VBS for Grown-Ups: God’s Love Helps Us

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

But is there any message in Scripture that God delivers just for people under 18? We older and wiser ones sometimes make faith so complicated and fail to recognize or really consider the beautiful truths in these simple messages. So, this week, I’m thinking about VBS and what the lessons for children mean for you and me.  Our church is doing Group Publishing’s Kingdom Rock VBS, so that’s what I’ll be sharing about here with a mixture of old devotionals and new ones on the theme for each day.

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Originally posted as “Feeling Unloved, January 4, 2013
“I love you, Lord; you are my strength” Psalm 18:1

She was sobbing next to me and finally put all those unmanageable, messy feelings into four words.

“I feel so unloved.”

One fight with her sisters, one afternoon of correction and quiet discipline….and this totally loved daughter of mine told me she didn’t feel loved at all.

She sat with her tissue, snuggled against my side, my one arm hugging her shoulder, my other arm smoothing her wild hair that had been mussed by all the emotion.

But she felt unloved.

I had packed her lunch for the day, putting in her favorite snack and slipping a tiny paper with a joke on it into her bag of pretzels so she would smile and laugh and think of me.

She was wearing the outfit I had bought her and a ribbon in her hair that I (yes, the mom recovering from an allergy to crafts) had made for her with my own two clumsy hands.

Her favorite dinner was simmering on the stove.

Before bed the night before we had studied her Bible verses for the week and read together from books I ordered used online because they were out-of-print.  But they were her favorite, so I had happily spent an afternoon performing Google searches to find them.

I had combed out her long blond hair after her bath and sprayed it down to ease out the tangles and reminded her to brush her teeth.

And I had told her I loved her often, hugged her and kissed the top of her head throughout the day, then tucked her into bed under the blanket I had made for her myself.

But still she felt unloved.

She didn’t know that some people grow up without the kindness, the physical provision, the confidence that they are loved.

So I told my crying girl how loved she is and how even when her emotions push their faulty lies into her heart and mind, she can shut them down with truth.

We’re just as forgetful as my daughter is at times, feeling unloved because of a circumstance, a correction, a trial or sadness.  And we sit among our piles of blessings, of salvation and daily grace, and think, “God, don’t You love me?”

We meditate on the lies and feed them with our feelings, just like the Israelites did in the Old Testament.

Psalm 106 follows their long journey through forgetfulness and betrayal…

they gave no thought to your miracles;
they did not remember your many kindnesses (verse 7).

But they soon forgot what he had done
and did not wait for his plan to unfold (verse 13).

They forgot the God who saved them,
who had done great things in Egypt,
miracles in the land of Ham
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea (verse 21-22).

They didn’t just forget minor provisions of lunch box meals and some new outfits for school.

They forgot miraculous deliverance out of slavery in Egypt, the parting of an entire body of water so they could cross on dry land, daily provision of manna from heaven and the protection from war-loving enemies on every side.

But always God was faithful:

Yet he saved them for his name’s sake,
to make his mighty power known…

Yet he took note of their distress
when he heard their cry;
 for their sake he remembered his covenant
and out of his great love he relented (Psalm 106:8, 4-45).

They forgot.  He remembered.

“Yet, He….” it says in each verse. In my NKJV Bible, it says, “Nevertheless…”

That’s what God is...never at any moment less than good and powerful, mighty and merciful to us.  He is never less than His character or His faithfulness to His promises.

Even when our feelings tell us otherwise.

Even when we’ve believed the lies.

Paul writes to Philemon:

I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ (Philemon 1:6 NIV).

His prayer was that the church would “get it,” would deep-down understand the blessings of God and the totally undeserved, thoroughly unconditional love of our so-gracious Father and the Savior who died in our place.

If we really believed that God loved us, we would have confidence for the bad days and strength for the hard times.  We’d have the help we need when we’re annoyed, frustrated, tired or overwhelmed.

Even when we mess up we’d remember the truth: never-the-less He is faithful.

It’s God’s love that helps us stand strong.

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

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

Would you do this for me?

I didn’t expect it to happen.

But then, when can you really and truly expect what God can do?  He’s the master of surprising us with joy and working behind the scenes until the moment of the big reveal.prayinghandsraised

And the beautiful thing about the way God does this is that He gets the glory and we just humbly lift our hands to receive and to worship, one movement of the hands to heaven for both the giving and the getting.

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about ministry to single women, military wives and other women whose husbands’ travel.   Just one week with my husband out of town reminded me that:

we minister to others out of our own experiences (2 Corinthians 1:4).  Just as others have served me during my short-term single mom moments, so I should take the time to serve another.

