A Heart Set Free

Heart Set Free“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).

I pulled out of the driveway and looked back at the house—there he was sitting in the doorway on the seat of his walker, waving at me as I eased down the road.  I waved back and called out, “I love you Dad!” As I pulled to a stop at the end of his street, I realized I had tears dripping off my face, because I finally knew I meant those words. God had done a remarkable work in my heart.

My Dad and I had a rough time starting in my early teens and for some 20+ years after.   The details are not important, but the pain was very real.  There was a long stretch of time that we did not speak at all and when we did begin to reconnect it was strained and awkward.  To borrow a little from Simon and Garfunkel, there was a very rickety bridge over a lot of troubled water.  And honestly, I was okay with a minimal relationship—that suited me just fine.  I had moved away from my hometown and was busy raising my family, working and making my own life separate from my Dad.

But God was not satisfied with the relationship between us.  Ironically, I was hearing God’s call to ministry even while I had shut myself off from my Dad.  I taught women from the Bible, dug into the Scriptures and shared what God declared, but I steered pretty wide around verses about forgiving others.  Sure, I knew the importance of forgiveness and had told God “I forgive him.”  But God required something deeper from me—and for me.

For a while I had kept a polite demeanor when I was with my Dad, but my attitude was honestly arrogant.  My words were ever so slightly barbed with disrespect.  His birthday was approaching and my brother wanted us to come for a birthday dinner.  I would have just as soon sent him a card and called it a day, but my brother insisted, and so we agreed to go.  A couple of days before we left, God took me to Paul’s teaching in 2 Corinthians 2:7-8 and told me very pointedly this word was for me regarding my Dad.

Now you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.  I urge you therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.

Wait, God wanted me to forgive and comfort and reaffirm my love—for my Dad’s sake?  That seemed a bit unfair, after all I was the injured party here!  I was the one who had lived all these years with “excessive sorrow.” Shouldn’t he be made to comfort and love me? Didn’t he owe me something?  God patiently heard my arguments (read whining), but kept coming back to the same point:  “I am calling you to obedience, not your Dad.”  “Lord,” I answered, “I will do as You have said, but only because You said it, not because I want to.  You’re going to have to help though, because it ain’t in me.”  I’m not sure, but I think I heard God say, “I can work with that.”

That year had presented a lot of health challenges for my Dad, and when I saw him in a motorized chair with his oxygen, it gave my heart such a shock.  My Dad was frail, unable to walk on his own or breathe without a tube in his nose. I felt a piece of ice crack around my heart. Still, we sat on the opposite end of the long table from my Dad.  But my eyes kept drawing back to that frail old man. We enjoyed the meal and the conversation, and prepared to leave the restaurant.  I found myself walking ahead of my Dad, moving chairs and obstacles out of his way.  We decided to take some pictures in the parking lot and my sister-in-law positioned me directly behind my Dad sitting in his chair.  I put my hands on his shoulders, and he reached up, and grabbed my hands so that I was bent over, hugging him, with his hands on my arms.  Another piece of ice broke away.  We all said our goodbyes and I climbed into the back seat of our car.  My phone pinged a message; my sister-in-law sent me a copy of the picture we had taken and suddenly the frozen dam broke and flooded my eyes.  I didn’t see the man that I had been so hurt by or so angry with.  I saw my Dad—frail and old, but with such a glad look on his face with my arms wrapped around him.  The thought came to me: “This is not the same man who hurt me,” Forgiveness rushed into my heart, filling all the places where the bitterness had taken root.  I don’t know where the man I had avoided for so long had gone, because the person in that picture was someone I truly loved.  And there in that backseat, God spoke to my heart:  “You are not the same girl so full of pain and anger anymore either.  I have carried you and I have been your Father all these years and my love for you has washed away your pain and bitterness.  Now you can love your earthly father with the love I have poured into you.”  My heart had been set free.

Forgiveness is a gift that God gives to every person who will receive it.  Forgiveness is a gift that you and I are also called to give, but the truth is, we are often the greatest benefactors.  Forgiveness sets us free, because bitterness is the heaviest burden known to man.

I know that someone is reading these words and thinking, “but you don’t know what this person has done to me!”  Beloved, I chose not to go into detail about all the troubled water under my own rickety bridge, but suffice to say it was deep and painful and affected every aspect of my entire life.  When I forgave my Dad, it was an act of obedience to God, not because of a warm-fuzzy feeling on my part.  But that step of obedience broke the dam of bitterness and God took away that pain and anger.  He changed my heart.   Perhaps God is waiting for you to look up from your tangled emotions and simply say, “I’ll forgive them because you say so.”  That, my friend, is the first step in the direction of true freedom.

