Fresh, New, Clean

Gentle Reader,

“What miserable frauds you are, you scribes and Pharisees! You clean the outside of the cup and the dish, while the inside is full of greed and self-indulgence. Can’t you see, Pharisee? First wash the inside of a cup, and then you can clean the outside.”

– Matthew 23:26 (Phillips)

I cleaned out my closet on Saturday. No, I didn’t ask if each item sparked joy. No, I didn’t thank my t-shirts. I was ruthless about it, as I always am when I clean or organize, because I do not understand why anyone finds sentimental value or importance in possessions. (Love those that do. Just don’t understand you). Plus I have the bad habit of wearing my clothes until they are threadbare, often finding it difficult and guilt-inducing to click that “buy” button for myself. And so I ended up with two full trash bags that went to the thrift store and a list of things that need replacing.

I’ve been thinking about this for two days.

It’s easy to clean out my closet.

Not so easy to clean out my heart.

Jesus, He gets picky the longer you walk with Him. He says that He has the right of Lordship over every aspect of your life. Even that little, secret, doesn’t-hurt-anyone piece over there in that dark corner. Always the perfect Gentlemanly Sovereign, however, He doesn’t force us to allow Him access. He doesn’t pry our white-knuckled hands from around the cherished thing. He waits. And He works – in situations, through others, in the quiet voice of His Spirit – giving us opportunity after opportunity to surrender.

The longer you walk with Jesus, the more intimately confrontational He gets. It’s not always loud or dramatic. It can be a quiet war, the kind where you’re continually pulling that thing off of the altar, only to put it back again, only to take it up once more.

Harder, perhaps, when your tendencies are toward the Pharisaical.

I understand them, these people with whom Jesus had such a hard time. When we read passages like the one above, it’s easy to assume that Jesus really didn’t love those who were so bound up in rule-keeping. Oh, but He did. He really did. He wouldn’t have spent so much time confronting them if He didn’t care.

The Pharisees have a bad reputation, and I can’t say that it’s completely undeserved. They did put people under bondage. The law that was meant to bring freedom and point the way to the Messiah became a curse. There is an arrogance in their interactions with Jesus; they thought they knew best. And that thought? It arose from fear.

Following the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and seventy years of exile, God’s broken people didn’t want to wind up in that situation again. Read Nehemiah. Ezra. Haggai. Zechariah. They stumbled, fell, made horrible choices. But there’s this general sense of, “Never again. We’ll stop breaking God’s law. We’ll rebuild. We’ll get this right.”

Thus the obsession with minutiae. What constitutes work on the Sabbath? How should this law be interpreted? Who can we trust to understand?

A relationship to and with God based on anxiety.

An anxiety that morphed into arrogance, as anxiety so often does. First, the need to self-protect. Then, the need to self-promote.

We are just like them, these people we read about in the pages of Scripture. Each of us at once the Prodigal Son who runs and the Older Son who stays. The libertine and the Pharisee. Terrified that God is holding out on us and terrified that He’ll strike us dead if we don’t get it exactly right. Doing our best to project the right image, whether in the running toward the sin or in attending church every time the doors are open.

God knows we need to preach the Gospel to ourselves each and every day.

We need to be reminded that we are saved by grace, through faith, and that we express our thanks to and love for God in our obedience. Repentance, justification, regeneration, sanctification. Get this out of order and the only result is pain.

It’s a brand new day as you read this, whenever you read this, for any moment is the moment to begin again. Whether you have been living in Jesus’ shadow for years or have been roaming the world far from Him. Whether you think you’ve got your life together or you know you’re a mess. Right now, this second, you can surrender. You can give that thing over to Him and trust that you will be met with great grace and marvelous mercy.

I look at my closet, pleased with how tidy it is. I hear the Spirit whisper in my heart, “Now, what about this, here? Can we tidy this up?”

And I know – the inside, where layers of dirt accumulate far too quickly – needs another good scrubbing.

Blessedly, He knows what He’s doing.



Along the Way @

Gentle Reader,

For the first time that I can remember, someone described me as being tender. Sensitive, even. This person seemed to think that these are good, positive character traits.

