To Hear the Angels Sing

Re-posting this from a couple years ago. May the truth of its message ring clearly still as you “hush the noise… and hear the angels sing.” Sky_wallpapers_233

Yesterday, I found myself scrolling through the lyrics to several well-known Christmas songs. Then again, perhaps they are not all as well-known as I had originally assumed, since I found myself reading various versions containing stanzas I had never before sung. For whatever reason, some of the verses have been excluded from the musical renditions we sing throughout the Christmas season. Most likely, it is for brevity’s purpose as many of the original versions could take a very long time to sing in their entirety.

Regardless… during my reading, I stumbled across the full-length version of It Came Upon the Midnight Clear which was originally written as a poem by Edmund H. Sears in 1849. While I can truthfully inform you that I have never made claims to memorizing this song, I can also honestly say that the only verse I can even recall singing is the opening one which reads:

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Sadly, the rest of the words to this poignant hymn have been missing from my life. That is, until yesterday. As I continued to read, this stirring rendition of the original enthralled me. For while the first verse speaks about the glorious message the angels sang to a listening world, the next two stanzas reveal more about the true heart of the world as I know it. A world that is anything but peaceful, and anything but resting in silence in order to hear the angels’ song of “goodwill to men.”

The world as I know it is more often filled with a cacophony of discordant, selfish cries competing to be heard above the very melody our hearts were created to embrace. Competing, yet never able to overwhelm the anthem of the angels. Indeed, there is no sound that can overpower God’s heavenly choir.

Not the slamming of prison doors closing on the freedoms of innocent believers.
Not the curses of abusive parents.
Not the scratching of a pen signing divorce papers.
Not the threats of murder or cries of rape.
Not the bombing of missiles falling on war-torn streets.
Not the staccato shots of a lone gunman firing upon innocent children.
Nothing.
Nothing rings louder than the heavenly chorus.

It it simply that our hearts have grown hard of hearing. Akin to the words of an online definition for “hard of hearing” – Many hard of hearing people don’t know that they have a hearing loss. Some simply deny it, even though they may know that their hearing is diminished.

Some simply deny it; others simply choose not to listen…

Still through the cloven skies they come,
Love’s banner all unfurled;
And still their heavenly music floats
Over all the weary world.
Above its sad and lowly plains
Old echoes plaintive ring,
And ever over its Babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the Angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O, hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the Angels sing.

Some of us who “hear not” ignore the angelic melody because we are too busy remaining at war with each other, or perhaps we are simply striving within ourselves. Floundering under the weight of “two thousand years of wrong,” it seems as if the angels’ voices have been silenced. Yet the melody is sustaining still.

Today, I invite you to read the rest of these ancient words with me. May we quiet our hearts to listen and soak in the love song of heaven as its refrain drifts across the ages. From the midnight clear of our Savior’s birth to the roiling chaos of a world rebelling against its Creator, may we “hush the noise” and turn our hearts to hear the message yet again

…of peace on the earth, good will to men. From heaven’s all-gracious King.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

For lo, the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

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Big Hearts Have Room

The other day a facebook friend posted a photo of his granddaughter with the caption:
My funny little Valentine.
In the comment box beneath it was a response from his teenage daughter:
Cool. I thought I was your valentine.
In answer to his daughter’s comment, my friend entered the following beautiful words:
Big hearts have room.

While I am confident the teenage daughter’s quip was merely meant as a teasing jab at her dad, I am also confident that her father’s reply was one penned in total honesty. Big hearts have room for big love – a love that is strong enough to cover a multitude of people.

There’s no doubt in my mind that my friend is a man who loves big. A man who has a father’s heart for more folks than just the ones who call him “Dad” or “Papa.” He travels the globe and posts photos and stories of people who are carried in his big heart, covered by his big prayers, and clothed with a love that is massive. Indeed, it seems the more my friend’s heart is stretched by his ever-growing family and his extended travels, the more his heart expands to contain a love that continues to grow. A love that enlarges to cover each person whom it encounters.

