“The Heart of the Matter”

(Matthew 15: 15-16) 15 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Explain to us the parable that says people aren’t defiled by what they eat.”  16 “Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked. 17 “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. 18 But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. 19 For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. 20 These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.”


Jesus came to bring freedom…freedom from sin, and yes, freedom from the legalism of the past.  The life and death of Christ, though not easy or simple in any way, took place so that our faith could be simplified and our redemption more accessible. 

In his ministry, Jesus told many parables and gave even more examples of and metaphors for the moral situations we face in life.  He was a gifted teacher…a relatable source of God’s own mind and heart…and through His words we find that a life of faithfulness and righteousness is attained through living out one word:  love.

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”  (Matthew 22:37-40)

It isn’t about rules…what foods are bad, when to wash your hands, whether or not you should shave your beard or get a tattoo…rather, it is a matter of the heart.  In all things, the condition of the heart is what governs our choices and actions. 

I teach children at church, so I spend a lot of time finding ways to make scripture easy for them to relate to their lives, and I have found that the thing that I say to them most is that it all comes back to love.  Is it hard to memorize a bunch of laws?  Sure it is!  Is it hard to remember to love others?  Nope.  Well, it certainly shouldn’t be hard to remember that.  Sure, it’s hard to do at times, but we all know that it’s what we are supposed to do.  Right? 

Think about the ten commandments:  would you commit any of them if you are loving God first and others next (above yourself)?  Noooo.  Many times we try to trick ourselves and justify things we are doing that are contrary to the truth…things that don’t reflect God’s love.  When we are not reflecting His love, we are rejecting Him, because His very existence is just that…love

7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.  (1 John 4: 7-12)

Because of Jesus, the very embodiment of love…because He came that we might have abundant life…because He died to free us…we don’t have to hem and haw over every detail of our lives wondering, “Is this wrong?  Am I sinning?”  It’s basic really.  Ask yourself, “Is this loving?  Is this kind?”  If the answer is no…well, don’t chance it.  The acronym that was so famous in the 90’s might be corny but it’s always applicable to EVERY situation:  WWJD  (What Would Jesus Do)?  The answer is:  Jesus would love


Prayer:  Heavenly Father, help me to keep a watch over my heart and what I allow to occupy its space.  Fill me with Your love, so that I am walking and living a righteous and faithful life, reflecting and magnifying You in all that I do. 

“Surely He bore our sorrows…”

(Matthew 8: 1-4, The Message) 1-2 Jesus came down the mountain with the cheers of the crowd still ringing in his ears. Then a leper appeared and went to his knees before Jesus, praying, “Master, if you want to, you can heal my body.”

3-4 Jesus reached out and touched him, saying, “I want to. Be clean.” Then and there, all signs of the leprosy were gone. Jesus said, “Don’t talk about this all over town. Just quietly present your healed body to the priest, along with the appropriate expressions of thanks to God. Your cleansed and grateful life, not your words, will bear witness to what I have done.”


I love the simplicity found in this exchange between Jesus and the man with leprosy.  This man, so sick and in so much pain, had an undemanding and sincere measure of faith.  Notice that he didn’t even ask Jesus to heal him; he simply stated, “If you want to…I know you can.”  He humbled himself, down on his knees, and declared his faith in Jesus.  His recompense?  Total restoration. 

I can’t help but think of people who are living under the oppression of outward, obvious sin and its consequences.  Like the leper, they are often cast aside, seen as filthy, and exiled from the sacred confines of the church. 

We see your sin.  We see your struggle.  We don’t want any part of it.

Maybe that’s you, or someone you hold dear to your heart.  You get up every day and strap on your backpack full of shame and haul it around because you’re just used to it, and you think you deserve it.  You spend each day feeling like the dead man walking.  Maybe someone else has convinced you that it’s just your cross to bear in life.  Well, it’s time to find the truth and stop dragging around your failures. 

YOU ARE NOT A LEPER!!! 

What I mean is…you don’t have to feel like a castaway just because someone else knows about something you did.  Guess what?  We don’t always know specifics, but we do know something that is a universal truth about people…WE ALL SIN!  EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US is an unworthy, lowly, sinner who deserves death…as we are all born into the dilemma and curse of sin. 

