An Affair of the Heart

 “You found his heart faithful to you”  Nehemiah 9:8

The letters forming the words above, jumped off the page at me, as I read through the prayers of the Israelites in Nehemiah 9 for my study homework.  Even before I read what Kelly Minter had to say about it, I’d already underlined it in my bible because it was begging me to come back to it.  These seven little words gives us some serious insight into the nature of God.  Who He is.

You may or may not know that in the book of 1 Samuel, the Israelites has asked for a king.  God wasn’t too happy with this but as any good parent does, He lets consequences rule the day.  The first king, Saul, is going to have some serious issues and so God sends his man, Samuel to find the man He’s chosen for the task.  Samuel is looking at the big, handsome sons’ of Jesse and thinking to himself that surely these guys are king material.  Then God reminds Samuel that He is only interested in the heart, not the outward appearance.  Nehemiah 9:8 is proof of that.  God had looked at the heart of Abraham and found it faithful to Him.

We can pretend all we want that our hearts don’t matter, that it’s more about doing, looking and being but it wouldn’t be true. The state of our hearts matter.  When it comes to God, hearts are the main event.  Maybe we should be making it our main thing too.

I admit at times, I’m fairly careless with my heart.  What about you?  We don’t guard it like we should.  We leave it exposed to the enemy.  An easy target.  We let feelings take over rather than keep it true and faithful.  Sometimes we let it roam and wander to other gods that at the moment seem much more appealing.  I wonder what God sees when He looks at my heart? Is it sick?  Is it black?  Does it beat with life?

Kelly Minter points out in her study, that even though Abraham had a faithful heart it wasn’t perfect.  He still did some stupid stuff.  But even there among the stupidity and fear, Abraham’s heart was still faithful to God.

I think of David, the one God chose to be king, who was described as a man after God’s own heart.  David loved God.  He sought Him.  And David messed up.  Big time.  He let his heart wander.  The thing is that as God sifted through the muck in David’s heart, just like Abraham’s, there was something true there.  Faithfulness.  Love.  Devotion.  A connection that couldn’t be severed.  These things get lost as we get swept up in our busy lives, our chaos and crisis.  In the everyday mundane dance of life.

Why is it so important that we don’t let our hearts get lost?  Proverbs 4:23 tells us that it’s our hearts that determines the course of our lives. (Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. NLT)  Whatever our hearts love most, that’s what we seek.  That’s what we spend our lives on.  That’s what we treasure.  If our hearts love IT more than God, well that’s just not how He wired us.  He created us to love Him most.  We get out of sync when we don’t.  We do stupid stuff.  Like Abraham and David.  We waste time, lives, seeking pleasure, comfort and other worldly things that offer nothing in the end but emptiness, instead of seeking Him with our hearts and in the process fulfilling our destiny that He designed.  For. Each. Of. Us.

I used to think this was the most unexciting thing ever.  To love God with all my heart, soul, mind and spirit.  Honestly what could be more boring?  For me it was a one way street with me doing all the work.  And work it was.  Striving to be good all the time.  Working away at having a one way relationship with a God I was actually afraid of.  Who I thought didn’t see me. Except when I was bad.  Then He saw and there was going to be some singed bangs.  Of course it was work.  I didn’t have a clue about who God really was or what was in His Heart for me.

The exciting thing is it doesn’t have to be all work.  Ezekiel 36:26 NLT says: And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.  God does the work here.  I don’t have to.  I find great hope in that.  I can try and try to change my stoney stubborn heart but it takes a divine hand.  That’s good news.  Again, Jeremiah 24:7 says: I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.  He will give us a heart to know Him.  All we have to do is ask.

Any relationship takes effort on our part.  We study those we love so we can know them.  I know more about superheroes than I want to.  Why?  Because my boys love them.  So I know them.  I know the difference between Marvel and DC.  Same goes with God.  He’s left the Bible as the main way to know Him.  It takes effort and some days it seems like work.  The rewards are eternal.  They are also here and now.  All we have to do is ask.  He’s waiting. For. You. For. Me.