Because big hearts have room.

Big hearts with eyes to see beyond themselves and their immediate family have room to grow, while small hearts focused on self or with vision for just a few, tend to contract and confine the love that is within. Small hearts hold tightly to a love which they fear losing, clinging to insecurities and smothering the expansion that should come naturally. Small hearts hold love too tightly, chaining it to themselves, confining and restricting its growth.

These words found in Isaiah 54:2-3 are a beautiful portrayal of the potential that comes with purposefully choosing to love with a big heart:

Enlarge the place of your tent, and let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings; do not spare; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you shall expand to the right and to the left, and your descendants will inherit the nations and make the desolated cities inhabited.

A heart that is stretched to love without limits is sign of a life enlarged to cover and bless the multitudes.

It is a love that will erect the beautiful where it was once barren and desolate. A love that brings hope to lives left in ruins. A love that encompasses and includes the brokenhearted and lonely. The hurt. The rejected. The fatherless. The abandoned… all while still loving the spouse, the son, the daughter, the grandchild.

There’s no need to fear a shortage from the one who loves BIG because true love only multiplies the more it is given.

So grow your heart big. Fill it with blessing and favor. Then fling that love wide with arms that are open to enfold everyone who passes by.

After all…

Big hearts have room.

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The Good News is…

This week I received an email from my adult daughter (slight pause while Mama attempts to wrap her mind around that seeming oxymoron – when did my children become adults?). In her typical storytelling fashion, my “little girl” filled me in on the most recent happenings of her life with a series of “good news/bad news” statements. Similarly to the famous Fortunately/Unfortunately word game often played, her sentences ranged from the disappointing to the humorous as she began each one “The good news is…” and finished with, “The bad news is…” As I read and rode the emotional roller coaster of her words, I couldn’t help but smile at her closing remark:

“The good news is… Jesus is taking care of me.

…And there can’t really be any bad news as long as that statement remains true.”

If I ever doubted proof of my daughter’s maturity, she placed all questions to rest with her confidence in a God who promises to sustain and carry her through life’s ups and downs. She knew the truth, and she was able to speak it over her life and hold onto it with a faith that is grounded in grace. God’s grace.

The perspective of a life held and kept by God’s goodness is what holds and keeps us through the twists and turns of this battered highway of living.

I’ll admit that sometimes it’s difficult to look for the seemingly obscured good when the bad is so glaringly apparent. It’s hard to hold onto hope when wave after wave of disappointment and hurt crashes upon the remnants of a solid foothold of faith, threatening to dislodge it completely. It’s a constant challenge to fix our eyes upon the One who remains a bulwark of safety and refuge through it all. But it’s necessary.

While the invitation to “seek the Lord” is general, the actual act of doing so is personal. Choosing to believe in God’s goodness above everything else in my life. Inviting His Presence to fill the present – no matter what seems to be warring against me. No matter how much I’m tempted to believe He has somehow “gone missing.”

Like the Psalmist in 27:13, the truth is: I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.

When broken down from the Bible concordance and lexicon definitions, this verse can be paraphrased into the following:

I would have lost heart and fainted from exhaustion, had I not believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  I would have languished from the madness of it all, unless I had trusted in the Lord’s support, positioning myself to behold and joyfully consider the beauty of my eternal God – Jehovah, the Lord – the One who nourishes and revives me.

Life can be exhausting. Relationships, circumstances, work-related stress, family crisis, sickness, abusive situations… the list is endless. The temptation to “languish from the madness of it all” faces us time and again as “bad news” continues to hit. BUT when we position ourselves to remember Father’s goodness and consider His beauty, our perspective is righted, and we are revived by the staying power of the Most High. Nourished by the goodness that remains in the midst of a world at odds with its Creator.

No matter your current circumstance, if you are in Christ, then you can join your belief with the truth of my daughter’s sentiments:

The Good News is, Jesus is taking care of me…

…And in light of that one solid truth, all other news pales in comparison – no matter how “bad” it may seem.

