THE HEART OF THE MATTER

I received a message from a friend this morning and something she said in it really started my brain whirling, starting some serious soul searching. The summation I have come to is this: What if the true meaning/reason behind my actions is to paint an exterior portrait of what it is expected from a certain group so that the ugliness of the reality within is covered up? What if all the trappings and sayings and posts and actions are directed in a certain fashion as to detract from what the truth really is on the inside? And what if the answer to that question is an affirmative answer? What then??? (Ok, I know that is actually FOUR questions, but that is just how my mind works sometimes.)

If the answer is indeed affirmative, so many more questions arise – and the heart gets a little heavier. Do I then become branded a hypocrite? Obviously, there is a heart issue that needs to be addressed, but what if the reality is too much for the heart to take? What if the truth is ugly enough that a mask is worn to cover it up, even from oneself? Perhaps, the mask has been worn for so long that it has been forgotten and the heart thinks that this is the reality…

Even more disturbing is this thought…. What if that which we are trying to hide WITH (or within) is the very thing we are trying to hide FROM?

As with many areas of life, I must sit and be still for a moment. I must evaluate my heart and determine if my actions, posts, words, and behaviors are for real or for show? Are a few extra thrown in to make it look like I am a “stronger” Christian than what I really am? Do I write about Him because it is something my soul must do or because it is expected? Are my words and actions regarding Him really for Him? (Please do not misunderstand. I know fully where my faith lies. I know who is God (and it’s not me). My faith in Jesus remains the same (the way, the truth, and the life).)

If we can find the courage to face the reality, to pull back the mask, to truly look into the mirror which reflects our own souls, we must. What we are to do with that reality is an individual journey, but it is one that begins at the foot of the cross.

Be kind to each other.
Be accepting of each other.
Love each other unconditionally.

How many hurting hearts could we touch with our words if we would season them with grace? May we not be the cause of someone wearing a mask to hide from condemnation or be bitter in our words so that hearts are turned away.

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A Walk Through MY Bible

I wonder how many people are like me in terms of their relationship with their Bible (the sentimental value that the physical items has to them). I was about to start reading my Bible the other day, but, before I opened it up, I really stopped and looked at it. It would appear as though I had not actually “seen” my Bible in a long time even though I read it every day. If you will indulge me, I want to share my “anchor” with you. Please join me on a walk through My Bible and I pray that as you read this you might find some encouragement along the way – and perhaps something you can tuck inside your heart.

As I picked up the Word of God that night, I actually stopped to look at the physical, touchable representation of God’s love for us that I call my own – this book that, although printed and bound by man, contains the Words spoken by the Almighty, the history of His Chosen People, and the ministry/passion of Jesus Christ. Just as I call Them my own (My Father, My Jesus, My Savior, My Adonai, etc), I call this Book my own – my name is even embossed in gold letters on the front cover.

My, the stories this book could tell if it could speak of things external…. I received this Bible as a gift in 1989. Despite the years of wear, a tattered cover, and broken edges, it is irreplaceable. I have thought about buying a new one from time to time, but I just can’t seem to bring myself to even shop for another one. There are notes in the margins, highlighted passages, underlines here and there, and several notes and mementos tucked inside the pages. It has survived being dropped, melted candy bars, small children, desperate grasps during times of heartache, tear stains, and having the cover and spine taped back on/together on more than one occasion.

If you open the cover, you will find names and dates of people I have care about over the years. Marriage information, births celebrated, and deaths mourned are contained within the pages that have required the application of carefully placed tape in order to keep this well-used section together. Further within the pages, you will find notes, poetry, a picture, a little music. What amazes me about these tidbits of paper that I find tucked inside is not only the content of the paper, but also the passage it resides beside.