Merciful, Holy Father, Thank you for not allowing me to settle for less than a heart set free by forgiveness and love

When God Calls

When God Calls“I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted . . .” (Isaiah 6:1)

What does it mean to “see the Lord” and what affect does a vision of God have on our lives?  In the past few months I have been more committed than ever to go deeper with the Lord, to know Him more and to allow His Word and His Spirit to transform me.  I’ve prayed for a higher vision of who He is and as I met with Him early one recent morning, the Spirit drew my heart to Isaiah 6, the account of Isaiah’s commissioning as the Lord’s messenger.  I see in verses 1-8, five points to this moment when Isaiah’s life was forever changed and they are essentially the same path that every person whom God has called will travel.

First, Isaiah had a vision of God.  Isaiah “saw the Lord,” but notice that he does not attempt to describe the divine presence, but tells us about His robe, the throne, the temple and the seraphs.  The Lord told Moses, “No one may see [my face] and live” (Exodus 33:20), but Isaiah declares that he has indeed seen the Lord.  Undoubtedly, the sight was too marvelous for human words to ever do justice to what the wondrous image before him.  Isaiah saw a throne and a regal robe, evidence of God’s majesty.  He heard evidence of God’s holiness as the seraphs flew about calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; The whole earth is full of His glory” (6:3).

This vision and the words of worship drove Isaiah to the next stage of his appointment.

Isaiah recognized his own sinfulness and repented.  He declared, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”  Why was Isaiah so concerned with his lips?  For one thing, Isaiah’s call as a prophet was to be God’s mouthpiece, to speak for the holy One he saw before him.  To speak such words from unclean lips would be an affront to God and sure destruction for the prophet.  Isaiah also recognized that the words of one’s mouth are indicative of the state of one’s heart.  Jesus would later teach the same truth: “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what come out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’ The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean’” (Matthew 15:11, 18).  Isaiah saw God in verse 1.  He saw himself in verse 5 and the sight of his own sinfulness broke his heart and he threw himself before God in repentance.

After Isaiah’s repentant plea, the Lord provided cleansing.  The Lord sent one of the seraphs to fetch a live coal from the altar and touch Isaiah’s lips.  “‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for’” (6:7).  The old Covenant was all about atonement, about a substitutionary sacrifice to cleanse the people from their sins.  But the old system required repeated sacrifices, year after year after year, innocent lambs bore the punishment for the sins of the people.  When Jesus came to earth, He offered Himself as the one perfect sacrifice for all sins of all people for all time.  He offers us atonement, cleansing from our sins.  1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  Confession and repentance before God will always lead to cleansing.

Once he was cleansed, Isaiah received the call. A now purified prophet stood ready to receive God’s command, which came in the form of a question from the throne of heaven.

“Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?

The Lord wanted Isaiah to declare His word, but it had to be of his own free will.  Isaiah had to “own” his calling and respond out of his heart, not out of coercion.  And that is exactly what he did.  Notice the prophet’s reply, “And I said, ‘Here am I.  Send me!’” (6:8). Put me in Coach! I’m ready to play!  How different from Moses’ response when God called him to deliver the people of Egypt.  Moses hemmed and hawed and found one excuse after another to wriggle out of God’s call, even to the point of outright refusal.  Isaiah stepped into his calling with a fully obedient and surrendered heart.

From the glorious vision, to his contrite heart, the cleansing he so desperately needed, and finally the call, Isaiah is sent out. There is a lot to the message God wanted Isaiah to deliver, (see vs. 9b-13), but the commission is simply three words:

“Go and tell . . .”

Go and speak my words.  Go and pronounce my judgment.  Go and present my warnings.  Go and declare my love.  That is the heart of God’s call to Isaiah and the culmination of the extraordinary vision and experience for Isaiah.  It is what he was created to do and he did it faithfully, boldly and powerfully.

Isaiah’s experience is the same for you and me today.  We must receive a vision of God, of His holiness and majesty.  We must acknowledge that Jesus is His Son.  We must also see ourselves as the lost and sinful creatures we truly are.  We must recognize that we are a people desperately in need of a Savior.  We must cry out to God for cleansing and accept Jesus’ death on the cross as our atonement.  Then, and only then, will we be able to hear God’s call.  And when we do, we must respond in obedience and surrender.  We must declare our willingness to do whatever the Lord asks of us.  Then we must “go and tell.”  We must put feet to our commitment and open our mouths to deliver the message of Life.

God is calling you and me to be His servants in this generation.  He is inviting us to participate in His Kingdom work here on earth.  He stands ready to make us useful vessels for His glory—a glory that we can only see with a great vision and a surrendered heart.

