untitled

It is Memorial Day here in the USA. I honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service of freedom.

But I cannot shake the grief of the massacre of 19 children and two teachers at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, TX on Tuesday, May 24, 2022. And I should not. There has not been enough time since this violent horror was unleashed on innocent children and their teachers and their parents and other loved ones and the community. And on us. We are witnesses. A deep grief the kind for which there are no adequate words. Grief for which only lament is appropriate. It is too soon to speak of healing. Hearts and lives are shattered, and we must not look away. Children have been slaughtered. Again. Children have been traumatized. Again. It is too soon to speak of healing.

Gracious God, help.

Clarity of Vision: A Benefit of Spring Cleaning the Heart

This blogpost is the content of Episode 2 of Season 5 of the Written. Spoken. Podcast, modified for reading. You can hear the episode here.

The theme of this post is the result of a comment by one of my adult nieces about seeing with the heart. The goal is to highlight one benefit of spring cleaning the heart – namely, clarity of vision.

What does it mean to see with the heart? As established in the previous blog post, when we speak of the heart in this context, we are not referring to the physical organ in our chests that pumps blood through our bodies and keeps us alive. Let us revisit what was shared about the heart in the previous episode from the Bible Project’s Word Study on the heart. We learned that in Scripture, the heart is the place where all of human intellectual activity takes place. We use our hearts to discern between truth and error. It is with our hearts that we think and make sense of the world. We feel emotions in our heart. The heart is the generator of physical life and the center of our intellectual and emotional life. It is where our desires are centered. It is where we make choices motivated by our desires. In summary, the heart is the center of all parts of human existence as stated in Proverbs 4:23.

Given that the heart is the center of all parts of human existence, I propose that to see with our heart is to see with all aspects of who we are, not one part of ourselves. For example, to see only with our intellect is to see only facts, what we can understand. To see only with our emotions is to risk engaging in emotional reasoning in which we believe something is true because we feel it. For example, I feel worthless, so I am worthless.  To see with only one part of ourselves is the equivalent of seeing like the little boy in the Norman Rockwell painting who was looking at a baseball game through a knothole in the ballpark fence. He could only see a small part of what was going on.

To see with the heart is also to see beyond what is visible with our natural eyes. Where we are can provide perspective, can give us a particular viewpoint. For example, the person on the roof has a different perspective or point of view than the person looking out of a window; however, regardless of our position or location, the condition of our hearts will determine the clarity of our vision. Clutter in our hearts can distort our perspective, can distort our vision, can distort what we see.

An example of the distorted vision caused by the clutter of the heart is the older son in the parable of the prodigal son recorded in Luke 15:11-32. As we are told in this parable, the younger of two sons demanded his inheritance, took it and departed for a far country. The older brother stayed home.  When his father divided the inheritance at the demand of his younger brother, all that the father had left belonged to the older son but while his younger brother was out of the home recklessly wasting his portion of the inheritance, the older brother was at home living below his privileges. He was a son living in the father’s house but saw himself as a slave or mistreated servant because of the clutter in his heart. What caused him to see himself as “slaving” for his father? Was it resentment toward his brother for leaving and toward his father for giving his brother what he demanded? He was a son living in the father’s house but saw himself as a slave or mistreated servant because of the clutter in his heart.

So can each of us. We can sing with gusto songs such as,” I am a child of God, yes, I am,” but see ourselves as second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God or the proverbial stepchild because of what is in our hearts. Hard seasons, disappointment stemming from unanswered prayers are some of the things that can clutter our hearts and distort our vision of who God is and who we are to Him. We are the beloved children of the loving Heavenly Father but like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son, we can see ourselves as less than we are, as a slave instead of a child, because of the clutter in our hearts. We are in the House but not at Home, because of what is in our hearts.

Another example of how what is in our hearts can affect our vision is found in the story, recorded in Numbers chapters 13 and 14, of the 12 spies who were sent to spy out the land God had promised to the people of Israel. All twelve spies saw the same things and people with their natural eyes but because of their hearts, they interpreted what they saw differently. Ten of the spies reported, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are …The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them” (Numbers 11:31-33, NIV). Joshua and Caleb, the other two spies whose hearts were full of faith in God said, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land.  If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them” (Numbers 14:6-9, NIV).