But just like Jesus wanted to heal the leper (and did), He wants to heal your life (and will).  Romans 8: 1-4 says:  1-2 With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.  3-4 God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all.

You must understand that because God is love, of course He wants to restore your life.  You simply have to humble yourself and believe.  It’s not about begging, or even hoping.  It’s about an unembellished statement of faith:  If You want to…I know You can.  He wants to, He can, and He will. 

Maybe you are worried that others won’t believe you, and that because of your past you will shed a negative light on the name of Christ.  Please do not buy into that lie!  It’s straight from the mouth of the devil, and it has no place in your life.  You don’t have to convince anyone else that your life is changed.  Just live according to God’s word and let your life do the talking. 

“Your cleansed and grateful life, not your words, will bear witness to what I have done.”


Prayer:  Heavenly Father, I thank you for the beautiful exchange that takes place when we simply believe.  Beauty for ashes, strength for fear, gladness for mourning, peace for despair.  Amen.

“I’d Rather Have Jesus”

(Luke 23: 18-21) 18 Then a mighty roar rose from the crowd, and with one voice they shouted, “Kill him, and release Barabbas to us!” 19 (Barabbas was in prison for taking part in an insurrection in Jerusalem against the government, and for murder.) 20 Pilate argued with them, because he wanted to release Jesus. 21 But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

What is your Barabbas?  What’s the thing in your life that represents your willingness to trade just about anything to replace Jesus?  What do you continually release into your life that pushes Him into the corners of your heart and mind?  What is it…the thing that crucifies Him time and again?   

You already know what it is.  I am guessing it popped up in your mind almost immediately.  That’s the thing about sin…it’s a problem that we know we have in our lives.  Everyone has a Barabbas or two.  We’ve all compromised at some point.  Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  All.  That means every person — you…me…your parents and grandparents…even Mother Teresa and the Pope!  By our very nature, humankind has a sin problem. 

Jesus said (in Luke 9:23-25), “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.  And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?”  He hadn’t even been crucified yet, but Jesus knew what was to come, and He also knew the burden that would sometimes come upon us as a result of following Him.  He knew the weight of the cross before He ever carried it, and He knew that in our human weakness we would at times get sick of that weight and drop the cross in the middle of the road.  That’s why He said to take it up daily.  Every day is a fresh start. 

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,  for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3: 22-23)

We don’t have to start over from the beginning.  God is merciful.  We are able to pick up where we left off, never looking back at what we left behind.  His mercies are new every morning.  Each time the sun rises, both literally and figuratively, we have a clean piece of paper on which to begin writing the next chapter…brand new…but we still have to carry that cross.  Serving Christ requires a sacrifice of self…of sinful nature and the desires of our flesh.  We have to start crucifying our own selves…putting that “Barabbas” on the cross where it belongs…and stop sending Jesus back to His cross.  He’s already made that sacrifice, and once was enough to cover every sin…ever.  We have to stop trading Him in for what we desire in the moment.  Romans 12: 1-2 tells us, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” 

The choice is completely in our hands.  Because of God’s love and grace, we have been given the freedom to choose Him, or to keep Him at arm’s length with our sin.  So think about your own Barabbas, and you decide. 

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, when my cross gets heavy, I know that you will help me carry it.  When I drop it, You will right there beside me…to help me pick it back up and keep moving forward.  I see my “Barabbas” for what it is.  Give me the strength and courage to choose You every single time.  Amen. 

“Promises, Promises”

(Psalm 119:147-148) 147 I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word. 148 My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.

When the weight of life begins to fall
On the name of Jesus I will call
For I know my God is in control
And His purpose is unshakeable
Doesn’t matter what I feel
Doesn’t matter what I see
My hope will always be
Your promises to me.
– “Your Promises” by Elevation Worship

Because of humanity, because we are a mess, because of SIN…life is a guaranteed trial.  I don’t care what you say, who you are, or what you do…your life will not always be easy.  It just won’t!  We’ve been given many promises by God, and no, that’s not one of them…it’s just a consequence that we must endure for a time.  Into our lives, sin brings chaos and hurt, and there’s no stopping it sometimes, but as children of God we have been given all of the wisdom, power and authority needed to rise above. 

