talking trash

“Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’  And He said to me, ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful.’”  Revelation 21:5 (NKJV)

 “I have found little that is ‘good’ about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash, no matter whether they publicly subscribe to this or that ethical doctrine or to none at all. That is something that you cannot say aloud, or perhaps even think.”  Sigmund Freud

We’ve all heard it said, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”  I was recently blessed to consider this well-worn statement from a spiritual perspective.

Black bears are a pretty standard sight where I live.  They routinely show up in all of the various neighborhoods in the area in search of food.  Their favorite target?  The practically unlimited and readily available buffet of residential trash cans. 

As you might guess, bears are sloppy diners.  They’re never worried about the mess their uninvited foraging leaves behind, which can be pretty substantial if they happen upon a heavily loaded garbage can.

A few weeks ago, the bears treated themselves to an early breakfast at the front of our subdivision.  The aftermath of the bear’s morning celebration stretched from one side of the road to the other, resulting in one resident, a lady, pretty overwhelmed with the clean-up task in front of her.

Upon seeing her predicament, I decided the right thing to do would be to lend her a helping hand.  I have to tell you that I did so with some reluctance because I knew this was a recurring problem for this family.  After all, they were known by all the neighbors never to secure their garbage cans overnight.  In other words, this wasn’t their first post-bear-buffet-clean-up rodeo.

To further add to my less-than-pure motives, as I was picking things up, another neighbor came up to me to point out there were more piles of garbage “over there between those houses and be sure not to miss them.”  And yes, you’d be right in guessing I got a bit Clint Eastwood-squint-eyed upon hearing that comment.  Fortunately, the sunglasses I was wearing at the time did an excellent job of hiding my displeasure over such a “helpful” suggestion.  She quickly added that she had wanted to help pick up, but her husband told her it wasn’t her problem to fix.  Again, let me applaud the unsung and often overlooked advantages wearing sunglasses brings to the table in such situations.

All that to say, my heart’s attitude had become increasingly in the wrong place as I worked my way through the piles of garbage randomly strewn about multiple front yards.  There was a growing grumbling and mumbling on my part each time I picked up a piece of trash. “This really isn’t my problem, so what am I doing here cleaning up someone else’s trash?”

And that’s when a whisper graciously redirected my attention from me to Jesus, saying, “Aren’t you thankful Jesus saw you as so much more than ‘not His trash, not His problem?’  How blessed you are that He didn’t walk away from your sinful mess but instead chose to give Himself up for you willingly.”

I can’t begin to tell you how wonderfully humbling that clarifying moment was for me.  My entire outlook changed from one of oppression to liberation.  My efforts were no longer burdensome, but instead, there was a newfound blessing to be experienced in the task that lay stretched out before me.  Who knew picking up trash could be so joyful? 

“Jesus Christ knows the worst about you. Nonetheless, He is the one who loves you the most.”  A. W. Tozer

Friend, let there be no doubt in your mind and heart that when Jesus sees you, He doesn’t see you as the world does, or even perhaps as you see yourself.  You are not worthless trash that is better left untouched on the side of the road.  You are His creation of immeasurable value that is worth touching.  To Jesus, you are not just any treasure; you are His treasure, the reason He came into this world.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”  John 3:16-17 (NKJV)

Casting Crowns, “Love Moved First” from the album, “Only Jesus.”

ɯʎ ʍɐʎ oɟ ʇɥᴉuʞᴉuƃ

“Unto You I lift up my eyes, O You who dwell in the heavens.” Psalm 123:1 (NKJV)

Say what?!?!  No, that’s not some new sort of language used for this post’s title.  If you haven’t figured it out yet, it’s “my way of thinking” literally turned upside down.  After all, when you’re in a relationship with Jesus, the One who has come to set captives like you and me free, our priorities and perspectives, our very way of thinking, are going to be shaken up.

