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?

Bible Verses about “The Lord is My…”

  • Exodus 15:2 ESV
    The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
  • Exodus 17:15 ESV
    And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The Lord Is My Banner,
  • 2  Samuel 22:2 ESV
    He said, “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
  • Psalm 16:5 ESV
    The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.
  • Psalm 18:2 ESV
    The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
  • Psalm 23:1 ESV
    The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
  • Psalm 27:1 ESV
    The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
  • Psalm 28:7 ESV
    The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.
  • Psalm 118:14 ESV
    The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.
  • Psalm 119:57 ESV
    The Lord is my portion;
        I promise to keep your words.
  • Lamentations 3:24 ESV
    The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
  • Zechariah 13:9 ESV
    And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’
  • Hebrews 13:6 ESV
     So we can confidently say,
    The Lord is my helper;
        I will not fear;
    what can man do to me?”

The Art of Celebrating

“Mom, can we have a milkshake because  it’s Tuesday?”

We do celebrations in our family.  We celebrate first days and last days, pick-me-up treats on the hardest days, victory treats when we have a big win and  even sometimes just for trying.because we know trying requires courage.

My daughter has a competition this weekend, but I’ve already let her request her “celebration dinner,” whether she comes home with first place or last place.  We’re not saluting the prize, we’re saluting the effort, the time, the commitment, and being done, of course.

Our celebrations aren’t elaborate or Pinterest-worthy.  We make a special batch of cookies or stop in at 7-11 for a Slurpie, cook up a special dinner or maybe even get milkshakes for a “big” treat.  We “party” with family movie night and a bowl of popcorn or head to  a beach or a playground for some afternoon fun after a week of testing at school.  I’ve even been known to happy  dance in the kitchen occasionally, (which is instantly embarrassing to my children).

But that day, my daughter  climbed in the minivan after school and asked for a treat because it was Tuesday.

I finally gave in and asked, “Why are we celebrating Tuesday?”

“Oh, it’s just that Tuesdays are really busy days for  us and I think we just need a treat because it’s Tuesday and that’s all.”

Well, maybe we’re stretching our rejoicing habits a bit too far if we’re now celebrating specific days of the week just because they exist on the calendar.

I tease my daughter gently and call her the “queen of treats.”

Can we celebrate because we had  a good day?  Can we have a treat because we had a bad day?   Can we have a treat because…it’s Tuesday?

We all have a good laugh because this is who we are:  We’re celebrators and rejoicers.  We’re joy-seekers.

I love that God gives reason to rejoice.  Not just that, He compels us to rejoice.

In Romans, Paul tells us that we have peace with God because of Jesus. We’re justified by His blood and saved from  the wrath of God.  He reminds us we were God’s enemies and yet, because of Jesus’s death, we’re now reconciled with this perfect, holy  God.

But Paul tells us what is the greater thing.  We recognize His holiness and our need for  reconciliation.  We recognize we were enemies of God and yet now we have peace with God.  We recognize all of that….

and then…

we rejoice.

He says:

More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:11 ESV).

We rejoice because Jesus has done the work.  We believe in Him as our Savior, we place our faith in Him as our Lord, and He has reconciled us to the Father.

So, we don’t need to drag around shame; we can lift up praise.    We focus more on our Savior than we focus on our sin.

We are saved.

The note in my Bible says, “Christians GO BEYOND avoiding God’s wrath and actually rejoice in the same God who would pour out wrath on them were it not for Christ” (ESV Study Bible).

So, let’s go beyond. 

Our faith is about more than just avoiding the wrath of God; it’s celebrating the good news:  Jesus made us righteous by covering us with His righteousness.

And, God Himself rejoices.  Maybe recapturing the image of God and all of His joy reminds us to have joy, too.

 

He rejoices over His people:

I will rejoice in Jerusalem
and be glad in my people.
The sound of weeping and crying
will no longer be heard in her (Isaiah 65:19)

and He sings over us with gladness:

The Lord your God is among you,
a warrior who saves.
He will rejoice over you with gladness.
He will be quiet in his love.
He will delight in you with singing.”  (Zephaniah 3:17 CSB). 

We are unworthy, and yet He loves us.  He finds joy and takes delight in us.

And it is His joy, His deep-hearted gladness, that we can cling to when we’re overwhelmed by our own sin.

