blessing on you as you seek Him.

On to the giveaway!  I’m just over a month away from traveling to the Women of Faith conference in Washington, DC, so I’m going to give away some Women of Faith goodies.

The prizes:  The first person whose number is drawn will receive a brand new copy of Sheila Walsh’s book, Beautiful Things Happen When a Woman Trusts God.

I’m also giving away two brand new Women of Faith Worship CDs including songs they’ll be singing at this year’s conference.  These will go to the second and third numbers drawn.

To Enter:

Post a comment anywhere on this web site starting today and ending at midnight on Sunday, July 17th.  I’ll use random.org to randomly select the winners and I’ll announce their names in Monday’s post.

Today’s Devotional: Do I Get A Trophy?

The kids piled onto the stage for the practice before the big program.  At first, I arranged them like carefully planned chess pieces—tallest in the back, little ones up front.  Brothers not next to other brothers for fear of poking and other tomfoolery.  Eventually, though, the kids just kept coming and shifting around and they ended up in no particular order.

However it happened, in the very middle of the stage in the very front row was the most precious little boy you could imagine.  He sang.  With all his might, he sang.  You could hear his voice in any place in the sanctuary and those passing by the closed doors could hear him singing down the hall.  His sister poked him during each song and whispered to him, “Don’t be so loud!” Those watching us practice from the pews couldn’t help but smile as he made a “joyful noise.”

Then, the practice done, each child climbed down the steps of the stage and filed into the back room to wait for the actual program.  Except for this one singing boy.

He took hold of my hands and asked, “Ms. Heather, did I do a good job?”
“Oh, you did a great job. I love how you sang with all your heart.”
“So, do I get a trophy?”
“Well, I don’t have trophies, but I have candy!”

He seemed happy with the alternative and ran off with the other kids.

We Don’t Serve To Earn a Trophy

For most of the truly important things in life, we don’t get trophies.  Coaches hand them out for playing on a soccer team, but no woman polishes the brass trophy on her shelf for enduring labor and having a baby.  There’s no “stayed up all night with vomiting children” trophy.  No trophy for “visiting the nursing home without anyone else knowing you did it.”  No plaque for “spent hours on knees praying for wayward child.”

We don’t serve for awards that will hang on our wall or adorn our bookshelves.  Other than an occasional mug from our kids saying, “World’s best mom,” we go through our everyday acts of ministry without recognition.

Sometimes our motives twist and need readjusting.  Deep in our heart, we occasionally slip into acting out of a desire to be seen, noticed and praised.  Or we take on a task because it feels good to be needed and asked.  We fear that no one else could possibly do it, so we sign on the dotted line.

When others are looking, we sometimes put on the voice and physical appearance of “Super Christian,” and then snap at our family, grumble and complain, and gossip about others as we sink into the seats of our cars and drive from church to home.

Then there are those moments when we shove the dishes into the dishwasher and slam the pot down on the counter wishing that someone would recognize what we do.  It may not be Nobel prize worthy, but this is our life’s service we’re talking about!  This is self-sacrificing.  This is humbling.  This is always putting others first!

It’s not always articulated in our heart and mind that way. It’s not something we always admit or even recognize.  But our motives are distorted and we’ve begun to serve for trophies–polished brass rewards of attention, praise, personal pride and recognition from others.

Jesus warned: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).

We shouldn’t serve in any capacity to get a trophy.  If we do, we’re forfeiting heavenly reward, trading eternal glory for a temporary self-esteem boost.

But We Serve As If God Was Handing Out Trophies

Here’s the challenge, though.  With pure motives and sometimes hidden service, without seeking praise and recognition, we can still serve with all our heart as if we would get a trophy.

We don’t seek the prize, but we strive with all our might to be worthy of it.  Because even when we are invisible to everyone else, God sees us.

He sees you.  All of your effort, your service, your laying down of self, your sacrificial giving, your stepping out in faith, your steady faithfulness, your lack of sleep, your soul emptied out.

Just like my singing friend.  Fully knowing that he wouldn’t get a trophy, he still sang loudly and enthusiastically during the program.  He gave his best effort anyway and I’m positive that God was beaming at every word he sang.  God didn’t miss a single second of his heartfelt praise.

In the same way, we worship wholeheartedly, we serve menially, we act selflessly not for our own glory, but for the glory of God.

We pick up toys for the “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”  We work at our jobs not so we receive promotions, but so that our “light (will) shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).  We walk away from gossip.  We take a meal to the family who needs it.  We write the note of encouragement.  We pray for our friend.  We teach the Sunday School class year after year after year.  We rock the baby.

Because God sees and cares.

We sing with all our hearts not because some human being is going to hand us a physical trophy, but we’re singing for God, so that He will be pleased.  This is our worship, the offering we place before Him.  When we grow weary or frustrated, feeling annoyed or walked all over, pouring out our very soul for the sake of others, we do not give up and go through halfhearted motions of service.  Our motivation remains the same, to serve God, to bring Him glory, to give Him praise.

Because even when no one else notices, we know that God sees.

We remember what Paul wrote:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

and

So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith (Galatians 6:9-10 MSG).

