Sunday, March 23, 2014

Idols of the Heart

While sitting in a women’s conference at our church this weekend, I was brought face to face with the stark reality of the difference between my past and my present…. and it arrived in the most unexpected vehicle.

The recognition of idols of the heart…my heart.

The theme teaching was “Idols of the Heart”.  When we hear the word “idols”, we usually think of a gold calf or some other being in the form of a statue or a carving made in wood, or even just a picture.  Idols of the heart are something completely different but are just as dangerous because we do not recognize them, even though they exist in our very own hearts. They do not have a physical form upon which to rest our gaze so we can deceive ourselves into thinking that these are not really idols at all.  We lie to ourselves and make excuses for our behavior, our habits, our idols, by saying, This is simply my personality.  This is just the way I do things.  This is just how I like things done.  This is just how I parent.  This is just because I love my husband/wife more than other people love their spouses.  This is just because I like to make people happy.  What’s wrong with that?  We cannot accept that we may have taken it a bit too far. Instead, we simply look at our idols of the heart and say,  “Yep, there’s my idol. We work so well together!” 

Idols of the heart are subtle and deceptive because it is something intended for good but has gone into overdrive, excess, and now receives more of our attention, passion, and desires and control over our lives than it should. Idols of the heart are tricky because they are speaking to a real need in our lives.  There are countless idols of the heart but some of them can be money, the need for control, the need for perfection, ourselves, food, health, achievement, friendships, people pleaser, children, spouses, and plenty more.  Many of these idols fool us into thinking that our identity and acceptance comes from them.... which we know it does not, but how quickly we listen to the lie!

Webster’s dictionary defines “idol” as “an image or representation of a god used as an object of worship; a false god.”  The synonyms are pretender or imposter. Whoa!  So our children can become an object of worship, our spouses can become an object of worship, perfection can be an object of worship.  Controlling people and manipulating situations to meet our satisfaction can be a form of idol worship because if you are not in control you get angry, impatient, irrational, feelings of no self worth or purpose…all symptoms of what people feel when their idol is taken away. If that does not give you a “selah” moment, I don’t know what will!  (Selah is an Old Testament word that means to pause and think about it.)

In the Old Testament, it says, ”Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.” Jonah 2:8 NIV  Every time we are turning to one of these idols of the heart to fill a void or to place them in a place of prideful prominence, which they do not deserve, we are turning away from God’s love.  Ouch!

As I listened to different women speak about a particular idol of the heart which they battle personally, I was doing some self evaluation, my typical introspection to discern how this all applies to me and what I can take away from it.  I realized that before Michael died, I had several idols of the heart but, of course, they were all unknown to me at the time….but it has all changed since his death.

I was always striving.  I awoke everyday overwhelmed with my self-imposed insane list of things to accomplish because of the idols in my heart, the imposters, and the pretenders.  They made me think that my life was not worth anything, that I was not worth anything, if I did not give them the proper attention they deserved.  Achieve achieve achieve…perform perform perfom...excel excel excel… My days were consumed with trying to keep up with these idols.  I would often feel like a failure if I did not feed one of them on any given day. At the conference, it was said that we all need to make choices that will starve our idols.  We either feed them or we starve them.  For years I fed them and fed them daily well-balanced meals.   If we keep feeding them, we unknowingly starve ourselves and we begin to suffer.

About three years before Michael died, I came down with a severe case of pneumonia in July. That year started with a bang. Keep in mind as you are reading that I also was homeschooling my three children through this entire time.  In January, I was told that I was not able to have more children (which I found out years later was not the case.) In February, at the beginning of the month, I was a keynote motivational speaker at a women’s conference speaking on how to live your life “out loud”. At the end of February, I ended up going to a cardiologist because I was suddenly having spikes in my blood pressure (I was told it was from my performance driven lifestyle.) In March, I did the choreography for a musical at a local high school.  In May, I had a lumpectomy on one of my breasts, which was benign. In June, one week after the lumpectomy, I drank an herbal tea that caused an internal hemorrhoid to rupture and I bled profusely and ended up in the emergency room. In July, I cooked a 7 course classic French meal as a private chef for a group of 14 people from France and some local hosts…and cooked and served it in my home…with all the different wines I chose with each course.

