Choosing Substance: Surrender (Day 9)

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My intentions are not always yours,
        and I do not go about things as you do.
     My thoughts and My ways are above and beyond you,
        just as heaven is far from your reach here on earth. Isaiah 55:8-9

A woman of substance rests in the knowledge of God’s sovereignty even when she doesn’t understand. Especially when she doesn’t understand.

She steps on the path of faith — even though it’s unknown. For faith is not seeing what’s at the end. Faith is knowing Who is at the end.

She doesn’t have to know because she doesn’t have to control. She smashed that idol of control long ago. And even though it still whispers to her when she’s scared, and even though she may temporarily weaken and heed it’s ugly advice — she no longer bows down to it. No, her life and relationships and worldview are no longer slaves to it.

She doesn’t have to understand those around her, for her eyes are fixed on the One who created them all. Because she knows the Source, she doesn’t get all tangled up in the unraveling fragments here on earth. She heeds Peter’s dare and chooses sympathy and compassion and humility. She pays back the bad with a blessing. She pays back the hurt and the insult with more grace. (I Peter 3:8-9)

She doesn’t have to know what the future holds. Her spirit of peace and strength and calm transcends the uncomfortable mysteries because she knows the Author of her story.  She breathes deep, accepting her role as character instead of writer. She doesn’t fight for rank. Instead, she clings to the cross, the dying to self, on those days when Satan woos her to value this world instead of what she knows to be true. (Luke 9:23)

My intentions are not always yours…
     For as rain and snow can’t go back once they’ve fallen,
        but soak into the ground
    And nourish the plants that grow…
     So it is when I declare something.
        My word will go out and not return to Me empty…
        it will accomplish what I determined. Isaiah 55:8,10-11

Atypical weather patterns, warmer-than-normal December afternoons — it’s what we’re seeing out our window in Saint Louis these days. If you’re used to snow, or used to hoping for snow at Christmas, rain is an unwelcome replacement.

But whether you see the Artist blanketing the earth with snow, or you see Him choosing a gray palette and rain, both the pristine and the gray soak into the ground and nourish. His words, whether they’re what we want to hear or not, whether they’re tender whispers or shouts of strength, whether they’re promises that we happen to value here on earth or they’re mysteries we won’t understand until Heaven — His words will never return empty to Him. All of His words will accomplish what He determined.

Yes, a woman of substance rests in the knowledge of God’s sovereignty especially when she doesn’t understand.

On the ninth day of Christmas my True Love gave to me the courage to trust.

…He rules the world with truth and grace*…


Choosing Substance

  • Read again Isaiah 55:8-11.
  • What circumstance is clashing with your desire to “have faith”?
  • Do you fight the tendency to define faith as “everything works out the way we want it to”? Where did this worldview or doctrine come from?
  • Ask God to reveal how He has changed you, transformed you, sanctified you by not giving you what you want. How has He “renewed” your inner self?
  • How are you defining a Person of Substance?

photo source | Aaron Wilson
*song excerpt | Joy to the World

Choosing Substance: Defiant Hope (Day 5)

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After the wise men left, a messenger of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. Get up, take the child and His mother, and head to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you it is safe to leave. For Herod understands that Jesus threatens him and all he stands for… After a few months had passed, Herod realized he’d been tricked. The wise men were not coming back. Herod, of course, was furious. He simply ordered that all boys who lived in or near Bethlehem and were two years of age and younger be killed. Matthew 2:13, 16

He simply ordered… It’s a tragic part of the advent story that’s been swept away by countless Christmas pageants. It’s hard to process, so I avoid. Hard to reconcile, so I ignore. Have you looked away, too?

Only Matthew chose to go there — not Mark, Luke, or John.

Mary and Joseph fled a leader’s insatiable greed and insanity, racing to Egypt. No promise from family to email. No hope of seeing their relatives’ Instagram posts. No ability to connect to headlines to see what was going on back home.

The carpenter-turned-refugee fled. The girl-turned-Mother of Messiah found herself a refugee, too, desperate to escape Herod’s wrath. And the Son of God, in all his mortal, two year-old adorableness was clinging to his mama and probably asking “Why?” a hundred times all the way to Egypt.

Are you, too? “Why, Rescuer? Where is Your deliverance? Why Emmanuel? I’m so alone, so lonely. Why, Morning Star? Why is my story so dark?”

The injustice they left behind was so threatening, so severe, that pursuing the unknown with no one waiting on the other side was the solution. As Christ fled deeper into the mystery, baby boys in Bethlehem were being ripped from their mama’s arms, torn from the earth forever. The wounds of the community’s heart were so great that Matthew pointed back to another refugee crisis in his people’s history:

* A voice will be heard in Ramah,
    weeping and wailing and mourning out loud all day and night.
The voice is Rachel’s, weeping for her children,
    her children who have been killed;
    she weeps, and she will not be comforted. Matthew 2:18 (Jeremiah 31:15)

And suddenly the advent story sounds similar to our own headlines. Did you catch it? Countless murders. Utter fear. Injustice.

A person of substance hopes defiantly. Her belief and desire will absolutely not be conquered.

