Peace and the heart of Christmas

This Christmas, we are celebrating with not just one, but two new kittens in our family.

Every  morning I check to see what they got into during the night.  Which ornament, which light strand, which bit of garland, which wise man have  they pulled down or knocked down.

I have stopped one kitten from climbing up the middle of our Christmas tree on several occasions and rescued this same kitten when his claws got stuck to the garland and lights strung over a door.  He was hanging from them like a mountain climber repelling off a mountain.

Wrapping paper is their favorite closely followed by empty boxes and ornament hooks that they’ve detached from the ornaments they’ve knocked to the ground.

Oh, Christmas is a wonder of excitement to these two little guys and they are certainly keeping me on my toes.

They are also prodding my heart about something:

The purpose of Christmas, the very heart of God’s heart in sending His Son, is peace.  It is RECONCILIATION.

We adopted our new kittens from the Humane Society.  They apparently had been dropped off at the shelter together.  They spent time in a cage together there before spending the next several weeks of their lives on display at a pet store in a different cage—still together.

We kept going to the pet store for supplies for our other animals and seeing these two playful kittens.  Why weren’t they getting adopted?

Finally, we decided we needed to be their family only to learn as we signed our name to the adoption papers that others had been interested in taking one of the kittens, but never both of them.  Until us.

That was what the Humane Society had been looking for the whole time, a family who wanted to keep the kittens together since they’d never been apart.

And we see this at work in these little guys.  The very first week we brought them home, they were getting bolder, adventuring into new places around our house.

Then we heard the crying.  It was the saddest, quickest succession of meows we had ever heard, not  a hurt cry, but a deeply sad cry.  One lone kitten walked by, meowing as he searched from room to room for the other kitten.

Even now, after almost four months with us, if one kitten can’t find the other kitten, we hear the crying and we watch the searching.

I’ve been meditating this Christmas season on God’s heart for Christmas, the lengths He went through to reach us and bring us back to Him.  His divine plan initiated in the Garden of Eden was this:  the moment we chose sin, He made provision for grace.  He began preparing the world for its Savior, Jesus Christ, to bring reconciliation.

Then the appointed time came, after waiting and waiting, after anticipation and heartbreak, after God’s faithfulness despite His people’s unfaithfulness.

Jesus was born, a tiny helpless baby born to a poor,  seemingly insignificant couple in the lowest of circumstances—surrounded by animals, hay, and the scent of a barn.

The angels rang out the Good News:

“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14 NASB)

The prophet Isaiah had promised that He would be the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

Peace.

Jesus brought peace, and Jesus is still bringing that yet-to-be-attained peace.  

He brought us peace with God.  Paul says Jesus was God’s gift of reconciliation to the world:

And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation ( 2 Corinthians 5:18-29 NLT)

We were divided from God, cut off from His presence.  Sin disrupted our relationship with Him, but grace bridged the gap.   Through Jesus, we can be at peace with God.

So He sends us to bring that peace to others:

Paul tells us that God brought us peace, so we now bring peace.  We are ambassadors to the world, carrying the message and ministry of reconciliation so that others can be made right with God.

And He commissions us as peacemakers:

Jesus’s heart is for peace:  Peace between us and God, peace between us and others.  He says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9 NASB).

Peace is the heart of our Prince of Peace.
Is it mine? 

Peace is the fruit I bear when the Spirit is at work within me. 
Am I bearing this fruit?

Peace-making is a sure sign that I am His Child.
Can others see His heart for peace in me?

Attacked by an Angry Bird

ephesians2-14

We’re being attacked by an angry bird and he is giving us no peace.

When my son woke up more than an hour early from his nap the other day, I knew something was up.

Then I heard it.

Wham!

Wham!

Something was slamming, repeatedly, into the window in my son’s room.

My two-year-old told me “I scared.”

I’d be scared too if I was awakened from a deep sleep by the sounds of attack.

I peeked outside our front door and saw our enemy, a brilliant cardinal–a bird I’d normally praise for beauty–banging his head against the glass over and over and over again.