It’s a ministry to divorced moms, widows, military wives with husbands on deployment and other wives with husbands away.  They may not have the safety net of a call from dad to threaten unruly children.  Their single mom reality might not end with a plane trip home after a week away.

Last Friday afternoon, I opened up the email from a Christian magazine asking me to work up an article on this and submit it to them for consideration of publication.

And this is God—do you see it?

The way He spoke truth to my heart and opened my tightly shut eyes to consider the needs of women around me could never be anything other than His Holy Spirit at work, convicting and giving counsel when I needed it.

The way He took one simple post on one ordinary day and one simple act of obedience as I sat at the laptop clicking the keys and confessing how I’ve messed this up and neglected these women too often shows off His power and grace.

But now I need you.

Yes, you.

And I’m hoping, very much hoping, that you would graciously share your input with me.

Before I send an article in to the magazine and wait to see if they agree to publish it or not, may I ask this of you?

Would you take just a moment and share here on the blog or on Facebook or maybe even send a private email message to me (heatherking@cox.net) your thoughts on this topic?

I’ve included some questions below.  I’m looking for input from single moms, military wives and other women whose husband’s are frequently away.  Not just if this is you now.  If you’ve ever been in that season before, I’d like to hear from you.

That’s not all, though.

Even if you’re married with kids, if you’ve ever ministered to women who are in that place, maybe through a church ministry, maybe just reaching out to a friend, I would love to hear from you, as well.

If you share something with me that you wouldn’t want included in my article, please let me know that, as well.  I want to honor your privacy if you wish it.

And then may I ask this also?  Just one more thing.

Would you pray for me? 

Oh, how I would rejoice in those prayers!

The summer is here and I’m like most moms, balancing commitments and summer fun with the kids.  For me this means  meeting deadlines, sending out articles, turning things in to the editor, and finishing up one large writing project before we have a new baby in October and I don’t sleep for three months (at least) and my brain scrambles any ability I have to write intelligibly.

But I also have these three precious girls who are eager for mornings at the beach and trips to the library, making s’mores, playing board games, visiting museums, and being shuttled to summer camps.

Paul asked it of the churches often.  Just a simple request: “pray for us” (1 Thessalonians 5:25-28 HCSB).  This is what I ask of you.  Would you pray for my time and productivity, for God’s wisdom and grace, for the words to share, and for God’s favor?

I am so thankful for those of you who have been praying on my behalf.  How humbled I am to know that you would pray for me.

~heather~

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Questions for single moms and women with husbands who travel (now or in the past).

  1. Have you ever felt neglected, ostracized, overlooked or just out of place in church ministries because you are a single mom or perhaps have a husband who travels?
  2. Tell about one time the church or any friend has ministered to you in a practical way or encouraged you.
  3. What was/is your greatest need from the Christian community or friends?  A night out without children, a listening ear, someone to do “Dad” stuff with your kids?
  4. What do you wish other Christian women knew about life as a mom on her own (even if it’s part-time)?

Questions for Christian women ministering to others:

  1. How does your church actively, consciously and practically meet the needs of military wives, widows, single moms, and other women whose husbands travel?
  2. Do you think to include these women in church women’s ministries, get-togethers or even nights out with friends?

Please take that moment sometime this week to send me your thoughts by answering the questions or just writing what’s on your heart and mind.  You can reply to this post on the blog, share with me on Facebook, or write me an email: heatherking@cox.net.   I very much long to hear from you and learn from you!!!

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

Summer Reading 2013

“You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me” (C.S. Lewis)

My kids are counting down the days.   Truthfully, maybe it’s me counting them down with excitement.   Summer break….eight days away.

Sure that means nights mostly free of activities, homework, projects, and studying.  It means unrushed mornings (most days) and no packing lunches in the evenings.8117936_m

And it means summer reading!

Last year, I hoped that my kids would bring home a summer reading list.  They didn’t.  I wanted the book suggestions, the new discoveries and great recommendations.  Instead, they toted home a reading log with a promise of a popcorn party if they read the required amount this summer.  We had to pop over to the school in July for extra reading log sheets.  Maybe they didn’t need recommendations after all?

Perhaps summer reading for you means enjoying books by the pool or in a lawn chair along the sandy beach, basking in the sun. Maybe it means “beach books,” light and funny.  Or perhaps it means tackling the heavy reading you don’t have the time and energy for the rest of the year.

I know what my summer calendar looks like.  Most of my summer reading will probably happen in the car, waiting for my kids to finish this camp and that class—theater camp, art camp, sewing classes, library programs, dance lessons.  The books just come along with me.