From His birth, Christ entered a world churning with violence and injustice and fear, and from the beginning, He pointed to the cross. His cross. For through violence and injustice toward the Rescuer, we have life.

Our hope is not in what we watch every evening, or the headlines we scroll through on our phones, or countless news analysts. Our hope is found in a God who saw injustice and chose to enter the suffering in order to save us. His solution was to strip Himself of glory and wrap Himself in the mess. All the way to cross.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ ”  Revelation 21:3-5 niv

On the fifth day of Christmas my True Love gave to me the Reason to hope defiantly.

… A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices…

photo source


Choosing Substance

  • What keeps you up at night?
  • What horror abroad is making you restless? What situation in your own story leaves you unsettled every morning, every night?
  • Read the Maker’s response to Israel’s weeping long ago: Jeremiah 31:16-17, Jeremiah 31:25, Jeremiah 31:35.
  • How’s that definition of choosing substance coming? 🙂

* Matthew 2:18 — “The setting is Ramah, a village a few miles north of Jerusalem, where exiles are assembled before the long march to Babylon. Later the prophet himself will spend time in this refugee camp awaiting his own exile (Jeremiah 40:1). For now, he paints the picture of Rachel, one of the matriarchs of this nation, weeping for her children as they head off into captivity.” (The Voice: Step into the Story of Scripture, p. 922)

Choosing Substance: The Stamp of Eternity (Day 2)

clockHe has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11 niv

It’s written all over my life — and yours, too — that ache we’re scared to voice but find ourselves studying in the middle of the night or early, early morning when we can’t sleep. Is this it? Is this really it?

We scorn our discontentment as we name our blessings one by one. We scold our tendency to live in regret but still wonder what life would be ours if we just had make that one, different choice. We ponder the dreams we held tightly in our youthful hands.

And maybe you’re still waiting for the dream, or worse yet, maybe your dream has come and you’re still awake in the silent, forever night. But a person of substance, he understands his discontentment and knows the depth of meaning behind his regret. She’s not surprised when the ache whispers to her yet again… even at Christmastime.

God has placed in our minds a sense of eternity; we look back on the past and ponder over the future, yet we cannot understand the doing of God. Ecclesiastes 3:11 the voice

She’s a traveler. That person of substance, she’s a traveler made for a different world. The imprint of eternity is set in his heart, seared on his mind.

We choose substance as we journey toward eternity rather than setting down roots. We were made for another world, and our stride boasts of determination because we boast in Him. He came to us. We journey toward Him. The striving to be known by humanity is swallowed up with the truth that Our Maker sees, and understands, and even rescues us from the intricacies of our hearts and minds.

Free us from the shifting shadows, Oh God. Release us from the false security of temporary stories. Help us keep going, keep traveling.

Though we journey, we’re not restless. The people of substance hold peace despite the baggage that tries to fill up our arms. The noise that echoes throughout December is no champion over us.

On the second day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me the imprint of eternity on my heart. Will you choose your Rescuer instead of the drama this Christmas? Will you journey toward Him instead of bandaging the ache of the temporary?

Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel, and ransom captives…


Defining Substance (Grab your journal or just find solitude for five minutes)

  • Read Ecclesiastes 3:11 again. What has he made beautiful over the course of time in your own life? Has He refined your attitude? Softened your heart toward an abrasive person? Given you more patience than you thought possible?
  • What temporary story have you been re-creating to find security (false security)? Achieving at your job, creating the perfect scenarios for your kids, pretending all is well when it’s clearly not, etc.
  • What specific temporary situations are currently distracting you from having an eternal perspective?
  • Keep working on your definition of a Person of Substance. What’s God revealing to you?

photo source | Niklas Rhöse

The Shield (When Fear Invades)

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Reunión de creyentes. Prayer meeting. It was an hour that would later become a favorite part of each day—a time before dinner to reflect on God’s goodness and beg for His glory to be manifested again. Our team of missionaries and Peruvian seminary students sprinkled the sanctuary in groups of two or three.

But I chose solitude. I needed a shadow. In South America only two days, I couldn’t face another person at the moment.

In recent months—even weeks—I was convinced God was leading me to mission work in Lima, Peru. I heard His call, sensed the Spirit’s confirmation, and prepared with culture and evangelism courses. A summer of ministering lay before me—street evangelism, testifying, and church renovation projects would join together as tools to share God’s Story. The message of redemption would come through our mouths and hands, but at the moment, my heart and body was what needed some restoration.

I used the prayer time that night to whisper fears into my folded arms. What was I thinking?! Did I really hear from God? Why did I leave all that was familiar to work among strangers? Many at home stepped out in faith, funding my experience and praying for a fruitful ministry. Doubts bred guilt over my ungrateful heart longing to be home, but my whispers would not cease.

An hour of self-focused prayer left me exhausted.

Gripping my shoulder, a hand interrupted my thoughts. I turned to face an older Peruvian stranger with an eager smile, a countenance not reflecting my own. Standing, I watched his eyes scan the room for a bilingual friend.

“The Holy Spirit gave me this message for you,” he said confidently through an interpreter. I had never talked to this man before.

