Posts Tagged ‘open heart’

Album cover: Through the Open Door by Michael Anthony Miller

When formidable times come, it is more difficult to hang on to the truth of God’s sovereignty. Circumstances overwhelm the big picture and pain distorts understanding. Evil plays its hand and mocks the hand of God, claiming apparent victory. But we must look for the open door . . .

Revelation 3:7b-c
. . . These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.

The supreme sovereignty of the Christ is captured in a single phrase about him, that is, the one “who holds the key of David.” The prophecies spoke of long lasting rule to the line of David in Israel. But even this rule was broken by imperfect rulers and inconstant followers.

While Jesus, the son of God, was perfect in plan and execution of God’s will, and now holds the key in perpetuity and rules humankind forever as the Christ.

This idea doesn’t sit well with human. We are a feisty, independent bunch and like our self-determination, despite the rocky outcomes (wars, rumors of wars, famine, uncontrolled disease, gluttony, murder, and conquest, just to name a few). We blissfully select presidents, prime ministers or simply allow dictators and totalitarians to rise up among us, but we (and I speak as “human” here) cringe or shrink away from the possibility of a divine God, a force unequaled on Earth, an entity outside of time but able to enter time at will. Why are we able to reconcile the one and not the other? Is it just too much science fiction?

There is an extremely traditional painting of Jesus standing at a door knocking, based on Revelation 3:20a, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. . . .” a verse used to indicate that Jesus, like a visitor, is waiting to be invited into our homes, into our hearts. It’s a kind depiction.

But I have a stronger image, that of the open door. This representation is not from Christ’s perspective, waiting to be invited in, this is from my perspective, an invitation to walk through with no strings attached, the invitation implicit in its openness.

It reminds me of a phrase I tell people from out of town, particularly those I like very much and I want to communicate my fondness to them: “Please, come anytime, our door is always open.” I want them to feel free to enter, whether I am at home or not, because I trust them with my home, my sanctuary, my heart.

Jesus trusts me in that way too. And you.

Christ Jesus has the authority to open the door and keep it open until any human can see it, believe it, and walk through it. On the other side is sanctuary.

I remember hearing a story about people who were locked up in cages for a long time but when the door was opened, they did not leave the cage. Outside the cage, all was unknown. Inside the cage, all was familiar. Fear held them inside. Love is patient and kind and waits.

The only bad thing I can see about this open door is the ability of traffic to go both ways. I would love to say I went through the door once and never turned back. Not true. I have stepped back into the old world many times but each time, the open door draws me back, the spirit of God draws me, and I find my way through again.

Come and see, the door is still open. Like the tomb, open. Be set free.

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It’s a hard reminder that our lives are not our own, no matter how much we believe they are. Oh sure, there are responsibilities and choices that only I can make for myself, and yet, in the end, it is God and all that is infinite that chooses to give or take away, to end or begin.

James 4: 13-14
Come now, you who say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a city and spend a year there and carry on our business and make money. Yet you do not know [the least thing] about what may happen tomorrow. What is the nature of your life? You are [really] but a wisp of vapor (a puff of smoke, a mist) that is visible for a little while and then disappears [into thin air].

Conceptually, it should be a joy: after all, isn’t God sovereign? Doesn’t God promise to do what is good for me, even better than the birds of the air [Matthew 6:26]? But I don’t walk each day in this confidence. I am still wary of the next moment. I still want to “control” it: after all, what is familiar, even painful seems better than the unknown.

But the future is the great unknown. We can create probabilities, but we cannot create absolutes.

And so, I ask, what will I experience for the rest of this day? Can I keep my hands open? Can I say “yes” to this day before it unfolds? Can I trust god with my time, my experiences, my journey?

When/what is the next moment anyway? Is it now? no now, no this other now. I can watch the clock or I can turn that invisible countdown outward.

When my elderly mother lived with us, up until her 91st year, she would get so frustrated because she felt so unproductive in those last years. In fact, one of her biggest concerns, “What should I do for the rest of my life?” She never considered the number of those days, just the fullness of them. She wanted to see her minutes and hours as valuable to others, useful.