In the book of Nehemiah, the people were moved to mourn when they heard Ezra the priest read from the law.  They saw all of their unworthiness and all the reasons for their exile.

Nehemiah and the other leaders redirected them:

This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep…today is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, because the joy of the Lord is your strength (Nehemiah 8:9, 10). 

Rejoice today.  Celebrate.  Praise Him.

He loves you.   He died to save you.  Her rejoices over you. Such love deserves a celebration.

What We Need is a Way Through the Impossible

 

isaiah 43

My son wrestles with two large toy trucks on our way into the orthodontist.  He’s determined to carry them both inside himself.

One falls to the ground.  He stoops to pick it up and as he grabs hold of the digging arm on the one truck, the other crashes down next to it.

But oh, Mommy cannot help carry these trucks.  I offer.  Really I do.  I even finally grip onto that yellow bulldozer as a sign that he didn’t need to handle both trucks at once.

Instead of letting go, my son silently holds on tighter and lifts that heavy machine out of my grasp.

These trucks are his treasures.  He is not letting go.

Finally, after several crashes to the pavement, the trucks arrive in the dental office where they make paths through blocks, scale the sides of chairs and roll across railings.

At home later, they do what big trucks should do.  They push tiny objects off the living room table and onto the floor.  They blaze trails through toys and flatten ground.

As an infant, my son learned the names of these vehicles as some of his earliest vocabulary:  “Truck.  Car.  Digger.”  Now, he speaks with infinite more expertise:  “Bulldozer, Dump Truck, Excavator, Crane, Cement Mixer, Delivery Van.”

If it’s big and makes noise, he loves it and knows what it’s called.

I don’t know what it is about these trucks that hold this little man’s attention so, but I know why suddenly, after a lifetime of not caring much about them, I find myself newly impressed.

They make ways.

They flatten obstacles.

They clear paths.

And maybe that appeals to me because I need some “ways” right about now.

I need some impossibilities cleared, some unlikely provisions, delivered, and some mountains moved.

Maybe you do, too?

We can look at circumstances: at bank accounts and how the numbers don’t add up, at agendas and jam-packed calendars, at job expectations and the number of hours in a day.

We can see that and think ,”There’s just no way.”

No way for hope.  No way for rescue.  No way for there to be enough.  No way for the good and the beautiful to come out of this rotten mess.

But here’s the good news: We serve a God who makes ways.

He parts waters so his people can walk straight across a sea  on dry ground.

He leads the nation through the wilderness and all its enemies.

He strikes down evil kings and raises up righteous ones, He rescues His people from annihilation over and over again.

The prophet Isaiah reminded his people that the Lord

... is the one who made a road through the sea
    and a path through rough waters.
17 He is the one who defeated the chariots and horses
    and the mighty armies.
They fell together and will never rise again.
    They were destroyed as a flame is put out.
18 The Lord says, “Forget what happened before,
    and do not think about the past.
19 Look at the new thing I am going to do.
    It is already happening. Don’t you see it?
I will make a road in the desert
    and rivers in the dry land. (Isaiah 43:16-19 NCV).

No way out of the mess you’re in?

No problem.  Not for our way-making God, the One who makes paths through the desert and springs up rivers from the dust.

Today, I read once again about the biggest impossibility of all.

Romans 3:20 tells us:

no one can be made right with God by following the law. The law only shows us our sin.

There’s the obstacle of our sin, that huge mounding imperfection blocking us from right-standing with God.

We can’t be good enough. Not ever.

So, what’s a sin-prone girl like me to do?  Try anyway?  Steep myself in rules, have-to’s, must-do’s, traditions, and legalism?

Or maybe give up?  Throw in the towel?  Just do whatever I want because I can’t ever attain that perfection?

Yet, Paul says in the very next verse:

21 But God has a way to make people right with him without the law, and he has now shown us that way which the law and the prophets told us about. 22 God makes people right with himself through their faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21-22 NCV).

God has a way.

He bulldozes over the problem of sin.  He plows through the strictures of the law and he lifts into place the weighty foundation of grace in the form of a cross.

And if He can do that, if He can make this astoundingly miraculous path to forgiveness and grace even when I didn’t deserve such rescue, I know I can trust Him in my every impossibility, my every hopeless situation, my every closed door, my every mountain of a problem.