The first stop flipping through the pages is II Samuel 15. This is where Absalom wins the heart of the people of Israel, basically takes over the throne, and King David runs away. In this place resides a poem written for me by a dear friend many years ago:

Just a reminder of the job you’re to do
To keep His light shinning – bright and true.
His love is so deep, so vast, and so wide
Just open your arms and there you’ll abide.
Whenever you feel the need to waiver of fall
Just look to His light and send out a call.
He’s always beside you and never you cry
Because even though you might fail, He loves how you try.
Always praying for you. —

But it does not end there. After all, what would a piece of paper be without notes on the back? Notes regarding healing from sickness and sin as well as Scriptures relevant to things I was going through in my life at the time this poem was given to me stand as a reminder of how, even though sin had taken over the throne of my heart, God was victorious in the end.

The next piece is one of my favorites. It is a written in the form of a haiku (not my favorite format for poetry), but it is profound. I think I cut it out of a Sunday School lesson many years ago.

Trapped by Mark Weinrich

Helpless
bird, don’t battle
the window. I could show
you the opened door, if you’d just
“Be still.”

I find it ironic that this poem would reside where it does. It has been there so long that I do not even remember placing it inside, but it is at II Chronicles 7:14. “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” If we can but allow Him to show us the open door, depending on where we are in our lives, this might just be the very door we need to walk through, the door that leads to repentance and healing.

II Chronicles 20 finds a prayer egg that was prayerfully and randomly dropped into the Bible in 1991. The prayer contained on the tiny piece of paper was answered seven months later in 1992, and was regarding a damaged relationship with a former friend. The first place my eye draws to on these pages is to verse 15 (“…Be not afraid nor dismayed…for the battle is not yours, but God’s.”) and verse 17 (Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the Lord with you….”). As I let the problem go and allowed the Lord to have His way, He did just as He said He would do. The battle for the heart was not mine to fight, but it was mine to stand firm, be still, pray, and watch Him move in the situation. Granted, this was nothing like the situation Jehoshaphat was in, but God still showed Himself to be faithful.

A bookmark with the simple statement that “Even when clouds of pain seem to hide the face of God, we are never hidden from God’s love” marks the place in Psalms that reminds us that God will defend us and we can shout for joy because of that. (Psalm 5:11)

A few more pages into the book of Psalms finds a wonderful verse written out from a different translation (Psalm 27:4, TLB – “The one thing I want from God, the thing I seek most of all, is the privilege of meditating in His temple, living in His presence every day of my life, delighting in His incomparable perfections and glory.”), and the caring heart penny reminds us that “God setteth the solitary in families: he bringeth out those which are bound with chains: but the rebellious dwell in a dry land.” (Psalm 68:6)

Isaiah 50 finds another note from a dear friend reminding me of the transience of our trials. I am not sure if it taken from a Max Lucado book word for word or if it was something she wrote (it has been way too long to remember), but it is thought-provoking nonetheless. “Our days on earth are like a shadow. Each man’s life is but a breath. You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. It‘s a short journey even though it seems eternal. Just think how good it will be when we get home. It will be worth it all when we see Jesus. Therefore, we do not lose heart. Thought outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are becoming renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.” What a wonderful reminder of where our eyes need to be fixed up set beside a powerful reminder of just a glimpse of what He endured for us.

Another short, but poignant poem can be found at the sight of a most encouraging passage. Jeremiah 29:11-13 gives us the promise that God’s intentions for us are good, that He will be found when we seek Him, and that He will hear when we pray.

While all of these are inspirational, touching, and contain very fond memories, my favorite thing that I found in my Bible is the scrap of music at Matthew 24:12-13. When I realized where this music was, I was really surprised by the verse. (“and because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold, but he that shall endure until the end, the same shall be saved.”) I didn’t really get it for a few – at least until I sat down to write this. It was then that it dawned on me just appropriate it was that I would shove this scrap of sheet music for “Joy Unspeakable and Full of Glory” into my Bible in this location. So long as His joy is my strength, His love is my light, and His Word is my foundation, my love for Him will not wax cold regardless of the mess surrounding me. “It is joy unspeakable and full of glory. Oh the half has never yet be told!” And one day, it finally will be. What a day that will be!