“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) (note: see also Isaiah 61:1)

Sam Cooke may not have been singing about Jesus in his old song, “A Change Gonna Come,” but the lyrics are spot-on in this case because change is guaranteed when He is involved in your life.  It’s inescapable given the vast differences between a holy, just, loving, and infinite God, our Creator, and ourselves, His created, His children.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.  “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.  Isaiah 55:8-9 (NKJV)

If you’re at all like me, then more times than I’d like to admit, I need to be reminded I do not always see things as clearly as I think I do.    In short, I am wholly unqualified to be a measuring stick, and that most notably so when I’m the one in need of measurement.  That True North Measuring Yardstick position thankfully lies solely and rightfully with the Lord, who is holy qualified.

“All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirits.” Proverbs 16:2 (NKJV)

A case in point about our eyes being fallible is this post’s photo. There’s more going on with this picture than you might first guess. All is not as it initially appears.  Why would I say that?  Well, that’s because both this post’s title and the photo are upside down.

You may be surprised to learn that this photograph captures a reflection in the water.  I flipped the image around so it would look right-side-up for this post.  Those of you who took a second look at the snapshot before you started reading might have already figured that out.  Suddenly those strange, concentric rings in the sky begin to make a lot more sense once you realize they’re not some freak weather phenomenon but instead are ripples on the water’s surface.

All this to say the obvious: we are prone to make snap, incorrect analyses and judgments.  Why?  Because we unreasonably trust ourselves to a fault, which often leads us to unknowingly not seeing things as they are.  Now that’s a scary thought when you stop and think about it.  So, what are we to do?  Where is hope to be found for our blurry, and at times all-together blind understanding?

“We must rely on the mercy of the only One who is able to turn all that is upside down right side up.” Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Romans 12:1-2 (NKJV)

When my wayward reasoning sails headlong into the incalculably higher and perfectly pure ways and thoughts of the Rock of Ages, Jesus, a transformative change in my way of thinking occurs.  

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”  Proverbs 14:12 (NKJV)

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.  John 10:10 (NKJV)

Growing up, we quickly learn to avoid collisions with rocks as much as possible.  However, colliding with Jesus is the most significant, life-changing impact with a Rock that we will ever experience in our lives.  This remarkable journey begins when we first believe and claim Him as our Savior transporting us from being spiritually dead to alive.  Having welcomed us into His Kingdom, He then continuously refines us throughout our lifetimes.  Knowing and being known by Jesus guarantees we will undergo much-needed changes in our understanding and thus in our actions. We are, after all, as followers of Jesus, His ongoing works in progress in this life.     Can I get a joyful hallelujah?

“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)

Let me share a story that turned my thinking on its head and, in doing so, revealed the unobstructed, breathtaking view that exists far above the treeline of my limited understanding.   

A couple of years ago, a vacationing family lost their dog not far from where I live.  Somehow the dog managed to escape from the house they were renting, and he was gone before they knew what had happened.  They and a good number of newly met neighbors spent the remainder of their vacation week desperately searching for him.  Despite everyone’s best efforts, the dog remained on the loose, and at the end of the week, the owners reluctantly and tearfully had no choice but to make the long drive back home a few states away without their beloved pet.

About a month after the fact, I spotted one of their “lost dog” flyers at a local store that told their sad story about what had happened.   Animal lover that I am, I immediately empathized with their painful circumstances.  What did I do about it?  Well, I got in my car and searched through the area where the dog had last been spotted, of course.  I did that several times over the next week, all to no avail.

It turns out that, like the upside-down photo, there was more to this adventure than I ever first imagined or understood.  As a child of God, why would one expect anything else?

“Notice that in the tales told in Scripture, whenever God gets hold of a man he takes that man into an adventure of the first order.” John Eldredge, Fathered By God

Although I didn’t find the lost dog I was searching for, I did discover something else was also missing.  Or, rephrased, what was initially lost was not found, but something else of great importance was found to be lost along the way. 

During what turned out to be my last drive-around looking for the off-course dog, I was interrupted by a profound thought that welled up seemingly out of nowhere.  Like a late September gust of wind, it stripped the leaves of my wayward point of view from their branches, saying, “It’s good that your compassion compelled you to search for this family’s lost pet.  If only you were as passionate about sharing Jesus with people.”  And in that instant, I knew that, like the lost dog, I was also wandering far from home.