The night of the French meal, I began to feel like I was coming down with something but I pushed through the next day to watch Julia compete in a swim meet, even though I could barely stand.  Within two days, it was pneumonia.  Seventy percent of one lung had fluid. It was discovered two weeks into it that I was carrying two strains of pneumonia, and I had not been taking the correct meds. I was bed ridden for one month, with a fever most of that time, and it came close to taking me out completely. I had already been too weak to walk, but when I became too weak to talk I became afraid.  Michael had to lean down and place his ear right next to my mouth to be able to hear what I needed to say. I asked him to have the elders of the church come pray over me and anoint me with oil, as the scriptures say to do.  The fever ceased and I slowly began to move around the house again.  It took me about three more  months to regain my strength.

I tell you this because it was after my bout with pneumonia that I realized my self- imposed pressure to achieve, perform, and excel had taken its toll on my life. While feeding the idols of the heart, I was starving my body.  Did any of that achievement mean anything while I was lying in my bed too weak to talk? Too weak to eat?  Too weak to drink? My life never went back to the pace where it once was after I recovered.  Most of the idols of the heart were destroyed as a result.  I cautiously did life for a couple years following, looking skeptically at anything that tried to push me to perform, excel, lead, or achieve.

Fast forward to the conference this weekend…. I realized that when Michael died, any remaining idols had been crushed and utterly destroyed.  I had been stripped naked before God and was forced to come to terms that I was in control of absolutely nothing. Who am I now without these idols? Who am I without my achievements?  Who am I if I am not performing either by dancing, cooking, entertaining, or leading? I realized that I had once identified myself with these idols and others identified me with them, and, ironically, the world makes us think we should be proud that we are associated with these idols.  It’s all a lie… a veil over something incredibly ugly and repulsive.

Now I feel as if I am in a numb place with God. I sit here alone, in a quiet little room, or I walk quietly around the house while asking Him, “So what now?  Who am I without these characteristics that I had turned into idols?  How can I still use these unique qualities You created and put in me from the beginning to benefit You, and not allow myself to get derailed with them by following the direction that the world would have me to go with them?” The interesting thing is that God put in each one of us that very thing that makes us uniquely different from everyone else. Only God knows how we can use these unique characteristics or hearts desires for His ultimate glory. We need to take these natural giftings to Him and have Him show us how to share them with the world. We see our strengths and assume we know what to do with them so we take off running without asking for directions first.

Our pastor’s wife said, “The same gifts God gives us can also be used to lure us away from Him.”  The very thing God gave us for good can become an idol if we use it for the wrong purposes and try to please anyone other than Him.  My dad put it a different way.  He taught me once, when I was much younger, that one’s strength can also become one’s weakness.  We must always keep our strengths in check so as to not give them too much prominence or unknowingly allow pride to sneak into our hearts.

Now I have found that I have swung like a pendulum in the opposite direction.  I fled from those idols as far I could run but I find that in their place, fear has tried to slip in the door…fear of my own gifts, my own glory, fear of the glory God placed in me, the way that He chose for me to exemplify His glory… and so I shy away from using the gift to excel, the gift to lead, the gift to do things with the spirit of excellence, the gift to cook, the gift to entertain, the gift to make a difference.

I came home from the conference and cried out to God in my writing room as I looked up at a beautiful oil painting of Jesus and Third Station of the Cross.  Tears were running down my face. I repented before God for allowing those idols into my heart years ago and repented for trying to hide my glory, my unique self that He made me to be.

Forgive me for being afraid of my glory.  Afraid to have the switch flipped back on again. Forgive me for having tainted your glory within me by using it to fit the world’s ways instead of seeking your ways.  Forgive me for striving and thinking that I could do it all in my own strength.  I want to take those unique characteristics you gave me and, in my own striving, caused me to turn them into idols, and I want to hand them back to You. Show me how to balance them in my life and use them for Your glory. I know this will enable me to live unleashed in my glory…total freedom to be me.  The whole me that you created and were pleased upon creating…because I was created in Your image. If I am made in your image, then achievement, performance, leading, and doing things with spirit of excellence can all be good when they are not used for prideful purposes. Here I am Lord…let me be Your hands and Your feet... again.

Not only keep your eyes straight ahead, but also keep your eyes looking up to Him, take all of your questions to Him, take all of your strengths to Him.  Let Him be the keeper of your heart.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Spring, Life Renewed

With today marking the first day of spring, it has made me step back and consider the seasons of change again in my life.  Right now, it is officially spring, but snow is all around me here in the country and now I see in the forecast a prediction for snow on my birthday next week….at the end of March!  People in my community tell me that this is the coldest, longest, and hardest winter they have experienced here in a long time. I experienced a winter like this once before....

