The Unexpectedness of God | Advent

I bought the gift online and the box arrived on my porch yesterday.

It was quite a large box , much larger than I expected.  I couldn’t imagine what could possibly be inside since nothing I’d ordered would be that bulky.

I dropped the load I had in my hands inside the front door and hauled the package inside,  cutting it open quickly with scissors.  That’s when I found the surprise.

My son has two things topping his Christmas wish list:  Lego sets and dinosaur toys.  So, when this particular T-Rex toy went on super-sale on Black Friday online, I snatched  it up, knowing he’d love it.  The T-Rex is  his favorite  dinosaur and he always loves this brand o f toys.  I expected it to be a few inches tall like all the other toys we have by this same toymaker.

But this was beyond all expectation.  This T-Rex stands at least 5 times larger than all  the other action figures and is so big that he can “eat” the other toys and swallow them down into his expansive belly.

My son is going to love this.

I would never, ever have bought this toy knowingly, but this accident and this surprise will  probably be the hit of his Christmas morning.  I can’t wait.

Sometimes it can be so hard to “work up” anticipation, expectation and joy during the Advent season.  Calendars bog us down.  “Must-do’s”  and “have-to’s” can stifle our spirit.  Grief and even just disappointment at how the year turned out can weary us.

I need the reminder (maybe others do also?) about the unexpectedness of God.  How He breaks down the boxes we cram Him into.   We package Him up,  and He surprises us.   He is bigger and grander and far more unexpected than our wildest expectations.

I think I know how situations will unfold and sometimes I settle into thinking that “this will never change.” I see the problem.  I see the complications.  I see the mess.

But God.

I want to  see Him, who is able to do more and to do it in the most wildly creative way.  I cannot trust in my plans or my solutions and fixes, but I can trust in our Mighty God.

I remember Paul’s song of praise in Ephesians:

Now to him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us—  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.  (Ephesians 3:20-21 CSB).

God is the defier expectations.  He is our Above-and-Beyond God.

In my Advent devotional this week, the readings began in Genesis, telling why we need a Savior, how because of our sin we needed a Rescuer and Deliverer who could restore our relationship with God.

And Adam and Eve knew this.  They heard God’s curse on the serpent:

I will put hostility between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring.
He will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel (Genesis 3:15 CSB).  

They knew that Another—a Deliverer—would come to defeat the serpent once and for all.

But what would this look like?  How would the Deliverer come?   How long would they have to wait?

Surely they could not have imagined as they headed out of the Garden of Eden how Jesus would come, how He would be born, how His rescue would come through His perfect life and sacrificial death.  Surely they could not have known the long line of generations who would wait for the coming of the Messiah.

My devotional reading says this:

“Scholar James Boice says Adam and Eve likely thought Cain was the deliverer who would defeat the serpent that God  promised in Genesis 3:15.  It’s even reflected in the name they gave him…In view of the promise of a  deliverer, [Cain’s] name probably means, ‘Here he is’ or ‘I’ve gotten him.’ Eve called her son ‘Here he is’ because she thought the deliverer had been sent by God.” (Advent, Lifeway Women, p. 14)

In Genesis 3, God says there will be a Deliverer.  In Genesis 4, Eve is pregnant and gives birth to Cain, the first human baby ever.

Maybe Adam and Eve truly thought this baby was the one who would rescue and restore them.  Cain would be the promised one.

But God.

They could have grown disappointed and discouraged with Cain’s failure and how nothing turned out the way they expected.

Still, God had a plan they could never have imagined, the perfect Savior who would come at the perfect time:

When the time came to completion, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,  to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (Galatians 4:4-5 CSB).

 

Why I Can’t Mop My Floor Today

It’s all part of the plan, my strategy for party preparation.

With visitors expected, I’ve engaged in a running dialogue with the mess in my home.

All week long I’ve glanced at the kitchen floor with juice spills and mystery splatter and thought….”If I mop you today, I’ll just have to do it again on Friday.  Someone will surely spill as soon as you’re clean.”

And to the dust gathering on the television stand in the living room, I promised a wipe with a soft cloth Friday evening.

I interrupted my normal vacuuming schedule earlier in the week so that I could zoom through the house just hours before the company’s arrival.

This has been my strategy of preparation.  Knowing as I do exactly when those first little knocks on our door will occur, I can target the precise moment when my house is the cleanest and shiniest and in most presentable shape.