Whatever your summer reading location-of-choice and whether you’re choosing nonfiction, fiction, classics or light reading, theology or devotionals, I’d love to hear what’s on your summer reading list!

Here are some books that I recommend and some that are loaded onto my Kindle waiting to be read:

I’ll also be participating over at Women’s Bible Cafe in the Beth Moore summer Bible study. This summer, we’ll be joining with thousands of women worldwide to study Priscilla Shirer’s new Bible study: Gideon.  I get goosebumps just thinking of that unity in pursuing the deep study of God’s Word!

Please take a moment and leave a comment with some book recommendations or let us know what is on your reading list this summer!

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

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

Unsweetened Iced Tea

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
2  Corinthians 5:17

Unsweetened iced tea.

That’s what the quiz said my personality resembled.  Not sweet tea or peach tea or even a little wild raspberry tea or health-conscious green tea.

Unsweetened iced tea, as in bitter, plain, strong, and unfriendly.054

During our family trip to Pennsylvania, we spent a morning at the Turkey Hill Experience where my kids learned how to make ice cream, created their own flavors, starred in their own ice cram commercials, sampled some of the delicious treats, and more.  It was a great family day.

Before we left, though, my oldest daughter discovered a touch screen display with a little personality quiz.

What flavor of tea are you?

So, I gave it a little try, just for fun.  After a few questions about what I liked to do in my free time, how I handled conflict and what I was like around my friends, it made its deep psychological assessment of my character:

Unsweetened iced tea.

Underneath that was a paragraph about how I’m blunt and can hurt people’s feelings, but I get the job done no matter what the cost.  I sounded a little like Donald Trump.

I turned to my husband with a questioning look and he shrugged it off.  “Nah, that’s not you.”

Silly machine, I thought.  It’s just a foolish test that probably isn’t ever right about anybody.

So, of course I made my daughter take it just to prove my point.

She read through the questions and gave her own answers, and then it popped up with her flavor personality.

Peach Tea.

The read-out said she is smart, creative and a kind and compassionate friend.  They even recommended she pursue a career in making greeting cards.

That is so her.

If I had to write up my own assessment of this child, that is exactly what I would say about her, and this machine figured her out with only about five questions.

Silly machine?

It seems like it should be so much easier to ignore the accusations and judgments of just-for-fun personality games or even those of other people.

So what if they think we’re unsweetened iced tea?  Does it really matter what they think?  Should I care about what a machine says based on my answers to a few multiple choice questions?

It’s not rational or logical, but it did matter to me a little.  Unsweetened iced tea….that’s who I used to be.

Sixteen years ago, I was bitter and hurtful, strong, unrelenting, and essentially unconcerned about who got knocked over or bruised when I focused on accomplishing tasks and reaching goals.

Maybe I was a miniature Donald Trump without the hair-do or bank account.

But God.

God took that teenage mess of a girl, who seemed so in control and together, and broke her in ways she needed to be broken.  He shattered pride and the hardness I had built in my relationships with people.  He reached in and kneaded my heart until it became soft and pliable in His hands.

He taught me how to receive grace…and then how to give it.

Yes,  He re-formed me.

Maybe in seasons of pressure or stress, I still have that capacity to revert to who I used to be.  Maybe my tongue can still slash through people like the sharpest of weapons.

But today I am thinking as I cut through the butter with the tines of the fork and smash it to the bottom of the bowl, crack open the eggs, and watch the sugar pour in grain upon grain.  I mix with the spoon at first and then finally reach in with my hands to do the work needed.

And as the dough pulls together, I realize—hadn’t God done this to me?

Paul wrote:

 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you (Romans 12:3 NIV).

That means seeing the truth about me—not who I was, not who others say I am, or how I measure up on personality quizzes.  It means looking deep and seeing “this is how God has made me and this is who I am in Christ”—no better or worse than that.

If God’s grace did this, smashing and breaking me until I could be pulled together again into something He could use, then why still think of myself in that old way?  Why hold myself to labels from the past and an identity formed oh-so-long-ago before grace bruised me and healed me in the way that grace does?

Some machine still saw me as unsweetened iced tea.

But God’s sweet grace had poured into my soul and I’m not the same.

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

Is this what Mercy looks like?

She screamed almost the entire way home from church.

It was a shock to me.  After church ended, my preschooler bounced out of the nursery cheerful and excited.  We had just marched in the town Christmas parade the day before, so she practiced her “parade wave” all the way down the halls of the church, greeting every single person that passed us by.