“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”  John 15:2 (NKJV)

Indeed, when was the last time I’d been sincerely concerned enough about a person’s spiritual condition that I jumped into action as I did for this lost pet?  Sadly, I couldn’t remember such a time.  Confronted by such an indisputable truth, how do you respond?  My reply then, as it still is today in the midst of sharing this story with you, is one with bowed head in humble silence.

Please understand I’m not saying that my feelings for this lost dog were wrong because they weren’t.  That is not the reason I’m telling you all of this. Like I’ve already said, searching for the dog was about so much more than what it appeared to be.  Instead, I’m relaying this story to highlight a change that I needed to make.  In short, my eyes were opened to truths about myself that I’d been blind to for far too long.

“A person wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle.”  Benjamin Franklin

Throughout the majority of my life, I was reclusive when it came to sharing my faith.  My search for the dog aimed a spotlight directly into that dark and all-too silent corner of myself.  I searched for the lost dog by myself, involved no one else, and frankly was comfortable keeping it that way.  Upon hearing that declaration, my former overly-reserved spiritual self would assuredly observe, “If it’s true that no man is an island, then I am a peninsula.”

But, if keeping Jesus to myself was acceptable, why was I being encouraged to be passionate about sharing Him?  The heat from the friction between these two opposite positions demanded an answer to this question.  The Bible has something to say about this issue, of course.

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.   Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:14-16 (NKJV)

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.”  Matthew 28:19-20 (NKJV)

Matthew 28:19-20 made me feel incredibly uncomfortable for practically as long as I can remember.  Why?  Well, because instead of enthusiastically pursuing Jesus’s clearly stated mission, I found myself wanting to run away and hide. 

The truth is my detached attitude existed because I was afraid. The fear that gripped me found its roots in thoughts and feelings I instinctively knew were wrong, yet it still bound and restrained me in its chains.  Yes, you can call them strongholds over me if you like.

I can relate to Peter’s three-time denial of Jesus just before His crucifixion. As undeniably awful as Peter’s failure was, at least his actions occurred because he believed his life was in jeopardy.  Sadly, my withdrawal was the product of much lesser reasoning and motivation than that.  

Embarrassingly, the first reason I was afraid to share Jesus was for no more cause other than what others might think or say.  My upbringing resulted in my thinking that personal faith in Christ was indeed precisely that, private, meaning I’m to keep it to myself, period.  Growing up and for a long time afterward, I made it a point to avoid becoming one of “those”  people who injected themselves and their faith into situations and onto people without a personal invitation to do so.  And if you would please make that a written invitation, so much the better.  Silence in this matter was considered a golden virtue.

Secondly, I had bought into the mistaken notion that I should remain silent because I lacked the necessary qualifications to voice my faith.  Perhaps a sample of some of my reasoning will sound familiar to you:  I have no formal Christian education;  I don’t know the Bible as well as I should;  I don’t know how to present the Gospel smoothly and clearly;  I have no business sharing Jesus with anybody because I’ve made lots of my own mistakes along the way;  What if I mess up and get it wrong?

When combined, these misconceptions successfully kept me locked away in the dark.  I accepted these lies as truth for years and saw myself as someone who had no business sharing my faith.  Thinking like this, I was held captive on an endless merry-go-round of self-fulfilling prophecy going nowhere. 

But then an unexpected rescue happened in the middle of my search for the lost dog.  Abruptly awakened from the hypnotic trance of the lies, I was finally ready to get off this spinning ride that had kept me dizzy and off-balance for far too long.  But, how?  

“casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,” 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NKJV)

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”  Romans 12:2 (NKJV)

The author of Atomic Habits, James Clear, says, “instead of focusing on a goal you want to achieve, focus on the identity you want to have.”   Hmmmm.  My goal is to share my faith.  What if I were to readjust my focus from what I want to accomplish to who I want to be?  Better still, let’s take that thought a significant step further:  What if I began to see myself as He sees me?

The more you reaffirm who you are in Christ, the more your behavior will begin to reflect your true identity. Neil T. Anderson

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”  John 1:12-13 (NKJV)

He says I am His child.  And so are you, my brother and sister in Christ!

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. “  2 Timothy 2:15 (NKJV)

Studying His Word qualifies me as His approved worker.  And you as well!

“So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” John 20:21 (NKJV)

He sees me as a voice, a herald, for Him.  And you likewise!

“Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”  Acts 3:6 (NKJV)

“Christ is mine, and I am His” is the one essential attribute I must have that empowers me to share Him with others.  And you are no different!

“that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.”  Isaiah 61:3b (ESV)

He has firmly planted me in Christ’s righteousness for His glory.  And you, too!

“Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.  Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,” Philippians 2:4-5 (NKJV)

I am to have Christ’s mind that is concerned about others as well as myself.  And so are you!

It is Jesus’s remarkable healing touch, strength, and purpose that graciously calls and enables us to travel roads that were previously unfamiliar to us.  Gone are the dead-end streets of our choosing, and wide-open are the roads unlike any others with an extraordinary view of life in all directions of His choosing.

“But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”  Mark 10:27 (NKJV)

As we walk these roads, we are to share His life with others we meet along the way who are lost as we, too, once were lost.

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,”  Ephesians 3:20 (NKJV)

“Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.”  Hebrews 12:12-13 (NKJV)

“Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”  Romans 6:4 (NKJV)

No doubt all you pet lovers are probably wondering whatever became of the lost dog.  Six months after he first went missing, a full-page article in the local newspaper happily reported a most unlikely reunion between the dog and his family thanks to the tireless efforts of concerned neighbors who refused to give up hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.

“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”  Galatians 6:9 (NKJV)

I’m humbly and gratefully overwhelmed as I reflect on this entire story’s most unlikely unfolding.   What began as a seemingly “no-big-deal” decision to search for a lost dog turned into an extraordinary adventure of significance concerning a missing, critical aspect of my walk with Jesus that I never saw coming.

Jesus turned my thinking on its head thanks to a stunning, unanticipated plot twist.  Never in a million years did I think when I began looking for the lost dog that Jesus was simultaneously looking for a lost part of me.  Like those neighbors who never gave up on finding the missing dog,  He never gave up on that missing piece of me, a rescue that was years in the making.  And friend, He’s not given up on you either, no matter how far from home you’ve wandered, no matter what part of you is missing. Even now Jesus is calling out to you. Do you hear Him?

“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying?  And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray.  Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”  Matthew 18:12-14 (NKJV)

Pray with me, please…

Lord, encourage and lead us to ask You to do the impossible, the unlikely, the unanticipated, the out-of-the-ordinary in the ordinary of our lives, even in areas where we are blind or only dimly see.  Turn our world, our thinking, upside down with Your truth so that we rightly see according to Your ways and not ours.  May we always know that Your plans and intentions for us are good, and our future is full of hope because of Your loving presence and sovereignty.  Let the life-transforming ripples of Your love and kindness cause us to walk in the newness of life that only You can provide and, in turn, lovingly share Your good news with others so that they, too, can experience Your life-giving freedom.  We humbly thank You and praise You for Your longsuffering, Your mercy, Your grace, Your unwillingness to leave us as You found us.  Oh Lord, we were indeed lost, and we knew it not, but now we are found, safe and secure in Your strong and loving arms.  Thank You for calling us to experience and to share all Your higher ground has to offer.  We ask all of this in Your Son’s name, our precious Savior, Jesus.  Amen.”

 “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)

Yes indeed, You most certainly have, Lord!  And we are grateful!

1!1!1!

Todd Agnew, “Grace Like Rain” from the album “Grace Like Rain.”

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)

1!1!1!

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!)

 wrecker for the wrecked soul

And then mercifully appears in the lane alongside you a guiding and gleaming reminder…

wrecker for the soul WP lens flare

                                        

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  Matthew 11:28 (NKJV)

Hope.  What a precious commodity.  When present it lifts our very soul as if gravity no longer exists.  The blue of the sky seems endlessly radiant filled with twinkling stars of optimism that beckon us to embrace everything we see before us as we eagerly and delightfully ponder and dream about what could be.  Our dreams are no longer bound, but come to life with a voice all of their own.  Not only do we feel unlimited and unrestrained, but we believe in unlimited possibilities as we longingly and confidently gaze at the horizon’s welcoming arms of exhilaratingly saturated colors.   