I hope.christmas10

Being prepared for visitors is no exact science, you know, and it’s even less so readying ourselves for God.  Christmas, after all, focuses so much on preparation. 

The Jewish people, after waiting hundreds of years for the promised Messiah, the savior of their people–and the world— felt more than ready, perhaps even impatient, for His coming.

But they weren’t.  Not really.  So God sent a messenger, John the Baptist, who shouted out the news to prepare, get ready, make yourselves right before God because the Savior was coming.

Still, when Christ came, there was no room, no readiness.  Instead there was debate and jealousy, hatred and power plays.

Only a few men and women willingly allowed God to interrupt their lives and their personal agendas in order to make room for His Glory.  Only a few were ready for obedience.

Mary, bowing the head in submission, doing chores one second and carrying the Son of God in her womb the next.

Joseph, heeding the dreams God gave Him, marry this virgin with Child, take her to Egypt to save the baby from a murderous king, travel back home when King Herod had died.

Shepherds, tending sheep in the night, earning a living, toiling as usual, following the instructions of angels to a baby in a manger, worshiping, and spreading the news across the countryside.

Sages from the East journeying for years, far from their homes and their prominence and wealth in order to lay at the feet of a child gifts of honor and adoration.

Their readiness wasn’t that of twiddling their thumbs, idling their time so that at the slightest move of the Holy Spirit they could jump up in response to His command.

Instead, they were all busy, actively serving in their jobs and homes, doing the daily thing with faithfulness, attention, and care.  And then God spoke.

An angel’s voice.
A dream.
A heavenly choir.
A mysterious star.

And they laid it all aside to follow after God, wholeheartedly, passionately, abandoning everything in order to be present and part of His plan.

May we be so ready this season and every season for God’s movement.  We don’t want to miss it! Even more than that, let us not be an obstruction or hindrance to the miraculous wonder of God.

God always knows the exact moment to move; His timing is relentlessly perfect.  Let us, then, be expectant and ready to obey Him regardless of our plan or agenda or expectation:

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 (Galatians 4:4-5, NIV).

When the time has fully come, may our hearts be ready and our lives prepared for the movement of God.

How are you preparing for Christ’s work in you in the new year?

Originally posted December 8, 2012

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

What Makes this Good?

She asked me why we call it “Good Friday.”  Why “good?”

Why “Happy Easter” or “Happy Resurrection Day?”

What makes this so “happy?”

How could we celebrate this death, this sacrifice, this sadness?  We should be so much more serious and sad, she tells me.P1040320

Like the disciples who mourned, like Mary Magdalene crying beside the tomb, surely we should remember this day with tears.

This she asks in confusion.

On Thursday, we ate the bread and drank the cup.

That’s what Jesus said that night in the upper room with disciples scattered around:  “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19 NIV).

So, we remember.

She is thinking of grape juice and crackers, a snack when you’re hungry, but I tell her it’s more than that.

And she asks, why do this?  Why talk about blood–so gross, so morbid and earthy?

It’s too corporeal for holiness and for the sacred places, the striking red against the purity of the righteous life.

Why Mom?

That’s yucky.

I think today about the remembrance of it all and why it matters.

Today is Good Friday.

It’s also the eight-year anniversary of my dad’s death.

This morning, I sat with my daughter brushing her hair and telling her about my dad: little remembrances here and there and what makes today special.

So, what makes this a day holy and set apart from other days?  Why Good Friday?

Because there’s beauty in the remembrance.  There’s honor and power in recollection.

I think this about my dad today.  Talking about him makes his life real here and now after death.  It makes it more tangible, relevant.

These daughters of mine who never knew him and only see the pictures in a photo album, mostly after he was sick and didn’t look like the dad I remember, what other way for them to know than for me to tell?

And you just don’t want this day to slip by forgotten because it would be forgetting him.

Is it any different remembering our Savior in this season?

In German, they don’t call this day Good.  They call it Mourning Friday.

But isn’t that the beauty of this day?  That even as we remember Christ’s death, even as we talk about the cross and give it true attention, even as we drink the cup so apt to stain white and we eat the bread broken, even as we tell our children the stories and we say:

This is what He did for us.  Not some pristine ritual, not something pure and clean.  It was bloody and painful.  It was death.  It was hard.  And sacrifice like that was suffering. 

It wasn’t pushed on Him because He was too weak.  Jesus “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:7-8 NIV).

This is what He chose to do for us because of love so great. 