But when my daughters climbed all over each other to claim seats in the mini-van for the 12-minute ride home from church—as if they were choosing their positions for a round-the-world tour—my three-year-old hopped in the back seat.

She knows better.  No booster seat until her fourth birthday.  For now, she’s restricted to the five-point harness-equipped seats in the middle of the van.  Normally, she’s just joking, hopping into the back and giggling hysterically until I motion her to her normal place.

Not yesterday.  Apparently she decided that enough was enough.  This waiting until her fourth birthday thing was totally overrated.  No ballet classes until she’s four.  No back seat until she’s four.  No three-day-a-week preschool until four.  No Children’s Church until she’s four.

Sheesh.  It’s a hard life being just three years old.047

The thing is, I love her and it’s my job not just to give her what she wants, but to give her what she needs.  Protection, limits, boundaries, rules, bedtimes, baths, healthy meals, love and affection.  That’s my job.  Making sure she’s in the car seat is part of the parental package.

So I made her move seats.  And she screamed herself to sleep on the drive home from church.

Perhaps to her my restrictions were unreasonable, even mean,

Really, though, it was love and it was grace.  It was looking out for her best no matter what.

We don’t always know what grace and mercy really look like either, do we?

We think that promotion, that dream-guy, that check in the mail, that recovery, that hugely successful ministry event, that healthy child—yes, that’s picture perfect grace.  Those actions that don’t fit our Grace Template are the mysteries of God, the painfully chafing rub of disappointed religious expectations.

In The Book of Common Prayer these last two mornings, I prayed:

“Show us your mercy, O Lord”

“And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies,
That with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise,
not only with our lips, but in our lives”

“Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy.
Lord, show us your love and mercy;
For we put our trust in you.”

Not only have I prayed for mercy, but I’ve prayed for the awareness of it, the ability to see with a truly thankful heart how God is graciously caring for me.

Even when it doesn’t look much like grace at the time.

Even when I’d rather have the easy and obvious mercy, the kind you pop up out of your pew on testimony Sunday to share, the kind that others applaud and rejoice with you about.

I’ve prayed to see with new eyes, looking through a filter of trust in God.  That means trusting in His character, trusting in His love, trusting in His timing, trusting Him no matter what.

The apostle Peter encountered people just like me, those who thought if God wasn’t quick to fulfill His promises, if they had to wait too long or endure too much pain along the way, then God wasn’t fulfilling His end of the “bargain.”

God didn’t move when I thought He would move.  God didn’t provide the way I thought He’d provide.  God didn’t come through for me the way I wanted.

Sometimes we immediately assume the problem is with God.  Maybe He isn’t really good!  Maybe He isn’t really gracious.

That’s what the people in 2 Peter were questioning.  Christ hadn’t returned right away as they expected and life was hard for the persecuted church and waiting was difficult.

Really, though, the problem isn’t with God.  The problem is with our expectations.  The problem is we’ve stopped looking at Him with eyes of trust.

Peter wrote to these struggling believers:

 The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent (2 Peter 3:9 NLT).

God wasn’t being delinquent; He was being patient for their own sake.  It wasn’t deficiency, apathy, or cruelty that caused His delay.

It was mercy, to give people time to accept Jesus Christ as Savior.

Sometimes mercy is “yes” and sometimes mercy is “no.”  Sometimes grace is instant and sometimes it’s waiting and waiting and waiting.

But it is always for our sake.  It is because He loves us that God cares for us the way He does.

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

Thanksgiving Devotions: Thank You For This Day

Every year, my daughters’ preschool teacher pulls the children aside individually and asks an important question:

What are you thankful for?

As a mom, I’ve grown accustomed to the tradition.  The week of Thanksgiving, I can check the bulletin board outside of the classroom and see what crazy thing popped out of my child’s mouth in that one moment with her teacher.

I think I’ve only ever had one year where a daughter was thankful for me.

Mostly, they’ve been thankful for loose teeth or funny things their dad does or some toy that I never see them actually play with.  This year, my girl was thankful for her stuffed animals.

Thanksgiving tends to highlight what’s important to us, usually family and friends more than toys, but still we’re motivated to be grateful at least one month, or week, or day out of the year.

Some of us start Thanksgiving journals and gratitude lists.  Others post daily Facebook status updates of what we’re thankful for this year (or sort of “daily updates,” more like once every few days with lots of catching up).

We’re sincerely excited to acknowledge the blessing and it’s beautiful in its season.

One of the things I love about my little girl, though, is that she isn’t just thankful for stuffed animals when the teacher pulls her aside for the annual preschool Thanksgiving assignment.

Every single time she prays, she begins with, “Dear God, thank You for this day.”