God you are holy, holy, holy—high and exalted above the earth.  Yet you offer us a glimpse of Your glory and a part in Your redemptive work here.  Lord, give us eyes to see and ears to hear, minds to receive and hearts to obey.  Here I am. Send me!  Amen

Deeper Still

deep water“Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me” (Psalm 42:7).

I have to confess my guilty pleasure: I love the T.V. show American Idol.  I love music and I also love to watch people blossom and step up into their gifts and talents.  I’m really going to miss AI after this season.  A comment that one of the judges made recently really stuck with me.    One of the singers had finished a song with a very strong rhythm, and the judge told him that, while he sang it very well, he didn’t dig down into the song’s rhythm as deeply as he could have.  He told the singer that he “floated over the rhythm.”  It wasn’t that he completely messed up his performance, but the song could have been even better—even richer had he settled into the song’s groove.

Within my spirit, I heard the question, “Are you floating over your relationship with Me?”  And I had to admit, “Yes Lord, I am.”  Then another question: “Are you willing to go deeper?”  “Yes Lord, I am.”

Throughout history, God used people who had a deep, abiding relationship with Him to accomplish great things for His Kingdom.  Men like Abraham and Moses, whom God called His friend (James 2:23; Exodus 33:11), and David, of whom the Lord said, “He is a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22).  He used men like Daniel who “humbled himself before God” (Daniel 10:12).  He used those who believed His words (John 17:8), and who were full of the Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6:3).  He chose men who were willing to suffer for His name (Acts 9:16).  Each of these men (and women) were different, with unique abilities and roles in God’s plan.  But they also had some things in common – deeper things that you and I can have as well.

These servants had deep conviction—1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 says that the believers in Thessalonica accepted the gospel with deep conviction.  “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.”  By definition, the Thessalonians accepted the truth of the gospel with “great and full assurance” that Jesus was the fulfillment of all the Old Testament promises.  Do you have a deep conviction that Jesus Christ is exactly who He claimed to be?

They also “kept hold of the deep truths of the faith” (1 Timothy 3:5-emphasis added).  The Christian faith was very new and very radical, and often difficult to comprehend.  Many believers were content with just a basic knowledge, much like those whom the writer of Hebrews described as “slow to learn”—which actually meant that they were lazy and undisciplined.  But some sought out and clung to deeper truths.  They searched the Scriptures, talked through the concepts, and wrote to Paul seeking clarification—his replies make up the bulk of the New Testament.   Are you content with a basic understanding of the Bible?  Are you willing to invest yourself in searching out deeper truths in the Scriptures?

The great people of the Bible also allowed the Spirit to reveal to them “the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10).  We’re not talking here about knowing a lot of information about God, we’re talking about knowing God.  All through the Scriptures, God declared that He wanted His people to “know” Him, and the word used in both the Hebrew and the Greek speaks of an intimate relationship, specifically the marital relationship of a husband and wife.  God desires that level of intimacy with us.  Deeply, passionately, knowing one another to the fullest extent.   But here is what sets this apart:  the root word from which the phrase “deep things of God” is taken means: “deep, (as a time of day), very early in the morning.”  Consider this Scripture:

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed” (Mark 1:35).

How did Jesus maintain an intimate connection with His Father?  He stole away “very early in the morning” to pray, to talk with His Father and to hear what His Father would say to Him.  This is the deeper place God wants to take me—a deeper intimacy through prayer, early in the morning when the world is still and quiet and I’m not already distracted by a thousand other things.  How about you?  Are you seeking the deep things of God through a deep and intimate prayer connection?  Will you join me early in the morning?

From deep conviction, and deep truth, and an intimate connection to the deep things of God, we are then enveloped with a deep love.  This love can’t be generated within us, it has to come from a deeper source.  Paul wrote of his hope that the Ephesian believers would be “rooted and established in love, [and have] power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you  may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19).   God’s love is truly immeasurable, and Paul is not trying to put parameters around His love, but rather to express the immenseness of it.  He is trying to define the indefinable in a way that will hopefully help us better understand its vastness.

Peter presents the second facet of this deep love in two verses:

“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart”     (1 Peter 1:22).

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

This deep love emanates from God and flows out to others.  It is what we could call “holy love,” a pure, deep, genuine love that is a continuous stream from God to us to one another.  It is the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer: “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23).

I am no longer content to float over my relationship with God.  I want to go deeper in every way.  I pray you are stirred with a yearning for deep conviction, deep truth, deep intimacy and deep love.  We’ll never scratch the surface of all God has for us in this life, but we can go deeper with Him along the way.

Holy Father, light a fire within our souls to go to the depths with you.  Make us unwilling to settle for a surface faith and knowledge without deep truth and holy love. Take us deeper Lord, till nothing satisfies but You. Amen.