Love so good.  Love so amazing, so divine…

Even as we say this and tell this to our children, the beauty of remembering the cross isn’t just the Mourning of our Savior, it’s the Good News that the resurrection came.

Why Good?

Why Happy?

I tell her remembering is how we worship, how we give thanks, how we honor His gift to us.

And that gift wasn’t just a trinket wrapped in a package with a bow.

It was good.  Truly good.  The greatest gift at the highest price.

And the resurrection; that’s our joy.  What better reason to be happy than to know the cross was not the end and the tomb didn’t destroy our hope?

Because of this, we have life everlasting.

And because of that day, we can see any crisis as an opportunity for Him to shine with resurrection power, to resurrect the dead, to defy all expectations and trample all over the circumstantial evidence by doing the impossible.

Yes, this remembering is good.

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

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

It’s Not Business; It’s Personal

The letter arrived in a crisp white envelope with a typed address….for my six-year-old.

Obviously, this wasn’t a card or drawing from a school friend or a birthday invitation from a classmate.  This looked like official business.

I opened the envelope and was amused to find them asking her to contribute to their nonprofit organization.  If she made a generous donation of $50 to their worthy cause, they would send her a beautiful and stylish tote bag.

I’m sure she’s just dying to empty her piggy bank of pennies and send them right along.

Clearly, they didn’t know this name in their database belongs to a six-year-old first grader who would prefer to spend her money on fun-shaped erasers and colorful pens at the school book fair next week.

That’s because it wasn’t a personal message.

It was business, just business.  She was a name on a computer screen that ended up as a name on a form letter.

In a world of catalogs and bills, form letters and political mailers, opening the mail box and finding a handwritten note from a friend surprises us.  It’s the rare joy of thoughtfulness and kindness in a mostly business society.

So sometimes we think that our God is a mostly business God, too: That somehow He just pushes His agenda on us without concern for our feelings or best interest.

Or perhaps we think that He’s juggling so many crises–wars and famines and terror—and how could He have time for anything else?  And the people, so many people, how could He possibly care about one little insignificant individual like me?

Maybe we feel like little more than a typewritten name on a divine form letter.

Yet in a mostly business world, we have an amazingly personal God.

He calls us by name and knows our innermost thoughts, saw us in our mother’s wombs and designed a plan for us from the beginning. 

He was not a Savior from afar, but God who walked among us, suffered among us, and knows what it is like to live out life in this world.

This was His reminder to the nation of Israel as they stood on the edges of the Promised Land, a people wandering long and whose last memory of a “home” was a land of slavery.

God said:

So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you….Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you” (Deut. 31:6, 8).

He didn’t set them on a path and then abandon them to the journey.  God was personally with them, personally going before them, personally concerned about them.

And for Joshua, the newly appointed leader of this wayward and difficult people, God’s message was specific and consistent.

It began with God’s instruction to Moses on how to hand over of the staff to his protege, not with lectures and correction, but with encouragement:

Instead, your assistant, Joshua son of Nun, will lead the people into the land. Encourage him, for he will lead Israel as they take possession of it (Deut. 1:38).  Instead, commission josh1,9Joshua and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead the people across the Jordan. He will give them all the land you now see before you as their possession (Deut. 3:28).

God repeats the message again and again, relentlessly, not just through Moses, but with His very own words—“be strong and courageous…Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

God didn’t have to say that.  He could have issued commands from afar, distant and cold.

But God knew Joshua personally. He knew exactly how it felt to step into Moses’s gigantic sandals.  He knew just how high those walls of Jericho were and how much courage it would take to command the people.

God knew the one message that Joshua personally needed to hear, not once, but repeatedly: Do not be afraid.

This is the blessing for us, incredible as it is, as hard as it is at times to feel with our emotions:

God knows us personally, too.  He knows exactly what obstacles we’ll encounter and the precise insecurities and fears that will beat down our faith.  He knows the days we walk weary and the nights we flop into bed discouraged.  He knows the immensity of the need and how insufficient our provisions appear.

And He “will personally go ahead for you.  He will neither fail nor abandon you….” so do not be afraid.

That’s not a business slogan.  That’s a personal guarantee.
 

Weekend Rerun: Let There Be Light

Originally posted on January 23, 2012

She stood by my bed at midnight.  Holding her Bumblebee Pillow Pet in one hand, she dragged her pink and purple quilt behind her.

I fumbled for my glasses and reached out a hand to stroke her hair.

