March 26, 2012

I choose to guard my heart...

I came across this devotional and wanted to share. As someone who has spent time evaluating every  relationship in my life, I've learned the importance of guarding my heart. Sometimes we must set boundaries in order to protect, the heart that Christ died to save.

The Price of Your Heart

April Motl

Above all else, guard your heart....

Everyone has one. It’s price tag that hangs around the doorknob that opens the hallways of your heart. For some, that price tag is high and trust is given sparingly. For others, the door swings open on its hinges welcoming all into the warmth of intimacy. Most of us respond to those who sojourn through our life somewhere in the middle, with perhaps a little less extremism on either end of the spectrum.

I must confess that I tend toward the open-door policy. I have been learning, however, that the cost of my heart is worth more than I originally understood.

When I was little, I was the only kid on the block until fourth grade - then a new girl just my age moved in down the street. I was so excited! We made friends... well, sort of friends. I don’t know if you ever had this kind of experience as a child (or perhaps even as an adult) where you look back and wonder what in the world you were doing having a friend like that, but this is one of those experiences.

I lived in an upscale neighborhood in the home of my deceased great-grandmother. We didn’t “belong” in the area, and I felt it just about every day. I’ll spare you all the details, but both this girl and her mom would regularly ridicule my state of living. While we were playing, this friend would shriek if I got too close to her dolls. I wasn’t allowed to touch them because I was too poor. She would ask if I was hungry, find her way to the kitchen and then eat cookies in front of me. When I asked if there was enough for me too, she would say that she would have been happy to share except these cookies were only for rich people. I would avert my gaze and let her finish her snack, feeling terribly sheepish.

Her mother would look me over, either upon my arrival or departure and ask me where I got my clothes, knowing full well they were hand-me-downs. She just wanted me to have to admit it out loud so she could fuss about it. The list went on and on. Yet I continued to go to her house to play with her. I wanted a friend and the cost of my friendship was mighty cheap.

I wish I could say that I put away that kind of thinking once I moved onto junior high or high school... or even college. But I did not. Graduations did not erase this standard operating procedure from my make-up. I would brush off such offenses as if they didn’t really mean to do or say those things.

Slowly, I realized what my grandmother meant when she said, “Those people aren’t friends or else they would act like it. Those people are just acquaintances.”

Years have passed, and I’ve been making some slow but needed changes. I still tend to relate to people with an often-too-wide-open heart, but I have learned something very important about my heart. And yours too, for that matter! My heart (and yours) wasn’t cheap!

You are not your own for you were bought with a price... 1 Corinthians 6:19

The price that paid for my heart and yours was the death of God’s only Son, the Prince of Peace and Savior of the World. I am not my own, so it isn’t up to me to decide how others can treat the heart Jesus paid for.

Too often we allow ourselves to endure unnecessary wounding in relationships because we figure that it is our duty or because it brings us to a place of humility or servitude that honors Christ. While there are a plethora of verses that instruct us to take up our crosses and follow Christ (who undoubtedly suffered wrongly at the hands of sinful people) to bear one another’s burdens, there is much needed discernment in applying godly wisdom to our relationships as well.

I recently discussed a personal situation with a dear sister in the Lord about whether or not to continue the status quo of a relationship that always left me tattered. After all, in 1 Peter 3:17 it says that we ought to suffer for right. Maybe I was just supposed to let it happen? This true friend reminded me of a valuable point. The context of that verse happens to be your witness. Humility and grace are always required. Sometimes these virtues are the most crucial part of our witnesses and need to be magnified in situations where we might end up getting treated unfairly for the Lord’s glory. Other times, however, a spoonful of truth and healthy boundaries need to get stirred in with grace and humility.

Here are some verses that describe situations we ought to avoid in our relationships:

There are six things which the LORD hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil, A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers. -- Proverbs 6:16-19 NAS

Do not associate with a man given to anger; Or go with a hot-tempered man, Or you will learn his ways And find a snare for yourself. -- Proverbs 22:24-25 NAS

He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, Therefore do not associate with a gossip. -- Proverbs 20:19 NAS

But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler — not even to eat with such a one. -- 1 Corinthians 5:10 NAS

In light of these verses, I’ve had to realign some relationships. People I dearly loved but had violent tempers did indeed end up creating sticky snares in my life that God wasn’t calling me to be part of. I also learned to give less of my heart to people addicted to gossip and slander. In each of those circumstances the individuals were professing believers. They were not open to any correction and did not change that facet of life (and often got worse) over the course of years. If we truly reckon that we are not our own, then regardless of how much we might love a person caught in such activities, we must realign our interaction with them because our Lord tells us to.