I do not like this.

Many have wondered if I have emotions. There have been jokes throughout the years about how I must be a robot. I must be some kind of frost princess. And now, someone perceives me in an entirely different way. Those few sentences have acted like a needle, the bearer of which reached in and popped my protective bubble. All of these…feelings…threaten to spill out.

It’s awful.

Anger, I can do. Righteous or otherwise. Anxious and depressed, obviously. But to put words to those emotions, to say, “So-and-so hurt my, ugh, feelings”? To say, “Please stop doing _________, I don’t like it”?


Vulnerability. No, thank you.

I’ll take stoicism for $500, Alex.

Those of us who have been around church for any length of time have heard one of the most famous verses having to do with the heart:

The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?

– Jeremiah 17:9 (NKJV)

From this, we gather that we cannot “follow our hearts” as is so often encouraged in movies. We learn

There is nothing so false and deceitful as the heart of man; deceitful in its apprehensions of things, in the hopes and promises which it nourishes, in the assurances that it gives us . . . The constant yearning of the heart is to gratify its propensities to pride, ambition, evil desire, and corruption of all kinds.

Asbury Bible Commentary

I know that my heart (or, in our modern understanding, my mind) plays tricks on me. There’s a reason I take medication every night. I am a living, breathing example of a human’s inability to jump on, without question, every line of thought and every train of feeling. I have to critically examine those thoughts and feelings. We all do.

The heart, which the ancients understood to be the decision-making center, is not to be blindly trusted. This is not a false statement, but as is so often the case, we take the truth and run with it until we wind up in Legalism Land. Never let them see you cry. Put a brave face on. If you’re sad, you’re sinning. 

We have read something into the text that isn’t there.

Consider these verses, so often glossed over:

 Then I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the LORD; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, for they shall return to Me with their whole heart.

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.

Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart.

– Jeremiah 24:7; Jeremiah 29:13; Matthew 22:37; 2 Corinthians 4:1 (NKJV)

Feelings should not, and really cannot, be divorced from faith, or any other part of our lives.

The lights twinkle on the Christmas tree, casting a soft glow throughout the room. Candles flicker next to the Willow Tree figurines. Mary and Joseph, shielding the newborn Savior. She looks as though she pats His back in order to soothe Him. He wraps his arms around them both.

Who was ever more vulnerable than Jesus? The King of Glory, knowing exactly what was going to happen, wrapped Himself in frail flesh. He had no delusions of a quiet life. Never had a moment when He believed He’d die in His bed, at a good old age. Who better than He ever showed us how to connect with and express our emotions in healthy ways? He cried as a baby. Cried when His friend died. Cried when the people wouldn’t listen. Flipped some tables and yelled, too.

Feelings are God-given. No, we can’t obey them. I can’t slap my husband just because he makes me angry. But we shouldn’t ignore them. We shouldn’t buy into the notion that the only acceptable feeling a Christian may experience is happiness. If my husband makes me angry, I need to open my mouth and tell him why. Tell him what’s bothering me, what hurts me. (Without swearing, which, let’s be real, is a struggle).

We don’t want to be hurt. I don’t want to be hurt. We think that putting on the mask, bearing the abuse, never speaking up, will somehow make it better. Somehow make us impervious to damage. The act doesn’t work. The feelings remain. They grow. They intensify. Then, one day, if you’re anything like me, you find yourself throwing a glass across the kitchen, sobbing for reasons that you can’t begin to identify.

I am tenderhearted. A large part of me recoils in typing that. I may not reveal this tenderness in conventional or easily-understood ways, but nonetheless, it’s true. I can’t read books or watch movies that involve animal death. My heart burns over the idiotic choices so-called Christian leaders make these days. I panic in crowds. Behind this tough outer shell lies a gooey center.

Perhaps this is who you are, too, dear reader. Perhaps you’ve worked very hard so nobody but the Lord ever sees your tears. If so, be brave with me. I suspect there may be new experiences of strength and grace found in taking down the wall and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable.


Photo Credit: Jamez Picard