In every situation we have hope, but the thing about hope is that you have to take ownership of it and once it is claimed you then have to decide where to place it.  You can place it in other people, you can place it in your career, you can place it in your church and all of the “good” things that you do to support it, but none of the above will ever hold out for long.  People fail us, jobs and careers can be lost, and yes even churches fall apart.  Do as you wish, but there is only one placement for your hope that is sure to stand above the waters and that is God’s word. 

As a believer you lay claim on His word, by your faith, that it is true.  So…when you read it and meditate on it, you are ingesting THE TRUTH.  God’s word is filled with many things, all of which benefit our walks through life in some way, and every word is perfect and established.  Therefore, we have what we need in order to pilot our way through this expedition.  Through His word we have our history (which gives us His plan), we are given our commission (which is our purpose), and we have access to the countless promises from God (which give us HOPE). 

Without hope, purpose and plan fall apart.  2 Peter 1: 3-4 tells us, “3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” When we are able to place our hope in the promises, the “very great and precious promises” of God, we are empowered to fulfill the purpose and the plan set before us from the beginning. 

Gaining access to these promises does, however, require something from you.  It requires discipline.  You will have to read, you will have to meditate, you will have to actually CONVERSE with God, and you will have to make time for these things.  Yes, it is all easily accessible, but acquiring strength in spirit is a lot like building physical strength…you have to put in work.  It is a commitment, and what we all eventually learn about commitment is that sometimes it just doesn’t matter how you are feeling at the moment, or how things look through your natural eyes, because the foundation of a covenant is the promises that were made.  When the anxieties, hurts, and disturbances of life make you feel things that are contrary to the truth, if you will go back to the Word…to His promises…you will find that your Heavenly Father is deeply committed to loving you, blessing you, and ensuring that you fulfill your purpose. 

(Jeremiah 29: 11-14) 11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.”

Prayer:  Lord, thank you for the hope that is found in Your word.  Help me to remember it when my feelings take charge and my sight is skewed, so that I do not hinder my role in Your purpose and plan.  Give me strength to be more disciplined in my pursuit of You and my commitment to Your will.  Amen.

‘Tis a Mystery Indeed

(2 Peter 3: 8-10, NLT)  8 But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. 9 The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. 10 But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief.

I heard a lot of “hell, fire, and brimstone” preaching when I was growing up.  If you don’t know what that is, it’s basically a lot of hollering and spitting about God’s anger and wrath toward the sinner — about how we are running out of time and living on the edge, knocking on the gates of hell.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I have heard some wonderful sermons on sin and repentance in my life, and it is important to understand the repercussions of sin and how God feels about it.  Hell is real.  God does hate sin.  But even more than God hates sin, He loves us — and He is patient and kind for the sake of the world — for us.  It is His desire for all to be welcomed into His heavenly presence on that day when we will all face Him.  Why does God get so angry about sin?  Because of His great love for us.  He desires our love and adoration.  He longs to be in communion with us, and that sin is a wedge that we continually drive between Him and us.  No wonder He gets angry!  That must be so frustrating…

Yet His patience never ends.  He doesn’t give up on us.  He doesn’t turn His back to us or shut down.  We don’t get the cold shoulder.  No.  He patiently, and lovingly, waits.  He extends to us the courtesy of choice — even though we don’t deserve it.  He looks on us through eyes of compassion and His spirit continually reaches out to our hearts in every way — through the love and kindness of others, through healing and grace, through provision and blessing, and even through divine encounters with His own Holy Spirit.  He is constantly seeking us out — drawing us to Him.  And we are the prodigals.  All of us.  We come dragging down the road in our tattered garments — our filthy rags — and He welcomes us like royalty.  When we are weak and wallowing in sin, He waits with clean garments of praise and the oil of gladness, ready to cleanse and clothe us as His sons and daughters — making us joint heirs with Jesus. 

But know this, and never forget, that even in all of His patience and graciousness, there will come a day when God will have to judge us according to our choices.  It is an appointed day, and it’s timing is a mystery to all.  Do not mistake God’s kindness for weakness.  His judgement will not waver or change.  Yes, He is patient…but time is ticking. 