“Mom,” she cried, “it’s too dark.”

I walked with my daughter back to her room and realized that the one light we always keep on had been turned off accidentally.  Our house was truly black.

It’s as if my girl has an internal light-sensory device.  As soon as she sensed darkness, she had awoken and plodded across the house half-asleep in order to regain light.

Have you ever grown aware of darkness? 
Have you woken up to a sun-bright day, but still feel the heaviness of the unknown? 
Have you felt pommeled by Satan, test and trial after test and trial, and you lose hope of the brightness of the future? 
Have you ever felt overwhelmed by shadows, gloom, fear and worry?

We’re like plants, always growing toward a source of light, reaching up and over obstacles until we bask in the warm, nourishing rays of the sun.

We can do this with God because He is a light-bringer.  He is always shining brightness into our dark places.

God “divided the light from the darkness” at creation (Genesis 1:4) and declared that it was good.  It was His first act as Creator in a formless void of a world.

And when God sent us a Savior, He declared that Jesus was “the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world” (John 1:7-9).  This is what the prophet Isaiah had promised: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined” (Isaiah 9:2).

What does this mean for us?  What does a God who forms light out of darkness and a Savior who brings light to the world mean for our lives now?

It means we can trust Him to shine on the steps we need to take, to reveal His will, and to be present in our darkest moments.  David rejoiced: “For you are my lamp, O Lord; the Lord shall enlighten my darkness” (2 Samuel 22:29).  In the Psalms, David also wrote:
“For You will light my lamp; The LORD my God will enlighten my darkness (Psalm 18:28).

God is just like the one light we leave on in my house after we’ve flicked off the other switches.  He is our Lamp at all times and in all places.

Even so, we all have moments when we can’t see the light, can’t feel its warmth, can’t identify its glow.  We’re in the shadows and we know it.  What then?

David also wrote : “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).

He is with us in the shadows and He will walk us on out of there.

We need not fear.

In the same way, my daughter stopped crying the moment I grabbed her hand at midnight and guided her back to her room.  She was calmed by my presence even before I turned on the lamp and tucked her back into bed.

God is with us in the dark places.  He knows and sees us there.  Not only that, we can ask Him to reveal to us the treasures hidden in the shadows.

Isaiah tells us:  “I will give you the treasures of darkness and And hidden riches of secret places, That you may know that I, the LORD, Who call you by your name, Am the God of Israel” (Isaiah 45:3).

Daniel similarly wrote: “He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, And light dwells with Him” (Daniel 2:22).

Maybe there’s great treasure hidden in your darkness right now.  Perhaps God longs to share with you secret things that are covered over in shadow, lessons we can’t learn in perpetual sunshine.

Whatever our fears, whoever “walks in darkness and has no light” can “trust in the name of the Lord and rely upon His God” (Isaiah 50:10).  We can be certain of His presence.  We can trust Him to shine brightly when we need to see.  We can count on Him to see through darkness and reveal to us the secrets and treasures of the deep places.

So, reach for God’s light today, just like the plant on the windowsill bending toward the sun.  In the middle of your darkness, your sadness or despair, your gloom or hopeless state and all the shadows of the unknown, stretch out until you are warmed by His presence and in awe of His glory.

For more thoughts on this topic, you can read these other devotionals:

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.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

“Always Expect the Unexpected,” Christmas and December

Originally posted on December 14, 2011

My schedule is a delicate balance.

There’s a shopping day.  A scrub the bathrooms and the floors day.  Laundry days (one doesn’t cut it!).  Make bread day.  Ballet day.  Volunteer day.  Eat lunch with the kids at school day. Writing day.  Bible Study prep day.  Prayer meeting day.  Homework day and library day.

It’s an intricate design that took effort and some trial and error to develop, but by October it all settled into a perfect rhythm.

Then December arrived and stomped all over my perfectly balanced schedule like a giant through a flower bed.

Suddenly, my calendar has arrows swapping events in my week, items written in ink now crossed out and rewritten on different days and at different times.20931038_s

Oh yeah, can you fit in a class party?  And a holiday concert?  Could you make gifts for teachers and stop by the Christmas get-together?  Mom, what are we doing for my birthday?  Can we have an extra cantata practice?

Onto the calendar it goes.  I’ve begun color-coding the items. Red is for the really super important things that I absolutely cannot forget, but am certain I’m going to miss.  I add dark circles around those also.  And some stars and exclamation marks.  You can’t go wrong with stars.