We can do and strive all we want but if our hearts are cold our works mean nothing.  In the end, it’s not about what we do. What we look like.  How successful we are according to the world and people.  It’s about our hearts.  And when He looks at ours, may He find it faithful, full of devotion and love to and for Him.

The Heart That Really Matters

I’m not one to give much credence to man-made special days.  Like Valentine’s Day.  I wasn’t a great girlfriend and am probably one of the worst wives ever.  Just ask Mark what I gave him last Valentine’s Day.  Zip.  I feel like I’m being told I have to do something romantic.  So I do just the opposite.  It’s kind of a bah humbug of Valentine’s.  (It’s also strong-willed child in a grown-up syndrome but that’s another blog).

These special calendar days have been gobbled up by the market place.  Instead of being a day where one took the time to remember what was special about someone, what they loved about that person, it has become about money, consumerism and a lot of have to’s and shoulds.  Not very romantic in my opinion.  It has nothing to do with love.  That doesn’t mean I can’t make it about love.

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One year I baked. I know, right?

My own attitude isn’t very romantic either.  Just because the world makes it about stuff, doesn’t mean I have to buy into that. (Good news right Mark?)  Our boys are getting older.  They have questions about relationships.  It’s made me stop and re-examine what kind of example am I setting for them.  Do I want them to be bah humbugging their own sweethearts someday?  No!  I want my boys to grow up to be men who have a little romantic side to them too.  Who better to teach that to them than both of their parents?

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I want them to understand love and relationships from God’s point of view too.  I consider it a year round teachable moment, not just one day.  However February 14th has been on my radar early this year because a certain movie is coming out and everyone is talking about it.  There are blogs and articles and talk shows.  I’ve been trying to figure this all out.  What about you?

Our study of Nehemiah has been timely in the last two weeks. Kelly Minter has really made us stop and think about what we engage in as far as mindless entertainment.  This week we were talking about guarding our hearts.  Between studying Nehemiah, thinking about love, romance and the movie coming out, my brain has been on overdrive.  You may be asking why is any of this important?  I believe it is these everyday little decisions that add up and form our lives.  So this is what I’ve come up with so far.  (Please don’t think for a moment that I have it all figured out.  I don’t.  I feel like I am the last person to be writing this.)  These are my own thoughts.  Please think about it and come up with your own.  The idea is to think first and not just blindly do.

As for me and my house, we choose not to see this movie or read the book.  Not because someone told us not to (again strong-willed child syndrome) but because as I wrote in my last blog, we want to be a parents that do as we say.  We too, have to watch what we put in our minds.  We don’t want our boys looking at porn so shouldn’t that principle apply to us as well?  I want my family to embrace good and to run far, far from temptation.  As parents, we need to model that for our children.  Maybe if more of us did, our kids wouldn’t be so messed up.

If romance and love needs some attention in our own lives, shouldn’t we attend to it?  It will take work on our part.  Hard work.  It isn’t magically going to appear, contrary to all the fairy tales, romance novels and Hollywood.  This is the message of a lot of articles and blogs as this movie comes out.  I follow Jill Savage, who is a writer and speak and her blog the last few weeks has been about marriage.  She and her husband talk candidly about his affair and their journey since then.  It was refreshing and eye-opening.  You can check out her blog here.  Just like our spiritual lives, our marriages need attention.  You ignore it, it’s going to suffer.

Finally as I was listening to the song, Heart of My God by Sarah Hart and Kelly Minter which goes along with the Nehemiah study, it struck me that maybe this Valentine’s Day, the heart I should be pursuing with earnest is God’s.  Do I really know His heart?  Maybe He’d like me to.  Minter talks about how God’s kindness brings us to repentance.  As I thought about that, I wondered about His love.  What does it do to us?  It didn’t take me long to figure it out.  His love, His heart, woos us back to Him.

Isn’t it Jesus’ kindness to the woman caught in adultery, that makes you sigh?  His gentleness with Martha as she shakes with indignation because her sister didn’t help?  His joy over Mary’s choice to sit at His feet?  His care for His mother as he died on the cross?  Aren’t these some of the qualities that we look for and want in our spouses?  And struggle to live out ourselves?  The grace, kindness and love that we crave, do we give back to our true loves?  Ouch.  Guilty.  We mess up and then go running, looking for love and romance in other places.  We won’t find it.  There is only one place it resides.  The heart of God.

