said apart

 “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, 18 the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,”  Ephesians 1:17-18 (NKJV)

Shhhhhhhh, close your eyes and be mindful of the whispers of your soul.  There…do you feel it…that unmistakable longing found in the wellspring of your heart? Ah yes, that call.  You know it as well as I do.  It’s a yearning for beauty, truth, and purity that beckons you to move ever closer.

“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time.  He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”  Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT)

Dorothy of Kansas expresses this deeply embedded desire for eternity within all our hearts in song in the beloved movie “The Wizard of Oz.”  It’s an upward call to experience the vibrant, heavenly colors of a life lived abundantly that eclipses the uncomfortable sterility of an all-too grey world focused on self.  For non-believers, that call to “somewhere over the rainbow” is to be with God; for believers, it is the call to become the person God intends you to be through an ongoing intimate relationship with Him.

Over the Rainbow” by Judy Garland from the album “Over the Rainbow, The Very Best of Judy Garland”

“but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”  1 Peter 1:15-16 (NKJV)

“May I view and long after holiness as the beauty and dignity of the soul.”  The Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett

Before moving on, we need to pause a moment and consider the difference between righteousness and holiness; it’s a mistake to speak of these two terms as if they’re the same because they are not.  We become righteous when we accept Jesus as our Savior through double-imputation:  our sins are placed on Him while His sinless nature covers us.   We will never become more righteous than we are at the moment of our salvation.

“But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”  Isaiah 53:5 (NKJV)

Holiness, however, is the Holy Spirit-led process of sanctification that begins at our conversion.

“Holiness is the habit of being of one mind with God, according as we find His mind described in Scripture.  It is the habit of agreeing in God’s judgment, hating what He hates, loving what He loves, and measuring everything in this world by the standard of His Word.”  J. C. Ryle

As we travel the life-long path towards holiness God has set out before us, the fruits of the Spirit are to be made manifest within His children.

“Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance,”  Matthew 3:8 (NKJV)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.  Ephesians 5:22-23 (NKJV)

Let us praise God that He is unwilling to leave us as He found us.  He has placed this quest for holiness, our call to Christlikeness, within each believer’s heart. 

“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Romans 8:29 (NKJV)

For what purpose does God pursue our holiness?  Jesus says we are in the world, not of the world, yet here we purposefully are as God’s heralds.   The truth is the more you look like Christ, the less you will look like the world.  And that’s not only good but necessary under His plans.

“They do not belong to this world any more than I do. 17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. 18 Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world.”  John 17:16-18 (NLT)

According to His purposes, God uses holiness to “set apart” us from the world.

“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;”  1 Peter 2:9 (NKJV)

“Let your Christianity be so unmistakable, your eye so single, your heart so whole, your walk so straightforward, that all who see you may have no doubt whose you are, and whom you serve.”  J. C. Ryle

Can we be truly effective as His ambassadors, His voices crying out in the wilderness if we resemble the world?  As believers, it’s essential to ask, “How does the world see us?”  Are we recognizable as different, as “set apart” from it?  As holy?  If not, then why not?

While we could discuss various lifestyle areas that would prove helpful in answering these questions, let’s look at just one today, namely our manner of speech.  Does what we say or talk about cause the world to see us as “said apart” from it?  Or, do they hear us as one of their own?  Do the words coming out of our mouths confirm or deny our claim of being a child of God?

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”   Ephesians 2:10 (NKJV)

Take a look at this post’s introductory photo again.  I spotted the toothbrush in a hotel’s landscaping early one morning while I was out walking our dogs.  Can you imagine how filthy it must be?  Beyond the nastiness of its surroundings, the brush’s history is entirely questionable, too.  The idea of ever using it as an actual toothbrush is repulsive.  Yet, considering how abysmally low our society has stooped in its manner of speech, isn’t it reasonable to wonder how many would ever notice how disgusting this brush is if used as intended?

“It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us; it is the very sign of His presence.” C. S. Lewis

The truth is the world is awash with “four-letter” rhetoric and angry, hateful discourse.   When unleashed, it takes all within earshot unwillingly captive as if it’s a raucous chainsaw violating the serene solitude of an alpine meadow at dawn.  Safe havens removed from its grip are few and far between these days. Unfortunately, the world’s influence is so strong that it has managed to creep into some professing Christian’s lives as well, myself included in days now mercifully long past.  Given these circumstances, perhaps we should call this misplaced brush a “truthbrush” instead?  Brothers and sisters, we are called to the higher ground of beauty and not to a quagmire of ugliness!  Do you know this to be true?

“Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing.  My brethren, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.”  James 3:10-12 (NKJV)

As God’s children, we are the “happy little bluebirds” Dorothy sings about so longingly.  Our heavenly Father calls us to much more in this life than to wallow in the darkness of some murky, oppressive, and stagnant swamp.   It’s a noble call to aim high and choose His beauty over the world’s standards, to choose His ways by speaking in such a way that leads and points ourselves and others to the top of God’s mountain high above the swampy lowlands.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)

But how do we proceed, Lord?  How do we stay true to the path that leads to higher ground?

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”  Proverbs 4:23 (NIV)

“Take my heart and hold it in Thy hand; write upon it reverence to thyself with an inscription that time and eternity cannot erase.”  The Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett

Yes, Lord, may my heart be Yours!

When we speak, friends, let it be for God’s glory.  Let us delight our Father with our voices at all times and in all circumstances.   So, what say you?  Will you determine to be “said apart” for His glory?

“May every part of my character and conduct make a serious and amiable impression on others, and impel them to ask the way to the Master.”  Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett

24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”  Ephesians 5:24-25 (NKJV)

May it be ever so, Lord! In Jesus’s name, amen!

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Let the Words of My Mouth” by Fernando Ortega from the album “The Shadow of Your Wings:  Hymns and Sacred Songs.”

heart-spoken

“The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3 (NIV)

“Get into the habit of saying, ‘Speak, Lord,’ and life will become a romance.” Oswald Chambers

The use of the word “romance” here in this context is a spiritual show-stopper the more I think about it.  Such a romance is a life of excitement, a shared journey of love that is an adventure filled with mystery, surprise, longing, and beauty between God and ourselves.  It’s an extraordinary invitation to embark on a remarkable Coram Deo life alongside Him.  It is everything we long for, and so much more.

I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.  John 10:10b (NKJV)

Hear what John Eldredge has to say about a life of romance lived in God’s presence from his book, “The Sacred Romance:”

“The Sacred Romance calls to us every moment of our lives…invites us through the laughter of good friends, reaches out to us through the touch of someone we love. We’ve heard it in our favorite music, sensed it at the birth of our first child,been drawn to it while watching the shimmer of a sunset on the ocean. Something calls to us through experiences like these and rouses an inconsolable longing deep within our heart, wakening in us a yearning for intimacy, beauty, and adventure. This longing…fuels our search for meaning, for wholeness, for a sense of being truly alive. And the voice that calls to us in this place is none other than the voice of God.”

He has made everything beautiful in its time.  Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.”  Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NKJV)

That longing for eternity can be satisfied only by God.  Only His voice can meet that need purposefully implanted in the depths of our hearts so that we would seek Him.  Oh, but when at long last embraced, the sweetness and beauty of His voice are miraculously transformative. 

“And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then – the true meaning of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength of ten Grinches, plus two!” (How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss)

Indeed!  The Lord’s presence continually delights and surprises me.  His love wonderfully turns me upside down, sideways, and gratefully, every which way but loose, as if I’m a stone joyfully borne along by a sparkling, rapidly flowing river.  All that matters is that I am within the loving embrace of His arms of living waters.  After all, what about the destination can be of concern when He is the River Boat Captain of my soul?

When you’re in His embrace, you see and understand things differently than the world does.  I can’t help but think this is what Oswald Chambers was alluding to when he said in his devotional, My Utmost For His Highest, “Do you perceive mere coincidence, or do you discern the hand of God?”  When you know yourself to be in His hand,  you see anything, and everything with Him in mind, no matter how big or small something is.

Take, for example, my friend, Nicole.  She frequently sees heart shapes in clouds, leaves, and even the icing on a cupcake, to name a few.  Nicole recently found a heart-shaped piece of meat hiding underneath the holiday ham when she removed it from the cooking pan. 

These heart surprises are always a great encouragement because every time she spots one, it’s a glowing reminder of how much God loves her.   Finding one never gets old for her.  Each discovery delights her more than the previous one.

Not surprisingly, she’s always on the lookout for these spontaneous “God hugs” because you never really know when or where one will show up.  To that end, it’s worth noting that one often shows up just when she needs it most. It’s a much-needed, sweet reminder to her of Whose child she is at just the right moment.

If you’ve ever turned the radio on and immediately found yourself listening to the perfect song to meet your needs in that moment, you know this “God hug” feeling. Or perhaps you’ll come across just the right words in a book, article, movie, devotional, or scripture that seems like a custom fit perfectly tailored for your circumstances.

Several posts on this site speak to these sorts of heartwarming moments.  Please check out “meanwhile behind the seens,” “diamond in the rough,” or “blanket coverage,” for example,  if you get the chance. “Trucks top rescue” is a post describing another friend’s spiritually meaningful and oh so timely encounter with a dove in an unlikely location during a difficult time in her life.