Pointing to an English Bible, his finger moved down the page before stopping on words I memorized as a child from Joshua 1:9 ~  Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

Stunned, I slowly nodded. “Gracias.” I could think of nothing else to say.

Did that really just happen? Did I really just hear from the God of the universe? And if I did, that means He heard me. It was unreal, but I soon accepted I had actually had a conversation with God.

My doubts were certainly quieted, and hope swallowed fear.

For the rest of the summer, that night served as a shield whenever Satan tried to discourage me. Sensing God’s constant presence, I approached my days with purpose, never to question again why I was in South America.

But time has a way of allowing you to forget.

And almost thirty years later, I need a shield for a whole lot more than loneliness. I feel misplaced way more than I did in Peru. And I question my adequacy more often than that teen missionary girl.

What do you do when you can’t answer your son’s, “Why?”

What do you do when your daughter’s hurting and you clumsily navigate her pain all wrong?

What do you do when middle-age leaves you doubting more than you ever have before?

What about when the ache is so great you can’t describe it to even your most intimate friends?

What then? Because honestly, I feel anything but strong and courageous on most days. The mandate to not be afraid almost seems like a dare.

But that promise, that wind of strength coming after the charge is what I cling to –- For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

And I believe Him.

What do you do when you can’t answer your son’s, “Why?”
I’ve seen His wisdom sweep in and form words in my mouth that resonate to my 13 year-old son’s heart.

What do you do when your daughter’s hurting and you clumsily navigate her pain all wrong?
I’ve felt His grace pry the idol of control out of my arms as His mercy softens her anger. I’ve tasted the sweet reconciliation that I couldn’t have created myself.

What do you do when middle-age leaves you doubting more than you ever have before?
I’ve heard Him invite me countless times to wrestle before landing on truth. He’s not threatened by my questions, and that fact alone brings comfort in my tendency to over-think. My wondering doesn’t mean I’m wandering.

What about when the ache is so great you can’t describe it to even your most intimate friends?
I’ve sat in the quiet as His Spirit really did help me in my weakness. I’ve sensed the relief of being known and have silently heard the Spirit interceding for me through wordless groans.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8:26

Yeah, He’s that Shield that won’t go away because, frankly, the arrows don’t go away either.

Be strong and courageous? Some days. Do not be afraid? Sometimes. The Lord your God is with you wherever you go? I’ll take that.

I’ll hide in the shadow of that Shield.

When You Need Something Bigger Than A Sunset

It would be the perfect ending to a fabulous day. After driving 1,500 miles through beauty, we still craved more.

We hunger, and we ache to be satisfied. And I still forget I was created for a different world.

We made plans and confirmed the exact minute God would sweep red and vibrant pink across the stone-and-cave canvas. Yes, witnessing the sunset over the Grand Canyon would satisfy the summer craving I just couldn’t put into words.

I was sure of it.

Earlier, I watched my son capture something bigger than himself…

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… and saw my daughter re-create instead of design. Saw her surrender instead of control.

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They were hungry. Just like their mama.

Have you craved beauty, too? Have you hungered after crumbs because that’s all you thought there was? Have you scribbled only to remember you’re not the Author?

I see you trying to carve a masterpiece but instead desperately stabbing at the form you want to redeem. The job of Savior is already taken.

Show me Your beauty, God. Show me Your glory. I was finally ready to thirst after the One who could satisfy. Ready to lean into the One I had danced away from with my worry and wandering. I really was.

Gradually, slowly, the desert air reflected the confusion within. I heard the slightest sound and felt the breeze and watched the crowd wait for more. The mystery lingered. Sometimes you’re too busy for answers, and waiting prepares your heart for truth.

The sky — it became a shadow too fast. The dark wrapped itself around us faster than the sun could paint the masterpiece.

No! The sunset! This was my only chance to see His beauty the way everyone else does. We wouldn’t be back tomorrow.

Rain, rain, go away. This wasn’t my story. Wasn’t my song.

But it was.

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The canyon, well, it’s so big. And vast. And you watch the storm inch toward you instead of surprising you like city rain. You read the story as it takes a different form, and your heart almost has time to catch up.

You think You need to see beauty, my Maker whispered. No. Not this summer.

You need to see My strength.

People ran, grabbing their children’s hands, while the brave tried to capture the moment. Tiny mortals sought shelter from something they couldn’t control. My kids watched thirsty and drank it in, letting the strength imprint their hearts instead of turning away to hide.

How can I make them run? How can I make them seek shelter when they’re brave enough to be exposed?

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I plan to be comfortable. I dream of somehow satisfying those longings I can’t even identify. I commend myself for trying to be still so I can notice the beauty.

But I recently told a friend we might just stop searching because what we long for doesn’t exist.

Yes! It’s so true, isn’t it? she agreed. We long for something that’s not even here.

I see your tender heart, weary from worry, craving comfort. I see you willing to surrender because you’re tired of fighting.

But friend, maybe the storm will show you something greater than beauty ever could.

Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters…

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,
        declares the Lord.
As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:1, 8-9 niv

Yes, come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters…

And in His grace, when we refuse to come to the water, He brings it to us.