Ten men, because of fear, saw the people of Canaan as giants and themselves like grasshoppers. Two men saw the same people as “bread” to be consumed. As we discussed in Episode 2 of Season 1of the podcast, fear and faith are both storytellers. The storyteller we give our attention to is influenced by the state of our hearts. The condition of our hearts will determine the clarity of our vision, but it first directs our focus. Ten men were focused on themselves and their abilities (or inabilities). Two men were focused on the Almighty God who was with them.

A question that each of us must prayerfully ask is, “Where is my focus and how clearly am I seeing what I am seeing?

To see accurately with our hearts, our hearts need to be decluttered or as the Apostle Paul stated in his prayer for the church at Ephesus, we need the eyes of our hearts enlightened. This is what he prayed in Ephesians 1:18 and I will share the Amplified translation of this verse, And [I pray] that the eyes of your heart [the very center and core of your being] may be enlightened [flooded with light by the Holy Spirit], so that you will know and cherish the hope [the divine guarantee, the confident expectation] to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints (God’s people).”

We will use some of his words to shape our prayer as we end our time together for today. Dear Heavenly Father, we need our hearts decluttered. We want to see You as You are and see ourselves, others, our circumstances, etc. clearly, accurately. Father, we need You to enlighten the eyes of our hearts, to flood the very center and core of our being with light by the Holy Spirit. We want to know and cherish the hope [the divine guarantee, the confident expectation] to which You have called us, the riches of Your glorious inheritance in the saints, in us, Your people. Dear God, please declutter our hearts and enlighten the eyes of our hearts. In Jesus’ Name, we pray. Amen. 

Spring Cleaning the Heart

Spring has arrived. Allergies notwithstanding, when it comes to seasons, spring is my favorite season of the year. I love the promise and renewal that spring ushers in.  The promise of resurrection which it holds. The vivid reminders spring gives that there can be life after death. That the cold, harsh and painful moments of life which can leave us in need of warmth, comfort, and healing, can give way to gentle, life giving rains and days, and hope and renewal. 

Spring can also be a time to declutter, a process known as spring cleaning in the Western world. Declutter is one of those words whose meaning is not hard to deciper – to remove clutter from a room, an area, etc. The thought of decluttering can seem overwhelming but there are numerous resources (podcasts, blogs, friends and family) with tips for how to declutter our physical surroundings.

Too often we can focus on the physical clutter that we can see but overlook the clutter that is within us. Clutter within us? Yes. There is clutter there. And, sometimes, the external clutter can be a reflection of our internal clutter. Internal clutter such as negative or self-critical thoughts, fears, wrong beliefs about God, ourselves and others, worry, and desires influenced by the world’s standards.

All that creates clutter is not inherently bad; some of the clutter can be things no longer useful in our current season. For example, the things that we needed to survive in one season may not be what we need to thrive in another season and as such become clutter, things that hinder our growth and derail our dreams.

We know that the condition of our hearts is important to God. An example of this truth is demonstrated in the Biblical story of God sending the prophet Samuel to anoint the 2nd king of Israel, as recorded in 1 Samuel chapter 16. Upon arriving at the home of Jesse, where God had directed him, Samuel looked at Eliab, one of Jesse’s 7 sons, and  said, “‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him!’ But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.'” (1 Samuel 16:6-7).  Another example of the importance of our hearts is found in Proverbs 4:23. Here we are instructed, “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life” (HCSB).  In addition, in Romans 10:10 we are informed that it is with the heart that man believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

When we speak of the heart in this context, we are not referring to the physical organ in our chests that pumps blood through our bodies and keeps us alive.  What are we speaking of when we talk here about the heart?  I found the Bible Project’s Word Study Video on the heart helpful in understanding what is meant by the heart in Scripture and I reference content from that video here.

In Scripture, the heart is seen as the place where all of human intellectual activity takes place: for example, we know with our heart. It is with our heart that we understand and make connections. Wisdom dwells in the heart (Proverbs 14:33). We use our hearts to discern between truth and error. It is with our hearts that we think and make sense of the world. 