Mealtime prayers, bedtime prayers, prayers in June or in December, if it starts with “Dear God” and ends with “Amen,” she’s thankful for the day she’s had.  Time-outs, sadness, fights with her sisters, none of that can mar her thankful heart.

I’m reminded of Daniel, who prayed in a similar way in Babylon.  Despite exile far from his beloved Jerusalem and his family, despite political intrigue and plots against him, despite religious persecution and antisemitism, still Daniel prayed.

And he didn’t just plead and petition God for help in the midst of sorrow or stress.

He “knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days” (Daniel 6:10)

He prayed on his knees.  Three times a day.  Every day.  Not so everyone could see, but in a manner people could notice if they chose to look his way.

And he “gave thanks.”

That’s why King Darius knew there was hope for Daniel even after he was shut up in a darkened den of ravenous lions and locked in overnight.

The King trusted in the God “whom you serve continually” (Daniel 6:16, 6:20) and his trust was not misplaced.

Daniel’s faithful, day in and day out, no matter what the circumstances, continual determination to get down on his knees and give thanks to God was blessed in that moment.  God sent the angel to slam shut the jaws of the lions until Daniel could be lifted out of the pit unscathed.

It might seem that the miracle was the reason to give thanks, and that’s what King Darius did, issuing a proclamation of praise to the “Living God” of Daniel.

But Daniel had been giving thanks all along.

Thanksgiving is over this year.  We’ve feasted and visited family and friends.  We’ve probably thought and even shared what we’re thankful for this year.

But I don’t want to just be a once-a-year grateful girl.

I want to be thankful for this day and the next and the one after that, regardless of the circumstances or annoyances or even fears.

I want to make it a discipline and attitude and habit of mind and heart to give thanks to God, maybe three times a day, maybe 20 times a day.

I want people to refer to my God as the one “whom I serve continually,” not periodically, or seasonally, or around the holidays.

When they see the lions’ den, I want people to know my God can rescue and deliver.

Don’t you?

If that’s our true desire, then our first step is today.  When everyone else has finished the annual mantra of thanks and the turkey is reduced to leftovers and others have moved on to Christmas lists and shopping, we make a choice to be thankful.

Today we choose to pause and give praise, give specific thanks, notice God at work and drop our head for a whispered moment of gratefulness.  We choose to look past the obvious and the bothersome or scary, to see reasons to thank Him “for this day” every…single…day of the year to come.

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

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

Thanksgiving Devotions: Bitter Ingredients and Pumpkin Pie

Almost all of my favorite Thanksgiving memories aren’t really of the feast itself, even though I still say it’s my favorite holiday.  Mostly I grow nostalgic for Thanksgiving Eve and the Wednesday night family baking sessions we had as a kid.

Some of our craziest family legends involve making the traditional chocolate meringue pie the night before the big day.

There’s something deeply relational about baking, whether it’s for someone or with someone.  I find myself even now telling stories as my daughters stir and imparting generational wisdom like: why the butter and sugar get creamed together first and how you have to pack down brown sugar when you measure it out.

Hugely important life lessons like that.

And maybe I learn something, too.

The last time we crowded around the table to make pumpkin pie, my oldest asked, “Mom, what does pumpkin taste like by itself?”

She thought it would be sweet heavenly golden goodness.  After all, this daughter and I share a passion for all things pumpkin—pies, breads, cookies and cupcakes.

But I knew the dark secret about pumpkin and I tried to warn her, “You can try it if you like, but just a small taste.  It’s bitter.”

She licked a tiny bit off her finger and made the appropriate “nasty” face.

How can something so incredibly delicious in everything we bake be so horrible on its own?

I pulled out the vanilla and she bravely tasted the tiniest droplet of that also, despite the grimace over the pumpkin.

Yup, vanilla doesn’t fair any better on its own.

She even smelled each of the spices before we measured them into the bowl.  It turns out that cloves, nutmeg and ginger are more potent than sweet and more pungent than enticing.

Photo courtesy of Viktor Janacek, picjumbo

Photo courtesy of Viktor Janacek, picjumbo

The eggs were runny, sticky and gross.

The salt was…well, salty.

All in all, it was utterly mystifying when we finished stirring and I handed her the spoon to lick, which she popped into her mouth with a muffled, “Yummmmm.”

The truth about baking is the truth about life.  We have a reason to be thankful for every ingredient, even the ones that seem too bitter or salty or potent to turn into anything mouth-watering and delicious.

As Christians, most of us have not only heard Romans 8:28 a million times, we’ve probably quoted it a few thousand times ourselves:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28 NKJV).

