Sunday, December 23, 2012

Silent Night, Holy Night


Both of my children always love the candlelight service at the end of our Christmas service. It's my favorite part, too - watching the light of tiny flames spread through the darkened sanctuary until the whole room is aglow and over a thousand voices are singing together, "Silent night, holy night"...

It is a blessing to be there with my family. Redeeming grace, indeed. Through teary eyes I see the smiles on their candlelit faces as they raise them up towards heaven - a tiny glimpse of heaven itself. We pause at the end of the song and it is a moment that is completely silent. Holy. My heart is full. In that moment, complete.

Last night, were encouraged to allow some things in our lives be silenced, and to set apart time that is holy. It is both a timeless and timely message. In the midst of chaos of this season and darkness of this world, we can silence the outside and set apart time in our own homes - and hearts - that is holy.

This Christmas, may we guard our hearts and families from any outside voices. Let us draw closer to one another and embrace the beautiful gift of peace He came to give. Peace not as the world gives...

"I am leaving you with a gift--peace of mind and heart. 
And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. 
So don't be troubled or afraid." - John 14:27

Silent night! holy night!
Son of God love's pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth
Jesus, Lord at thy birth

Silent night! holy night!

Friday, December 21, 2012

in the middle of hope


"When Darkness seems to hide His face 
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil"

Edward Mote, "The Solid Rock"

Thinking back to my last post here, published pre-dawn last Friday morning, I couldn't have fathomed the unspeakable that would unfold just a few hours later.  

I've said often that, "tragedy tears the veil of our perspectives and perceptions". The fragility and brevity of our lives were revealed and we were broken.  Bare. Helpless.  The events of last Friday remind us all that we are not guaranteed another breath on this earth.   


But we are guaranteed hope - the hope of eternity.  


In the days that have followed, my heart has been reminded of that hope.  It is hope that rose from another Friday in history that was filled with darkness and a different veil that was torn...  

 
"And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last.  
Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom." 
Mark 15:37-38  
 
According to the account of Mark, Jesus endured six hours of torment on the cross.  Although it was midday, darkness completely enveloped the sky during the final three hours.  As Jesus' took His last breath, the veil to the Holy of Holies was literally ripped apart.  The presence of God was no longer veiled.
 
In an instant, tragedy had become triumph.  
 
Therefore, we can boldly stand before His throne of grace, yes - even in the midst of our deepest suffering, we can enter into His presence.  In the midst of the deepest suffering, we can cling to the deepest of hope:  "This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, the inner sanctuary behind the veil, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf" (Hebrews 6:19-20).  

That Sunday following that dark Friday, the three made their way towards the tomb.  I imagine their journey as they traveled in the pre-dawn hours.  Grieving.  Silence.  Darkness.  In the midst of their suffering, they probably couldn't have fathomed the hope that would be revealed with the rising of the sun: a stone removed.  An empty tomb.

And in an instant, death had become a lie.  


Just as we make our way to Him in the middle of our darkest days - and our hopelessness - we, too, can find hope unimaginable in Him.

This season, may we celebrate all the more the hope He came to bring.  
 
"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful." Hebrews 10:23

originally posted at: http://middleplaces.com/2012/12/21/in-the-middle-of-hope/

Monday, December 17, 2012

take heart


12.14.2012: coming home

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea...
Psalm 46:1-2

My children stepped off the bus Friday afternoon and I breathed a sigh of relief. They were a sight for my sore, tear-stained eyes.  My wounded heart lept inside of my chest at the sight of the bus turning the corner at the end of the street.  I snapped a picture with my cell phone as if it were the first day of school all over again and they giggled at me, their gushing mommy at the bus stop.

They didn't know what I knew - and they didn't need to know. It is truth that is too difficult to bear. In another part of the country, there were twenty little boys and little girls that weren't coming home.  There were mommies and daddies wrought with anguish and grief that is beyond what my human heart can comprehend.  My heart was heavy, burdened, broken, crushed.  It was burning and physically aching by the news of the tragedy in Newtown.  I'd left work earlier that day with the intent of finishing up some last minute Christmas shopping and instead, had spent most of the afternoon praying ... and sobbing

For those babies, just like ours.  For those mommies and daddies, just like us, who had seen their children off onto the bus just that morning, or who had waved goodbye in car rider line...