For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night.  (1 Thessalonians 5:2)

This is why it is so important not to take advantage of God’s patience.  We don’t know that appointed hour when He is coming back for us.  Therefore, we must be ready…

So you, too, must keep watch! For you do not know the day or hour of my return.  (Matthew 25:13)

And really, that is all He wants from us — for us to keep our hearts pure, and for us to willingly remove that wedge of sin that has been driven between Him and us.  He wants us to choose the eternal life that He sacrificed so greatly to give to us.  It’s life or death, friends.  What do you choose today?

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, simply put…I don’t want to be caught unaware.  Help me to never take advantage of Your patience and grace, but to instead be vigilant with my choices.  I choose You, God, today and every day.  I want to live for You, having full confidence that when the day of judgement does come, I have nothing to fear.  Amen.

“It’s Gonna Be Worth It All”

(James 1: 14-15, NLT) 14 Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. 15 These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.

I love to plant flowers and tend to them.  I always have.  I even love the satisfaction that comes from pulling weeds.  Each spring/summer, I almost always have a plan as to what flowers and greenery I am going to purchase, and how I’m going to get it all situated in my landscaping and various pots.  It is almost therapeutic to me, and I can’t wait to get my hands in the soil — bringing my imaginings to life!  However, this year, my heart just wasn’t in it.  I had a VERY stressful fall and winter, and by the time spring and summer came around, all I wanted to do was just be a little lazy before the busyness of my summer schedule began. 

So the plant sales came and went, and I bought nothing.  Planting time got away from me.  So I thought, “Well, I will just mulch, and weed, and water my perennials, and it will still be beautiful.”  However…I never bought the mulch…and though I pulled a few of the bigger weeds here and there, the usual glory of my summer flower beds was regrettably absent.  Each time I would walk past my empty pots and lackluster flower beds, I would feel this pang of what almost felt like guilt…and I would self-soothe with thoughts like, “It’s just one summer.  It’s not like it looks bad.”  And it didn’t…look bad, that is. 

Then…I got busy…as I always do in the summer.  So far I have spent a total of 4 weeks away from my home, only coming in for a few days here and there.  As you can imagine, things have become to look not-so-pretty.  Yesterday after church, I decided to take a little time for myself to lie out on my chair in the sun.  I went out, got myself situated and I settled in for some tanning.  As I sang along to John Mayer and sipped on my ice water, I began to look around…and there was that guilt again.  I looked to my left and I saw a rose bush entangled with some sort of vine-like weed that was curling its tendrils around many of the branches of my poor, bug-chomped roses.  Then I looked even further still at my hostas and my hydrangea, drooping from the summer heat and lack of daily waterings.  My hydrangea, which has always been a show-stopping shock of gorgeous, blueish-purple blossom bunches, had but one sad head that was droopy and pale.  My hostas were half the size they usually are at this point, and also had several of the same vines attempting to take them over.  I looked down to see that some large weed stalks (milkweed and dandelion) had also taken root among my day lilies.  In that moment, I was overcome with disappointment in myself.  I saw something that I had always loved deeply being overtaken by an army of unwelcome terrorists, simply because I had been lazy and selfish during the most important season for this little garden of mine.  So I got up, indignant, and I began to yank at weeds — bare feet and all — cursing them through my tears of frustration and anger at myself.  And I as I pulled and stepped on thorns, I began to receive revelation from God.  Isn’t it just like Him to use something as simple as a weed infested garden to gently teach a lesson? 

Our spiritual lives are much like my poor flower beds.  When we neglect them, even just for a season, things quickly get out of hand.  We can’t allow the enemy even one second of opportunity to sow seeds of doubt and sin into our lives.  Those weeds grow so fast.  We have only to turn our heads for one moment and they have sprung up out of the ground, grasping onto and choking out the nearest bit of beauty and life that they can find.  Sin, when left to grow and flourish, so quickly becomes an overwhelming force.  We may see one little thing that needs to be uprooted, yet in our laziness we think we will just take care of it later…but then later comes and that one little thing has reinforcements!  Friends, we have to uproot those weeds every single day.  It is an ongoing process that never ends, and as long as we stay on top of it — proactive and aware — it will never be too much for us to handle.  We just have to be vigilant.  And when we do go through lazy seasons…when it does get out of hand…we have to be willing to get up and fight. 