Sadly,  hope’s immense, life-giving value often goes unrecognized and unacknowledged so long as we have it.  But, oh, when hope is gone or nearly depleted, well, that’s a totally different existence for a hurting and mournful soul.  Even the brightest of sunny days seem completely uninviting as we ponder what could’ve been but has now been seemingly lost forever.   Our world seems to be growing frighteningly smaller by the moment.  The very life we used to hold so dear is being squeezed slowly out of us as each breath becomes an increasingly labored and audible sigh of regret and loss, yet another link in the heavy chain of ever-growing self-pity that seeks to further bind us saying, “Why………….…go…….……..on?” 

Is there not one who will set us free from this sentence of perpetual despair, from this quicksand existence that pulls us further and further down until all but our faces are visible in the gloom of the muck we now call our life?

Surely this loss of hope is what Paul was feeling as he wrote in 2 Corinithians 1:8-9a (NKJV), “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethern, of our trouble which came to us in Asia:  that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves…” (emphasis mine) 

Think about it for a moment:  this is Paul, called by God to miraculously transform the spiritual landscape for Gentiles by proclaiming Jesus as Savior, who in so doing was led to write so much of the New Testament,  and who is now experiencing such despair that he no longer can see a future beyond his next few breaths?  How and why can this be? 

What is the application for our own lives thousands of years later as we struggle to maintain hope when we face struggles that attempt to rob us of all hope as well?  The very next words of v9b-10 (NKJV)  answer these questions saying, “…that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will deliver us.” 

So great was Paul’s deliverance and comfort that he had received from the Lord who is able to even raise the dead, that he felt compelled to talk about it first before addressing his seemingly hopeless, all-consuming former circumstances. 

Immediately preceeding these verses of despair, we read in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (NKJV) where he boasts in the Lord proclaiming, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.  Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer.  Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.  And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation.” 

Later in 2 Corinthians 12:9-11 (NKJV) Paul again affirms his beliefs when he says, ““And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore I take pleasure in my infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 

Becoming weak in order to be strong and at the same time rejoicing and praising in such:  Now there’s something the world cannot and will not teach you and if missed or avoided has the potential to create misery and sorrow, or as Paul says, despair, in a person’s life.

Perhaps you’re in a difficult situation similar to Paul’s experience in which you too feel all hope has been lost.  The truth is you have lost hope in hope.  Navigating down the unforgiving and hardened concrete highway of your life you are surrounded by the restless storm of humanity caught up in their own fight for survival.  Each is caught up in their own lives and worlds as they speed by without giving you so much as a second thought. 

Ironically, we are alone in the midst of many, each of us feeling as if we’re a castaway on a deserted island often unnoticed by even those closest to us.  As your eyes desperately seek to make contact with those around you only to be greeted by a blank stare your heart cries out, “Is there not one who can help me?  Will you help me, please?”   Sadly, they are seeing, but not seeing, hearing, but not hearing, and as the reality of this sinks ever deeper into your soul your heart beats a little less enthusiastically with a little less purpose with each missed opportunity of hope.

“I am done…it is over…I am broken and ruined,” you say to yourself.  And then mercifully appears in the lane alongside you a guiding and gleaming reminder there is One who hears each of your cries for help, there is One who knows your pain and suffering because He too has been there, there is One who captures your tears in a bottle and holds them next to His heart for they are dear to Him, there is One who not only seeks to deliver you out of your despair but actually can do so, there is One whom stands by your side and who alone is your rescuer and deliverer for your grieving soul.  

For far too long you realize you’ve been holding onto that last deep breath of yourself as the murky waters steadily rise around you for fear it would be your final moment. 

But what if that last breath you’ve so desperately clung to all of this time if once given up was actually a necessary step towards hope? What if your last exhaled, heaving gasp of yourself rather than signifying the end was the beginning of the path called hope you have longed and wept for so many lonely days and nights ? What if that long, last breath of yourself you just expelled heralded your first inhalation of true life through Him as He intended it to be all along for you? No longer is it your breaths filled with so much hopelessness, but instead His breath of life that sustains you.   

Friend, now that you have Him firmly in sight steadfastedly fix your heart’s gaze on His cross and determine to wholeheartedly follow Him wherever He might lead for true hope can only be found in Jesus, the strong wrecker for your weak and wrecked soul.