When we consider how we are not our own (oh! such a foreign concept us!), we must also reckon that sometimes offenses will come our way and they too have been sifted through our Father’s hand. Because we don’t own the rights to our hearts anymore, our Father instructs us to forgive. He allows us to choose whether we will cling to grudges or grace. But in the end, if we are really following Him, the choice has already been made.

It is a tricky tightrope walk that applies with balanced verses like:

But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to bear witness concerning man for He Himself knew what was in man. -- John 2:24-25 NAS

and

Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. -- 2 Corinthians 12:10 NAS

Personally, I can’t find that balance on my own! I need the guidance of the Holy Spirit in this area of life. As I have been growing in the realization that my heart really isn’t cheap (regardless of how I treat it), I have acquired a few practical tools:

1. Pray! Talk to God about every relationship you invest time in. Pray before you go to visit/chat with a friend, pray during your visit and pray afterward. Pray, pray, pray about your relationships!

2. Check with someone whom you know has your best interest at heart. My hubby would often share concerns about certain people in my life who ended up being people I would have to put in Grandma’s “acquaintance” category, no matter how much I wanted to make them a soul-sister.

3. Recognize that all your friends and family members are indeed human and will let you down - you will do the same to them too. So don’t make perfection the price tag for intimacy.

4. Recognize that if you feel lonely in the friendship department, it might be because God wants you to lean into Him more right now instead of being distracted with people. Cultivate your relationship with the Lord first and foremost!

5. When offenses in relationships do come your way, ask the Lord how He wants you to respond. Forgiveness is a given, but perhaps He isn’t requiring you to remain so close or maybe He wants you to lovingly confront the other person. Check your motive for being close to the person. Do you just really need their approval or is this a healthy, Christ-centered relationship?

6. Lastly, consider how your relationships center around God. The relationships that have Jesus as the center (ie. we talk about Scripture, pray for each other, etc) are the ones that are most precious. So apply grace liberally in those relationships.

Finding balance in relationships isn’t easy! But at the end of the day, our heart belongs to our Lord! It is of great worth to Him, and no longer belongs to us. He is the author of that well-known verse, Guard your heart above all else for from it flows the issues of life (Proverbs 4:23). I don’t know about you, but I’ve got enough “issues” without adding more because I didn’t follow my Father’s good instructions for relationships.

May we all grow in wisdom to know the true cost of a heart and guard it with honor.

March 24, 2012

Not Broken Forever


I am not sure that I have ever had a true "best friend".  It is something in life I have always desired but truly do not think that I ever found.  I take partial responsibility for that as I have always kept people at arms length because most of my life was spent attempting to hide something at one time or another.  For half of my life, I tried to protect and hide the things that were truly happening within the walls of my own life. This can make it incredibly difficult for anyone to get close to me for fear of revealing the truth of my situation. That has all changed.  After fifteen years of living a shell of an existence, I am here.  

Right now, I have a friend living with me.  She is an unexpected friend.  She is quite younger but quite wise.  She has journeyed with me over the past couple of years as my story has come to fruition.  She has watched things play out and seen things happen first hand.  She has also watched me come "back from the dead".   A few nights ago as we were fixing dinner, she began talking about the change she has seen in me.  She has known me for over eight years and her words were that "I used to be robotic."  At first, I did not understand but as she elaborated, I began to realize that for a very long time, I was a shell of a person.  I was the person that everyone else wanted me to be or expected me to be and I lived in that way. Again, this was partially my doing as I did not want to let anyone "in" for fear of anyone discovering the truth behind "the closed doors" of my life and so I lost myself.  I disappeared for a while, but that has changed.

Before going any further, let me begin by stating that Christ got a hold of me. He literally changed me from the inside out over the past few years.  He took a totally brokenhearted and scared girl and turned me into His confident daughter.  I have discovered an intimacy with Christ that has changed my world.  It has changed who I am in every way.  For the past few years, I watched people that I once looked up to and admired show me what being a Christian does not mean and my world was shattered.  I came to realize that there are many people who probably would not recognize Jesus if He knocked on their front door. At the time, I did not recognize the importance of these people but now I am thankful for each of them.  Without them, I would have never been forced to discover the Jesus I now know.  Just yesterday, I received a message from a young girl asking me what I thought it meant to live like Christ in a sinful world.  I am not sure I could have answered her honestly until now.  My response; it is like walking in the shoes of Jesus as you allow Him to walk in yours. I have learned that this world is full of sin and sinful people. No one is blameless and no person is better than another is. Because of this, we have to love as Christ loved so that we can demonstrate to a dying and sinful world the great hope that is Christ. He did not come to condemn this world but instead He came to forgive and love. His grace is the most precious gift we have and it is our responsibility to share that gift with everyone. So for me, what I have learned is that to live a Christ-like life means to love and forgive those around me even when I may feel they don't deserve my love and forgiveness. It is what Christ did for me. As I think about this, I go back to the story of Joseph in the Old Testament.  His family treated him miserably.  They sold him and abandoned him because they did not like what he said.  What they intended for bad, God intended for good.  Joseph was sold into slavery, falsely accused of doing something he did not do and thrown into prison.  Because of his pain, he developed an even deeper relationship with God.  When the time was right, God rescued him from his "shell of an existence" and turned his life into something great.  God had a plan for Joseph and God has a plan for me.  He isolated me from those things that kept me from knowing Him completely and intimately.  He put me in a place where all I had was Him and where He became my everything.  He had to become my everything and He did. I am a new person.