For the parents, we have to be just as vigilant with our children.  We can never let down our guards against the enemy.  He is seeking out our children, hungry for them, lurking at the ready to wrap his tendrils around their branches and squeeze the life and beauty from their blossoming souls.  We are parents, guardians, protectors…and we must never give up on our children — our future. 

When we are able to clear the ground of all of the junk that has been trying to take over, that is when we are able to confidently spread it with that protective layer of nourishing mulch — a covering of prayer — and plant those seeds of faith, hope, and love — the Word of God — drenching it all each day with fresh water — praise and thanksgiving — so that we can look upon our gardens — our lives and our families’ lives — with the pride and joy that comes with knowing we have fought…and won.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, thank You for the things that You teach me through the seemingly mundane parts of my life.  I am reminded, more and more, of just how important my life is to You…and of how much You truly do love us all.  Help me, Lord, to never give up the fight.  There is much beauty and joy to be found at the end of each battle.  It’s gonna be worth it all.  Amen.

“To Love the Unlovable”

(Jude 1: 22-23, The Message) Go easy on those who hesitate in the faith. Go after those who take the wrong way. Be tender with sinners, but not soft on sin. The sin itself stinks to high heaven.

I have found that we like to put sin in boxes.  We categorize it all from what we deem understandable or acceptable, to what is most unforgivable and horrendous, and then all of the stuff between.  I’ve done it, and I know you have as well.  But really, isn’t it all just sin?  It’s all bad, it all separates us from God, and it all “stinks to high heaven.” 

Not many people who know me would consider me an optimist.  I tend to be more of a realist than anything.  However, I have a deeply compassionate heart, and I always seem to find a way to see the good in others.  In this way, I am hopeful.  I see the beauty that is the human soul, made and formed in the image of God, and I am often able to look past what people are doing or have done and love them anyway.

I wasn’t always so loving.  For many years of my life, I had a very distrustful, resentful and hard heart.  I had to ask the Lord to help me open my heart to others, and He has.  In my walk with Christ, I have learned that compassion and love are simply not optional…they are requirements!  We are not asked to love others…it is a commandment…in fact, it is the greatest of all commandments…that which must govern and influence every aspect of our lives, and will ultimately keep us from many of the sins that may tempt us.  Love and compassion must be evident and ever growing in our lives…

The most difficult part of love is extending that grace and compassion toward those who are the most difficult to understand and forgive.  Because of our “sin boxes” that we have created, there are just some things that we can’t seem to get past — the big, bad sins — the things that our worst fears and nightmares are made of — the things on the news that make our stomachs turn and boil our blood with anger and outrage.  But where does love fit into it?  We must remember that it has to…we have to make it fit.  If we are to “go after those who take the wrong way,” then we have an obligation to stretch ourselves — to love the unlovable, right?

So what do we do?  How are we to be tender with the sinner, yet hard on the sin?  The answer will always be the same:  just love.  Open your eyes and see a person, a soul created by God, imperfect, yet never too far gone for God to reach.  When you pray, ask the Lord to restore that person, and instead of rebuking them, rebuke the powers of hell that have been allowed to take hold of that life.  You see, we can hate sin all day long, but we have been commanded to love others. 

A few years ago, my husband and I were at big youth conference in Knoxville, TN.  We take teens from our church every spring.  That particular year, a singer named Matthew West was there.  He sang a song called “Forgiveness,” but before he sang it, he told a story that has stuck with me.  I want to share what he said about why he wrote that song:

“The song is about Renee, who lost her daughter Megan in a car accident at the hands of a drunk driver, a 24-year-old named Eric who was by all accounts a great young man, but made a tragic mistake. Renee’s been on a journey of hatred, and bitterness, and she’s learned how to forgive the young man who took her beloved daughter’s life.

In a miraculous way, after Megan’s death in 2001, Renee began giving presentations, and in time, God put it on her heart to forgive this man and reach out to him in prison. She learned that until she was set free of the anger and bitterness she held towards Eric, she was going to be the prisoner even though he was the one behind bars.