Every moment of my own children's morning came flooding into my mind:  Chloe's sweet little face as she slept, I cupped her little face in my hands and kissed her cheek as I silently pondered her beauty, how much - and how fast - she is growing.  The giggling at Parker's bed head hair, picking out their clothes, struggling to get everyone out the door on time.  Laughter filled the car on the way to school as we played a silly game of Christmas trivia, there were half-hugs and kisses from the back seat as they stepped out of my car and onto the curb at school.
 
As they walk the sidewalk up to school, I always drive alongside them for a few feet with the passenger window cracked, waving goodbyes.  Sometimes, and this morning was one of them, I'll take one last glance at them in my rear view mirror and watch them as they turn and walk side by side through the doors.  With Chloe moving to intermediate school next year, this is their last year to be in the same school together until middle school, so I try as best I can to take it all in.  To freeze frame those sweet moments in my mind - and in my heart.

That afternoon, I cherished those moments - and those morning memories - immeasurably more.

Tragedy tears the veil of our comfort and our complacency, revealing both the brevity and fragility of our lives.  Tragedy awakens our slumbering souls, removes the scales from our eyes and gives us the clarity to see the ordinary details of our lives as what they are:  extraordinary blessings.  We aren't guaranteed our next breath on this earth.  We are not guaranteed when we hug our family goodbye in the morning that we will have the blessing of kissing them goodnight.

But we are guaranteed that this life isn't all there is. 

When there are no answers, there is Jesus. 

When we have no words, we have His word.

As I think about my own children, my own family, and my own mortality, I think about the truths that I desperately want them to know.  Several years ago I wrote this blog about the all-too-often taboo subject of death and dying, because the reality is, it's a matter of when and not if.  We all need truth that will carry us through tragedy, light that shines through the darkest days and the hope that comes with an eternal perspective... 

His word tells us that in this fallen and sin-wrecked world, we will have trouble - we will have tragedy and heartbreak - but He urges us to "take heart, for He has overcome the world". (Jn 16:33)

Take. heart.  In the greek, the word is θαρσεῖτε, which means that we are to be bold, confident, without fear, courageous and of good cheer.  This doesn't mean that we don't mourn and grieve in the wake of suffering, but it means that we "do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope" (1 Thess 4:13).  

Take heart, all you mommies who - like me - welt up with tears kissing your children this morning; whose voices cracked through the lump in our throats as we said our goodbyes.  The enemy would desire nothing more than to use this tragedy to breed a spirit of fear among us.  In the days and weeks that follow, we have an enemy who will use every lie and every scheme to imprison our hearts with fear, but "we have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor 2:6) and "we are not unaware of his schemes" (2 Cor 2:11).

Take heart and rise up!  Rise up and counter the lies with the truth.  Counter the lies with Jesus, who is the truth (John 14:6). 

Take heart, and do not fear, "for God has given us a not a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control" (2 Tim 1:7).

Take heart, for our Redeemer lives!  Job, having lost everything - his children, his possessions, his own health - in a succession of tragedies wrote, "I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth" (Job 19:25).

Take heart, and live by faith, for "we must live by faith and not by sight, knowing that to be absent from our bodies is to be present with Christ" (2 Cor 5:7-8). 

Take heart and set your eyes - and your hearts - on Jesus.  We know all that we need to know about the tragedy that has occurred.  Let us take our eyes off of the sensationalized news coverage that continues and "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2). 

Take heart, and intercede.  Pray your heart out.  Ezekiel 22:30 says, “So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found no one.”  Through Him, we have the ability to cry out on behalf of those who are suffering unimaginable loss, for those who do not know Him, and for those grieving without hope.  "So let us come boldly to the throne of grace, where we will receive mercy" (Hebrews 4:16).  We stand in the gap on their behalf.  We pray according to His word that He is close to the brokenhearted (Ps 34:18), that He will bind up their hearts and heal their wounds (Ps 147:3), and that He will pour out His spirit on the suffering. 

Take heart and live with the hope - and the perspective - of eternity, for there is coming a day when "He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever" (Rev 21:4)

Take heart in Jesus. 

Take heart in His word. 
And if you don't know Him, take your heart - and give it to Him - and receive the comfort only He can give. 

