Heart Piles

Heart Piles

“But the hill country shall be yours, for though it is a forest, you shall clear it and possess it to its farthest borders…How long will you put off going in to take possession of the land, which the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you?”       Joshua 17:18; 18:2

             Borders.  We tend to think of them as restrictive, as confining, as limiting.  We give them a negative connotation instead of a positive demarcation.  Borders mark our territory; they delineate our acreage; they stretch out our inheritance!  While we may see them as fence lines we aren’t supposed to cross, in reality, we rarely walk our fence lines, much less camp beside them.  Truth be told, most of us live in a small portion of our land and all too often fail to stretch to the edge of our “restrictive” borders; we fail to clear our “forest country”.

That’s what the Israelites did…or didn’t…do.  After entering the Promised Land and driving out its inhabitants, the twelve tribes were to settle their land, to inhabit not just a portion of the land, but all the way to its borders.  For most, this was a daunting task.  Yes, God had given them the land He’d promised; yes, He’d allowed them to overthrow kings; yes, He’d dried up riverbeds and knocked down walls, but no land was completely established…no territory was cleared all the way to its borders! 

The tribes of Joseph did what many of us tend to do.  They looked at their inheritance and said, “Is that all we get?  It’ll never be enough.”  To which Joshua replied, “But you own all the way to the far borders…beyond the hills and through the forest country.  Can’t you see it?”  But apparently they could only see to the forest and not through the forest; what they couldn’t see was the border beyond the brush-line.

I think about these instructions of Joshua whenever I see land that has been cleared and brush that has been piled.  Sometimes, the scene is one of land being made ready for use, of a territory claimed, conquered, and cleared.  But sometimes, the scene is one of devastation, of land that has been hacked, hauled, and heaped.  Work has been done, but not completed; piles have been made but not burned; territory has been exposed, but not expanded.  It’s frustrating to see such starts…without the follow through of a finish.  All the work that went into cutting and piling, but without the burning, has left the land no more inhabitable than when the timber stood vertically rather than lying horizontally.  Why so close…why the almost instead of the Amen?  And so my thoughts wander…and rise…and land at God’s feet…where He collects them, and addresses them.

“You do this, too.”

“What? Me? I always burn my piles!”

“Yes, the ones in the woods you do, but what about the ones in your heart?”

“Lord, what piles are in my heart?  What have You cut down that I have left stacked up?”

“Well, there’s the pile of doubt, uncertainties, and fear along your northern border.  That should go.  Then, there’s the prickly pile of pride with its thorns of ‘what will others think’ and ‘what if I mess up’ that’s hampering access to the western border.  On the south end, there’s – ”

“Um, excuse me, but just how many more piles are there?”

“As I was saying, to the south there’s the pile of impatience…to which you may add that branch you just picked up…and to the east, there’s that brush pile of selfishness.  All piles of fallen timbers that I have cut and you have stacked…but not burned.”

(Gulp.)  “Lord, I don’t know what to say except…may I have a Light?”

Heart piles.  Who knew?  Areas that need to be cut down, mounded up, and burned through.  Areas that block our borders and limit our latitude.  Areas that increase our flammability but decrease our fruit-ability because they prevent us from inhabiting all of our inheritance.  In the book of Joshua, the tribes have been given the promised land; now, they have to land on the promise.  God delivered them, He promised to help them develop; God conquered for them, He promised to help them claim; God exhumed for them, He promised to help them expand.  At every turn, God was there before, beside, behind, and below.  River in the way?  God piled it up.  Walls in the way?  God pulled them down.  Kings in the way?  God plucked them out.  Trees in the way?  God handed them an ax.

Sometimes I wait on God and sometimes He waits on me.  I think I’m being patient while He’s being purposeful when in actuality He’s being patient while I’m being impudent.  Sometimes it’s hard to see the border for the trees; sometimes it’s hard to see the perimeter for the piles.  It’s true of physical inheritances and it’s true of spiritual inheritances; it’s true of land borders and of heart borders.  How often, if we think about it, has God brought us to our promised area just to see us dwell in a portion of our acreage?  How often have we asked God for more without even inhabiting all that we have?  How often has God cleared our forests only to watch us stack up the fallen timbers as if to memorialize that which has been cut down?  Oh, that we would trust in…and inhabit…His promises.  If we did, we’d have larger territories, wider borders, and no fire hazards; we’d not only have all the room we need, but we’d have enough for everyone whom we’d invite…for generations to come! And, we’d have said of us what the Israelites had said of them.

“Thus the LORD gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And    they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the LORD gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the LORD had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. (Joshua 21:43-45 ESV)

God made good on His promise to the Israelites more than 3,500 years ago.  Why?  Because they were His chosen people.  God makes good on His promises to us right here, right now.  Why?  Because we are His adopted children.  God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, so we don’t have to be.  He’s cleared our sins, so we can reach our borders; He’s stacked our fears, so we can clear our territory; and He’s given us a burn permit, so we can increase our inheritance.