As a result, Eric found his own personal faith in Christ and they developed a unique friendship to the point where she feels like she gained a son, and she even went to the courts to cut Eric’s sentence in half. He made a terrible mistake taking the life of two young girls, and yet he’s been forgiven. Renee told him that she serves a God who commands her to forgive and she needed to be set free as much for herself as for him.”

It took a lot of love, that could only come from God, for this mother to not only forgive the young man who caused her daughter’s death, but also for her to reach out to him and show him compassion.  Because she was obedient to God in her own life, she was able to be used of God to change his life forever, bringing healing to both lives in a remarkable and miraculous way — God’s way — the only way that it could ever take place.  That’s what I call a beautiful exchange.  And this, friends, is the perfect example of being tender toward sinners — of going easy on those who waver in the faith.  It may seem impossible, but we are called to go beyond what we think we are capable of, and we are commanded to love.

Show me how to love the unlovable

Show me how to reach the unreachable

Help me now to do the impossible

Forgiveness

-“Forgiveness” by Matthew West

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, help me to see others through Your eyes. Give me Your heart, and help me to be brave enough to love those whom everyone else seems to reject.  Soften my heart, Lord, and help me to always let love win.  Amen. 

“Let the Ruins Come to Life”

(Amos 9:11, NLT) “In that day I will restore the fallen house of David.  I will repair its damaged walls.  From the ruins I will rebuild it and restore its former glory.”

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Ruins…crumbling stone, splintered wood, shattered glass, smoldering ash, scattered debris…they’re all images that come to mind when I think of ruins.  In my mind I see greatness that once was, now broken and defeated by time, defeat, and neglect. 

We all go through periods in our lives where we feel the weight of our choices and sins.  We have battles that we lose, and we take big hits in life that damage our walls and weaken our foundations.  Unfortunately for some of us, the foundations and walls eventually give way under the pressure we’ve created, and everything comes crashing down around us in great heaps of unrecognizable rubble.  With one wrong decision, everything we worked so hard to build is reduced to mere garbage — something to be cleared away and forgotten. 

If this is you right now, I want to tell you…don’t give up on your dreams just because you made a mess of things.  Maybe you feel like a pile of junk right now.  Sin tends to do that to us, doesn’t it?  Especially when we are so obviously broken.  There is no more hiding the cracks and smudges behind spackle and paint.  When you’ve gone so far, when things seem to be broken beyond repair, and it’s all just out there for all the world to see your ruins, there is nothing left to do except to either walk away…tail tucked, shoulders slumped…or stand tall and prepare to do some work.  Let me encourage you today, go for the latter.  Square those shoulders and lift your hands to heaven in surrender. 

We are all God’s children, loved and adored equally.  Just as He dotes on and blesses the righteous, He wants to pour out every bit of grace that it takes to restore the former glory of your life.    God the Father has promised to never leave your side…and He won’t.  As much as God adored King David, even when he had adultery and murder in his heart, don’t you know that God loves YOU just as much?  Whatever you have done, whatever you have said, no matter the magnitude of how any of it has affected your life, God’s grace is BIGGER…and He will bring you up out of the ashes…He will rebuild what you have lost.  You have simply to humble yourself at His feet, just as David did. 

(Psalm 51: 10-12, NLT) 

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God.

    Renew a loyal spirit within me.

11 Do not banish me from your presence,

    and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

    and make me willing to obey you.

When we confess and humbly bow before the throne of grace, our God will restore…every time.  His grace never runs out, His love never fails, and His kindness is what will lead us into repentance each time that we fall.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, thank You for your endless love and grace.  I know that when I come to You with a broken and injured spirit, no matter the cause or sin, You will respond to my humility and regret with healing and restoration.  Because of Your love, I am whole.  Because of Your grace, I am made new.  Amen.

“Oh, the tangled web we weave…”

(2 Samuel 13: 37-39) 37 And David mourned many days for his son Amnon.  Absalom fled to his grandfather, Talmai son of Ammihud, the king of Geshur. 38 He stayed there in Geshur for three years. 39 And King David, now reconciled to Amnon’s death, longed to be reunited with his son Absalom.

How deep the Father’s love for us,

How vast beyond all measure,

That He should give His only Son

To make a wretch His treasure.