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,
who comforts us in all our troubles,
so that we can comfort those in any trouble
with the comfort we ourselves have received from God."
2 Corinthians 1:4

Friday, December 14, 2012

middle places: in the middle of freedom

"There's a love that lives in me 
For You Lord, my savior King
Breaks the sin that's binding
And brings me to a place of freedom" 
- Highlands Worship lyrics 


Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. 
(Psalm 142:7)


I've been writing and documenting my life, albeit inconsistently, for most of my life.  From the diaries and journals of my youth to the over-a-decade old geocities personal websites.  I had a blog before there really was such a thing.  I have grown up with a desire to both keep an account and share life.  After I surrendered my life to Christ, the focus of my life - and my writing - changed.  As I began to walk "the narrow path" I believed He was leading me to, I changed the name of my personal blog and began to write about the journey along that path.  It was, and is, a place for me to simply document the places along the path, pouring out whatever is within me.  I've written through the dark places as well as the hilltops, the moments of running and of falling, the moments of wondering and those of wandering.  My writing is simply the overflow of my heart. 

All that to say, in sitting down to write in the predawn hours, I don't really get to choose that which flows out through my fingers.  Prompted by His spirit, my fingers touch the keyboard and by way of something I will never fully understand, words begin weaving.   This morning, I'd be remiss not to share that which is currently overflowing:  freedom....

This past weekend, I attended a retreat called LIFE - which is the culmination of a twelve week study on freedom in Christ.  It was incredibly powerful, breaking through layers of bondage and baggage that I didn't even realize I was [still] carrying.  But the most powerful of all was a session on "soul ties".  These are the ties that can stem from any relationship that attaches to your mind, will, and emotions.  They can result from both impure and ungodly relationships:  sexual intimacy outside of marriage as well as friendships that are unhealthy and ungodly.  They are ties that bind and restrain us, influencing our will and our choices.  Ultimately, these ties act as a spiritual umbilical cord; they can steal our joy and our ability to connect intimately with God. These are the relationships that act as poison to our very souls, hindering and often destroying the consistency of our connection to Christ.  They are the relationships and ties that are constantly pulling us away from Christ - and away from biblical principles of living instead of towards the freedom of living in His will.  

Relationships can be broken, but only God can permanently sever those unseen ties that bind us to our past.

It was a neatly packaged, beautifully delivered message that, in a matter of moments, began to wreck my world - and open the eyes of my heart.  The weight of my sin had been lifted at the moment of my salvation, but I had been dragging the chains - and the spiritual umbilical cords - of my past along my path, and collecting even more ungodly soul ties along the way.   

We were each given little blank white cards.  During prayer, we were asked to write the names of those that came to mind.  My card was filled with ink, smeared with tears.  A lifetime of these "ties" that were within me flowed out of me, and were now scribbled on this card in the palm of my hand.

At the end of each session, each person prays with an intercessor.  I can't describe this.  Just know that it is both biblical and amazing.  Worship music filling the sanctuary, I stood in line with some other girls from my study group waiting for the next available intercessor.  We stood with these graffiti filled cards in hands, tears streaming down faces, freedom was coming.

We were a line of prisoners, moments from release.  And we didn't even know it.

Praying with the intercessor for chains to be broken, she pauses and whispers in my ear, "now, tear the card up".  She continues praying.  I continue weeping and I begin to fold the card.  Head bowed, tears dripping down through my fingers, the card was damp and literally, coming apart in my hands.  I slowly began to tear it apart, over and over.  Tattered shreds.  "Now, let them fall to the ground," she whispers.  Let. them. fall. to. the. ground.  The words were still ringing in my ears, reverberating through my spirit - and my heart - as they began to fall.  These were not just torn and tattered fragments of paper, these were fragments of shackles, falling hard.  I half expected the ground to shake under their weight, having just unleashed thirty-six years of chains.

The prayer came to a close and I paused, utterly shocked at the weightlessness of the moment.  I turned to go back towards my seat, reluctant to walk away from this moment that had just changed. my.life.  Scattered bits of paper covered the floor all around me.  Remnants of the chains of others that had been shredded, torn, and cast to ground.  We each stepped on them as I walked away through the rubble and into freedom...

and we sang...

"The enemy is under your feet, we are free
We are free!
Death has been defeated by love, you overcome
You overcome!"
Hillsong lyrics



This Christmas, embrace the gift He came to give:  Freedom!



original post here at MiddlePlaces: