Monthly Archives: December 2015

There Isn’t a Picture for That

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A notification popped up on my Facebook newsfeed: “Your year in review – see your best memories from this year.”  I clicked on the link, and I must admit I was disappointed.  My entire year – a year of seeing God’s faithfulness, a year that was humbling, challenging, and good – was summed up in a paltry collection of seven pictures, all but one either being from our family photos in July or being from a week ago.  (Granted, had I posted more photos, there would have been more to see!)  My year was so much more than what Facebook remembered – or what people saw.

Under_Review-stampWhat is my “Year in Review” then?  It is dozens of moments deepening friendships through shared laughter, sorrows, and stories.  It was the unexpected renewing of a precious friendship I had resigned myself to setting aside.  It was God’s surprising me with new opportunities, perspectives, and solutions even when I felt I was floundering.  It was the relentless grace of my God shown through my family and friends as I tried – and failed – to be self-sufficient.  It was knowing what the right thing was – and being so terrified of doing it that I couldn’t stop shaking as I did it.

This year was the writing and posting of thirty-odd blogs, some painstakingly written over a number of years and finally completed.  It was the reality of late nights and early mornings as an RA.  (I am always perfectly serious when I say that I get weird when I am up too late).  It was the warmth of family and home – a love that I have learned to carry with me wherever I go.  It was CLEP tests, extra hours at work, and the seemingly endless renditions of “Step by Step” I sang to the little kiddos I watched as they drifted off to sleep.  It was the struggle of learning how to “let go and let God,” trusting Him completely – and the awe of watching Him begin to fit the pieces together in ways I could never have imagined.

My year was every quiet moment, every worship-filled dance, every frustrated huff, every cry of grief, and every joyous triumph.  And there isn’t a picture for that.

This year has been challenging mentally, physically, and emotionally; God has been stretching me, expanding my vision, and humbling me as only He can.  It was a year of growth and maturing.  I entered 2015 with my joy exhausted and my hope hanging on by a thread; I leave this year with passionate joy and an unshakeable confidence in the faithfulness of my God, who is my Hope.  And there aren’t pictures enough to show the beauty of it all as I have learned to embrace the days of grace.  There are no longer good days and bad days – as Graham Cooke says, there are only days of grace as we come to recognize the relentless kindness of our Heavenly Father.

Sometimes what we see is only part of the story.  My dear friends, what is the reality of your year in review?  Are you allowing your story to be defined by the goodness of God, or does it feel as superficial as a disappointing social media summary?  Are you are always scrutinizing your life, worrying about how others might see it?  Are there hurts or habits tainting your memories of this year?

For me, this has been a year of rediscovering joy and hope, and now the coming year is going to be different: a year of courage – courage to step into the fullness of what God has for me.  We all experience different seasons; some are lovely and some challenging, but all are overflowing with grace if we are willing to accept it.  I am going to celebrate the turn of the New Year with a night of worship in the company of dear friends.  I can think of no better way for me to thank the God of miracles for all He has done, is doing, and will still do.  Sometimes, there aren’t pictures; it is up to us to be intentional about the memories we keep.  As 2015 draws to a close, I encourage you to boldness: ask God to review your year.  What did He do this year, and what is He doing now?  Let your final authority in defining your story be the One who knows the end from the beginning and whose nature is relentlessly, perfectly Good in every way.    

As you enjoy the final hours of this year, take a few moments to listen to this song: “God of Miracles” by Chris McClarney.  May you embrace the coming year with the fullness of hope as you expect to see the goodness of our God.

Happy New Year, my friends!

new year countdown

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The Night the Silence Broke

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We like to dwell on the sweet holiness of the birth of Christ.  We like to keep our nice, quiet story of a little family with a new baby, sequestered in a stable in the tiny town of Bethlehem.  And as we observe with silent wonder and tender thoughts of newborns, I think we sometimes forget the power and the passion, the purpose that accompanied this night.  We forget the questions and the awe that must have accompanied these events for the people involved.  As much as I enjoy classic renditions of “Silent Night,” the song doesn’t provide a full picture of God’s intentions through the birth of Christ our Savior.

When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her that she would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Son of God, it marked the first recorded words directly from God in about four hundred years.  (This also renders the song “Mary, Did You Know?” obsolete, but I digress.)  These four hundred years are the intertestamental period – the years between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament – and they are often known as the Silent Years.  Can you imagine?  Four hundred years of silence.  Four hundred years of closely-held hope, of quiet longing for the promised Savior-King.  One of the most beautiful Biblical passages prophesying about the Christ-child is Isaiah 9:1-7.  These verses speak of the coming Light, the Savior of Israel, who releases the people from oppression – a victorious Warrior who frees the nation.  Immediately following this proclamation is something that seems, at first glance, almost disjointed:

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder.  And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward and forever….” – Isaiah 9:6-7

"Adoration of the Shepherds" - painting by Bartolome Murillo

“Adoration of the Shepherds” – painting by Bartolome Murillo

But the Child lying in a manager that night in Bethlehem was in no way separated from the image of the Savior-King.  The night Jesus Christ was born, the silence was well and truly broken.  The “Silent Night” was actually the freedom-cry that heralded the reign of the Prince of Peace, as angels shouted aloud the glory of God Most High.  It was the shattering of death by the Giver of Life:

“Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, [Jesus] Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” – Hebrews 2:14-15

What may have seemed, on the surface, to be a quiet night in a stable, was actually quite the opposite.  God spoke to us through His Son Jesus, who is the very Word, the express image – the exact representation of the Father (Heb. 1:1-4; Jn. 1:1-3; Col. 1:15-17).  Though God continues to speak, Jesus is the Perfect Revelation of the Father. (Check out Pastor Kevan’s message for more about who Jesus is — He is perfect theology!)  At the birth of Jesus, the Father’s intention was manifest in flesh and blood.  This salvation-cry of peace for the nations was declared loud and clear, the inauguration of a new Covenant and a new Kingdom.

And so, my dear friends, as we celebrate the birth of Christ, let it be with holy awe and full knowledge of the impact of that night upon our lives.  The gift of Emmanuel, God-with-us, was given without reservation.  May we rejoice as ones who live under the everlasting Government of the Prince of Peace, now free from fear of death by power of Christ Jesus, the silence-shattering Declaration of heaven.

My favorite Christmas song, in case any of you are wondering, is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” – the full power of the Savior-King, born to us for our salvation.  Amen!

Listen here: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” by Kim Walker-Smith

There Came a Day

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“I never mess up.  I’m infallible.  I am always perfect, always strong, always on top of things” – said I never.

No, I would never say such things aloud because I consciously know they aren’t true.  However, I’ve felt those things.  You see, I pride myself in my ability to plan, to do everything with excellence no matter how much I have going on, to be always reliable.  It’s an odd thing, because it isn’t an “I’m so awesome” mentality; it is more of an “I’m strong, so I can take care of myself – and everybody else” mentality.  I struggle in asking for help, but the reverse isn’t true – I am always trying to find ways to make life easier for everyone else.  I consider it my personal obligation to take care of the people around me.  There is no challenge or responsibility I am unwilling to undertake – and I don’t consider failure as a possibility.  Why?  Because I simply don’t fail.  Usually, I don’t even find things to be difficult.  I am an excellent planner and very capable when it comes to making sure that things get done and needs get met.  Ah, infallible me, paragon of self-sufficiency!

But there came a day.

Gandalf meme

This is definitely how I felt…

There came a day, just before Thanksgiving, when I showed up to class and discovered I had forgotten an assignment.  No big deal, right?  It happens to everyone, right?  Wrong.  It has never happened to me before.  Since beginning college, I have had nightmares about that sort of situation: forgetting an assignment, being late to class – basically not doing what I was supposed to do and being where I was supposed to be.  It sounds silly, but I would wake up in a panic, heart racing, every time.

Failure – my deepest fear.

My teacher saw the look on my face (one of confusion coupled with abject horror) and quickly deduced that I had forgotten the assignment.  A smile spread over her face.  Her next words were, “I’m so proud to be the professor who got to experience this!)  My classmates fake-gasped and began to tease me about finally having forgotten something.  It felt like my world was spinning out of control – my control, that is.

That day, I discovered my own insufficiency.  But I discovered something else as well:  it was much less horrible than I had dreamed.  Since that day, I have not had a single bad dream about missing class or forgetting assignments.

Over the course of my fall semester at college, I have learned a great deal about failure, humility, and the true power of grace.  As an R.A. (resident hall assistant), there was a bulletin board that I never completed and an on-duty week in which I had to take a night off, having someone else complete my duties.  There is an email that I received two months ago from a friend that I never responded to (my dear friend, you know who you are!).  I had to wake up to an alarm twice – something I have never had to do in my entire life.  There was an assignment I chose not to do for one of my online classes.  I packed to come home, and there was a small menagerie of items I forgot to bring.  I simply couldn’t do everything.  I am not perfect, and though I know that is okay, I am not always okay with the idea (or rather, the reality) of not being able to accomplish everything on my own timeline and in my own way.  Funny how I seem to have endless inherent grace for others but refuse to cut myself any slack.

Humility – learning how to be “okay” with my own humanness and frailty and how to ask for help.

In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul speaks of being plagued by a certain weakness and of asking God to take it from him (v. 7-8).  I do not think he was wrong in desiring to be released unto full strength; after all, his intention was to serve God better.  However, Paul was wrong in his concept of what it meant to “serve God better,” and God corrected his thinking:

‘And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.’
– 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Perhaps, my dear friends, it is not our intentions that need to be corrected but rather our methodsIf I define failure as not “having it all together,” that says something about my definition of success.  Do I really believe that “success” is equated with having it all together?  And does such a view mirror God’s definition of success and failure?  Is it really God’s desire for me to be self-sufficient?  The answer to each of those questions is a resounding “no.”  Self-sufficiency leaves no room for God to display His goodness – and not only does it restrict the revelation of His goodness; it also restricts the degree to which His power, His Holy Spirit, is going to work through us.  After all, if I am all I need, it renders Jesus’ sacrifice and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit quite useless.

hands with flowersPart of humility involves learning how to accept grace.  I of all people am hardest on myself.  I am often uncomfortable with the truth of my having limitations that I didn’t choose.  But there came a day when I couldn’t do it all.  I am living in those days now, and through it I am learning to live in the grace of my Heavenly Father more freely and fully.  The prayer of my heart is no longer “Make me strong.”  Rather, it has come to be more like this: “Sustain me with Your loving-kindness, for I am frail flesh in need of Your very breath.  Show me all the heights and depths, the vast expanse and the gentle whisper of grace.”

May we learn to define success and failure according to the standards of heaven and the heart of our good Father.  Life is not easy, but we can learn “to take pleasure…for Christ’s sake” because He is strong in our weakness.  There came a day – a day in which grace became an immanent reality – and I want to live daily in that revelation.  I invite you to join me on my journey into the depths of grace, for grace is always best displayed in community.

 

Beyond the Veil

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During the school year, I enjoy being part of a wonderful church family near my college.  I choose to go there not only because of their solid Biblical teaching but also because of their commitment to and open practice of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including prophecy, healing, and words of knowledge – something I am passionate about.  Now, I share all that to preface a brief story: someone shared a word of encouragement during a church service a few weeks ago.  This person shared several things about God’s love, yet it was the final thing that was said that caught my full attention: “Jesus is ready and waiting to go through the veil for us.”  (Don’t quote me on the precise wording, but that was the gist of it).  Essentially, this person said that Jesus is going to go beyond the veil for us, in our place.  Please understand that I am not criticizing, and I am not saying that this was not a word from the Lord.  The wording of it, however, caused me to think.  There is a concept in this that must be scrutinized, for even as this word was shared, my mind shouted, “But the veil was torn when Jesus died on the cross!”

“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 (also Matt. 27:50-51 and Lk. 23:45)

The truth is that Jesus already went beyond the veil for us: “the forerunner has entered for us” (Heb. 6:19).  Great – Jesus went beyond the veil for us.  That’s dandy, but what does it mean for us now?  What is this veil-thing about anyway?  To answer those questions, we need a little bit of background knowledge, so indulge me for a few moments as I get a little nerdy with Biblical history….

Here’s the (very brief) version of what “the veil” is and represents in Scripture: in the Old Testament, the Lord instituted the Law for His people to follow.  He commanded that a dwelling place be built for Him and that a heavy veil be hung in the Tabernacle (and later the Temple) to separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place (the Holy of Holies).

I know you were longing for a diagram...

I know you were longing for a diagram…

It was in the Most Holy Place that the presence of the Lord dwelt between the carved cherubim that topped the Ark of the Covenant.  Only the high priest of Israel could pass beyond the veil into the Most Holy Place – and that could be done only once a year and with the blood of a sacrifice for the sins of the Israelites (this was known as the Day of Atonement).  This particular veil was in place to restrict access to the fullness of the Lord’s presence – His holy glory – because, since the days of Adam and Eve, sin has separated us from full relationship with God.  (It would be fascinating to discuss all the uses of veils, including those to cover women, in Scripture, but I digress.)

The veil was torn.

The veil was torn.

Fast forward many hundreds of years: Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, took on flesh and became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:17), dying a horrific death on a cross and rising again in victory to release us from the power of sin (Rom. 8:2) and reconcile us to God the Father (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 5:10-11) by fulfilling the whole Law (Matt. 5:17).  As He died, the veil – the one that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place – was torn in half from top to bottom.  God the Father reconciled us to Himself through the death of His Son Jesus because it pleased Him to do so; no longer are we enemies but rather are now holy, blameless children of the King of Kings.  Our peace was bought in Blood that we might have relationship with Him (Col. 1:19-22).  That’s what the tearing of the veil was about on the day Jesus died: access to the Holy of Holies, the living Presence of God, through relationship with Him.

God made a shocking and powerful statement in tearing the veil in the Temple, but what does that truly mean for us?  What place does the veil hold in our lives?

We know that Jesus has already gone beyond the veil for us, but He didn’t stop in merely “going beyond.”  In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul asserts that “the veil is taken away in Christ….when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (v. 14, 16).  This imagery of the veil being removed indicates the inauguration of the New Covenant, bought with Christ’s blood, which demolishes the Law of the old covenant and its fading glory.  Interestingly, even before the days of the Tabernacle, God’s first dwelling place among the Israelites, Moses spoke face to face with God on a mountain top.  When Moses came back down to the Israelite camp, he veiled his face to hide the radiance of God’s glory that clung to him – and that was merely a fading glory from being in the presence of God Most High.  But now, we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18, emphasis mine; check out all of chapter 3 to really dig into this subject).  This is how the veil relates to our daily lives.

We are reflect God's glory.

We all reflect God’s glory.

Jesus didn’t die so we could remain on the far side of the veil, restricted from the presence of the Father; we are called to a life beyond the veil.

We are invited to “boldly approach the throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16) because Jesus has become our High Priest, our Mediator before God the Father, and the Atonement for our sin.  In this same vein, Ephesians 3:12 tells us that we have “boldness and access with confidence through faith in [Jesus]” (emphasis mine) to all the mysteries of fellowship with the Father (check out Unveiled for a more in-depth look at this Ephesians passage).

And so I must ask: is there anything – works, effort, rules, sin – that we are allowing to separate us from the Presence of God?  My dear friends, are we unintentionally reconstructing the veil of separation that Jesus’ sacrifice tore down?  Are we putting up barriers where our Savior already made a way?  Because the Father is not restricting access to Himself.  The old veil of separation is gone; Jesus has made a new way for us:

“We have, then, my friends, complete freedom to go into the Most Holy Place by means of the death of Jesus.  He opened for us a new way, a living way, through the curtain [veil] – that is, through his own body.  We have a great priest in charge of the house of God.  So let us come near to God with a sincere heart and a sure faith, with hearts that have been purified from a guilty conscience and with bodies washed with clean water.”
– Hebrews 10:19-22 GNT, emphasis mine

Father, forgive us our ignorant efforts to hide from Your Presence, to separate ourselves again from You.  Show us how to fully honor the Gift that Jesus gave us through His sacrifice.  We want to live the full story of grace!  May we learn to dwell freely in the Holy of Holies, basking in the radiant light of Your Presence.  Amen.

Will you accept the Father’s invitation to live beyond the veil?