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”  Galatians 2:20 (NKJV)

“Therefore we do not lost heart.  Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.  For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things that are not seen are eternal.”  2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NKJV)

tapping into hope

“The Lord is my portion’, says my soul, ‘Therefore I hope in Him.’” Lamentations 3:24 (NKJV)

A town of about 600 people in Morocco was recently reported as not having water for three months during the summer.  A three month dry spell with no running water is a long time.

It’d be really easy and tempting to just shut the tap off and be done with it, but if you choose to live expectantly then the only logical thing to do is leave the tap open because today might be the day that the water once again flows.   And when it does you want to be ready to capture every sweet drop because there’s no guarantee as to how long it will flow for these people.  It could be on from here on out, but it could be just a momentary surge lasting only a few hours.

Regardless of how long the water flows how terrible would it be if you were to find out later in the day from your neighbor that the water had indeed come on, but just for the morning, so you missed out on this opportunity because your tap was purposefully turned off?

No, this is so important that you need to experience it first hand for yourself.  You don’t need to be found waiting to be told the good news too late to do you any good by your neighbor.

Your neighbor, by the way, didn’t tell you sooner because she was busy in her own house filling as many containers with water as she could at the time leaving you with that woulda, coulda, shoulda sinking feeling.  “Gee, it was so dry before, but now somehow it really feels even more dry,” you say to yourself as your neighbor heads back to her own house for a cool drink.

When times get hard or tough it’s easy to fall into the spiritual trap of pulling back, of giving up.

While it’s true you managed to keep your spirits up for a few weeks by remaining faithful with your devotional and prayer time, but as the “dryness” of your seemingly unanswered prayers continued on day after day you gradually spent less and less time alone with the Lord, until one day you threw your arms up in the air in “what does it matter?” futility, turned the “tap” off, and walked away.

Maybe you didn’t walk permanently away for good, but the wonderful times of closeness you used to feel when you were with Him just didn’t have that same intimacy that they once did.  So now your time spent with Him is much more like a quick 5 minute hit.  You hurriedly walk up to the faucet, give it a quick flick of your wrist, nothing comes out, so you turn it “off” just as quickly as you turned it “on” all the while muttering to yourself,  “Why did I even bother? I knew nothing was going to come out.”

And so you continue on with your day with an ever growing sense of hopelessness.  The very thought of leaving the faucet open all of the time as some of your friends have suggested is simply more than you can bear.  “Why that sort of expectation encouraging me to wait on Him is only setting me up for even more heartbreak,” you say to yourself as you kick the rock on your sidewalk off into the street.  “Besides, they don’t have a clue at all about  what I’m dealing with over here.”

Before you know it you’re spending less and less time with those friends who used to be so close to you.  In his book, “The Making of a Man of God, Alan Redpath says, The burden presses you down to the point where you have begun to doubt God, and even to doubt your friends.  The one always follows the other; when a man begins to loosen his hold upon the promises of God he begins to lose his contact with spiritual friendships.  A chill in our relationship with heaven is always followed by a chill in our relationships down here.  Oh, how readily the sheer pressure of some situation that is absolutely overwhelming throws us completely off balance, until we learn the lesson that God has for us right in the middle of it.”

In our season of dryness, of difficult circumstances, and as believers we all experience them, what lesson is the Lord trying to teach us? Or is the pain of your circumstances so great you prefer Him not to even be present?  If so, essentially you’ve turned the tap completely off.  Unless you invite and embrace the Lord’s active presence into your life regardless of your circumstances you are left to fight a battle you cannot win in your own strength.

Surely there must be a reason, His reason, for this drought in your life, right?  Life quickly becomes meaningless especially in bad or difficult times when viewed from only our own limited perspective.  Such a perspective can find no reason for suffering whatsoever leading one into despair and hopelessness.

One must believe God has a reason for this dry time of trial in your life, otherwise what is one to do?  Where can hope be found apart from Him?  Hope leaves the tap open no matter the circumstances.  It has to, it has no other choice.

Circumstances in our lives that put our hearts right up against the choice to leave the tap open or leave it closed are defining moments in our faith journey.  It’s as if God is saying to us, “You say you trust Me, but do you really?  In the face of trials do you really believe I am good and always have your best interest at heart?”

