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?

On the Air: A Radio Interview About Ask Me Anything, Lord

He asked me which question was the hardest to write about….

I sat across from the morning show host of the radio station WXGM (99.1 FM) and was chatting about my new book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Lives to God’s Questions.

It’s a book about how I, the queen of all question-askers, learned to stop talking so much and started letting God ask me questions.

God asked other people questions throughout Scripture.DSCF2165

To Adam and Eve, He asked, “Where are you?”

To Elijah, He asked, “What are you doing here?”

To Peter, He asked, “Do you love me?”

Our God is a relation-builder, a reconciler.  Right from the beginning, Adam and Eve made a mess of things, disobeyed Him, and hid in the garden.  How could they be so foolish, thinking a few fig leaves could hide their whereabouts from an omniscient, all-powerful God who had made them just days before?

But God didn’t lecture, chastise, yell, or rain down fire on them.

Instead, He sought them out with a simple stroll in the garden and this asking:  Where are you?

He didn’t ask because He didn’t know.  He didn’t ask for His own benefit.

He asked to show two wayward children who trembled in fear and hid in shame among the foliage that He loved them.  He still desperately wanted relationship with them, and He would go to great lengths and make the ultimate sacrifice in order to draw all of us back to Him.

These questions of God’s are all through the Bible, and when we let Him ask them of us they root out fear, help us overcome shame and insecurity, and promise God’s presence and faithful provision in whatever circumstance we face.

So I sat across from the radio host last week, a copy of my book about God’s questions sitting on the desk in front of him.  That’s when he asked me, “Which one was the hardest to write about?”

I knew right away what to answer.

It was God’s question to Cain: “Where is your brother?”

When I wrote the book, I had so many questions in Scripture to choose from.  God is such a question-asker.  He fills Scripture with His patient pursuit of His people.  So, I had to leave some out.  I couldn’t cover them all, not in one book anyway.

I didn’t want to write about Cain.  What could we have in common, after all?  The first murderer and a middle class minivan mom like me?

It seemed like an easy topic to skip over, too irrelevant to my life to pay it any mind.ask-me-anything-lord_kd

Yet, even though I wanted to skip God’s question to Cain, I couldn’t.  I knew God wanted me to write about it, and once I started typing on that blank word processor all about it, I couldn’t stop.

Community, after all, can be messy.  Relationships are prone to failure.  They trip us up with their pits and obstacles and shaky ground.  We shove into each other’s space, stepping on toes, bruising egos, making assumptions and getting it wrong.

That’s what Cain’s story is about, really, about how his discontentment, jealousy and unforgiveness grew to disastrous levels until he exploded in rage and destroyed another person….and himself.

Over time, I realized just how much God needed to ask me the same question that he asked this first murderer in history.

Heather, where’s your brother?  Where’s your sister?

It turns out that Cain and I have far more in common than I realized…surely far more than I wanted to admit.

Jealousy….anger….comparing the ministry of someone else to my own meager-looking offerings….defensiveness….whining….broken relationships….needing to forgive others….needing to be forgiven.

That was Cain.

It’s me sometimes, too.

Maybe you’ve been there also.  Maybe you’ve been Cain.

Or, perhaps you’ve even been Abel, subject to the cruel lashing out of someone who’s been hurt or overlooked.

I don’t know who needed the reminder that day while I chatted on the radio or even who needs to know this today, but God created us for community with Him and community with others.  When that’s broken, it rips apart our testimony, it distracts us from ministry purposes, and it taints our offering with bitterness.

So, God asks us this question:  Where is your brother?  Where is your sister?

And He reminds us that He loved people…messy, sinful, broken people…enough to die for them.

Enough to die for me.

Enough to die for you.

If He loved us that much, surely we should love others, too, even when it’s hard and requires repentance or forgiveness, admitting we’re wrong or trampling our own pride.

In the end, the hardest of God’s questions to write about became one of the questions that taught me the most.

To read more about the questions God asks, click here for information about Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Lives to God’s Questions.

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 © 2013 Heather King

Don’t Forget Peter

The other day, I celebrated the start of spring break and miraculously warm and sunny weather with a trip to the zoo.  My daughters and I piled into the van, stopped at a park for a picnic lunch and played on the playground of all playgrounds.  Then, we meandered around the zoo, my baby pointing excitedly even at empty cages, my older girls leading the way, each with a map in hand.

With the zoo finished, we flopped into our seats in the minivan, tired, content, hot and thirsty.  We stopped at the first McDonald’s on the way home.  A cold drink for everyone and a special treat—hot fudge sundaes.

As I handed each older girl her ice cream, I looked directly into her eyes and imparted great words of wisdom with heavy emphasis so she would know I was serious.  “Don’t,” I said slowly, “spill…this…on…your…clothes.”