He can make a way.

 

 

30 Bible Verses on Redemption

verses-on-redemption

  1. Job 19:25 NIV
    I know that my redeemer lives,
        and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
  2. Psalm 107:2 NIV
    Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—
        those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,
  3. Psalm 111:9 NIV
    He provided redemption for his people;
        he ordained his covenant forever—
        holy and awesome is his name.
  4. Psalm 130:7 NIV
    Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
        for with the Lord is unfailing love
        and with him is full redemption.
  5. Isaiah 43:1-2 NIV
    But now, this is what the Lord says—
        he who created you, Jacob,
        he who formed you, Israel:
    “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
        I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
    When you pass through the waters,
        I will be with you;
    and when you pass through the rivers,
        they will not sweep over you.
    When you walk through the fire,
        you will not be burned;
        the flames will not set you ablaze.
  6. Isaiah 44:22 NIV
    I have swept away your offenses like a cloud,
        your sins like the morning mist.
    Return to me,
        for I have redeemed you.”
  7. Isaiah 52:3 NIV
    For this is what the Lord says:
    “You were sold for nothing,
        and without money you will be redeemed.
  8. Lamentations 3:57-58 NIV
    You came near when I called you,
    and you said, “Do not fear.”
     You, Lord, took up my case;
      you redeemed my life.
  9. Mark 10:45 ESV
    For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
  10. Luke 1:68 NIV
    Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
        because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
  11. Luke 21:28 NIV
    When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
  12. Romans 3:23-25 NIV
    for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—
  13. Romans 8:23 NIV
    Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.
  14. 1 Corinthians 1:30 ESV
    And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,
  15. 1 Corinthians 6:20 ESV
    for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
  16. 1 Corinthians 7:23 ESV
    You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants[a] of men.
  17. Galatians 3:13 ESV
     Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—
  18. Galatians 4:4-5 NIV
    But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.
  19. Ephesians 1:7 ESV
    In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace
  20. Ephesians 1:14 NIV
    who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
  21. Ephesians 4:30 NIV
    And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
  22. Colossians 1:13-14 NIV
    For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
  23. 1 Timothy 2:6 ESV
    who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.
  24. Titus 2:14 ESV
    who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
  25. Hebrews 9:12 NIV
     He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.
  26. Hebrews 9:15 NIV
    For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
  27. 1 Peter 1:18-19 NIV
     For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
  28. Revelation 1:5-6 NIV
     and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
  29. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
  30. Revelation 5:9 NIV
    And they sang a new song, saying:
    “You are worthy to take the scroll
     and to open its seals,
    because you were slain
     and with your blood you purchased for God
    persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.

Bible verses about Good Friday

good friday

Accounts of the crucifixion:

Bible Verses about the cross and the purpose of Good Friday

  • Psalm 22:1, 14-18 ESV
    My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
        Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?

    I am poured out like water,
        and all my bones are out of joint;
    my heart is like wax;
        it is melted within my breast;
    15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
        and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
        you lay me in the dust of death.

    16 For dogs encompass me;
        a company of evildoers encircles me;
    they have pierced my hands and feet—
    17 I can count all my bones—
    they stare and gloat over me;
    18 they divide my garments among them,
        and for my clothing they cast lots.

  • Isaiah 53:3-6 ESV
    He was despised and rejected by men;
        a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
    and as one from whom men hide their faces
        he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
    Surely he has borne our griefs
        and carried our sorrows;
    yet we esteemed him stricken,
        smitten by God, and afflicted.
    But he was pierced for our transgressions;
        he was crushed for our iniquities;
    upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
        and with his wounds we are healed.
    All we like sheep have gone astray;
        we have turned—every one—to his own way;
    and the Lord has laid on him
        the iniquity of us all.
  • Zechariah 12:10 ESV
    “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.
  • Mark 9:31 ESV

    for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.”

  • John 3:16-17 ESV
    “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
  • Romans 5:6-10 ESV
     For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
  • 1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV
    For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
  • Philippians 2:8 ESV
    And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
  • Colossians 1:20 ESV
    and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
  • Colossians 2:14 ESV
    by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
  • Hebrews 12:2 ESV
    looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
  • 1 Peter 2:24 ESV
    He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
  • 1 Peter 3:18 ESV
    For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous,that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit
  • 1 John 3:16 ESV
    By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

He makes all things new (and new is what we really need)

christmas12

I found a $1 treasure at a summer yard sale, an oak step stool to solve my problem.