The faith rubber hits the road like a jet airliner’s tires give up that tell-tale puff of smoke once they touch the tarmac during landing in trying times.  He’s asking if we will embrace His rightful place as our Heavenly Father and give Him the reins to our lives so that He can accomplish His good and perfect will in our lives for His purposes as found in Isaiah 61:3 (ESV), “to grant to those who mourn in Zion-to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” 

Surely you didn’t think becoming an oak of righteousness would be an easy journey did you?  A heart after His own heart does not, and cannot, magically happen overnight with the wave of some magic wand.  It is a road that calls for perseverance.  It is a road that calls for us to leave the tap open.  Romans 5:3-4 (NKJV), “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance,; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Why do we face various trials?  What is the purpose?  Is there a purpose? His desire is that we become like His Son, our Savior, as found in Romans 8:29 (NKJV) which says, “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.”  Knowing this should our expectations for this sort of life journey to such a glorious destination be much different than Jesus’ own path that He walked while here on this earth?  Praise God that Jesus embraced His purpose and left the tap open all the way to the cross!  He placed Himself second to the Father.  And so must we.

Redpath goes on to say that each of us as His children have a “stone of destiny in every circumstance of life.”  He bases this on the story found in 1 Samuel 20 concerning how Jonathan would let David know of Saul’s intentions toward him, whether of peace, or death.

As the story goes once Jonathan determined Saul’s intentions toward David he would shoot arrows into the field in which David was hiding.  If the arrows came close to David then it was safe for him to come home, but if the arrows were to fly over his head then he must leave in order to live.

As they had planned David hid next to his own stone of destiny known as Ezel (I Samuel 20:19; “the stone that sheweth the way” AV) and upon seeing Jonathan’s arrows fly over his head David knew he could not return home but must leave immediately.  Redpath describes the situation like this, The decision, however, was out of David’s hands completely.  All he had to do was to stand by the stone Ezel and wait for an arrow from heaven unerringly to hit the target-an arrow that would tell him either to go out into the wilderness or back into the palace of Saul.” (emphasis mine)

Are you able or willing to keep the tap open by recognizing at some point in your circumstances that the decision is out of your hands and solely in the Lord’s?  Or as summarized by Redpath, “If I truly belong to Him, if He has filled me with His Spirit and marked me as His, then whatever the pressure upon my life at this point, the issue is out of my hands altogether.”

Please allow me to once again to quote Redpath as this particular writing comes to a closeI think what he says is beautiful and rather than attempting to paraphrase his words, I simply choose to let his heart speak directly to our hearts. “Jesus Christ is our stone of destiny, rooted in a green hill outside Jerusalem.  The burden of the pressure of circumstances, whatever it is, may be rolled away as you bring it and leave it at His feet.  What else can you do?  You are in a predicament, unable to turn this way or that.  It is a glorious position to be in: the government is upon His shoulder and your hands are right off the situation; only He can guide.  All you can do is what David did, as he took his stand at his stone of destiny and waited.

It is a great thing to be in a position like that, when all you can do is to take your stand at Calvary, and wait.  There are so many paths, and naturally some would seem far more attractive than others.  Left to choose our way, what fools we make of ourselves!  There may be many alternatives that seem, humanly speaking, more reasonable and attractive than God’s way.  But there is only one way that leads to the throne, and that is God’s plan for your life and mine.”

We’re all familiar with that television commercial from a few years ago that used to end with “We’ll leave the light on for you.”  My brothers and sisters in Christ, as we struggle to find our way through various trials let’s determine right here and right now that we will choose to leave the tap wide open and not closed because He is indeed worthy and good, and yes, He always has our best interest at heart.

Yes, it’s a risk to our hearts, but consider, if you will, the risk He first took that day on Calvary for each of our own eternal sakes.  He held nothing back…He’s asking us to do the same.  You know it as well as I do, my friend…He would’ve died for you and you alone even if no one else would’ve chosen Him generation after generation after generation.  You are His.  He is yours.  Tap into His heart for it is good beyond measure.

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Hebrews 12:1-2 (NKJV)