What could I do but take pictures and a little video?

angry bird

He glared at me as if I was mocking him with my phone.  It was both frustrating and amusing at the time.

But now that this bird is still waking my son up two days later with his repeated assault, I have declared avian war.

I’ve trimmed back all the branches that brushed the side of our house.

I gently lifted his nest (no eggs or babies!) and moved it to another tree.

I’ve stood guard through today’s naptime and run out the front door every time our red-feathered enemy started his bombardment.

He flies onto the roof every time I run out the door, and I think he’s finally tired of running away.  Maybe he’ll realize this perch isn’t worth defending and find somewhere else to nest.

After two days of war on our peace, I am happy to settle into a little quiet.

That’s what we all want, after all, a little peace.

I’m not talking about world peace and I don’t even mean just the absence of conflict.

I mean that feeling of settled rest, no more feeling on alert and on guard, the feeling that your muscles don’t need to be tense and you can sink back into a pillow without fear of attack.

In the Psalms, I read something that rings so true:

Too long have I had my dwelling
among those who hate peace.
I am for peace,
but when I speak, they are for war!
(Psalm 120:6-7 ESV).

Sometimes, we’re so desperate for peace and it just seems like people or even circumstances are determined to attack us.

It’s a relentless assault and sometimes it comes out of nowhere and wearies us to the bone..

You feel settled and then you are shaken.
You feel confident of the future and then there is change.
You feel content and then envy strikes.
You think everything is fine and then you read the nasty email.

Here’s what I love, though, Jesus knows the deepest and truest need of our needy hearts.

When he appeared to the disciples following his resurrection, Jesus had a clear message to share:

“Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.'” (John 20:19 ESV).

“Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you” (John 20:21 ESV).

“Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.‘ (John 20:26 ESV).

“Peace be with you.”  If there’s anything those disciples needed in that moment, when their Messiah seemed dead and they feared they’d be killed soon also, it was peace, and Jesus knew that.

But, the most beautiful thing about this is that Jesus could have just as easily said “I AM with you” because He is our PEACE and our Prince of Peace;

He is the reason we can deeply rest and have confidence in the goodness and the ability and the mercy of our God.

Beth Moore reminds us that, while we can feel shaken and attacked,

Christ had perfect peace in ALONENESS…in PROVISION…in the STORM…in the WAIT…and in the TEARS (Living Beyond Yourself).

In any circumstances and at all times, Christ’s presence can bring us the peace we need.  Yes, even for the aloneness, for the seasons of want, for the storm, for the long waiting, and for the tears.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that an angry bird might come out of nowhere and start waging war on your son’s naptime.

And it doesn’t mean that bird will magically disappear on his own.

No, I had to do battle.

But it does mean that Jesus offers to bring His peace right there into the noise and the fighting and the fear and uncertainty or whatever we face.

He assures us that He’s here.

“Peace be with you.”  And He is.

Super Glue, Broken Things, and Wholeness

“Mom, I have to show you,” my three-year-old said.

She had dragged in the cat bed while I was in the shower and as I got ready for the day, 053she chattered away about what she had collected from around the house.  Out came some books, some toys, some Barbie clothes.

She giggled about them. How funny to pile them all into the cat bed!

Then she reached the bottom and stepped back nervously, asking me to peek inside for the final object.

I leaned in closer for a look.  Picking up the mystery object, I fingered it and spun it in my hands until I realized that I was holding a small head.

I glanced back at my tiny girl, shifting nervously on her feet, her eyes moist and ready to overflow with tears.

“Did it break?”  She nodded and I scooped her up and gave her a hug.  We looked on my dresser where the Willow Tree angel sat, a mother (now headless) cradling a baby.  “We can glue it back together,” I assured my daughter and she grinned and skipped away.

Brokenness seems to be following me around these days: A broken mother on my dresser…A bowl I dropped on the kitchen floor while making dinner, then swept up in pieces and tossed into the trash…The ceramic chimes my daughter had painted after Christmas that fell off her dresser and cracked in three places.

We moms know about broken things.

Some of them I could glue together, not quite as good as new, but enough to hide the cracks and broken places from most casual onlookers.  But the bowl I had to toss away, too shattered to be useful anymore.

It’s one of the beautiful ministries of God to us, the way He chooses to bind up wounds and heal broken hearts. 

But I couldn’t have squirted out the super glue and held the head back into place if my daughter had hidden it away instead of bringing it to my feet.

And as long as we carry our pieces to God, not hide away in shame or frustration, or try to fix things on our own, or collapse in helpless self-pity…only then can He bring wholeness and healing to the broken.  And aren’t we all at least a little broken?

Always He forgives.
Always He mends. 
Always He shows compassion.

And always He redeems and uses us, not in spite of our brokenness, but because of the way we’ve yielded it to Him.

It’s a theme strung through verse after verse when I read through The Message last year, this promise of wholeness.

David prayed it after being delivered from Saul:

“God made my life complete
when I placed all the pieces before him.
..

   I feel put back together 
2 Samuel 22:21-25, Psalm 18

I can’t say I always feel put back together.  Sometimes closer inspection reveals those super-glued cracks.  Sometimes a few trivial annoyances chip away at my soul, chip…chip….chip until I’m all in pieces of ugliness and impatience.  At other times, it’s a crushing blow and I’m so delicate against the force of it.

Broken again, Lord.  So sorry that I’m broken again.

But at Christmas I read anew who our Messiah, our Savior is:

His names will be: Amazing Counselor,
Strong God,
Eternal Father,
Prince of Wholeness.
His ruling authority will grow,
    and there’ll be no limits to the wholeness he brings
(Isaiah 9:6-7).

I know those verses.  “Prince of Peace.” That’s what it should say.  (I talk aloud to my Bible, explaining it to the pages).

But Shalom, peace, that’s what it’s talking about here.  The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says: “The general meaning behind the root š-l-m is of completion and fulfillment—of entering into a state of wholeness and unity, a restored relationship.”

Ah and there it is.  Jesus is our Peace, putting us back together, making us whole, restoring our relationship with God, fulfilling and completing us.

He is our Prince of Wholeness.

What a promise for the broken.

And there’s this lovely, overwhelmingly miraculous part of this wholeness, that it isn’t just for our own comfort or personal happiness.  It’s not so life will be a bit easier and our shoulders a little less burdened by guilt or our self-esteem boosted so we can peek into the mirror with confidence.

In her study on Nehemiah, Kelly Minter wrote:

Essentially wholeness is not the end, but the very beginning, because wholeness allows us to give much more of our hearts, possessions, time, wisdom, money, friendship and love away  (p. 7).

We seek this wholeness–in our finances, in our hearts, in our relationships, in our homes, in our ministries, in our marriages, in our minds….not as the ultimate end.

Lord, heal us so we may be more of a blessing to others.

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 November 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

Weekend Walk: 12/10/2011

Hiding the Word:

My husband and I were singing our favorite Christmas song the other night at a pastor dinner: Babe in the Straw.

James sang, “Who is this child asleep in a manger?  . . . On this holy night, have you come to redeem us, Little Child in the Straw?”

And I sang in response: “Who is this Babe, Prince of the Universe?  . . . The prophets did say, You would come to redeem us.  Babe in the Straw, save us all.”

Do you marvel at God’s incredible design?  He saved us all–you, me, the entirety of mankind–by entering the world as a baby.

Isaiah tells us that the “people walking in darkness have seen a great light” and that the Messiah will have “shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor” (Isaiah 9:2, 4).

The Babe in the straw was unmistakable light in the pitch-black dark of the world.  The Child in the manger freed His captive people and extended that grace to anyone who believed in Him.

All because He wasn’t just a sweet bundle of babyness, wrapped up in cloths and blinking His tiny eyes at His mama.

He was God in the flesh.