The passage regarding the good Samaritan (Luke 10:31-37) is where a picture of my two nieces sits from probably 11 years ago or so. Good memories of a good day….

Many scraps of paper, scribbled notes, Scripture studies waiting to be finished or reviewed are scattered throughout my Bible, but these are the one that mean the most to my heart. These are the ones through which the heart of God speaks to the hurting heart within me. These are things that He has given to me as a gift, as a way of remembering better times when my heart is broken and a reminder of His providence through the dark times when the ways is light and easy. They are reminders that I have been loved, I have been cared for, I have been cherished by people He has sent my way. All of these are reminders located inside the Book that contains the grandest reminder of all.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16, NIV

Just to think that our God loves and cherishes us so much that He took the time to inspire men He selected to write down His words, HIStory, and that these very words have been cherished, guarded, and passed down through time to those of us who now stand guard over our own hearts and cherish this gift He has carefully designed, planned, and given to us – a gift of not just salvation, but of His own heart.

I will leave you with one thought. If a complete stranger were to find your Bible, what do you think it would say to them? Would it appear brand new, never opened, perhaps a little dusty? Or, does it look like an old friend, worn from the years, but yet loved and treasured. Cherish His Word my friends. After all, it is His heart in tangible physical form
– a gift from His heart to yours.

Busy, Busy, Busy

Some weeks my life is just crazy busy. There are some days when I am so caught up in all the work I have to do that I forget to eat, forget what day of the week it is, and have trouble keeping track of how many cups of coffee, if any, I have enjoyed that day. At that point, I must ask myself two very important questions: am I forgetting to spend time with the Lord? and am I forgetting to take time to write? What if the work load increases to test your priorities, your faithfulness, your dependence on Him, your dedication to the work He has called you to do? What do you do then? Torn between what you are called to do by the grace of God and the responsibility you have been entrusted with, a balance must be found.

That balance is exactly where I struggle. The work load itself is rather daunting and, when combined with other aspects and events of life, the priority scale tends to get tipped the wrong direction from time to time. What does it look like when this happens in my life, not counting an increase in the stress level and blood pressure? The result is this – I completely forgot to write my blog post for last week and here we are, most of the way through this week and I am just now sitting down to write this now. The frightening thing is, had it not been for a wonderful conversation with my dear friend Paula Michelson, I would probably have forgotten all about it period.

Now, to some people, this may seem like no big deal, but for me, it is. You see, I am trying to make writing more of a priority in my life just as the Lord Himself must be more of a priority. If the words I write are given by Him, if I am not writing, then were does the message go? If I am not writing, I am missing out on that special time I spend with Him. Yes, it is nice to take care of responsibilities, finish to-do lists, and see where progress has been made in the mountainous pile called laundry, but my heart needs that break, that time with Him where He speaks directly into my heart.

One lesson I am learning through this particular moment in my life is that, when He is placed in priority, the other things don’t seem to be as stressful, the work tends to be accomplished quicker, and there is a greater sense of peace. This may seem like an elementary lesson to some, and to some degree it is. In fact, this is a lesson I have learned before in my life – several times over. (One would think I would have remembered it by now…..) However, I am grateful that my Lord loves me enough to teach me the same lesson, to prove Himself to be faithful in the same areas, and to continually remind me of the same things because He knows that I will eventually get it right. He has enough faith in me to know that I will turn to Him, I will put Him back in the forefront, and that I will remember Who is really in charge – and that it is not the work load, the laundry pile, or the grocery list either.

May this week – although it is nearing an end – find you in a place where you are resting in Him, trusting Him for the endurance and strength to conquer the mountains you may face (whether they be laundry filled or not), and placing Him at the forefront of your life. When He offers the “Great Invitation” in Matthew 11:28-30, He never offers to remove the situations, alter the bounds of time and space, or make it all go away. What He does offer to those of us who are willing to answer the invitation, is the opportunity to come to Him, to accept the rest He offers, to learn from Him, and to trust Him.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I am not there yet and I still have a ways to go, but, as we all are, I am a work in progress. Thankfully, I know who is the Author and Finisher of my faith and I know that He will be faithful to complete the work He began in me. All I have to do is come to Him, accept His rest, and fall into His everlasting arms.