Now enter my first real best friend and one of my many great blessings.   I could probably write a book about this person but in doing so, I might cause their head to become enlarged in which case it might then explode leaving me without a best friend so I'll keep it short.  I have discovered a relationship that is described throughout scripture (Proverbs 18:24).  A relationship that Jesus often spoke of to His followers (John 15:12-13). It is a relationship where selflessness is practiced and unconditional love exhibited (Proverbs 17:17). This person would take a bullet for me I have no doubt. (John15:13)  For the first time in my life, I have a friend who puts my needs above their own.  I have a friend who screws up just about as much as I do on daily a basis but has the Holy Spirit and understands conviction.  This friend encourages me in ways I have never known (Proverbs 27:17).  I have never been encouraged to spend more time with God.  I have never been encouraged to write more.  This person encourages the things in me that I love, not what they want me to love. This person puts me first (Philippians2:3-4). This person prays for me and with me.  This person brings out the best in me (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).  They make me a better person.  This person has taught me so much about myself and who I am in Christ.  God has used this person to change me into a better person, a better friend, a better mom.  Now don't get me wrong.  This person is not perfect but this person understands grace, love and forgiveness like no one I have ever known and that makes all the difference in the world and helps me to want to be more that way as well.

Over the past couple of years, God has taught me that He will most definitely take the bad in my life and turn it into good for His glory.  That is what has taken place in my life.  There have been years and years and years of bad in my life.  There has been hurt, pain, sin and disappointment but God picked up ALL the broken pieces and HE put them back together in a way that each piece is being used in order to bring Him glory.  It is amazing.  I have a life that I would have never dreamed possible.  It is not perfect but it is a life full of blessings.  My life is full.  I have a roof, which I love, over my head.  I have a job that makes me incredibly happy.  I have five amazing kids who bring me incredible joy and I have a best friend who has taught me real Christ-like love. 

It only took thirty-six years and a lot of heartache but God has now given me more than I could have ever asked.  I am a living example that no matter how many wrong turns your life may take, there is a "happy ending."  All you have to do is choose to surrender your broken pieces to the ONLY ONE who can turn them into a masterpiece and when you do, He will turn them into good for His glory.

March 21, 2012

Beauty Remains

The Beauty Remains

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. —ROMANS 12:12

The French artist Pierre Auguste Renoir was a leader in the early Impressionist movement of the nineteenth century. For the last two decades of his life, Renoir had to adapt his painting style to accommodate debilitating rheumatoid arthritis. He sometimes strapped a brush to his immobile, deformed fingers in order to continue his work. He also took up sculpting, directing others to act as his hands. He completed some of his most famous works when he was in the advanced stages of his illness.

One of Renoir's closest friends was the artist Henri Matisse. On one occasion, as Matisse watched his friend struggle to apply each brushstroke, Matisse asked, "Why do you continue to paint when you are in such agony?"

Renoir replied, "The beauty remains; the pain passes."

Renoir's words remind us of the hope God offers when we are patient in the face of disappointment and pain. One of the two Greek words translated as "patience" in the New

Testament is hypomone, which means "to remain under." This kind of patience speaks of being faithful to God's calling even when things seem hopeless, and loving others even when they seem unlovable. It speaks of trusting that our pain will pass but the beauty of God's work in us—and through us—will remain for eternity.

Dr. Gary Chapman

March 7, 2012

Crush the Enemy


“So my advice is, leave these men alone. Let them go. If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown.  But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!”
Acts 5:38-39


We often forget in the midst of opposition that we are not fighting things of this world.  When we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and claimed by Christ, our battle is no longer against flesh but instead against the darkness of this world. The moment we become born again, God places the Holy Spirit within us.  Henry Blackaby says, “God doesn’t give you some thing, He gives you Himself. The Holy Spirit is God. As He lives out His life through you, you have almighty God dwelling within you, carrying out His purposes.”  Knowing this, there is confidence in the midst of opposition as a child of God.  It means that those who choose to attack His children or cause harm are in fact, choosing to do so against the Almighty God.