You may have even just skimmed through that verse just now because you’ve heard it so often and know it so well.

And yet, we tend to emphasize the “for good” part of this verse, which means we could be expecting instant pumpkin pie when life hands us a can of Libby’s pumpkin.

That job you lost, how can that be for good?

That time of sadness, that mourning, that separation and grief, the broken relationship and the conflict…..tastes so bitter.  It doesn’t seem possible for any of it to be “for good.”

Philosophically, we know the deal.  We’ve heard the sermons.  Maybe one day we’ll see how God turned these times of sadness and stress into blessing.  Maybe it won’t be until heaven, but at least then we’ll be able to see the good that came from the ugly.

It’s a long, hard lesson, realizing that “for good” doesn’t necessarily mean “right now” or “without pain.”

But it’s true, of course.  There are eternal perspectives and long-term visions that we just can’t see from our limited, finite looking glass on circumstances so up-close and personal.

There’s something about this verse that we often overlook, though.  God isn’t just working “for good,” He’s doing it so that “all things work together.” The good comes from the mixing of ingredients, the pooling together of the circumstances into one beautiful wholeness—His plan and will for Your life.

Rick Warren says it this way:

“The events in your life work together in God’s plan.  They are not isolated acts, but interdependent parts of the process to make you like Christ….If you will give God all your distasteful, unpleasant experiences, he will blend them together for good” (The Purpose Driven Life, p. 195).

I’ve had Thanksgivings where gratitude came easy, practically gushing out of me in response to blessing.

And there were years where thankfulness was a discipline of the soul, a determined trusting in God, a sacrifice of praise.

Regardless of whether this year is easy or harder for you, remember that the pumpkin, the eggs, the salt, the vanilla, the spices aren’t delicious on their own.  But trust–and give thanks–that God will bring everything together and it will be sweet and for your blessing and beyond what you could imagine.

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

Thanksgiving Devotions: Secret Messages, Whispered Thanks

I wanted to write.
She wanted to paint together.
I sat down to answer emails.
She wanted to do puzzles together.
I vacuumed and washed and folded.
She dragged the Play-Doh bucket from the playroom so we could make pizza Play-Doh…together.

Writing projects, church projects, house projects, studying, filling out forms, answering emails, drafting letters, returning phone calls…I had my agenda.

And she had hers, as she handed me a game she couldn’t play on her own and asked for help.  Maybe we could do it together?

Somehow I managed to perform periodic cleaning sweeps through the house in between requests for “together” this or that.  We ate lunch at the school with her older sisters together (of course) and took a trip to the library after school with everyone.

Bedtime arrived and I kissed them all sweetly and patted their heads, read the book(s), prayed the prayer and tucked them into beds.  Then I flopped down into the chair, glad that somehow the house had ended the day clean-ish so I could work on other projects now in my “free time.”

One brief moment of peace passed before I heard the sounds of fighting, ending in screams and tears.

Following that, the post-fight therapy with daughters began, about whether they are loved as much as their sisters, and how come she gets away with this and didn’t I hear the mean things she said?1corinthians1-4

That’s when my tears began.  Because even the time that’s supposed to be free really isn’t when you’re a mom.  Sometimes the whole idea of achieving balance seems like dreaming the impossible dream.  When you’re truly responsible for other people, little people whom you love completely and utterly, you’ll be emptied out over and over again.  Where’s the balance in that?

The truth is life isn’t about balance at all.  It’s about putting people first.

I can’t say that I’m ending this day feeling very accomplished or on top of things, but then usually the most important things in life can’t be crossed off a to-do list.

Yet, as we sat there having lunch at the school, my three-year-old climbed up in my lap and curled up tight.  Her breathing slowed and drew in deeper and deeper until her head flopped forward into the crook of my arm.

I scooped her up, carried her to the car and then into the house after the drive.  If it’s possible for a tiny girl to coo, she did when I settled onto the sofa with her in my arms.

Then I whispered into her ear what I’ve said to my children hundreds of times since their birth: “I love you and I’m so thankful to God that He let me be Your mom.  You are God’s great gift to me.”

Sometimes I’m telling that to wiggly daughters who have zoomed by me in their dash from the kitchen to the bedroom.  I’ve reached out my hand, pulled them close and told them the secret message again and again.

Other times, I’m whispering it to sobbing girls, upset, angry, hurt or feeling unloved.

“I’m thankful to God for you.”

We all have people who need to hear those words from us: Teachers, friends, moms, sisters, dads, children, mentors, caregivers, coworkers, husbands….