Can I be more mindful of my day time? Can I hear the stray comment, the smallest encounter, the big mistakes as well as the great successes as opportunities to embrace the “rest of my day” in God, through Christ and the Holy Spirit?

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I am in the talking business. Honestly. Whether it’s in my current line of work serving the library public or my other life as an actress and presenter, or my private life of pure chatter, my mouth is in constant motion. How often has the flow from my heart been distorted without my knowing it?

James 3:8, 10 – 11
. . . but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. . . . Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?

As I contemplated these verses today, I kept going back to the birthplace of the tongue’s motion. After all, the tongue is but a tool; it’s not like training an animal that has some personal will, the tongue is a medium. No, the message is born in the mind and heart and whatever taming is done must begin there.

The mind bears the content but the heart carries the emotion. They work in tandem and can equally obliterate the results.

For this reason, the impetus comes across as a restless evil, with a range of anxieties and uneasy moments, with unexpected impacts like a meteor shower of the soul, the heart and mind react. They form a thought or feeling before it is registered in reason. They are the knee jerk of the patellar reflex.

The hardest thing for me to remember and to accept is the inevitable damage of the reflexive, restless discharge from my mouth as it colors everything else. Like the salty spring that salinates fresh water, so my ill-conceived words distort even the best message.

I am believing, as the heart and mind are transformed by the presence of the Holy Spirit, the tongue, poor stepsister, will respond to sanctification as well. But it has to be organic. Anything else will be a fake out and the words and intent will expose the truth within.

“By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” [Matthew 7:16]

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That should get your attention. It got mine. The symbolism begins with the origin of the word: cutting around. This rite is performed by Jews, Muslims, and many Christians. Its been in practice for centuries. Circumcising the heart and soul, not so long.

Colossians 2:11-12
In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

By aligning myself with Christ, by submitting to Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection, I am allowing Christ to complete that process by cutting around and cutting off, the coverings of my heart and soul. I am laying myself open and bare to Holy Spirit. I am different.

The longer we wait for spiritual circumcision, just like physical circumcision, the more painful it becomes. Adult men who choose to be circumcised have a long recovery (up to six weeks) as well as the potential for unforeseen complications and infection. Spiritual circumcision is no different because we resist the process. We become used to the way it was. We may know we don’t have a robust relationship with the Christ Spirit and we understand intellectually that this circumcision is necessary to really experience and feel the Spirit, but we cower under the threat of pain and discomfort. The pain comes from what we try to hold onto and the habits that secure the layers of narcissism.

I’m afraid, unlike physical circumcision which is a permanent change, spiritual circumcision is not so everlasting. We have to actual pay attention and participate. It’s not strictly passive. I think my heart and soul have been covered over by my fears, my disappointments, my anger, and so forth. I’ve had a series of circumcisions of the heart.

I can only be grateful that Jesus is a good, kind, and patient medicine man.

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The full armor of God is a metaphor. And we must remember it’s for standing (like a palm tree), not advancing into battle. And, in my mind, it works from the inside out. And for the armor to work 100%, it requires me to embrace the Holy Spirit.

Ephesians 6:14-17
Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

The first three aspects of the armor are truth, righteousness and peace.

Like a belt, truth holds the whole thing together. This means my speaking and thinking truth as well as adopting God’s truth. When truth is bent, then the protection has chinks.

The breastplate (not commonly worn in modern times) protects the heart, one of the most vulnerable parts of the body. And how do we protect this heart? With right actions with fairness, honor, justness, and devotion to the One who embodies these traits. This typifies the sowing and reaping principle: we receive back what we give out. And the converse if true. I cannot expect my heart to be protected if I am grieving the Holy Spirit.

The third essential is “gospel of peace.” Why isn’t it just peace? Because it’s the message of peace itself that has the power. It is foundational (like feet) and carries great weight. Peace is an outgrowth (the promise) out of the mysterious work of the Christ. When I walk in peace, I bring peace with me.

The last three pieces of the armor are faith, salvation and the word of God.

Faith is called a shield for good reason, it is literally held up to withstand direct attacks. What’s interesting to me is the use of the verb “extinguish.” This means that faith can actually neutralize or put out fires. This, next to right living & behaviors, is my strongest defense.