My kids had been scaling the counters to reach cups and bowls from the cabinets, a heart-stopping feat if ever there was one.

They carried the bathroom stool out to the kitchen and left it there where it didn’t belong.  It was a step stool in demand, actually.  Every time we needed the stool, it was inevitably hopelessly lost in whatever room in the house we didn’t think to look.

I spotted that “new-to-us” wooden stool in that yard sale and my heart skipped happy beats of victory and accomplishment.  With just a simple coat of paint, I’d have a sturdy new stool that belonged in the kitchen, kept my kids off the counters, and matched my home décor.

Score!

The first time it wobbled, we dismissed it as our own clumsiness.  That’s easy to do in our house.

But the offending stool failed us again and again, causing bruises, bumps, scrapes, tears and accusations.

I gave lessons to my kids on how to keep from smashing your head on the kitchen counter. Surely, they simply needed to know “How to Stand on the Stool” and “How Not to Stand on the Stool.”

The problem, though, wasn’t our technique. The stool itself was faulty in a way a coat of paint couldn’t cover. It was treacherous and off-balance.

Finally, I admitted defeat and threw it out with the morning garbage before I added an emergency room visit to my daily agenda.

My refurbishing failure reminded me that Christ doesn’t just make things over, He doesn’t just make things pretty, He makes all things new.

More than that white covering of snow that sparkles in the moonlight and hides the wilted grass and un-raked leaves, Christmas offers us a fresh start.

But do we believe it? Do we treat ‘newness’ as little more than cosmetic refurbishing? A coat of paint, perhaps, and God sends us on our merry way with a façade of Christian niceties covering over a truly treacherous human condition?

Scripture is radical in its promise:

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV).

 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26 NIV)

God’s work in us isn’t just life with a Christian ‘varnish.’ He promises to remove the diseased and petrified heart that plagues our life with sin and transplant in us a new heart of flesh, a heart where His Spirit dwells.

It’s complete.  It’s not refurbishing a $1 step stool and hoping you don’t gash your head open when you use it.  It’s not ‘settling’ for a little bit of God in a big pile of mess.

More than this.  Oh, so much more.

It isn’t God handing us a 12-step instruction sheet with complicated diagrams and a paint kit and telling us to go make a new heart.

That’s the law.  That’s us trying to get it all right.  Trying to be perfect.  Trying to reach heaven on our own tip-toes (maybe with a faulty step-stool).

That’s us landing on the ground again, worn and weary, exhausted from trying so hard to stop the wobbling, the failure, the mess the brokenness.

That’s us trying to hold it all together and still finding that it falls all apart.

But Christmas is God come down; not us reaching up high enough to touch Him. Christmas is God’s gift, God at work, God-with-grace, God-with us.

Too often, we make it all about us.  What we have to do to make Christmas perfect.  What we have to accomplish in our homes and in our hearts: The projects, the parties, the get-togethers, the programs, the traditions, the attempts to pack more meaning into something so deep-down meaningful.

And we almost miss it.  For all the to-do, we almost miss this:

Christmas is about Him.

He will take us as we are and He will make us new.  It’s all in His big hands, big enough to hold us all together, big enough to heal, strong enough to carry us right on through.

Originally published 12/15/2014

Hope has a Name

Matthew 12

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

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

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

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

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

“My son is dead.”

That’s what she shouted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope you get that job.

I hope you have a good day.

I hope it all works out for ya.

I hope you get better soon.

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

Hope has a name and that name is Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole Unice says this word means:

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

Take Heart.

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

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

Copyright © 2015 Heather King

12 Bible Verses on Fresh Starts and New Beginnings

  • verses-new-beginningsIsaiah 43:18-9 ESV
    “Remember not the former things,
        nor consider the things of old.
     Behold, I am doing a new thing;
        now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
    I will make a way in the wilderness
        and rivers in the desert.
  • Isaiah 65:17 NIV
    See, I will create
        new heavens and a new earth.
    The former things will not be remembered,
        nor will they come to mind.
  • Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV
  • The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
        his mercies never come to an end;
    23 they are new every morning;
        great is your faithfulness.
  • Ezekiel 11:18-19 ESV
    And when they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations. 19 And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh,
  • Ezekiel 36:26 ESV
    And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
  • Romans 6:3-4 NIV
    Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV
    Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
  • Ephesians 4:22-24 ESV
    to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
  • Philippians 3:13-14 NIV
    Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
  • Colossians 3:9-10 NIV
    Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
  • 1 Peter 1:3 ESV
    Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
  • Revelation 21:4-5 ESV
    He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more,neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation21

What’s This Gonna Cost?