Dare to Express

I was taught from a young age to never let anyone see you cry, never wear your heart on your sleeve, always keep up a good front, and don’t ever let the heart open too far. While most of these were verbal instructions I received (some of them repeatedly), some were driven home by example. I was always the shortest in the class and some of the boys thought they could pick on me. As far as I remember, I kept a good face on. I did as I was instructed to do and never let them know it bothered me – even though it did. I have continued to use this philosophy in life and consequently have kept most people away at least at arm’s length, if not further.

There are very few people I have ever let in far enough to know how I truly feel – if I even allowed myself to know. What a hollow and lonely existence it has been at times – and it is all of my own doing. But I must ask myself this one hard question: is living my life in this way useful to God? This question, of course, grows into more pointed questions (I happen to love questions…). Does this glorify Him in anyway? How can I be able to reach out to anyone with His love when I can’t even reach out myself?

Once answered, all of these questions then end in one ultimate question. In light of this thought, how then shall I live?

That is, of course, a question that will have different answers for all of us as we all have a different purpose and different challenges.

One of the biggest – and most recent – things I have learned in attempting to answer this question is that living a life that is closed off and inexpressive leads to friendships and relationships that are the same way. If you don’t share how you feel about someone, why should they be inclined to? Yes, it would always be wonderful for someone else to take the initiative, but there are times when we must take that leap of faith, take that step to come out of the protective surroundings of the mask, and say simply, “I appreciate you” or “I am glad you’re my friend” or “I am grateful that God brought you into my life.” One might even be so brave to risk saying, “I love you.”

Friends are a gift from the Father. They were placed here to enrich our lives, strengthen our hearts, walk through life with us – at least pieces of it as His plan would have it – and help us to know Him more.

Tomorrow is never promised. Accidents happen and lives change in an instant. Who is to know what may happen next…. I know for me, I never want to attend another funeral with the regret in my heart that I never told that person how much they meant to me, that I never told them I loved them, that I appreciated them, that they were special to me. Trusting the Father to pass on that message to them is not good enough – and it is not His job. We must tell them while they are here. Honestly, though, is there such a thing as being told you are appreciated or loved too often?

The Word says we are to love our neighbor as ourselves and I completely agree. However, we should dare to show it more, speak it more, live it more. If you love someone, you should know their heart – and allow them to know yours.

Dare to be bold, dare to express, dare to live with no regrets – and dare to never go to another funeral with a list of things you wish you had said. Say them now while you still have the gift of today!!!

Wounds and Scars? Yeah, but what now?

As I am sure everyone has experienced, there has been people in our lives that have caused us emotional harm. Whether it was intentionally or not doesn’t matter. Passed over, over looked, disregarded, tossed out with the trash, taken for granted… Words have been said – or not said – that reached a quiet, tender portion of the heart and created an oozing wound. It is not a deep or desperate wound, but it is just enough to break the integrity of that space and leave a weeping cut. As the years go by, these wounds slowly scab over and stop weeping, but a scar has been left behind. Time after time, wound upon wound, these scars build up to the point where they take over the space. All of this happens so gradually that it is not even noticed. Defense mechanisms begin to be used to protect this hall of scars and become such a part of normal everyday life that they are not noticed as well. Life can continue on as if all is well and no one is the wiser to the well hidden, darkness covered depth of pain residing just under the surface. But what happens if the surface gets cracked?

In the quiet and stillness of the hall of scars residing within a wounded heart, how does one react when light is brought in? While it is very painful, that is where I find myself today. The Lord is steadily cracking open this shell I built around my heart to keep out the hurt, to shelter from the disregard, a place built to escape to when the world forgot I existed. Two unbelievable people have been sent into my life and have blasted the doors away. They have forced me to take a look at my reactions, my standard response lines, and the reality of the emotions behind the things I sarcastically say. Some of this has not been pretty at all, but it has been a huge wake-up call to my heart to start beating again.