For those who feel invisible at times, here’s a video from Nicole Johnson on The Invisible Woman.  I hope you are blessed by it as much as I was:

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

Copyright © 2011 Heather King

VBS Lessons, Day One: God Made You

Every year at Vacation Bible School I watch as adults lead the excited children around the church from station to station, sing the songs (maybe we even do the accompanying motions), shout and laugh.  Do we also, though, compartmentalize? Do we box up the VBS messages and declare they are just for kids and not relevant for us?

But is there any message in Scripture that God delivers just for people under 18? We older and wiser ones sometimes make faith so complicated and fail to recognize or really consider the beautiful truths in these simple messages. So, this week, I’m thinking about VBS and what the lessons for children mean for you and me.  Our church is doing Group’s PandaMania VBS, so that’s what’s on my mind.

God Made You

“Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex”
Psalm 139:14

God made us.  What then should we do about that?

Do we nod our heads in complacent agreement? Do we go about our everyday lives with no realization, no recognition, no response to an act so incredible and a God so powerful? Have we forgotten the wonder of it all?

Sometimes we do just that.

But in this very moment, I pause.  “God made me.  God made you.”  That should elicit a response of unconfined, unhindered, from-the-bottom-of-my heart, I-don’t-care-what-anyone-else-thinks praise and thanksgiving.

So often we determine the mission and measure the success of VBS by how well we reached unchurched kids. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Yet, VBS has power for churched kids, too.  For one week we encourage them to throw their hands up and sing out loud.  We tell them it’s not just okay, but it’s expected for you to be unashamed about worshiping.

It’s not that way all the time.  Truth be told, in normal church mode in some sanctuaries, not everyone looks excited about worshiping God. We so often grip our hands to our side and feel the eyes of others on us if we look too involved, raise our hands, close our eyes, sing loudly. For some of us, Sunday morning worship means feeling peer pressure and avoiding embarrassment rather than giving God the praise He deserves.

This isn’t about musical styles or song choices or volume or service order.  This isn’t about personal preferences.  This isn’t about one person judging another’s worship and determining a set formula for what praise looks like.  How you worship is between you and God and it may be different from day to day, song to song, moment to moment.

God Himself though has declared that “true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24).

I can’t help but quote my favorite description of praise from David Crowder’s Praise Habit.  He writes:

We naturally understand praise . . . Kids just know how to enjoy things.  They give themselves fully to whatever has a hold on them.  Remember as children how we would fearlessly hold up our favorite toy and petition anyone who was in close proximity to behold it?  ‘Look, Mom, look!’

We instinctively knew what it was to praise something. It’s always been in us.  We were created for it. . . .But as adults we become self-conscious and awkward.  Something gets lost.  I think we do it to each other.  At some point, I hold the toy up exultantly and you comment that it looks ridiculous to hold the toy up in such a way. . . And we slowly chip away at each other’s protective coating of innocence until one day we wake up and notice we are naked and people are pointing.”

I’ve seen this happen. After a few months in Children’s Church, my oldest daughter told me that kids laughed at her when she sang and made her feel silly for raising her hands.

Do we adults do this same thing to each other?  Do we do it for the children who sit next to us in the pews all around the sanctuary?

Do they watch us and see what wholehearted worship and total unashamed glorifying God looks like?  Or do they instead see how peer pressure should control our behavior and even our relationship to God?

For boys, the pressure is even greater.  How often do they see men not just standing up when church music plays, but unashamedly praising God?  Our behavior mostly teaches boys that men don’t get emotional about worship, men don’t raise hands, men don’t sing out, men don’t look involved, men don’t close their eyes.

We forget David.  He fought bears and lions with his hands and as a young boy felled a giant with a slingshot while grown men in hardened armor cowered in their tents. He led armies and slew tens of thousands of the enemy Philistines.

He was the manliest of manly men and yet he also penned most of Psalms, the songs of praise to God.  He danced before the Lord and declared “I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this”? (2 Samuel 6:21b-22a).  This warrior-king didn’t care what other people thought when he worshiped.

Later David Crowder also writes

My point is we are all fragile.  Somewhere along the way we abandoned abandon.  Or perhaps we gained things that need to be discarded. We have covered ourselves.  Someone pointed out that we were naked, and the clothing we have woven is bulky and pretentious.  It hinders our freedom of movement.  Expression with childlike spontaneity has become difficult.  It bares too much of us. . . .

What if we were so moved by who God is, what He’s done, what He will do, that praise, adoration, worship, whatever, continuously careened in our heads and pounded in our souls? . .. This is what we will do for eternity.  What makes us think our time on earth should be any different?  What keeps it from being so?”

Charles Spurgeon wrote, “When your heart is full of Christ, you want to sing.”  The response in Scripture is clear, when we consider that God has made us, made the universe, poured out His sacrificial love for us, given us the very breath of a new day and provided us with all that we need, we “sing to Him, sing praise to Him” (1 Chronicles 16:9).

  • We “sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).
  • We “lift up (our) hands in the sanctuary and praise the LORD” (Psalm 134:2)
  • We “make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise” (Psalm 98:4).