In addition, we feel emotions in our heart, for example, pain, fear, distress, depression, joy.  The heart is the generator of physical life and the center of our intellectual and emotional life. It is where our desires are centered (Psalms 37:4). The heart is where we make choices motivated by our desires. In the Bible, the heart is the center of all parts of human existence (Proverbs 4:23).

Given all that the heart is, according to the Bible, the necessity of having a healthy heart, an uncluttered heart cannot be overstated. How can we declutter our hearts? To declutter our hearts, we need to know what is in our hearts. And how do we know what is in our hearts? The content of our hearts is revealed by the words we speak. The NKJV’s translation of Matthew 12:34 tells us that it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks. The NIV’s translation of this verse states, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”  “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” How do we know what is in our hearts? By paying attention to our words.

What is in our hearts is also revealed by our actions. Jesus points to the heart as the source of both our words and actions. In Matthew 15:17-20, Jesus states, “Do you not understand that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But whatever [word] comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this is what defiles and dishonors the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts and plans, murders, adulteries, sexual immoralities, thefts, false testimonies, slanders (verbal abuse, irreverent speech, blaspheming). These are the things which defile and dishonor the man; but eating with [ceremonially] unwashed hands does not defile the man” (AMP).

But how do we determine what constitutes internal clutter? One of the questions the author of the blog post, “13 questions to help you identify clutter” poses is, “Is the item adding enough value to your life to justify the time, space and energy it takes up?” She is referring to physical clutter but I believe it is applicable to internal or spiritual clutter also.  Ultimately, however, the truest standard for identifying clutter in our hearts is the Word of God. Psalm 119 describes the Word of God, telling us what it is and does. For example, Psalm 119:105 states, “Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path” (AMP). Hebrews 4:12 is another verse that describes what the Word of God is and does, “For the word of God is living and active and full of power [making it operative, energizing, and effective]. It is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as the division of the soul and spirit [the completeness of a person], and of both joints and marrow [the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and judging the very thoughts and intentions of the heart” (AMP).  

Let us commit this spring to examining our hearts by paying attention to our words and our actions so that we can engage in the decluttering process. Some ways of speaking and behaving can become habitual so we do not notice how harmful some of our words and actions are to us and to others.  We need and have the help of the Holy Spirit to identify what we need to remove from our hearts and His power to declutter our hearts. He invites us to “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16, NKJV). God’s help is available but we must make the decision to ask for His help and then do so. We can pray as David did in Psalm 139:23-24 “Search me [thoroughly], O God, and know my heart; Test me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there is any wicked or hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way” (AMP). It is encouraging to remember, as stated in Philippians 2:13 (NLT), that God is working in us, giving us the desire and the power to do what pleases Him. It is only through Him that we can remove anything from our hearts that keep us from loving Him with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind and from loving others as He loves us. Decluttering involves a desire to be free of things that hinder our spiritual life/our relationship with God, the decision to let go of those things, and then doing the work necessary. We can count on God’s help every step of the way.

And we do not have to wait until spring to declutter. Let us ask our gracious Heavenly Father to help us develop and maintain the spiritual practices that bring us regularly into His presence (prayer, reading the Bible and and meditating on It; praise and worship; expressing gratitude to Him).  Let us ask Him to make our hearts tender towards Him so that we prioritize daily what He says is important and let go and stay free of what we have removed in the decluttering process. 

This post is from Season 5 – Episode 1 of the Written. Spoken. Podcast. You can listen to it here.

Battles and Weapons

To vanquish is to overcome in battle: subdue completely, the Merriam-Webster dictionary states. And there are a several battles I want to win, although I recognize that as long as I am alive and imperfect, the battles will continue. I will win a battle one day and lose the same battle another day. But I believe that there is gain even in defeat, simply because you fought.

What are some of the battles that I want to win?
I want to win the battle against discontent.
I want to win the battle against the heavy burden of keeping score.
I want to win the battle against the lie that for life to be better,
I need to keep acquiring more.

I want to win the battle against complaining.
I want to win the battle against being ill mannered
because someone else was rude to me.
I want to win the battle against comparison.
(And these are just a few.)