There’s a thought expressed in the movie August Rush that I find notably engaging and pertinent to this discussion.  Evan Taylor( August Rush) as played by Freddie Highmore: “Listen.  Can you hear it?  The music.  I can hear it everywhere.  In the wind…in the air…in the light.  It’s all around us.  All you have to do is open yourself up.  All you have to do…is listen.” 

Try exchanging “God” for the word “music,” which is no great stretch of the imagination since music finds its very beginning in our Lord.  Now,  before you move on, reread Evan’s observation with God in mind instead of music and let it flow powerfully into your heart. 

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”  Matthew 1:23 (NKJV)

When you recognize you are always in His presence, your world will grow decidedly more hopeful and more beautiful. 

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”  Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)

Do you hear His voice, a voice like none other?  Are you listening?  Oh, how I pray you are.

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”  John 14:27 (NKJV)

This post’s original title was “heartbroken” because that was my first impression upon seeing this heart as pictured above, which I spotted across the street directly in front of my house.  Heartbreak and pain practically oozed from it when I first saw it. 

As hearts go, this is no visual role model, to be sure.  It’s so disfigured as to be almost unrecognizable as such.  Questions abound.  What about those two holes?  Why is this heart composed of two different materials?  What does it mean that part is on the grass and the remaining portion is on the concrete?  One is left only to likely observe this is a divided heart, ripped into pieces.

Undoubtedly, some will say while looking at the photo, “You call that a heart?  That’s no heart!  Besides, even if it is whoever heard of a heart wearing a mask?”   You and I already instinctively know the answers: “The world has a cruel and heartless way of crushing a person’s heart.  The mask is for protection.”  We know this because, at various times, we have all endured the heartache and heartbreak the cold hands of this world can inflict upon a person.  And we have the scars, wounds, and limps to prove it.  We all wear masks of one variety or another in an attempt to protect ourselves from being hurt again.  To show our true selves makes us vulnerable to attack, so we hide behind the mask.

When it comes to romance, being heartbroken is not where anyone wants to find themselves, of course.  Writing about heartache is not a warm and fuzzy experience, either, as I can readily attest.  Indeed, I was conflicted in those efforts from the beginning.

Mercifully, the Lord gently redirected my initial thoughts by bringing to mind one verse in particular in the middle of the night as I wrestled with this sadness.  In an instant, He rescued me from drowning in the dark, quicksand-like waters of despair I was experiencing.  The hopelessness of “heartbroken” joyously gave way to Jesus’s ever hopeful and life-giving perspective of “heart-spoken.”

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed”  Luke 4:18 (NKJV)

The whispered gift of “heart-spoken” warmly greeted me in those quiet, still, and uncluttered hours of a new day.  Joyfully it buoyed my spirit aloft on the wings of hope like an early spring flower emerging from melting winter snow brings.   No longer constrained by string, I’m a kite set free to fly where once I could only longingly gaze.   Yes, hope forged in the fires of His boundless love is the real message of Christmas that we can rejoice in throughout the entire year.

“For to us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder.  And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 (NKJV)

What does that hope mean for His children, the captives whose hearts He has come to set free?

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”  Ezekiel 36:26 (NKJV)

‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”  2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)

As we learn to embrace the rhythm of His grace with our new hearts, He is teaching us a dance of freedom we’ve never experienced before according to His good purposes.  We are dancing to His music in His arms, each of us in our own special and unique way.   Apart from Him, we knew only division; now, a part of Him, our hearts know harmony.

Ever so gently, He tenderly removes the mask we’ve hidden behind. Instinctively we lower our eyes, afraid He will find us ugly and unlovable, just as the world has pronounced us to be.  Casting our disguise aside, He reaches out, lifts our chin, and lovingly gazes at our now naked face.  Looking deeply into our eyes, He tells us the mask has hidden a wondrous beauty for far too long that He has uniquely created for a time such as this.  And, then, the unexpected happens. He begins to sing over you drowning out the world’s curses you once knew all too well.  Do you hear Him speaking to your heart?  Oh, how I pray you do, my brother and sister, for you are heart-spoken and greatly loved!

“The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”  Zephaniah 3:17 (NKJV)

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Alisha.mp4 “Feel My Love” (Bob Dylan)

(note: Nicole’s good friend sings this cover to Bob Dylan’s song.  Heartfelt thanks go out to Alisha for allowing me to use her version of this song.  Close your eyes, friends, and listen to this song as if God is singing directly to you.  What a blessing!)

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