Now my calendar has become illegible.  So, I switch to the daily agenda plus master to-do list that spans the next two weeks.

Add in the meal plan for family dinners up through Christmas and the shopping list that I had to restart the day after I just went to the grocery store and the planning is complete.

How euphoric it would be to keep the schedule in balance at all times!  For the expected activities to happen on the assigned days.

No doing laundry on shopping day.  No extra trip to the store when it is supposed to be writing day.  No third trip to the school on a day I’ve scheduled for cleaning house.

It would all be so expected.  So perfectly planned.  So in control.

That’s the problem, though, isn’t it?  I have a certain capacity for juggling and as long as I’m tossing around the same few balls, I’m a fairly competent performer.

But when God tosses an unexpected ball into my rhythm and routine, I’m liable to drop them all on the ground.

To a certain extent, I need to practice the “no” and guard the schedule.  Keep it simple.  Don’t try to do too much.  Don’t over-commit.

At other times, though, the schedule just is what it is.  The lesson isn’t about eliminating activity.  It’s about allowing God to shuffle our expectations and disrupt our plans so that we remember how much we need Him.

It’s His reminder that we can’t always package up our days with decorated wrapping paper and a shiny bow, oh so neat and perfect.  Life is messy at times.  Chaotic in some moments.  Fairly unexpected so many days.

The one constant is Him and even He has a way of surprising us. I think somehow it’s appropriate that December is the month when my calendar is left in tatters and all my perfect plans are shattered.  It’s a reminder that God has a way of shaking us up, mystifying us, and going far beyond our imagination.

Like the fact that the Savior of us all, the long-awaited Messiah, entered this world as a baby.

In Nativity scenes, we usually see the pristine image of well-groomed stable animals, fresh hay, perfect baby wrapped in bright white cloth.  Mary is already back to her pre-pregnancy weight and looking like she didn’t just labor and give birth.

But God chose to come to this earth the messy way.  It was childbirth.  It was pain.  It was blood.  It wasn’t even in the sterile white setting of a hospital, but all smelly and oppressive like the barn it was.

A newborn, a little Child came to save the world.

The Light of the World entered in darkness, while nocturnal shepherds were keeping the night-watch over their sheep.

The King of kings arrived in a stable.

The Eternal God, the Word who in the beginning was “with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning”—lay in a manger with baby dimples and the red skin of a newborn (John 1:1).

Have you settled into a routine and rut with God?  Have you figured Him all out?  Have you gotten comfortable with what you can do and with what you believe He can do?  Have you scheduled Him and assigned Him portions of your life?

Don’t be too sure!

Just when we figure everything out and fit everything in, God often will interrupt and amaze, befudddle and change your direction.

As Paul writes: “God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.  Glory to God in the church! Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus! Glory down all the generations! Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes” (Ephesians 3:20-21, MSG)

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.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

Christmas Devotions: A Birthday Encounter and the Magi

Originally posted on December 21, 2011
Today is my oldest daughter’s eighth birthday.  Here’s the post I wrote last year when she turned seven about growth and how encounters with God change us.

“Having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route” (Matthew 2:12).

Seven.

My oldest daughter turns seven today.  She asked me to stop calling her “Baby girl” this week.  She seemed to think that seven year olds are too big for a nickname as embarrassingly babyish as that.

Birthdays never seem to be what my “Big girl” expects.  We take a birthday trip.  We do presents.  She shares in time with friends and family.  We sing to her.  She picks out her favorite cake (spice with cream cheese icing) and her favorite dinner (tacos or chicken and dumplings).  We celebrate her that day and she’s sheepish and sweet and content.

But at night as she climbs back into bed, she wonders why she hasn’t grown six inches.  Why, if she’s now seven years old, is she still wearing some 6X clothing?

Somehow my girl thinks an annual encounter with a birthday candle should provide immediate change, as if it’s a fairy dust *poof* over her head.

I can’t say how these things happen.  I remember so clearly the night nurse bringing my newborn into my hospital room at 3 a.m. seven years ago to the day.  She was screaming inconsolably.  Didn’t want to cuddle.  Didn’t want food.  Just needed to scream in protest for a bit.  I looked up at the nurse with the fear of a brand new mom and asked, “What should I do?”  She shook her head at me and said, “I don’t know!”  Then she walked out leaving me with Victoria, still screaming at the top of her lungs.