Paul teaches us this in his letters to the churches.  He writes with encouragement and challenges, correction, doctrine, and personal testimony, but also with thanks for the very people reading these words.

To the Corinthians he wrote: “I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:4).

To the church at Thessalonica, he said: “We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess 1:2-3).

So often, we skim through the beginning and end of Paul’s letters, rushing through the personal notes so we can dig into meaty questions of doctrine and theology.

But people mattered to Paul. That’s clear when you actually read his thoughtful recounting of the service, ministry, teaching, faithfulness, and generosity of individual people and the church as a whole.

Even when he was tired out from ministry and abandoning his own plans or agenda in order to jot off a letter to a beloved church in need, Paul always took the time to say, “I thank God for you.”

During this week of Thanksgiving, don’t just post a Facebook status thanking God for your husband and kids.  Don’t be satisfied with saying just one word of gratitude before you pass the turkey and mashed potatoes.

Tell others how thankful you are for them here and now.  That’s more important than anything else on your agenda for the day.

Who needs to hear you say, “I’m thankful for you” today?

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

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

When the Wax Melts

Betty Ramsey won the first prize for her tulips year after frustrating year.

Lucy Ricardo decided this was the year to change that tradition.  She tended her garden carefully and begged her husband to mow the lawn before the judges came by to evaluate her flower-bed.

He promised to do it, but quit halfway through, playing hookie so he could go to a baseball game instead.

Inevitably, Lucy cranked the lawnmower up with her friend Ethel’s help.  Then she hopped on and zoomed across the yard, totally unable to stop, and ultimately mowing most of the state of Connecticut (it seemed).  The worst part is that she also mowed over Betty Ramsey’s prize flowers.

Of course Lucy wanted to win that blue ribbon for her garden, but not by knocking off the heads of Betty’s tulips. What would Betty Ramsey think?

So, in a classic “Lucy” brainstorm, she planted wax flowers in Betty’s garden, hoping to fool Betty and the judges.

Then when her husband Ricky sauntered in after the baseball game, Lucy sent him outside to finish mowing the lawn.  Since it was so dark, though, he couldn’t see well enough to avoid Lucy’s own precious flower bed.

His solution?  Plant wax tulips to replace Lucy’s ruined flowers!

It’s one of my favorite I Love Lucy episodes and the ending is unsurprising.  The problem with wax flowers in the heat of the day is that they melt into a messy puddle of mush.  That’s what the judges found in Betty and Lucy’s gardens, earning them both a disqualification instead of a blue ribbon.

Wax fruit has the same weakness as wax flowers.  It may be deceptively shiny, catching the light and gleaming in an appetizing way.  The apples may be deeply red and the oranges the color of the sun.  They may be shaped to perfection, each grape a perfect juicy-looking sphere.

But in the end, it’s still fake. It can’t hold together in heat and one mouthful would send you spitting and gagging to the nearest glass of water.

Fake flowers for Lucy, fake fruit for us—it’s the appeal of the moment and the sacrificing of what’s genuine for what’s currently convenient.

Paul tells us exactly what real fruit looks like, the kind that grows when we’re abiding in the One True Vine:

 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23b).

Everywhere I turn, I learn about this fruit.  I started a new Bible study–on the fruit of the Spirit.  I picked up a book from the church library on this same fruit. It’s in the devotionals I read and the lessons that I hear.

It’s tempting then, since this fruit matters so much, to skip to growth and maturity without the process.  How can I have the fruit without the tending and pruning and remaining in the vine?

Can I discipline myself into patience?  Can I watch my tongue closely enough to constitute gentleness?

Is this fruit that I can fake with my own personal strength and resources or because I’m generally a nice person?

In her devotional, Diamonds in the Dust, Joni Eareckson Tada writes:

It’s impossible to manufacture the fruit of the Spirit …you can paint a veneer of joy and put up a facade of self-control, but invariably you will be found out.  You can only deceive yourself and others for so long with false love and plastic peace (p. 257).

Yes, eventually the heat of life melts the fake fruit you’ve tried to attach to the Vine with super-glue and wire.

The problem, as the devotional notes, is that when we try to fake our own life fruit, we do it by skipping to the end result.  God, however, “grows genuine fruit in the opposite order” (Joni Eareckson Tada 257).  His emphasis is on planting His Word in us and growing our relationship with Him.

This fruit of the Spirit must be supernatural makeup in order to be genuine.  No amount of “nice girl” qualities can fake the love, kindness, goodness and gentleness of God’s Spirit within us.

And we might try to mosey along on our own good manners and general likeability for a while, passing off our own character traits as holy fruit.  But we’ll ultimately melt into a puddle of wax mush.