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Giving Voice to the Voiceless

When I awoke to find the following link on my facebook wall this morning, it stirred me to share its message. Although its content is one of heart wrenching sadness, it is reality for thousands of women across the world. Young women like my own daughters. The very thought of my girls experiencing anything so harrowing unsettles me to the core, prompting me to be a voice for those who weep in silence. Alone. Resigned to their lives of captivity. Today I share a cry from Bombay Teen Challenge, a ministry that is effectively reaching into the darkness of one of the largest red light districts in the world. Bringing the hope of Jesus Christ to those who sit in the abyss of Satan’s domain. Giving voice to the unheard cries of daughters, and sisters, and mothers. Rescuing captives; Bringing light to the darkness. One life at a time.

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Beautifully, yet hauntingly written, today’s post is a call to awareness. More importantly, it is a call to prayer and action. May you become a voice for the voiceless as you find your place in bringing hope into this world.

http://bombayteenchallenge.org/2013/07/lane-14-4/#sthash.GdwJlIPp.dpuf

Sucking the Life out of Living

It was another morning on the beach. Another day of nearly 12 successive walks on the beach. Sand, shore, shells. Run, chase, walk, breathe. We stomped through shallow pools while the high tide pulled the ocean away from below our feet, and I considered every beautiful analogy the ocean offered.

Everything, great and small, points to Him, to beauty, to imagination. Stories are in every element of creation and nature, and if I’m tuning in, I feel like I see and hear them all.

And instead of feeling the usual overwhelming sense of gratitude toward the great analogy played out around us, I was irritated.

I was annoyed that the ocean was so big, and I was so small. I was annoyed that I looked at shells and saw my heart. I was angry that watching my daughter chase birds made me think more about a blog entry instead of her.

I am prone to always dig below the surface in my own life. Sometimes this is beauty. Sometimes it’s distraction. I admit, there are times I end up extracting another meaning out of a situation simply because I am unable, unwilling or too bored to experience what is actually happening.

I wonder how different my words and relationships would be if I stopped viewing all things through the spin of my wild mind.

On that beach, while my daughter chased birds, I told myself to forget about the extra meanings and possible metaphors. I actually shook my head and closed my eyes and told myself to listen, and breathe, and then watch and experience.

Extracting is good. Mining for the deep things is a hard and necessary work. Sometimes I need to look at the world around me and realize that God is still speaking through the work of His hands. I want to notice how interwoven and connected everything is.

And sometimes I want to just get dirty feet, feel the heat of the sun and notice how my daughter’s curls form perfectly on her shoulders on a humid April afternoon. I need days full of her crinkled nose and storytelling. I need to pay more attention to the words I say to her instead of the words I’m writing inside. It’s all happening so fast, I think. While I’m mentally adding and erasing metaphors, I’m accidentally erasing myself from my own story…
(excerpt from The Organic Bird the Blog)

Have you ever read something and felt as if you had taken a sucker punch to the gut? That’s similar to my stomach’s reaction after  reading the above wisdom from a fellow blogger. It was if she had seen into that part of me that I try to hide from others – the truth being that I do try to hide from others. My heartbeat melded with her words:
I admit, there are times I end up extracting another meaning out of a situation simply because I am unable, unwilling or too bored to experience what is actually happening.

I escape. I hide myself in words. If things are devastating, I’m attempting to take away a hidden meaning – my mind racing with metaphors to link the pain with purpose. If things are joyful, words are tumbling within me straining to be released in a blog to match the blessing. And sometimes I am simply bored – so my mind disconnects, fleeing into its own world of swirling similes and ponderous paradoxes, aching for pen and paper, instead of  being there. 

Wherever there may be.

I can get so caught up viewing things through my own wild mind, that I forget to live the moment.

With my penchant to scratch below the surface, I suck the life out of living. I silence the beauty that is unfolding, forgetting that it is doing so wholly for the sake of being beautiful, not for the benefit of my writing projects.