“How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” by Stuart Townend

The story of Absalom, Amnon and Tamar is difficult to read and thus, to stomach.  But that’s the way of sin, isn’t it?  Here we have a brother, Absalom, the eldest child of King David, his sister, Tamar, and their half-brother, Amnon, who has fallen in love (more like lust, from my understanding) with Tamar.  He can’t seem to shake his urges and feelings, and devises a plan to rape and shame poor Tamar.  She runs to her big brother, like so many sisters would do, and he vows to avenge her disgrace.  It takes couple of years, but the opportunity comes, and Absalom kills his brother, Amnon, in an anger-fueled attempt to right a wrong. 

Now, you may read this story and think, “I would have killed him too!  Go Absalom!”  I must admit, that’s what I always think.  What Amnon did was deplorable, disgusting, and low.  As a woman, I feel outraged on behalf of Tamar!  To the outsider who is merely looking in, Amnon deserved what was coming to him.  Right?  But how do you think their father, David, felt?  Imagine the grief he felt for all three of his children.  What an awful place for him to be put into as their parent!  And you can’t much blame Absalom for fleeing the way that he did.  He knew that, beyond the justification he felt for it, what he’d done was to be met with outrage and consequence.  Why?  Because no matter what we do, no matter how low and despicable we get, our parents love us.  Further still…God’s love for us transcends even that of our parents’ love. 

So even though Amnon had done wrong, David loved him still.  He looked past what he’d done and simply grieved the loss of his son.  Likewise, he was able to look past what Absalom had done, which was equally wrong, and longed to reunite with him.  That’s the love of a parent.  It looks past transgression and sees into the heart of who we are, and it always forgives.  And that, my friends, is the love of God.  It doesn’t matter what you’ve done.  God, our Heavenly Father, longs to be reunited with you today…right now.  You have only to believe, to confess, and to return His love with your own. 

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, I come to You today humbled in spirit.  I believe that You sent Your son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for my sin.  I acknowledge Him as my Lord and Savior.  I recognize my wrongs as such, and I ask you to forgive me, to sustain me, and to be my help when I fall.  Thank You, Lord, for your everlasting love.  Amen.

“You Make Beautiful Things”

(Psalm 51: 15-17, NLT)

15 Unseal my lips, O Lord,

    that my mouth may praise you.

16 You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.

    You do not want a burnt offering.

17 The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.

    You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

Kintsukuroi

Sin is never without damages.  It divides, diminishes, and defaces the beauty of being in right relationship with God.  It’s funny almost, how we always respond to things that are broken and damaged.  We try to fix them by doing things.  We drop a vase — we tack it back together with super glue.  We get into a fender-bender — we replace the bumper.  We hurt someone that we love — we attempt to make amends with words, deeds and gifts.  We sin against God — we pray more, make promises to Him, do some good deeds.  We try to make it all better by taking action, but it never does seem quite the same as it once was.  We attempt damage control, quickly scrambling to “clean up” and hide all traces of wrongdoing, yet in all of our doing and fixing we are missing the point! 

When sin leads to brokenness, which it always will, it is not up to us to go about “fixing” anything.  There is nothing that we can physically do to mend the hurts that result from our transgressions.  We can’t make it go away.  We can’t make any reparations that will lead us into grace, because grace is not our responsibility.  Our responsibility is to stop trying to sweep the broken pieces under the rug, and instead be humble enough to hold them up and say, “God, I did this.  I’m truly sorry.  And now, I need You to mend it and make it beautiful again.”    

And then…He will.

For in your brokenness, true repentance is found.  And in your repentance there is healing and restoration.  What once was may never look quite the same again, but instead of it being pieced together by our own shame — a crude attempt to replicate God’s handiwork — it becomes something quite lovelier than we could ever imagine.  Because God doesn’t use super glue.  He takes our broken hearts and lives, and He pours His love into the cracks, filling every empty space with grace and healing.  He repairs us with gold.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, help me to always have the courage and humility to bring to You the fragments of what my sin leaves behind in its aftermath.  I know that when I come to You with a truly repentant heart, You will answer my cries and open my mouth to praise You again.  Amen.