She was strong from the beginning.  Sure of herself, demanding of others.  Determined.  Sensitive and full of big emotions that just didn’t fit all bottled up and contained in a little body.

I remember her crawling, walking, talking, reading, dancing, and her first day of preschool and kindergarten and first grade.  Her love of horses, princesses, tea parties, arts and crafts, sparkles, and dancing and the mystery she is to me.

And yet, I can’t say when she grew up.

When, after all, does change happen for any of us?

Surely we have that immediate moment of course redirection when we first choose to worship Jesus.  Paul describes it this way: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:The old has gone, the new is here” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

One encounter with Jesus was enough to change the Magi’s travel plans also.

They had come from the east to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:1).

Their Messiah pursuit wasn’t popular.  It disturbed King Herod and “all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:3).

Undeterred, the wise men followed the star and found Christ.  They were overjoyed, bowed down and worshiped him, presenting the gifts they had carefully toted along on their journey.

Then, “having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route” (Matthew 2:12).

It was a practical decision for them.  To trick King Herod, they slipped quietly out of the country.

It’s spiritual for us.  We meet Jesus and from then on, we simply can’t travel back the same way we came.  We have to follow “another route.”

Nor is this a one-time course correction for us.  Just like my birthday girl who doesn’t magically grow six inches at each birthday, so we change gradually.  There’s the initial moment of commitment to Christ and we are a new creation.

Then there are seasons of growth spurts as God performs focused work on our character. Intense encounters with God cause us to drastically change course.

At other times, the change is slow and daily as we shed layers and layers of flesh.  It’s so gradual we can’t always see it until someone sees the change in us.

They see how we react differently now.  How our words are seasoned with grace.  How people have become our primary heart motivation.  How our hearts are broken for the lost. They see that the faith we profess now impacts our motivation and activity.

It’s the change God is working in our hearts, just as Paul said: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

But the ever-increasing transformation in us requires us to drop the veil from our faces and “contemplate the Lord’s glory.“  Like the Magi saw Jesus after their relentless, focused, studious search for Him, we have to seek God in order to see God.

That’s our task, to “look for God like the watchmen looks for the morning” (Psalm 130:6).  We search.  We find Him.  We adjust our course to follow Him.

That’s how change happens.  That’s how we grow.

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.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

Christmas Devotions: Easy Bake Faith, Anna and Simeon

Originally posted on December 23, 2011

Last year, my oldest girl was asked one question repeatedly by friends and family alike.

What do you want for your birthday?

I grimaced every time I heard her consistent answer.

An Easy Bake Oven.

It was the one true desire of her little girl heart, an oven all her own to create delicious treats, host tea parties and open restaurants.

This mystified me.  I am a baking mom.  We often huddle around the kitchen table taking turns pouring ingredients from a recipe into a bowl, mixing and stirring, filling trays and pans and then licking spoons.  We’re the four musketeers of cooking, a team of kitchen queens.

Why, I asked my girl, did she need a mini oven of her own?  Why did we need to spend $6 on a mix that produced two sugar cookies of doubtful quality when we could bake dozens of scrumptious cookies for less money in our own regular oven?

My logic was impeccable, unanswerable, indisputable.

But the commercial conspiracy defeated me.  In the end, a friend bought her the Easy Bake.  It made my daughter’s day and proudly assumed its place on our kitchen counter.

I know what you’re thinking.

How long before the precious Easy Bake Oven joined the rank of unused toys shoved in the closet?

Never.

She still loves her oven and is inspired to create with it as often as I give into the whining request to use it.  It still confuses me as she happily mixes and bakes in her own personal oven.  Fortunately, she also eats the cookies since I consider them inedible.

Then she declares that it is in fact the best thing she’s ever eaten.

I try not to be offended.

So why does this Easy Bake Oven bring her so much joy?

It’s the independence of it.  The feeling that she made this cookie herself.  The power of self-determination and personal creation.

It’s the speed of it.  After the light bulb is heated up, it’s only a matter of minutes before her own personal cookie emerges fully cooked.

And who can blame her for loving this?  Aren’t we so often entranced by advertisements for the perfect “toy” that will bring us independence and speed?

In just two easy steps you can have fantastic creations just like this!  You can look like this!  You can make your own!

Anna and Simeon, though, knew that God mostly desires dependence and patience.

Simeon was “righteous and devout” (Luke 2:25) and he spent his life waiting for “the consolation of Israel”—the Messiah, and “the Holy Spirit was on him” (Luke 2:25).