It shouldn’t be so much work to enjoy life. But it is.

Because I refuse to simply let life happen.

As wonderful as this propensity toward words can be, as enlightening and freeing as they can seem, there is always the threat of too much meaning. A distraction from living life as it comes.

So today I am seeking silence. Calming my tendency to manipulate the moments with my thoughts, curbing my bent toward many words.

Today I am asking God to fill me with His presence as I rest my mind.

Today I choose to grasp life.

One beautiful breath at a time.

And who knows, rather than accidentally erasing myself from my own story, perhaps I will purposefully live it instead.

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When Your World is Shaking

Last evening I sat down with an old friend… a worn notebook dated 2005. As I perused the pages of this familiar journal, I smiled at the memories these penned words conjured up. I winced at the rawness of some of the entries I had written in brokenness, and I sighed with relief to see the glimpses of growth that have taken place within me with the passing of years.

There are treasures found in memories.

Lessons to be learned.

Praises to be pondered.

Gratefulness to be expressed to the One who has remained faithful and true through all of life’s twists and turns.

Today, I am sharing words from another. Words that I had deemed worthy of being copied into my daily life many years ago. Words that I still find worth in today. Words that are worth repeating for the sake of bringing hope to you, as well. May you be encouraged in reading this excerpt from the life of Peter as he describes his denial of Christ in Larry Huntsperger’s novel The Fisherman:

Each of us constructs our lives on beliefs we accept as unshakable. These beliefs form the great support pillars of our existence, pillars on which everything else is built. We rarely or perhaps never acknowledge their existence in our conscious minds. Yet every choice we make, every word we utter, every goal we hold for the future assumes this certainty.

For me, the greatest of those pillars, the one upon which all the others depended, the one rooted in the deepest core of my being, was the understanding that Simon Barjonah would always ultimately prevail. If I tried hard enough, if I learned from my mistakes, if I regrouped following my failures, I could and I would succeed. This was not simply something I hoped for, it was the foundation of my life.

When Jesus entered my world, He brought massive changes with Him. When I finally submitted to His lordship, He became my reason for being. His goals became my goals. His successes became my successes. His techniques became my techniques. His affirmations became my greatest joys, and His reprimands pierced me deeply. In a word, He became the center of my world.

But even though I had forsaken all and followed Him, the central pillar of my life was still undisturbed. My goals were different. My techniques were different. My reason for living was changed. But the means by which I pursued all of these remained unaltered. Whereas once my determination, my strength, my wit, my charisma, indeed, all my fleshly attributes had been focused on becoming Simon the great fisherman, through Jesus all those fleshly attributes had been refocused on becoming Simon the great disciple.

Then, in one terrifying instant, at the very moment when He knew all my weight rested upon it, Jesus reached His almighty arms around that pillar and wrenched it out from under me, and everything that rested upon it came crashing down. Now there was only the shattered ruins of my existence surrounding a cold, black, gaping chasm where once my pillar had been.

If you have ever been there, you will understand. It wasn’t just that I had failed. Failure I understand. Failure was simply a call to try harder and reach higher. This was not failure; this was death. The foundation of my life had collapsed, and now my spirit wandered aimlessly through the piles of rubble, through the broken bricks and crumpled mortar, listening to the wind whistling through the ruins of my life…

Perhaps you are in the same position today as Peter found himself when the true knowledge of Christ collided with the flesh of Simon. Jolted and undermined. Shaken and found weak.

Sifted and found wanting.

What are we to do when all that we have rested our lives upon has been shaken?

Rebuild.

But not in our own strength.

Not according to our flesh.

If you are in a place where it seems as if the very foundations of your faith are being rattled to the core, then I invite you to invite the Rock of salvation to come to your rescue.

Those pillars upon which you have rested for so long are not strong enough to withstand this storm. Indeed, they were never meant to.

So let them tumble, dear one. And with the crumbling of all those hollow pillars that you thought were holding you firmly, you will find the truth.