Salvation is the description of a state of being. This state comes from my acceptance of Christ as the “head” of my life, the captain, the tactical center. Thus, the helmet is an apt description. Salvation is not about my “doing” anything. I am not to be about head-butting. It’s security.

And lastly, the sword which has been interpreted as the Bible itself and as a result, people have used this understanding as a case for aggressively cutting others with it. People memorize verses and apply them to as many situations as they can, ostensibly to cut through the circumstances. But, I think it can interpreted as the word within that comes directly from the presence of the Holy Spirit. The sword works together with the shield. The sword does not have to be an offensive weapon, it can block and extinguish as well. The word of God is knowledge and wisdom and truth. The circle is complete.

Remember: the goal here is to stand!

So, here I am Lord. Forgive me for lashing out with the sword before the rest of my armor is in place. May standing in truth, righteousness, and peace be my first priority today.

(FD 16)

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For those who read my meditations regularly, you know I am intrigued by the sweep of paradox in scripture. Strength in weakness is one of the most difficult concepts to put my head around since the display of strength is my security blanket.

II Corinthians 11:30-31
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying.

Back in the day, I worked with a small group of friends to build an avant garde dance theatre company in New York City. These types of projects are always a bit “hand to mouth” and poorly funded. It can be very stressful. I was in charge of the finances (using mostly my personal funds) and the administration of the company in addition to working full time and going to school. After a year of this, I was at the breaking point. At one of our meetings, I confessed, I was falling apart inside and I couldn’t continue to be the rock anymore. They would not allow it. “You have to be strong. We depend on you to be strong.”

And then I knew we had, all of us, put our confidence in the wrong thing: my strength and confidence That kind of strength is an illusion.

It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. [Psalm 18:32]
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. [Psalm 46:1]

But God cannot arm me with strength or “be” my strength as long as I continue in the “world’s strongest woman competition.” I have to believe in the promise. I have to be willing to reveal my weakness and only then will God’s strength be visible. My strength is a mere veil to the real thing.

Some of the tools:

  • Be willing to say, “I don’t know.”
  • Choose silence.
  • Acknowledge the successes of others.
  • Accept mistakes.
  • Forgo the praise of others.
  • Relinquish control.
  • Embrace the feelings.
  • Open the heart.
  • Submit to outside circumstances.
  • Build trust.
  • Pray.
  • Respond to the Holy Spirit.

It is one thing to talk about paradox but it’s another to actually live it. This takes a great leap of faith. It’s time to jump.

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In the end, there is only one person who can “make room” and that’s the individual herself. If someone else does it for you, it’s usually a violation of space. It’s no different with the heart.

II Corinthians 7:2a, 3
Make room for us in your hearts. . . . I do not say this to condemn you; I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you.

I’ll never forget the time I moved down to Atlanta from Indianapolis. Mike and I were engaged and although we had hoped to find a temporary living arrangement for me, it turned out I had to move into his house. While packing up, I could tell there was a lot of stuff. I tried to warn him. He would have to “make room” for me and my belongings. It was a small three-bedroom house but I insisted he clean out one of the bedrooms for me.

But, like most men, he couldn’t foresee the amount of boxes I would bring or the chaos that would come from merging two adult households. Did he make room? He did not. So, the very next day, while he was at work, I cleaned out one of the rooms and put all of it in the TV room. I created space for myself.

Needless to say, he was not a happy camper. I thought he would be thrilled. I did all that work. I organized and moved and emptied almost all of the boxes from the living room and dining room and integrated my kitchen stuff into his (he only had 2 knives, 2 forks, and 2 spoons anyway). But I was “creating” room for me instead of allowing him to “make room.”

Friendships are the same way. There comes a point when we have to “make room” for another person in the heart. Sometimes, we have to open the doors and sweep out some of the old stuff to make room. We may have to get rid of things we’ve been holding onto for a long time.

When it comes to the things of God, it’s the same thing. We have to open up. We have to invite. God only takes up as much space in the heart as we allow. Unlike the dark side that creeps and steals and occupies wherever and whenever we’re not minding the space.

Help me today, oh God, to make room for more of You. Help me to make room for others. It’s time to clean house.

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