Pause there for a moment.  The Holy Spirit didn’t live in each and every Christian on the earth at that time—because Christians didn’t exist yet.  Jesus was still being rocked to sleep at night by a doting mother.

Yet, Simeon walked so closely with God that the Holy Spirit found a unique dwelling place in him and revealed that Simeon wouldn’t die without seeing the Messiah’s face.  Then, “moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts” (Luke 2:26).

While we might wish for that uniquely intimate relationship with the Lord, we might balk at the requirement to surrender all of our independence.

Simeon did just that.  He moved into the temple and, as a result, was in exactly the right place at the right time when Mary and Joseph carried Jesus to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord.

Anna, a prophetess, had moved into the temple also.  She had been a young widow after only seven years of marriage, but instead of remarrying and settling into the busy life of a wife and mom, she instead “never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying” (Luke 2:37).

Anna surrendered everything in order to devote herself to her relationship with God.  And He blessed her willful dependence on Him.

She was there that day also when Jesus entered the temple for the first time.  Simeon lifted baby Jesus into his own arms, praised and prophesied. Anna walked over to them just at that moment and “gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).

Just like Anna and Simeon, we can devote ourselves to seeing God, but we can’t pursue our own independent, quick-solution agendas in order to achieve spiritual growth, answers to prayer, fulfilled promises, or the revelation of His will.

We can’t have Easy Bake faith.

Instead, we must abandon our own course and commit ourselves to a patient and passionate pursuit of Him.

That’s what Anna and Simeon did.  They didn’t run after every false Messiah that the world touted and promoted.  They fasted, prayed, and worshiped in the night and in the day for decades.  They made their relationship with God their highest priority and their only true desire,

And thus they saw God.

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

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

 

Christmas Devotionals: God With Us

I remember thinking that I would have done the same thing.

When some friends and I visited the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC this summer, we began by picking up a tiny booklet that allowed us to follow the story of someone who lived during that time.

My booklet told the story of a survivor.

My friend’s booklet, though, told about a mom with a young daughter.  When they stepped off the train car at the concentration camp, the guards separated them into two lines, the children pushed apart from their moms.  The women were considered fit for labor.  The kids, though, considered a burden without benefit, were immediately sent to the gas chambers.

The mom in my friend’s booklet refused to leave her daughter’s side.  She must have clung desperately to that little hand and I imagined her saying, “Don’t be afraid.  Mommy’s with you,” even as they walked the slow walk to death.

I would want to be there, too, for all the frightening things my children faced.  I would have wanted to stay in the same line.

People have asked me repeatedly how I’m doing following the school shooting in the news this past week.  What can I say but I can’t imagine my children facing terror without me…

And this world is a terrifying place at times.  Last week, I drove my minivan out of the school parking lot and watched as another mom squeezed her fourth grade son before they got into their car.  When a lunatic gunman rampages in an elementary school, we all cry, we all lose our words, we all shake our head, we all hold our own children just a little tighter and remember to be oh so grateful that night.

We all fear.  I do it, too.  After the news headlines, I want so much to retreat with my kids to a secluded cabin in the woods, my pitiful attempt to protect them from the madness of sin in this world.

That’s the truth of it all, that we live on a sin-scarred planet and while there are hints of beauty here and there is mercy and grace, there is also pain and sorrow.  So, what hope do we have?  How can we wake day after day, not in defeat, resignation or anxiety, but with the joy of the Lord and the peace of salvation?

The gospel message is all about hope for the hopeless, light in the darkness, joy in sorrow and peace in turmoil.  It’s for those hopeless enough to feel like one more day alive is too much to bear.  It’s for those of us watching the clock at night, too worried about bills and our kids, our marriages, conflicts with family, or problems at work to sleep in peace.  It’s even for a worrier like me, anxious over my daughter’s birthday parties and the plans for a church Christmas cantata.

It’s for the daily troubles that we turn into crises and for the life-and-death struggles we sometimes face.

It’s the reminder that God came here to be with us so we wouldn’t be alone and He will not leave our side.

That’s the hope we have.  Not us alone in a crazy, mixed-up, broken world.  Not us alone facing bills and divorce, depression or stress.

Emmanuel.  God with us.GodWithUs1 copy

As it says in Isaiah “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

That wasn’t just God’s plan for our past.  It’s been His passion from the beginning of Creation—to be with us.  It was His driving desire all those years of patiently planning for our salvation through Christ’s coming, His death, His resurrection.