Scripture tells us, “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (John 15:4).  So, don’t pursue blue-ribbon fruit; focus on abiding in Him.

It’s not patience we seek, it’s Jesus.  It’s not faithfulness we ask for; it’s the Holy Spirit alive and real in our lives.  As we feed on the Vine and refuse to disconnect regardless of life, busyness, circumstances and other temptations, God will grow the fruit in us, genuine Spirit fruit, lasting and beautiful, a testimony not to us, but to the Vine itself.

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.  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

What I Said and What I Was Thinking

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Matthew 7:1-2)

She was crying and telling me she felt like a total flake.  Life had been crazy, filled with mistakes and missed appointments, misplaced papers, forgotten promises, everything lost and mixed up and wrong.

I remember being partially sympathetic and somewhat compassionate, outwardly consoling her and sharing words of encouragement as other shoppers pushed their way past our carts.

But inside, in the secret places of my mind and heart, that compassion wasn’t genuine.  It was hollow pat-her-on-the-back kind of friendship–the kind that is sorry she had a bad week, but fell short of true understanding or free-flowing grace.

in fact, the all-business side of me was passing unspoken judgment.

Forgetting, missing, losing, making mistakes? It didn’t sound like an attack from Satan to me.  It sounded more like a too-busy schedule and an absent organizational system.  Somehow I thought a few files and a day planner could save the day.

Two weeks later, I was crying at my kitchen table.  It had been a week of misplaced papers and missing items—not little insignificant things—BIG things, like legal documents and Department of Motor Vehicle paperwork.

For someone generally in control and on top of things, the week had been a devastatingly humbling reminder of just how flaky I can be.

An attack from Satan?  Suddenly it seemed possible.  Or even a tool God was using to challenge my heart and burn away the hidden places of self-condemnation and then smother the flames with His unconditional love and grace.

We so quickly stumble into a world of silent judgment, assessing, evaluating, and categorizing the people around us.

The frazzled-looking momma with the crying baby in Wal-Mart.
The parents whose teenager disappeared from church.
The couple who met with the divorce lawyers last week.
The husband and wife holding the bankruptcy paperwork.
The family with the nice new car and large house.
Those who homeschool (or don’t).
Those who have large families (or small).
The mom who commutes every day to work (and the one who doesn’t.)
The highly fashionable woman next to you in church, with perfectly polished nails, a size 4 waist, and a wardrobe that looks like it costs more than your house (or the one in jeans and a t-shirt).

And maybe we think we’re justified, that our own success in these areas qualifies us for positions of authority.  Or maybe we’ve memorized a list of Bible verses that prove our position.  As long as we’re quiet about it, after all, there seems little harm.  It’s only in our heart, only our own private thoughts of criticism.

Sure it might spill over occasionally into snarky remarks and private jibes among our like-minded friends, but mostly we control the collateral damage.

Yet, isn’t that the picture of the pharisees in Luke 5, solemnly and silently sitting off on their own, overlooking Jesus’ ministry and remaining stoically untouched by His compassionate healing?

Scripture tells us: “One day Jesus was teaching and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there” (Luke 5:17).

They had front row seats, a privileged view of the hurting crowd and the four friends carrying a man on a mat and lowering him down through the ceiling.  Jesus saw the faith of the friends, their determination and selflessness.  He saw the paralyzed man, so dependent on others even to carry him to the feet of the Savior.

And Jesus healed him by saying, “Friend, your sins are forgiven” (Luke 5:20).

Maybe the crowd marveled at the miracle.  Perhaps the man who had been confined to a mat danced a jig and hugged his faithful friends.

Others remained unmoved:

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:21).

It likely seemed safe, passing silent thoughts of judgment.  They were, after all, just “thinking to themselves.”  They didn’t hop up on a soapbox or try to steal the show.  They didn’t argue with the crowd or publicly condemn the healed or the Healer.

It was just an internal dialogue, a private moment of judgment and condemnation.

But, “Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, ‘Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?‘” (Luke 5:22).

Even our most secretive judgments of others have an audience—Jesus Himself.   That’s why Beth Moore, in her book, Jesus, the One and Only, asks: “How do I silently judge?”  Because judgment that doesn’t appear on protest signs or Facebook posts or Twitter feeds or in pulpits is still judgment.

The truth is I’m desperately in need of the grace Christ has poured out on me, and if I need that kind of grace, then I need to show that kind of grace: unhindered, unqualified, unmarred by an undercurrent of criticism and condescension.  Just grace.  Beautiful, pure, deep down honest grace.

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