Isaiah also wrote my Christmas memory verse for this week:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
   and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
   Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6)

Did Christ cut through the darkness for you?  Did He snap off the chains and shackles that had you bound?

Have you seen Him at work in your life as a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace?

This is my verse for meditation and memorization this week.  I hope you’ll join me!

You can also enjoy a little bit of Christmas music today!  Click here for a link to Babe in the Straw or you can click on the video below from the blog.

Weekend Rerun:

Doing A New Thing
Originally Published 03/21/2011

Last week, I ate out at a restaurant with friends, something I do very infrequently.  Since I don’t go out often, I like to minimize my risk by ordering the same thing off the menu each time.  I love what I get.  I enjoy it every time.  If I change things up and order something different, I could hate it and my very special and rare dinner out would be ruined.

But, not wanting to miss out on something potentially new and exciting, I read through the entire menu and considered taking the huge life risk of ordering something — gasp!!! — different.  I asked the friends I was with what they were getting, thinking I may be inspired.

Then the waiter stared at me expectantly, pencil poised over paper, and asked me what I would like—and I ordered the “same old, same old” and enjoyed every bite of my dinner.

Then, on Sunday I got my hair cut.  There is something truly tempting about that moment when the hairdresser asks you, “Now, what are we going to do today?”  A little tiny part of me wants to say—color it, cut it, curl it, straighten it, layer it, angle it—whatever.  Make it new and fabulous!

But, I’m me.  So, I asked her just to trim the layers that were already there and generally clean up the haircut I already had.

I’m a creature of habit because habit brings me comfort.   Words like “new” and “improved” and “change” are anathema to me.  I prefer “traditional,” “classic” and “time-tested.”

Knowing this about me, imagine my struggle this year as I felt God’s clear and persistent nudging to quit my job—the same job I’ve had for 6-1/2 years.  I haven’t even just been doing the same kind of work that long, it’s been for the same company, working some of the same accounts, on the same computer program.

It was habit and comfort.  It was known and safe.  It was my “normal.”  And God said it was time to leave the old and do something new.  After months of stressing, praying and debating with God, I finally obeyed, and although I’m shaken up at the loss of my comfortable “known,” I am beginning to feel excited anticipation about walking with God into a new place.

In Scripture, God said, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:18-19, NIV).

If we want to walk in intimacy with God, sometimes we have to leave the past in order to experience the “new thing” He’s doing.

Israel had to leave slavery in Egypt in order to journey to the Promised Land.

Jonah had to leave a successful career as a prophet to Israel in order to begin a nationwide revival in Nineveh.

The disciples had to leave their careers and families in order to follow Jesus when He gave them a simple command, “Come, follow me.”

When Jesus called the disciples, the 12 were quick to obey.  They hopped out of their fishing boats and put aside tax collecting paperwork in order to pursue a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to minister with and learn from our Savior in the flesh.

Israel and Jonah were a bit more reluctant about leaving the past for something new.  Israel whined and complained about it for 40 years.  Jonah hightailed it out of town in the opposite direction of his call.

Yet, God was unmistakably and miraculously at work, despite their fears and even disobedience.  The verse in Isaiah tells us “Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”  We will perceive God at work.  When He moves, His hand in our life will be unmistakable.  That’s what is so exciting!  All we have to do is obey His lead.  His job is to show up in all of His glory and power.

God may be calling you to something entirely different than me.  You may need to work part-time, work full-time, follow a new career, stay at home with your kids, have a baby, start a ministry, stop a ministry, read the Bible in a new way, start going to church, change your schedule around, stop watching television, change what music you listen to, begin a quiet time every day, initiate a friendship, separate from a friend who is a bad influence on you, eat better, begin exercising, move to another state . . .

No matter what God is calling you to, join Him!  Pack your bags and head out of Egypt.  Put aside the ministry you know so you can answer a new call.  Abandon your fishing nets in order to follow Christ.

You may see only wilderness or desert ahead of you, but don’t let that dissuade you.  God promises to make “a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

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

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