Wholehearted.

Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares the Lord.”

Jeremiah 3:10

 

Jeremiah is a book that is filled with what feels like doom and gloom.  The prophet lived during the reign of evil kings and undoubtedly witnessed great atrocities during his lifetime.  He spent forty years sharing the messages God had given him and calling the people of Israel to repent and return to the One True God.  During this time, Judah made a show of repentance.  It was not a heartfelt brokenness over her sin, only an outward removal of it.  But inside, deep down, Judah still desired the idolatry that so angered the Holy One.  She was a hypocrite.

So displeased was the Lord that, in verse 11,  He declared faithless, unrepentant Israel to be more faithful than Judah in her outward display of false humility!

Today’s society lends itself to this all too well.  In the church culture we are able to mask our sin in many ways:  church attendance, Bible studies, wearing the “right” clothes or hanging out with the “right” people.  We can also mask our own sin by throwing ourselves into service, especially that of a public nature.

But God is not fooled.

Our attempts at outward spiritual cleanliness do nothing to mask the dirt that is clouding our hearts and minds.  Refusing to admit sin, weakness, or unbelief does not advance us in God’s kingdom, nor does it make those things “go away.”  The sin takes root, grows and infiltrates.  It steals, kills and destroys lives, marriages, relationships, and joy.  We become hypocrites and, when the awful truth comes out, our witness is ruined and the Kingdom is wounded.

God is not looking for outward perfection.  He does not want us to be sparkly, happy clappy Christians who appear untouchable.  That is not real.  It is not spiritually healthy.  It is toxic.  No, God want us to return to Him with our whole heart…even the sinful part. He asks us to admit to the ugly, confessing our weakness, begging for Him to restore the years the worm has eaten.  He wants us humble and only then can He enable us to live holy lives.  Contrived obedience, which is an effort to mask sin and avoid the confession of it, is like filthy rags…in the Old Testament the word translated “filthy rags” was actually referring to menstrual rags.  Our works are disgusting when they are the attempt to mask a divided heart.

Isn’t it freeing, on this Easter weekend as we await Sunday morning’s promise, to be able to turn our faces to God and offer up our whole heart in the warmth of His loving gaze?  Friends, He knows what you have done.  He has seen it all.  Yet he beckons you to run to him, throwing yourself into his arms and receiving His beautiful Daddy Love that is yours for the taking.  Return to Him.  Take off the mask and shed the chains of works-based religion.  Your Abba awaits.  He loves you so.

 

 

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Hope.

Spring is springing and suddenly it is cold.  Frost clings to the bright green buds and frustrated kids run to the car with their breath hanging in clouds around their faces.

This is not what we expected.

The bright sun is deceptive.  One step outside and we are driven back to grab a sweater and the youngest one whines, “It’s COLD, Mom.”

Yep.  That it is.

We saw snowflakes last night on the first day of Spring and not one of my five children was happy about it.  Why?  Because our minds have shifted and we have been in full-on shorts and flip-flop mode for a solid two weeks.  No one likes to backtrack to Winter.

Holy Week has begun and, though the stores are filled with flowers and bunnies and chicks,the cold has most likely driven the real critters inside for shelter.

But maybe this isn’t a bad thing.

My focus, during this Lenten season, has been off at best.  The busyness of life and kids and sports and homeschooling and allergies and therapies has made focusing on what I intended to focus on very difficult.  I lie in bed, intending to open my Bible, and find myself scrolling mindlessly through Facebook.  I fell asleep once this past week and my phone nearly hit me in the face.

How embarrassing.

I did not grow up observing Lent.  Easter was about bunnies and eggs and candy, never about Jesus.  When I accepted Him as my Savior at the age of 21 it changed everything and holidays took on new life.

But this year, during this season of Lent, I have felt cold.

Distractions have threatened my intimacy with God and I am saddened at the wasted time that I will never, ever be able to get back.

So this week, I am going to search for the warmth.  In the midst of an unexpected winter, I am going to walk forward and remember that Spring is here, even in the cold.

The flowers are blooming, even in the cold.

The sun is shining, even in the cold.

God is our shelter from the cold.