So, won’t you join me in “Project Burn”?  It’s time for the piles to go.  It’s time for the land to be inhabited…fully and far-ly (it’s a new word…feel free to use it as it’s now in print), to the fence and back.  Ready?   I’ve got my Lighter…do you have yours?

burning wood pile

Definition Defined

Definition Defined

“The LORD will establish you as a holy people to Himself, just as He has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in His ways.”   Deuteronomy  28:9

 To mow or not to mow, that is the question, and it’s not answered by the length of the grass.  That is too obvious.  Who would even consider mowing a lawn whose blades weren’t in need of shortening?  No, the answer lies in the amount of time one has to do the job.  For me, if I don’t have enough time to mow and weed-eat, then I don’t have enough time to mow.  If I can’t complete the entirety of what is needed, then I don’t even begin.  The only thing worse (in my opinion) than a lawn in need of mowing is a mowed lawn in need of weed-eating.  Somehow the contrast between the tended and untended causes me to notice only the untended.  And that is an affront to my optic nerves!

At my house, when it comes to yard work, I can enlist helpers to mow the grass.  It’s not too difficult to find a volunteer to drive the riding lawn mower.  But, when it comes to doing the weed-eating (or, heaven forbid, the push mower), there isn’t a volunteer in sight and, while I have tried to reinstate the “yard draft”, that too has proven futile.  Turns out no one else has heard of this civil service act.  Go figure.  At any rate, I, by decree, default, and defeat, am the leader of the weed-eating army of…one.

So, as I was weed-eating the other day, I thought about why this portion of the yard work was so important to me.  Truly, no one else in my home values this procedure as much as I do, so I asked myself why it meant so much to me.  And the answer came in one word:  definition.  Weed-eating gives definition to a yard, clearly defining its boundaries.  Without it, there is no distinction between the areas that are being maintained and those that are not intended to be upheld.  I began to think about the word definition.  Later, because I thought it was ironic…and funny…, I looked up the definition for the word definition.  Here is what I found:  the degree of distinctness in outline of an object, image, or sound; synonyms – clarity, sharpness, crispness, acuteness.  As I thought about this word, I realized it encompassed far more than I had originally speculated.  Far beyond depicting my value of weed-eating, this four syllable word held a much deeper meaning; by its very definition, it identified itself as a word that stresses the importance of boundaries, of clarity and distinctness.

As I allowed this thought to expand, it quickly jumped the borders of yard work and crossed into the boundaries of life.  Once in this terrain, it began stamping its name upon those areas that also have, or are in need of, definition.  It tattooed its name on that which is written and spoken; communication relies on definition to be effective.  It seared its name upon art and music; even our senses need precision in order for appreciation to emerge.  It imprinted its name on policies and principles, contracts and covenants, government and the governed; all these rely upon clear definitions in order to function properly.  And then, with one fell swoop, it personally wrote its name upon the Church; not the building, but the body of believers.  There too, there especially, there more than anywhere else, definition was necessary.

But how does one apply this word to one’s life?  How, as Christians who are the Church, do we become defined?  How do we develop a “distinct outline” and increase our clarity and crispness?  The answer is found in the book of Deuteronomy.  Here, as Moses reiterates the laws God has given to His people as they prepare to enter the Promised Land, we read of how the Israelites were to be defined.  They were not to look like the people who lived in the land God was giving them; they were not to follow their customs or to practice foreign religions.  The Israelites were to be distinct…acutely different from those around them.  In Deuteronomy 4:1, Moses gives these reminders to the Israelites:

“Surely I have taught you statues and judgments, just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess.  Therefore, be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’”  

Then, in chapter 28:9-10, Moses records,

“The LORD will establish you as a holy people to Himself, just as He has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in His ways.  Then all peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they shall be afraid of you.”  (Bold font mine.)

In these cited verses, as well as in the entire book of Deuteronomy, God defines His people.  He addresses every aspect of living so that, by definition, the Israelites will be known as His children, with a clarity that is easily recognizable and a sharpness that is in stark contrast with those around them.  Throughout this book, warnings are given to those who don’t want to weed-eat; to those who are reluctant to keep their boundaries clearly marked.  For them, God warns that, once the perimeters are no longer clearly edged, their distinction will be lost and they will soon look more like their godless neighbors than like God’s chosen people.  When this occurs, they will exchange the blessings of godly obedience for the curses of ungodly obstinacy.

While the book of Deuteronomy records what the Israelites were to do in order to be a clearly defined people, its truths apply to all believers today who make up Christ’s bride, the Church.  We too are called to live in such a way that there is a distinctness about us; we are to have our boundaries clearly marked, and trimmed, so that others know what we believe and Who we belong to.  If we only tend to our general yards through church attendance, church events, Sunday School, etc. (group activities) and neglect the detail of weed-eating through daily Bible time, prayer, Scripture memorization, etc. (personal disciplines), then we will soon lose our definition and, as was true for the Israelites, begin to resemble the people around us more than the God we have been called to represent.  We will be yards whose borders are not clearly seen and, therefore, are easily trespassed.

So, whether or not you share my philosophy for literal weed-eating, I hope you will share my newly uncovered philosophy for spiritual weed-eating!  Truly we are to be distinctly Christian; people who, by definition, are to have a “degree of distinctness in outline and form”.  May we, as believers, be a people whose clarity, crispness, and acuity may be evident so that others might first see our faith and then see our Savior.  Now that’s weed-eating at its best!