It’s the great passion of God’s heart even now.  In the book of Revelation, we are told that when the battle is over and Christ establishes His forever kingdom here, God will say:

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).

This is the hope we have every single day and it’s the hope we have for eternity.  God never leaves us to face the darkness or the anxiety alone, never the tough times, never the fear-filled moments.

He chose to be with us so we could choose to be with Him.

“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

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

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

Christmas Devotionals: Keepin’ It Real

My dad always insisted on a real tree.  Sometime in December, we wandered around the Christmas tree lot, everyone searching for the one perfect tree full of pine needles and vibrant green.

Somehow we always chose trees that were fat and wide and typically too tall for our ceiling.  When we hauled the tree home, my dad had to lop off the bottom until it fit in the stand.  Some years, we still couldn’t top it off with the angel or star.

There was always the lingering suggestion that perhaps it would be easier and cheaper and neater to tuck an artificial tree away in the garage and just pull it out of the box each December.

But for my dad, this suggestion would destroy Christmas.  There are no substitutes for a real tree, he’d say, despite my mom’s suggestion to burn pine-scented candles or potpourri.

This, after all, was his only contention—that no matter how good an artificial tree looked, it would never smell the same as a real tree.

Christmas smelled like pine.

I think about my dad and how he made us all trek every year to choose the real Christmas tree.  Mostly, I think about him while I’m pulling the various wired limbs of my own artificial tree out of the box.

I’ve never been a convert, per se, to the need for a real live tree that smells like real live pine. I’m more of a sucker for convenience and control and a bargain.

Yet, as I hunkered down inside my wool coat and pushed through the wind into the Wal-Mart the other day, I lightly brushed the branches of a Christmas tree leaned against the front of the store.

And there it was…the scent of pine carried on cold air.

It was real.

All of those years growing up with sticky sap-covered branches, pine needles scattered on the carpet and my parents crawling under the tree to water it, I never truly “got it.”  I never once smelled the scent of pine that my dad loved so much.

It took the incidental brushing against a tree on the Wal-Mart sidewalk for me to understand the appeal…and to breathe deep the air and think of the beauty and feel newly reminded that Christmas is here.

Perhaps we need reminders because it’s so easy to forget.

In fact, sometimes we’re so busy trying to “remember” that we bury ourselves deep in endless tradition-making, busyness, activity, have-to’s and must-do’s that suck the life and energy right out of us.

Oh, I understand the feeling like it just can’t be Christmas without….

For me, it’s not so much the scent of the pine tree as the sound of the Christmas music.  We played it all season when I was a child.  But every time I flick on the radio for the “all-Christmas all-the-time,” my own kids protest.  They balk and whine.  Why can’t we just listen to the same ten songs we like and listen to every other time of the year?

My daughter complains for an entire half-hour drive, slumps herself in the back seat of the mini-van and announces, “Well, I won’t sing to it.”

Kind of sucks the joy right out of the carols.

And I understand the desire to make Christmas powerful and lasting.  For many of us, we’re just trying to stay Christ-focused and giving-centered.  But we set ourselves up for failure at times by trying to heap on so much to make it “really” Christmas.

Why not make this new tradition and that….read this devotional, light these candles, do these acts of kindness, bake these goodies, sing these songs, visit these places, take these pictures, make these crafts…..all in one year.

All of that effort to make Christmas seem real, to infuse it with magic and memories.

Yet, truly it’s just a simple thing.  So, we can breathe in and breathe out and relax into the celebration.

We’re singing it this year in our church Christmas cantata:

“This is salvation.  This is redemption.  A Child is born.  A Son is given.”

What more is needed?

All the rest we can do or not do.  We can enjoy, but not stress about.  We can choose the live tree or pull out the fake one in the Rubbermaid container.  We can sing.  We can bake.  We can light the candle and make the gift.  We can pop the popcorn and watch Rudolph or Snoopy or the Grinch.

Or not.

It doesn’t change Christmas.  Christ is all we really need for that.

The angels said it simply: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

Are you finding ways to keep Christmas simple this year?

Christian Writers Blog Chain

Today’s post is part of the December topic, ‘Christmas Scents/Sense’ by the ChristianWriters.com Blog Chain. You can click on the links on the right side of this page to read more articles in this series.

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

Copyright © 2012 Heather King