I went through a season of prolonged winter after my husband died.  During those days of extreme harsh winter, I had to keep my eyes straight ahead and believe that one day, some day, spring would return.  I must be honest here and say that many days I felt as though it would never come and I might be stuck in an endless winter for the rest of the days of my life.  Thankfully, last year, slowly and gradually, spring began to emerge into my life again.  It is still emerging...a long spring is easier to handle than a long winter.  I experience pure enjoyment as I see new hope, new joy, new happiness, and new life springing up all around me.

I went back and read something I had written last year on seasons and it resonated with me all over again.  What a long winter we have had!  Can you imagine if it truly was always winter, as it was in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia?  Remember how dreary  and fearful the inhabitants of Narnia had become because of the endless winter?  Remember how free and joyful they were once the season changed and new life was restored?  My life is being restored as perennials are restored back to life and beauty after a season of dormancy.  My life is being renewed like the new growth on a rose bush after a hard prune that takes off every limb of the lovely plant and somehow, miraculously, the plant comes back more beautiful than before.

Thank God for the seasons.  It may feel like winter, but spring is coming!  In my life and in nature, a new and beautiful life is emerging. 

Here is the link to my blog post on seasons...Enjoy the Season

Saturday, March 15, 2014

I Choose

Morning coffee time earlier today brought me confirmation of the importance to keep my thoughts and heart on things that make me happy. I don’t ever want to go back to focusing on my afflictions, my situation, or the cards I have been dealt, but rather I want to focus on what makes my heart glad.  How life changing our thoughts can be!  

I am going to paraphrase from several translations and add my interpretation of Proverbs 15:15.

If we are not careful about where we keep our thoughts when we are experiencing affliction, hard times, and dark circumstances, we will only bring trouble to ourselves if we keep our minds on those miserable circumstances. It can appear to us in our hearts and minds that nothing good is ever going to happen to us and more bad things are probably waiting just around the corner.  Our hearts are miserable and a miserable heart means a miserable life.   Our days can even feel evil in our minds because of all of our anxious and foreboding thoughts.  We keep thinking that something bad is going to happen….again…if something so terrible can happen once, it can happen again – “so I might as well stay ready and looking for it this time.”  Every day will bring trouble when we approach life in this manner. 

This kind of person not only feels despondent, but their bodies show despondency.  They show discouragement, dejection, or depression. They walk with their low spirits, willingly embracing them, from loss of hope and courage.  They feel a deep dejection because they think that any effort or resistance is useless on their part…. so they simply live with an acceptance and resignation that this is the way life is going to be for them.  Why fight it?

I choose to fight it.

I choose not to dwell on my circumstances.  I choose to cast off my afflictions.  I choose to see only good in my future. I choose living in the present and looking to the future.  I choose courage.  I choose hope.  I choose to fight the good fight.  I choose the happy heart. I choose the glad heart. I choose the cheerful heart.  If I can have this kind of heart each day, in spite of and regardless of my circumstances, I will have a continual feast.  I will have a life that gives me an unusual and abundant amount of enjoyment.  An elaborate and abundant life.  A life that is filled with songs, a melody of happiness in my heart.  Why would I not choose my life to be like a continual feast?

Life is a choice. How you are going to live it each day is your choice.

I choose to keep my eyes straight ahead, not even looking down at where I am presently standing, but looking ahead. Simply one or two steps ahead are all it takes to keep moving forward and to see the potential life there is to be lived.  There is a purpose to my past, my present, and my future, and God has a plan on how it is all going to work together for my good.  I choose life with abundant enjoyment.  I choose to trust in that plan and believe for the best.  I choose a happy heart.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Unleashed Glory

 “There she was… in all her glory!”

We have all heard the expression before countless times.  We use this expression to describe someone who is “letting it all hang out” or their whole self is fully engaged and they are offering themselves completely, in the moment, for the eyes to behold.   They are holding back nothing and are not ashamed of what they are exposing, be it their body, their personality, or what they have to offer of themselves in the situation. They are presenting “all of their glory”.

If you have a particularly humorous friend who was at a party with you and he was being funny for everyone that night, you might say, “Oh yeah, David was there in all his glory!”  He was unabashedly sharing all he was and had to offer to those around him…and it brought joy to everyone. Isn’t it a refreshing pleasure to be around people who are not ashamed to live, love, talk, and relate “in all their glory”?