A weapon against discontent is relentless gratitude.
A weapon against keeping score is forgiveness,
rooted in the knowledge of how much the Holy, righteous God has forgiven me.
A weapon against the lie that I need to acquire more to be happy,
is the truth that I am a steward, not an owner.
A weapon against complaining is worship of the One true God.
A weapon against comparison is the truth that I am fearfully and wonderfully made,
designed by the God who fashioned me for His purpose.

Additional all-purpose weapons include prayer, Bible reading, generosity, encouragement, rest, appreciation of the present moment instead of letting it slip away as I worry about the future and/or remain haunted by what I cannot change.

Usually, we can choose our battles, but it is unlikely that we will emerge from a battle unscathed, for victory is rarely easily achieved. There are scars that come from battles, but we can also be scarred by inaction. Costs and choices cannot be avoided. We can choose intentionally which costs we deem worthwhile or we can choose by default. But we cannot not choose. And we only have a finite amount of time in which to choose and to fight. Time is not unlimited or replenishable. We have a finite amount of this resource and what we do in time matters for eternity. God help me to live consistently in this truth. And, LORD, help me to rely on You and remember You are with me in every battle. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Behold

Behold (verb) · see or observe (a thing or person, especially a remarkable or impressive one).
Synonyms:
look at · see · observe · view · watch · survey · gaze at · gaze upon · stare at · scan · witness · regard · contemplate · inspect · eye · catch sight of · glimpse · spot · spy · notice · make out · discern · perceive · take note of · pay attention to · mark · remark · consider · pay heed to · espy · descry · look · lo ·

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14, NKJV).

Behold!

“Therefore, when He came into the world, He said:
‘Sacrifice and offering You did not desire,
But a body You have prepared for Me.

In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin
You had no pleasure.

Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come—
In the volume of the book it is written of Me—
To do Your will, O God’” (Hebrews 10:5-7, NKJV).

Behold!

He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 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 10:13, NKJV).

Behold!

“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1a, NKJV).

Behold!

Look at.
See.
Observe.
View.
Watch.
Survey.
Gaze at.
Gaze upon.
Stare at.
Scan.  
Witness.
Regard.
Contemplate.
Inspect.
Eye.
Catch sight of.
Glimpse.
Spot.
Spy.
Notice.
Make out.
Discern.
Perceive.
Take note of.
Pay attention to.
Mark.
Remark.
Consider.
Pay heed to.
Espy.
Descry.
Look.

Behold! “What wondrous love is this, O my soul.”

I am joining (on a Monday) the Five Minute Friday writing community, hosted by Kate Motaung, for our weekly writing adventure. Please click here to learn about Five Minute Friday. The writing prompt is, “Behold.” The definition of “Behold” is from www.lexico.com. Removing the hyperlinks from the synonyms and other clean up tasks extended the time beyond five minutes. 🙂

Nourish

Nourish – to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health and growth.” Do we know what nourishes us? God’s questions recorded in Isaiah 55:2-3, reveal that we do not always know what is truly nourishing and as such use our God given resources (time, finances, strength, etc.) in pursuit of things that do not nourish us.

Here are the verses in the VOICE translation.
I don’t understand why you spend your money for things that don’t nourish
        or work so hard for what leaves you empty.
    Attend to Me and eat what is good;
        enjoy the richest
, most delectable of things.

 Listen closely, and come even closer. My words will give life,
  for I will make a covenant with you that cannot be broken, a promise
    Of My enduring presence and support like I gave to David.

And He gives us these precious promises in Isaiah 58:11, The Eternal One will never leave you; He will lead you in the way that you should go. When you feel dried up and worthless, God will nourish you and give you strength. And you will grow like a garden lovingly tended; you will be like a spring whose water never runs out. (VOICE).

Let us come as we are, right here at the beginning of the Advent season, to receive the nourishment that He offers and we so desperately need daily. Let us come.

I am joining (on a Monday) the Five Minute Friday writing community, hosted by Kate Motaung, for our weekly writing adventure. Please click here to learn about Five Minute Friday. The writing prompt is, “Nourish.”

FMF Link-up: Hide

God is just. God sees. “No creature can hide from God: God sees all. Everyone and everything is exposed, opened for His inspection; and He’s the One we will have to explain ourselves to” (Hebrews 4:13, VOICE).