Let’s hunker down and let Him cover us with His warmth.  Let’s turn off the screens and open the real, crinkly pages of our Bibles.  Let’s focus on this season, this week, and what it meant for all of us…how the long-ago sacrifice of Jesus STILL saves just like it did that first day after He rose from the dead.  Let’s put our hope in Him once again, remembering the joy and wonder of our salvation.

Let’s go to our Father and find warmth and comfort and purpose and HOPE.

Yes, hope.  Because without the empty tomb we would have none.

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Near.

My three youngest children have been educated at home for the past five, almost six, years.  It has been one of the most wonderful, challenging, and growth-filled seasons of my life.  I find myself reevaluating my methods, philosophy of education, and even reorganizing the school room at least twice per year (if not more!).

Recently, my oldest daughter passed down her desk to my middle daughter.  We decided to use it in the schoolroom since it has good drawer space and I took over my middle daughter’s smaller writing desk.  (I had been using a square folding card table.)  Well, after a couple of weeks I was missing the large surface area of my card table so I moved my writing desk across the room to a spot near the window and beside a long, mostly unused, table that I figured would work well as a place to stack the books and papers that build up throughout the day.  This new location placed me within three feet of both my youngest children, both of whom are struggling learners.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention we have significant learning disabilities in our mix.  God certainly does like to stretch us, doesn’t He?

Now, I have never sat more than six feet from them but I just wasn’t NEXT to them all the time until now.  We would do most things together but sometimes I would give them an assignment and they worked on it independently at their desks.  That has not changed, but their awareness of my presence in the room has, and what a difference that has made.

Their work speed has greatly increased.  They are more calm at their desks (or under their desks…one perk of homeschooling!) and attitudes towards the written work have improved.  Nothing has changed in the way we schedule our day or in the curriculum we use.  The only difference is my location.  I am nearer to them and they are much more aware of my presence in the room, thus creating a much stronger work ethic.

Cue God.  

So often I slack off on my spiritual disciplines.  I procrastinate, find excuses, get distracted by bugs.  (Ok, maybe not bugs…but you get the point!)  I forget, even for a few minutes at a time, that God is near.  I end up wasting those minutes, minutes that I will never get back.

But then He moves.  Ever-so-slightly He inches closer and I feel the air shift around me. I’m reminded that I have more important things to do than scroll down a news feed.  I have my Father trying to get my attention, reminding me of what is needful.  I have my God reaching across the small space between us and searching my eyes, drawing me in, beginning conversation in the long silence.  He longs to teach me with excellence.  He has so much for me, but I have to focus in, listen, get pen in hand and purpose to learn all that He is showing me.

Perceived distance breeds distraction.  The reality of His nearness results in accountability, productivity, and rest.

Yes, productivity’s reward is rest.

By doing what is needful at the right time, I am freed to rest from labor when my tasks are complete.  Just like my children who, sometimes, inadvertently add minutes or hours to their school day by inattention or procrastination…who, later, wish they had focused because they are tired and just want to be DONE…when I focus and purpose to make the most of the work God gives me I can later rest my weary legs and enjoy the sunset without a sink full of dishes or piles of laundry…or a dusty Bible…making it difficult to rest freely.

To be clear, God never calls us to strive for his approval.  No, that has already been secured.  Our work is in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, in His strength and never our own.  Our work is part of the privilege of being daughters and sons of the King, labor that is intended to be fruitful and satisfying.  It is not easy.  It is most likely not even safe.  But it is good and necessary.  It is part of being in the family of God, this doing our part and following His calling despite the hardships and obstacles because, at the end of the day, there is rest.

Rest is part of God’s care for us.  It is His reward for obedience.  Rest is the recharge we need, how our Spirit is fed and our mind is renewed.  Meditating on Truth, watching a flock of birds flitter in the tall branches, inhaling the scent of coming rain…all of these are gifts God pours upon us to remind us that He is, indeed, near.  He sees our labor and it is not in vain.  His grace is sufficient when we fail and His power is made perfect in our weakness. He calls us to walk with Him, fully aware of His presence, through both success and suffering, despite our failures and fears.

May we sense His nearness more fully than ever today.  May we stay on task, driven by the knowledge of Who we serve and why He has chosen us.  We are His beloved, chosen and set apart for the good of the Kingdom.  May we love hard and serve well, bravely facing the next task in the power of the Holy Spirit with the reassurance the He is preparing a place for us that will truly be worth it all!

 

Pink Sunset