Admittedly, it is hard when standing in the midst of opposition and it appears that all the cards are stacked against you.  There is doubt as to whether God is there and even if He sees what is happening.  You wonder how so much wrong continues to prevail?  David had instant success against Goliath, and so I ask why can I not have that kind of victory?  Sadly, I know the answer.  It is a lack of faith. For me, I lacked the faith that David had in God.  I believed in God but I will admit that I did not have the complete confidence to trust Him with every aspect of my life.  This lack of trust can only lead to one thing, the painful process of stretching of one’s faith. I have had to experience my Job moments of having things removed from my life that took the place of Christ in my life.  I have had to learn to stop listening to the voices of those around me who led my thoughts away from Christ and instead find Him and focus on His voice alone.  I have had my Moses moments where I ran away from God because I felt that I had failed Him and that He had no use for me.  I have had my Martha moments of being so wrapped up in insignificant things that I have lost precious time with my Savior.  I have had my Jonah moments of hearing God speak but instead choosing to run.  I have had my Sara moments in which I attempted to take control of things and make them happen in my time instead of God’s time causing more conflict and confusion in my life. My list could go on and on but in the end, all of these moments lead to the place in which I was left feeling completely hopeless and totally desperate. 

Throughout scripture we are reminded that God’s timing is not our own.  We want things done instantly but God knows that we need more than instantaneous gratification.  He knows that we need our faith stretched. He knows that in order for Him to have our total surrender we must reach a place of total desperation when He is all we need and crave.  It must happen so that we may totally rely on His will and find rest in His purpose.  

When standing on the battlefield, we stand with confidence in knowing that God is with us.  His angels are an army that surrounds us from the evil of the world.  I can now stand with the same confidence of David as he stood before Goliath and proclaim, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God…”  (1 Samuel 17:45)  Evil will not have the victory against God.  However, with our finite minds it may appear that evil has won but that is only our perception, and we can be certain that it only appears that way because the story, the battle is not overEvil never has the victory in the end. 


I am not expecting my victory to happen today, tomorrow or next week but I am expecting to see God reveal truth and to crush evil.  Up to this point, with each step in my journey I have witnessed Him move and work within my life.  I may not have always understood what was taking place or why things were happening, but it was and is clear that He has definitely been moving through the details of it all. I stand with confidence in knowing that His Word is TRUTH and will NOT return void.  So will the words that come out of my mouth not come back empty-handed.
They'll do the work I sent them to do, they'll complete the assignment I gave them. Isaiah 55:11 God’s word says, But God will smash the heads of his enemies,  crushing the skulls of those who love their guilty ways.” (Psalm 68:21) and so with great confidence I know that the day is coming in which my enemies will no longer win but instead be crushed by my Father who is The MIGHTY Warrior and My GREAT Defender!

March 2, 2012

Who is your God?

Mortimer J. Adler was a very astute thinker and philosopher, and he was the co-editor of a 54-volume set called the "Great Books of the Western World." In that series, containing some of greatest contributions to Western thought, can you guess what the longest essay was about? God. When Adler was asked why, he said simply, "Because more consequences for life follow from that one issue than any other."

It's true! The subject of God is consequential; it's momentous. And not just for the person who gets it wrong, but also for those of us who have it right, for the Christian.

Each week, my pastoral staff and I receive people in our offices for counseling about life issues. It's a privilege and a great responsibility. But I've noticed something important through this process: Many people have an inadequate view of God. They just don't have it right about the nature and character of who God is.

In his great book, Your God is Too Small, J. B. Phillips describes the different ways that people imagine God to be. For example, there's the "grand old man God," an indulgent God who smiles down on everyone and winks at their adultery, cheating, stealing, etc. Then there's the "resident policeman God," whose primary job is to look for something you do wrong, to make your life miserable. Then, there's the "managing director God," who designed and created the universe but is uninvolved, distant, and aloof. And there's the "God in a box God." This is the private, sectarian God: "Well, my God is this way. Your God may be different." All of these are inadequate views of God; they're wrong.

Hebrew 11:6 says, "But without faith it is impossible to please him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." That tells me that God wants to be known, that He can be known, and that He rewards us as we come to know Him.

Here's a sampling of verses from the Bible: "If you seek Him, He will be found by you, but if you forsake Him, He will cast you off forever" (1 Chronicles 28:9). "There truly is a reward for those who live for God" (Psalm 58:11). "And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13). "For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened" (Luke 11:10). "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (James 4:8).

Understand that God made the first move: "We love Him because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). But that demands a response, and so we seek after Him. God is a personal God, and He interacts with his created ones.

People who are lonely need to understand the love of God and the accessibility of God. People who feel worthless or useless need to know the fatherhood of God, that they are uniquely loved by Him. People who are trapped by sin or by worldliness need to see the holiness of God, that He knows and sees everything—and that He can heal them, He can change them, He can redeem them.

The adequate view of God, the biblically sound view, is that He is more than adequate for all your needs!

Skip Heitzig