Moments later, my older daughter had finished her treat.  She was neat and tidy.  No one would suspect she had licked every drop of chocolate out of her ice cream cup.

And then I dared to peek at my other young girl—not a full look, just a slow corner-of-the-eye glance.  The horror!  She had turned into a monster of chocolate.  It covered every inch of her visible skin and she had not one, not two—-but five (five!!!) massive splotches of chocolate on her clothes.  I whined.  I liked that outfit.  It was a hand-me-down that had survived all last year with her older sister and now, after just one ice cream sundae, it was bound for the trashcan.

I stripped her down as soon as we got home an hour later, sprayed on my laundry stain remover for set-in stains and put the washing machine to work.  It hummed, whizzed, rinsed, spun and stopped.  Without much hope, I pulled the clothes out one by one and then un-crumpled the “ruined” outfit.

Those clothes were totally spotless.
I did a happy dance in the laundry room.  I thanked God for all-powerful stain removers.
I paused.  I stood quiet.  I thanked God for all-powerful grace.
It’s a grace I struggle at times to comprehend and feel.
I fall into works-based living, expecting perfection and achieving failure.
I see the stains of sin on my heart and even when they are washed away, I still feel dirty, unusable and bound for the trashcan sometimes.
I struggle with a prison of self-condemnation.   Long after I’ve repented and sought forgiveness, I feel the heaviness of guilt—no, shame really.   It’s a prison of thoughts—You’re unworthy.  God can’t use you.  You fail, all the time you fail, same sins all the time.

That is what I feel.  But, this is what I know.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NKJV).

” Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7, NIV).

“He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities.  For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:10-12, NKJV)

“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1, NKJV).

God’s purpose in sending His Son Jesus to die for our sins was so that we could be cleansed, thoroughly washed clean, all sin stains removed. Why?  So that our relationship with Him could be restored.  He ” reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18, NKJV).

God’s grace produces reconciliation.  Satan’s accusations—even long after we’ve repented—bow us low to the ground with shame.  We become burdened with sins already forgiven and are unable to look up into God’s face any longer.  We can’t walk in relationship with our Savior when we are too ashamed to match His gaze.

During His travels, Jesus met “a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up.  But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, ‘Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.’ And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God” (Luke 13:10-13, NKJV).

Christ never intends for us to stare at the dirt and shuffle around crippled by accusations and the burdens of guilt.  Like the crippled woman, in my own strength, I can in no way raise myself up.  Yet, He is “the One who lifts up my head” (Psalm 3:3, NKJV).  He reaches down a holy hand, extending grace, His touch on my chin as He lifts up my head so I can see forgiveness in His eyes and feel the reconciliation He offers.

So many of those Jesus healed cried out to Him, asking for His help and His mercy.  But this woman didn’t even yell for Jesus’s attention.  He “saw her, He called her to him.”  A woman bent low.  A woman whose face was forever hidden.  A woman with no voice.

And when He had healed her, she lifted up her new-found voice and gave Him praise.

Grace calls us to Him, calls us out of shame and Satan’s accusations of past sin.  He provides the healing our hearts need so that we’re no longer bending low.   We are straightened up through His strength, and then, with a testimony of thanks, we glorify God.

Don’t you love that God never convicts us of sin only to leave us crippled under its weight?  He always offers grace and restoration.

He did it for Peter, the one who betrayed Jesus three times on the night He was arrested.  Peter, who had sworn that even if he had to die, he would never deny Christ–now the betrayer.  How Peter’s heart must have been weighed down by shame and guilt.

Yet, God extended grace to Peter.

Three women traveled to Jesus’s tomb early in the morning on the first day of the week. They had remembered the spices, but had forgotten something else entirely.  Along the way, they realized they had no way to move that massive stone away from the tomb so they could even get in.

(Forgetting about things on your way somewhere—yeah, happens to me all the time.)

So, they arrived at the tomb and the door was open, the stone rolled away.  The tomb empty.  They stood in shock and confusion and then an angel told them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you” (Mark 16:6-7).

“Go, tell His disciples—and Peter.

He said to them, “Don’t forget Peter.   Don’t let his shame prevent his relationship with me and impede his future ministry.  I have forgiven him.  I’ve restored him.  I’ve called him and I want him specifically to know that he is invited.”

This grace, this mysterious, incomprehensible grace, means I am fully forgiven and washed clean.  Jesus doesn’t bring up my past in conversations years from now.  “Remember that time when you lost your temper . . . remember that time you were jealous.”  Oh no, Christ doesn’t shame me with my past mistakes.  Instead, He says, “Don’t forget Peter, “Don’t forget Heather,”  “Don’t forget my forgiven ones.”  We’ve been redeemed and made new and while we might want to hide our heads in shame, He is the lifter of our heads and the healer of our hearts.

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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