When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, their eyes were suddenly opened to the fact that they were naked and they were instantly ashamed.   They were “in all their glory” but the original sin made them ashamed of their glory…the glory that God created them to carry as an image bearer of Him.  They foolishly thought they could hide their glory from Him, but he came and walked in the garden calling to them, “Where are you?”…As if He did not know where they were.

Miriam Webster’s dictionary defines “glory” as “a distinguished quality or asset, great beauty and splendor, something marked by beauty or resplendence, a state of great gratification or exaltation, a ring or spot of light/halo appearing around an object.”

Strong’s concordance defines “glory” as “the unspoken manifestation of God, splendor, honor, renown, what evokes good opinion, i.e. that something has inherent, intrinsic worth, brightness –as of the moon, sun and stars, magnificence, dignity, excellence, grace, a thing belonging to God or Christ, a most glorious condition.”

Wow!  And we try to hide this?

It says in Isaiah 61:3, “God sent me to… rename them (the captives) “Oaks of Righteousness” planted by God to display his glory.”

 Freedom, beauty, and God’s glory are in the genetic make up of our hearts. We were created to live and be free with our glory unleashed but we are crippled with fear of our own glory.  It’s almost as bad as being afraid of our own shadow!  The people we remember most through history are typically those who lived their lives unleashed and exposed, fearless to reveal their glory.  They left a legacy because they lived, loved, talked, and related to others “in all their glory.”  So what are we afraid of then?

Why are we always trying to cover or push down that particular unique way that we are an image bearer of God? Stasi Eldredge, author of Captivating, says, “Our desires, what interests us, and what excites us is how we are bearing God’s image. Its how we reveal His beauty.”  In the book Waking the Dead, her husband John Eldredge says it this way, “God endowed you with a glory when he created you, a glory so deep and mythic that all creation pales in comparison. A glory unique to you, just as your fingerprints are unique to you, just as the way you laugh is unique to you. Somewhere down deep inside we've been looking for that glory ever since.

We attempt to cover up something so uniquely beautiful, instead of digging to uncover it like a hidden treasure.

Just as Adam and Eve covered up in the garden and were ashamed to be “in all their glory” before God, we are ashamed and afraid we will expose ourselves, and our glory, when we offer our true, authentic selves.  Why can’t we just be everything that we are?  Why are we so quick to hold back? Why do we choose parts to hold back as if we are deciding that it will be too much for people to handle or that it won’t be enough? What would be wrong with someone saying, "Yep, there's Jene' in all her glory!"?  Shouldn’t that be a good thing?

And yet, we play it safe…

Did Jesus 
try to play safely by keeping part of his glory under wraps?  I think not.  He lived his life completely unleashed in His glory.  Was King David mediocre in the way that he worshipped God?  I think dancing naked before God qualifies as living unleashed, wouldn’t you say?  We have been lulled into believing that it is best to play it safe and hold back to a place of mediocrity.  We choose for ourselves a life of safety so as to not make ourselves vulnerable.  We hold back part of ourselves because we think, “Who would be interested in my full self - me in all my glory?”... or at least this is how we justify not living the unleashed life.

What happens when a dog is on a leash?  He is restricted.  The leash tells him how far he can go.  What happens when you take a dog off of their leash?  They run with joy and freedom and their true personality is immediately exposed.  They are in all their glory!

The interesting thing is, we are holding our own leash.

We need freedom.  We need to be unleashed!  Unleashed to live and walk fully in our glory.  Unleashed to be the free, beautiful, unique creation that God intended us to be.  God’s love is unleashed.  His glory is unleashed.  We were made in His image, so doesn’t it only make sense that we should be living unleashed?

If we take in a bird with a wounded wing and help restore it back to its original strength, would we expect it not to take flight again and soar majestically back into the sky?  Of course not!  We nursed it back to health so that it could soar again…in all its glory.  Jesus came to this earth and died on the cross so that our glory could be restored.  The glory is here.  The glory, His glory, is in us but we have put it on a short leash or locked it in a cage.  Unleash it. Be you…the whole, complete, unashamed, glorious you.

Lord, show me practical ways to begin to live, love, talk, and relate to others while exposing my glory that is uniquely mine…the glory you placed in me.  Help me to be vulnerable.

Keep your eyes straight ahead and walk boldly, unabashedly, unleashed, in all your glory.