I tell my daughters about the email.

Their teacher at church sent us information about an upcoming missions project.  They’ll be collecting money as a class for a ministry in our area, but she doesn’t want the parents to just give kids money to contribute.

Sure, I could stuff a few dollars and some coins into that empty container and send it in with my  kids.  And sure, they could hand it in and feel like they participated and did the good Christian thing that good Christians are supposed to do.

But giving should cost something.

In fact, giving should be costly.

It should require some effort or sacrifice.   We shouldn’t just give when we have more than enough.

True generosity and true love require giving out of need and giving out of not-enough.

My girls protest the fact that they have empty piggy banks, no allowance and no source of renewable income since birthdays only come once a year.

So we return to our tried-and-true method:  Extra chores allow them to earn money to give to missions or charities or ministries.1peter2

The King girls will be sweeping floors and scrubbing toilets to earn those coins to give away.

On Sunday morning, I hold the cup and bread in my hand and pray before Communion, thinking this is a lesson for me, too.

I think about the cost of giving, the cost of generosity.

Surely God has given generously to us.

Maybe it’s complacency from long-term faith, from hearing those same lessons taught in the same ways.  Maybe it’s selfishness.  Maybe it’s forgetfulness.

Whatever the cause, sometimes I cling selfishly to what I have and forget the abundant generosity of God’s gift to me.

Could anything be more generous than grace?

Yes, I mean the cross, but even before that.

Adam and Eve stood in the aftermath of forbidden fruit and witnessed the ugly truth for the first time:  Grace demands sacrifice.

They sinned.  They felt shame in their nakedness and they tried to fix things on their own, fitting leaves together to form a makeshift outfit.

Genesis 3:21 says it wasn’t enough:

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them (Genesis 3:21 NIV).

I’ve read that verse so often and just ran over the words without thought, but here’s the truth of it.

They sinned.  So God slayed an animal at their feet.  He couldn’t just pick a few animal skins off of a store shelf or drop by the tailor’s so they could be custom-fitted with a faux-leather outfit.

God handcrafted the clothes for His wayward children.

Adam and Eve stood in the garden and watched another creature die for their own offense.  They witnessed the blood running red for the first time ever.

Max Lucado writes:

 “God slays an animal.  For the first time in the history of the earth, dirt is stained with blood.  Innocent blood.  The beast committed no sin.  The creature did not deserve to die……….” (A Love Worth Living).

Then they had to wear the result and remember the high cost of their God-designed outfit.

As Max Lucado puts it: “As a father would zip up the jacket of a preschooler.  God covers them.”  

It’s the act of a dad, helping a little one fit arms into arm-holes and socks onto feet.  It’s tenderness and gentleness and love when they deserved wrath.

And God did this for us, too:

For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness (Isaiah 61:10 NIV).

Right there in the garden it began: Outrageous, undeserved, generous, complete sacrifice of one life for another.isaiah1

I read Leviticus and wonder what it must have been like to watch the whole gory mess of atonement with its blood and guts and death.

It became routine to the Israelites.  How could that be routine?  How could the stench and the bleating of the lambs become routine?

Yet, has the cross become routine to us?

Sin should be shocking.

Grace should shock us all the more.

Maybe if I had to stand and watch God pay the price for my mess with my own two eyes, I’d be less complacent and more overcome.

Maybe if I had to let God silently drape my shoulders with a covering of His own making to hide my nakedness, maybe my heart would break with sorrow at my sin.

Maybe if I watched someone die in my place, knowing how little I deserved it, I’d learn what true generosity is: giving abundantly and without complaint even when it’s undeserved and even when it costs me dearly.

The truth is that Jesus did just that:  He died for us and then He dressed us in His righteousness.

May we be overcome by grace anew.

 

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

Copyright © 2015 Heather King