David Crowder is right.  We will be singing praises to God for all eternity.  We will be surrounded by others doing the same at the throne of the Most High God and there won’t be anything in heaven to hold us back from giving “all that is in” us in worship to Him (Revelation 5:13).  No peer pressure.  No embarrassment.  No expectations.

I tell my daughters all the time—Don’t be embarrassed for singing.  Be embarrassed not to sing.  Don’t worry about what other people think.  Care about what God is thinking.

Can you do the same thing?  Can you put aside notions of dignity, feelings of embarrassment, worries about what other people will think and fix your eyes only on God?

This week, every time the kids hear me say, “God made you,” they are to respond immediately in a shout of worship, “Thank you, God!”  How will you also respond in thanksgiving?

**************************************************************************************

PandaMania VBS runs all this week (06/20 to 06/24) from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at Newington Baptist Church for ages 4 through 5th grade.  We hope to see you there!

For those at Newington who are interested in David Crowder’s book, Praise Habit, great news!  It’s in the church library!

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

A Matter of God

“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you”
2 Chronicles 20:12, NIV

I am a contest-enterer, but only very rarely a contest-winner.  About one-and-a-half years ago, I participated in the adult summer reading program at our local library.  Every month that I read some books (only one of my most favorite things to do in life!), I could place my name in the hat for a prize drawing.  Then the day came when the librarian called me on the phone and said I had won.  I was ecstatic!  When I picked up my little trinket of a prize at the library, it didn’t even matter that it was only worth about $5.  I felt like I had won the lottery!

My friend, Andrea Anderson at Live With Laughter has been running a giveaway fundraiser to help her family raise money for their adoption and the drawing is today (03/17) at 6:00.  She’s giving away a personalized family tree painting done by a local artist and friend.  So, of course, I have entered.  But, since I rarely win, you should enter, too, because my being in the contest improves your odds!  I also enter the HGTV Dream Home Giveaway contest every year and this past month, I’ve been entering a contest daily to win a trip to England (one of my life dreams).

Even when I play board games, I usually lose, and I certainly lose if the game involves rolling the dice, having the highest card or getting the ice cream princess in Candy Land.  I think my kids like playing games with me because I don’t let them win, and yet they always win despite my best efforts.

Since today is St. Patrick’s Day I was thinking of how I am so very unlucky, but I am so very blessed.  I’m thankful that my life is not at all dependent on luck, but is instead dependent on God’s mercy, love, and strength.   The Psalmist told God, “My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me” (Psalm 31:15, NIV).  I can have full confidence that my times are in God’s hands–my every day, my moment by moment, all entrusted to Him.

In my devotional time recently, I’ve been reading 2 Chronicles, which is one of my most favorite books of the Bible.  There is a clear, unmistakable trend in this book about the kings of Judah and Israel.  Almost every one of the kings had a life-defining moment when the nation was surrounded by a massive army that was better-equipped and more experienced than they were.

Every time a king fought the enemy in his own strength, either by amassing a defensive force or by making treaties with other nations, he was defeated.  Yet, when a king turned to God and prayed for His intervention and help, he was miraculously saved.   Often, the enemy troops would become confused and fight amongst themselves or they would simply run away in terror without ever engaging in battle.

Luck had nothing to do with it.

One of my favorite examples is King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20.  Like many other kings, he faced a vast enemy army.  The Bible tells us, “Alarmed, Jehosaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah” (2 Chronicles 20:3).

He was alarmed.  He was emotionally distraught about this seemingly impossible situation.  All the circumstances told him that he was about to be defeated and his people slaughtered on the battlefield.

So, with all of his fear of certain defeat, Jehoshaphat turned it all over to God.  The whole nation fasted and then he prayed with them publicly.  In his prayer, he said, “For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us.  We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you” (2 Chronicles 20:12, NIV).

Oooh, that verse sends chills up my spine.   In so many of our life situations we have no idea what to do.  We’ve worked everything out on paper and still come out short.  There is just no physical, tangible way for us to defeat the enemy we are facing.

Those are the very moments when we need to look to God, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2, NIV).

That’s what Jehoshaphat did and God answered his prayer, saying: “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army.  For the battle is not yours, but God’s” (2 Chronicles 20:15).  The next morning, instead of sending out his best troops against the enemy, Jehosphat “appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness” (2 Chronicles 20:21, NIV).  The singers lifted up their praises to God and the enemy was totally annihilated without Jehoshaphat’s army raising a spear.  All they had done was worship God.

Scripture tells us they named that battle site the Valley of Beracah or the Valley of Praise.   Ultimately, “the fear of God came upon all the kingdoms of the countries when they heard how the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel.  And the kingdom of Jehoshaphat was at peace, for His God had given him rest on every side”  (2 Chronicles 20:29-30, NIV).

Are you in a valley, surrounded by circumstances that will most certainly defeat you?  Your survival isn’t a matter of luck, it’s a matter of God, and our God is trustworthy, dependable, faithful and mighty.  Resolve to fix your eyes on God and not on your physical “reality.”  Resolve to transform your valley into a valley of praise.   That is when God is glorified and we find rest.

************************************************************************************************************

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

Copyright © 2011 Heather King