For too many years, I allowed others and their words to determine my value or self-worth. Too many years were wasted wondering what other people thought, how I should fit in, and wondering why. But, in the midst of all of this, the Lord spoke to my heart last night: “And God chose what the world looks down on as common or regards as nothing in order to bring to nothing what the world considers important; so that no one should boast before God.” I Corinthians 1:28-29 (CJB)

Listen well to the words of life, my heart! There is hope! What it means, at least to me, is that even God has a plan for me and He finds value in me – especially because the world of my past did not. He saw me even then – and He still sees me now.

My prayer for you, my friend, is that you carefully choose your words. Cherish the heart of the person to whom you are speaking and guard it well. Some scars take a long time to heal, but the ones that were unnecessary and preventable can be the most painful.

Cherish the Body of Christ. Care for your fellow members. Do not overlook the ones who are not exactly like yourself. We were all created with great diversity so that we can each fulfill our role in His church. And it is HIS church, after all… Step out of your comfort zone, guard your tongue, think before your shoot darts out of your mouth, and learn to cherish that which is not like you. You just might be surprised at what you find – if you will dare to look beyond the veil, the mirror, and the walls.

They Said What???

It has been a very busy week of swimming lessons, work, and working during swimming lesson. Through all of the “busyness”, one thing that has stood out in my mind – and has been repeated in several forms – is the power of our words. I have, unfortunately, witnessed more time than I care to count the fact that “sticks and stones” do not break bones – they break hearts instead.

Proverbs 18:21 says that the power of life and death are in the tongue. Interesting thought…. Does that mean I believe I could kill someone with my words or bring them back to life with the same? Not necessarily, at least not in the physical sense (although I will not discount the possibility of a miracle being performed because our Lord is still in that business), but emotionally and spiritually, it is not only a possibility, it is a regular occurrence. It is so easy to spew hurtful words out of our mouths and kill another’s spirit, crush their dreams, break their heart. Listening to the way in which people speak to each other and about each other, I can only image how it breaks our Father’s heart to see and hear how often we trample on others with our words. Matthew 12:34 (KJV) tells us that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. What then does this really say about the condition of our hearts?

As Christians, we have a peculiar challenge that faces us, especially in the unique environment in which we now live. Yes, we are to live a life that is holy, set apart for Him alone. Yes, we are called to be in the world and not of it – to not be conformed to it. We are called to be Salt and Light to a world that is drowning in darkness that seems to grow darker by the day. The challenge then becomes how do we do this? How do we reach the ones who need Him the most, the ones who appear to be falling ever further into darkness? The answer is love. We must reach them with the love of Jesus first and foremost! If we do not reach them with love and look at them the way Jesus does, how will we ever find their heart?

We must also keep in mind that we do not know the road another has traveled or that their heart may contain secrets known only to God. Careless words thrown about may cause hurt and harm to another who will never say a word. Instead, they will just walk away. They will cry on the inside yet again where no one ever sees. They will fall before the feet of Jesus yet again and beg Him to hold them just one more time. An opportunity to be a blessing to someone who is desperate for a kind word uttered in love has been wasted – again.

You will never know what kind of difference you can make in the life of another just by choosing to season your words with grace. Being Salt and Light is so much more than helping bring the lost home – it is caring for hurting members of the Body, it is caring for our own, it is being Jesus to those around us. How can we fulfill what Jesus called the first and foremost of the commandments, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves if we are continually trampling others with our words? Before you open your mouth to speak, ask yourself if you would like to be on the other end of your words? If you would not, then respond as Job did when he was speaking with the Lord, “… I put my hand over my mouth.” Job 40:4, NIV

Season your words with kindness. You never know what secrets of the heart someone may have that hear them or what hurts can be unknowingly inflicted by them.