Isn’t it His heart, His love and grace for us, so undeserving, that finally brings us to our knees?  That draws us back to Him. Hellfire and brimstone doesn’t accomplishes this.  But love does.

I’m not sure about you, but I want to know what it means to fall in love with God over and over again.  This Valentine’s Day, maybe it’s about discovering the author of true love.  Pure and unconditional love that sacrificed all.  For you.  For me.  An undeserving gift that woos us back to His heart.  To Home.

BRAVE: Owning Up

Do you ever have those days when you feel numb?  When you’d rather just go on doing what your doing and forget everything else?

I’m not feeling particularly brave today.  Today, brave would mean owning up.  It would mean taking a hard look at stuff I’m quite comfortable keeping in the dark.  I’m avoiding doing my bible study homework because it means I will have to do this. Examine my life, my heart.  I feel like a two-year old.  I don’t want to.

This isn’t working for me.  This avoidance.  I facilitate the study.  I can’t NOT do the homework.  It would look bad, right?

If the only thing that is worrying me is that I’ll look bad then I really need this homework.  Pride is obviously an issue.  I’m not denying it isn’t.  We’ve squared off several times before.

The “stuff” we hide in the dark isn’t necessarily big, bad, and scary.  Some of it may be good in the right context.  Some of it isn’t.  It might be pride.  It might be a well concealed lie.  A temper. Gossip.  A stubborn spirit.  Or as Kelly Minter is talking about in the Nehemiah study, what we put into our minds, especially in the areas of entertainment.

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I have to admit this is a struggle for me.  I love the arts.  All of them.  I adore all forms of dance.  I studied art history while painting, drawing and shading my way through year after year of art courses.

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Some projects I did in high school. Yes I kept them!
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High school art.

My son sees the beautiful sculptures of David and others, and questions is this good or bad?  They’re nude right?  We’ve told him that those pictures are not good to look at.  What’s the difference?  How do you define the artistic nuances and purity of Michelangelo’s David versus the lewd pictures on the internet, to a twelve-year old mind?

Yet I believe there is a difference.

This is one of the hardest things about parenting.  As my boys grow, the barrage of images, movies, music and books that gets thrown at them grows exponentially.  I can’t keep up.  We try but really, it’s almost impossible.  Even the most bubble-wrapped child is going to be exposed.  Yet I’m a firm believer of exorcizing the Christian bubble.  The world is what it is and they need to know what is out there and what is good and not good.  To learn to have discrimination and understand what Jesus would want for them in all areas of their lives.  For them to understand free will.  So when they choose good, it’s not because we’ve forced them to.

It opens incredible teaching moments and opportunities for relationship with them.  It lets them know that they can come to us and ask us their questions.  It’s safe.  Do we always get it right?  NOT.

I understand there are inherent risks involved.  We teach as we go.  I heard this; “You can’t unsee something.”  I say that to the boys.  I also tell them what you put in your bodies, your minds is what comes out.  Ahh…. Therein lies the cause of my avoidance.

The relentless nagging, the lovingly, incessant poke of the Spirit.  I don’t always take my own advice.  It’s so easy to tell our children, our spouses, our friends and family what to do.  To blog about it.  It’s incredibly difficult to follow through ourselves.  We dig our heels in and rationalize.  Minimize.  It’s not just in the area of entertainment.  It’s in all the corners of our lives.  I thought I tried to live out what I speak.  Write.  Kelly Minter’s study has made me stop.  Do I really?  Maybe in some areas but some of the darker corners, not so much.  I just go on doing what I want to do.  We all know the areas the Spirit is speaking to us about.  They are different for everyone.

Being brave today would mean taking a flashlight and shining it into those corners that I don’t really want to venture into to.  Because it’s hard to own up.  It’s hard to stop habits that have become a way of life.  It’s going to take some hard work.  It’s going to take some time at the foot of the cross.  It’s answering a question that Jesus has been asking me on and off for a while now.  “Who do you love more?”  That thing you’re holding onto or Me?

It means I have to do my homework.  To be brave.