Those pillars of self-reliance have no strength.

But the Cornerstone called Christ is powerful enough to uphold all things.

If the very foundations of the world can rest upon His shoulders, how much more can the  foundations of one hurting child who is floundering in her faith rest in His care?

Remember, dear friend, when your world is shaking… the pillars of heaven stand.

And they will continue to do so throughout all eternity.

Now that’s a foundation worth building upon.

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Jesus, Beloved Groom of Harlot Souls

God’s grace to me means: ____________________________________________

When I read the above statement in a devotional book challenging me to to “fill in the blank” with my own thoughts, I had to pause. How can I possibly define God’s grace? How can I accurately express in earthly words a characteristic of my Father’s presence that is so otherworldly?

And yet, I wanted to put words to my belief. I desired to pen how grace has played out in my life. With words falling FAR short of the extent of His boundless mercies toward me, I began my response…

God’s Grace:

Lavishing the relentless prodigal with unrelenting love, welcoming me home and calling me His own – time after time after time…

Granting His surname to the village prostitute, knowing full-well she will desert Him and drag His name through the gutters of this life.

Giving the keys of His kingdom to the prisoner who chooses to remain captive to her abuser as she scorns the ransom and refuses the gift. Yet still He remains: Jesus, Beloved Groom of Harlot Souls.

And as I penned that final statement, I could go no further. For I believe that the name given to Jesus here is the consummation of God’s grace to me – Jesus, Beloved Groom of Harlot Souls.

While I cannot claim rights to the coining of this phrase that I first read a few years ago in a poem authored by Steven James, I can claim the rights to its fulfillment in my life. For while I have heard Jesus entitled many things, perhaps nothing resonates so clearly within me as this title given to my gracious Savior.

Jesus, Beloved Groom of Harlot Souls.

I realize that some people may find this reference appalling. But to those of us who have dabbled in the world, mouthing words of faithfulness while playing the adulteress and flinging ourselves headfirst into earthly or spiritual prostitution, these words are some of the most gracious and hope-filled words ever penned.

Who but Jesus would continue to remain so kind and faithful to a betrothed who offers herself so freely to the lusts of others? Who but Christ would receive and welcome with such grace one so used up? A bride so addicted to promiscuous pleasures that while she mouths words of repentance, her heart is simultaneously turning to thoughts of treachery. One whose heart cries out for forgiveness with the very breath of betrayal already present upon her lips.

Who, indeed, but Christ.

The Groom of Heaven bends near to bestow compassion upon the very one who holds the nail and hammer meant to pierce Him. And while He releases mercy upon my soul, I tighten my grip and draw back my arm to release yet another blow upon the nail’s head.

Why does Jesus remain so gracious to one so unfaithful as me?

Because He knows my frame. He remembers that I am as dust, that my heart is fragile and turns and scatters with the slightest whispering of wind. He knows my weaknesses, that I am prone to pursue selfishness with the aggression of a starving wolf. And that is why He stays so close to me. Why He leans down with compassion ever near. To keep me from devouring myself.

While I may not have eyes to see His presence, the waywardness of my soul senses a stirring of His nearness and wrestles with my will. Grace tugs against my bonds; mercy beats against the prison gates; love goes in search of the key to free me from the confines of this self-imposed abyss… And all the while, my Savior is receiving the hammer blows meant for me.

That, my friends, is GRACE.

That is the grace given to you.

The grace given to me.

And while it is true that Jesus is the Prince of Peace, Son of God, Risen Lord, and King of kings,

He is also Jesus, Beloved Groom of Harlot Souls – the One Who relentlessly pursues me with His grace.

The One who captivates my heart and chooses me still –

Time after time after time…

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her… She shall sing there as in the days of her youth…
 
And it shall be in that day, says the Lord, That you will call Me, ‘My Husband’, and no longer call Me, ‘My Master,’…

I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy. I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord.
 
…Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth, and I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy… (from Hosea 2)

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