I use these truths to ground me when I see injustice. When I see harm done to others – someone who looks like me, as well as those who are by appearance, language, etc., different – and the perpetrator or perpetrators walk away, seemingly unpunished, even celebrated.

I remind myself that God sees. That God is just. That, “No creature can hide from God: God sees all. Everyone and everything is exposed, opened for His inspection; and He’s the One we will have to explain ourselves to.” (Hebrews 4:13, VOICE).”

The enslaved woman, Hagar, called Him, El-Roi, the God who sees, or as translated by the VOICE, “The God of Seeing” (Genesis 7:13). No one can hide from God and nothing is hidden from the One who is also the Ancient of Days and the Judge of all the earth.

I am joining the Five Minute Friday writing community, hosted by Kate Motaung, for our weekly writing adventure. Please click here to learn about Five Minute Friday. This week’s writing prompt is, “Hide.”

Morning: A Prayer (FMF Link-up)

Father,
You know when a night comes if it will become a night season. You know. I do not. You know. And gracious God, You who are my Maker, You give songs in the night.

You enabled Paul and Silas to sing at midnight in a prison after their clothes were torn from them and they had been severely beaten. You enabled them to sing, dear Father. And You who give songs and grace in the night seasons and remain with us throughout the night, You assure us that morning will come and with it joy.

And when the morning comes, may I, like the psalmist David, sing of Your mighty strength and power; yes, sing joyfully of Your lovingkindness in the morning. For You have been my stronghold and a refuge in the day of my distress. To You, O God my strength, I will sing praises. For God, You are  my stronghold, my refuge, my protector, my high tower, the God who shows me steadfast lovingkindness. My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord; In the morning I will direct it to You, And I will look up. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

I am joining the Five Minute Friday writing community, hosted by Kate Motaung, for our weekly writing adventure. Please click here to learn about Five Minute Friday. The writing prompt is, “Morning.” The verses of Scripture mentioned in the post, in the order shared, are Job 35:10 (NKJV); Acts 16:22-25 (NKJV); Psalm 30:5 (HCSB); Psalm 59:16-17 (AMP); Psalm 5:3 (NKJV). This post took a tad longer than five minutes.

FMF: Still

Legendary gospel singer and songwriter, arranger, record producer, and pastor, Andrae Crouch, wrote many songs that uplift me. But one of his songs that moves me most is, “God Still Loves Me.” Here are some of the lyrics:

When I was a child I sang a song
Yes, Jesus loves me
That was years ago and now I’m grown
Yes, Jesus loves me
The city where I live, so many things have changed
They say nothing ever stays the same
The grass is brown, many buildings torn down
Oh, and people I’ve known, they’re not around
But God still loves me


God still loves me. And because of His enduring love for me, I seek His strength to say as did the prophet Habakkuk,
“Though the fig tree does not blossom
Though the fig tree does not blossom
And there is no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive fails
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock is cut off from the fold
And there are no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will [choose to] rejoice in the Lord;
I will [choose to] shout in exultation in the [victorious] God of my salvation!

(Habakkuk 3:17-18, AMP).

I am joining the Five Minute Friday writing community, hosted by Kate Motaung, for our weekly writing adventure. Please click here to learn about Five Minute Friday. The writing prompt is, “Still.” Click this to hear the song.

From my FMF Archives: Need

God is our greatest need. We are dependent on Him for every breath we inhale and exhale. The resources we use are His. The gifts we have are His. As He tells us through the Apostle James, Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above; it comes down from the Father of lights [the Creator and Sustainer of the heavens], in whom there is no variation [no rising or setting] or shadow cast by His turning [for He is perfect and never changes] (James 1;17, AMP).

God is our greatest need. And yet, we need each other. Not in the same way we need God but we need each other. And this need is His doing. He has so purposed it that we develop in the context of our relationships.  Iron sharpening iron. Each a member of Christ’s body. Each with a special purpose and function. God is our greatest need. But we need each other. He designed it to be so.

I am joining the Five Minute Friday writing community, hosted by Kate Motaung, for our weekly writing adventure. Please click here to learn about Five Minute Friday. The writing prompt is, “Need.” This post is from my FMF archives (the 2019 31 Days of Five Minute Free Writes Writing Challenge).