2 Do not be quick with your mouth,
do not be hasty in your heart
to utter anything before God.
God is in heaven
and you are on earth,
so let your words be few.
3 A dream comes when there are many cares,
and many words mark the speech of a fool.
6 Do not let your mouth lead you into sin….
7 Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore fear God.
Ecclesiastes 5:2-3, 6, 7, NIV

33 “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Matthew 12:33-37, NIV

One for Five!

Provision from the Lord can come in many forms that, if we are not watching, it can be missed more often than I care to acknowledge. Often times, at least in my life, it tends to be so subtle that I don’t realize He has taken care of it until after the moment has past.

Having spent so much of my life withdrawn from the world, when I moved to a different state and transitioned from being a traditional employee to a self-employed/independent contractor, the solitude seemed to envelope me some days. Not that I had a lot of friends left behind in the move, but I did at least know people. In the new location, while it is more beautiful that I could have hoped for, was more solitude. During this time, I found great comfort in writing and continued to add to my files of poetry which appeared to have no purpose or destination whatsoever beyond an intimate moment with my Lord.

During this time, I joined some poetry and Christian writing groups on FaceBook, but wasn’t really “involved.” Yes, I would scan through to see if anything caught my eye, but I did not share any work or really comment on much. One day the Lord placed it on my heart to share a little poetry – and a “little” is what I posted. I think it was one of the shortest ones I had written, but I went out on a limb and hit the “post” button. I was surprised to see that people had actually read it – and even more surprised when I received some positive feedback. I was “brave” and shared another – and with a similar response. Then I stopped.

The “what’s the point?” argument came up…which was followed by the “they are just saying nice things about the poem to be kind” lie. I am ashamed to say that I listened to both of them – but only for a while. The Lord then reminded me that nothing done for Him, for His glory, for His honor, out of obedience to Him is ever wasted, worthless, or pointless. Even if I did not see immediate results or have people knocking on my door (or inbox…) wanting to publish my poetry, if even one person was blessed by an inspiration He provided, then it was worth it and its purpose fulfilled for that moment.

Being one so accustomed to solitude and remaining in the background, it can be a struggle some days to share the words He has laid in my heart. There are some pieces that contain so much of my heart I don’t know that I will ever share them with anyone for fear of exposing some of the deeper parts of me. I have struggled to overcome the fear of exposure, trusting the Lord to show me what pieces to share and when to share them. I have also struggled to expose the lies the enemy speaks to me against the kind words given regarding the work, to not search for the hidden meaning behind them, but rather to take them to the Father as what they really are – His! (My lack of ability to accept a compliment for the longest time was brought to my attention in a very pointed manner by a friend – and she nailed me with it. I had listened to the lies for so long that I didn’t even realize it was happening.)

Along this rather interesting – and rather exposing – leg of the journey, the Lord has provided some very encouraging, uplifting, God-centered friends whom I have never met. These five people have impacted my life more in the last few months than any of them will ever realize. I have been challenged to think beyond the box and “churchy” responses/statements, to open up and let some of this poetry out into the world, to express my heart without fear, to share words I had not shared before, to banish lies from my mind that had been long rooted and entrenched, and to enjoy poetry more than I ever have.

This wonderful provision of the Lord was slowly being brought together and I never saw it coming! I was a little sad the other day thinking about friends who seem to have forgotten me and wishing there was a way to “fix” things when He gently reminded me that He had provided above and beyond what I thought I was missing out on. It may not be the way in which I would like things to be or more convenient for me, but He provided the way in which He did for a reason – and the blessings are more than I could have imagined! Besides, that is some awesome math when you lose one and He replaces it with five!

Look beyond the obvious to see what resides underneath – often times that is where the Lord is working the most in our lives. Don’t miss out on what He is REALLY doing just because you are looking for what you WANT Him to be doing in your life. Keep your heart open, your eyes focused on Jesus, and hold on – you never know what is around the next bend!