Choosing Substance: Personality (Day 7)


(Are you just joining us? Welcome. We’re half-way through our 12 Days of Christmas advent devotionals, and you can access them all here. It’s a busy time of year, but take a few minutes to care for YOU as you make countless preparations. Coffee, anyone?)

For You shaped me, inside and out.
    You knitted me together in my mother’s womb long before I took my first breath.
      I will offer You my grateful heart, for I am Your unique creation, filled with wonder and awe.
    You have approached even the smallest details with excellence…
I carry this knowledge deep within my soul. Psalm 139:13-14

I read Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking last year, and oh my goodness, I learned quite a bit about myself. I wish I had read it 30 years ago.

This seventh day of Christmas, we’re not talking about tolerating culture or society near and far. We’re talking about tolerating you.

A person of substance understands she was created with purpose, so she’s comfortable in her own skin.

See, I personally dance between an introvert’s disposition and a world that celebrates something else. It leaves me tired. I’m still finding my rhythm. But I’m starting to believe I no longer have to make excuses for my personality.

Who are you? Are you craving crowds or solitude? Are you singing Joy to the World or Silent Night? Do you ever want to be someone else?

In ancient history we find a beautifully blatant account confirming God chooses different personalities to do His work. Long before the advent story came to earth, God’s people faced oppression once again, and His message to them wouldn’t be easy to hear. God pursued two men – Isaiah and Jeremiah – to bring truth. Two very different men.

God allows drama-loving Isaiah to hear His conversation with angels. He’s on His throne with a robe as long as the temple(!) while angels fly, doorposts shake, and smoke rises. The Maker gives him a multi-sensory invitation: “Who will go for us?” Isaiah is eager and volunteers, and he can’t bear the weight of his sin in the presence of God’s holiness. His mouth, God’s avenue for speaking, is touched with a hot coal from a holy altar. It was a rather dramatic scene. (Isaiah 6)

And later, after 30 years of silence, God pursues Jeremiah. In quiet solitude the Maker confirms he was known and set apart before his conception. In tenderness, He calls. Exposing his brokenness, Jeremiah responds, “I can’t speak. I’m not articulate. I have the gifts and wisdom of a mere child.” Two non-invasive visions later, God touches Jeremiah’s mouth, God’s avenue for speaking, with His hand. No hot coal. No drama. His Maker reaches out with His own fingers to commission Jeremiah with no one around. (Jeremiah 1)

Who were these men? Was Isaiah an extrovert who was always the first one to raise his hand as a boy? What childhood baggage influenced Jeremiah’s message of inadequacy?

But God chose them both. And they’d later each prophecy of a Coming Rescuer.

He chooses us, too. He knows our orientations, our predictable reactions. He knows our hearts, so therefore, he knows our brokenness. And yet Emmanuel, God with us, invites us to help redeem culture and heal this generation. Each personality, each unique calling, confirms the Eternal loves diversity.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my True Love assures me I’m known. Assures me I was intentionally fashioned. Assures me I have purpose.

…From our sins and fears release us; Let us find our rest in Thee… 

Choosing Substance

  • Who in your life has a personality you admire?
  • What gifts and talents do you crave? Or even envy?
  • Which ancient prophet do you identify with? Isaiah? Jeremiah? Both?
  • Read Psalm 139:1-12. What phrases speak loudest to you? Take an extra minute and read it again, letting the truth embrace you.

photo source | Dustin Lee

Choosing Substance: Thirst (Day 6)


   Like a devoted gardener, I will pour sweet water on parched land,
        streams on hard-packed ground;
    I will pour My spirit on your children and grandchildren—
        and let My blessing flow to your descendants.
    And they will sprout among the grasses, grow vibrant and tall…
    One will call out: “I belong to the Eternal.”
    …Yet others will write “Property of the Eternal” on their hands. Isaiah 44:3-5 

That ancient land is mine, for I live in a culture that thirsts, too. Educated, but not satiated. Full of knowledge, but desperately thirsty.There’s no shame in thirst.

Our world, the endless library, crowds our thoughts with volumes and e-books, webinars and experts. We run to it all, for we we want to know. “Tell me all this matters. Promise me there’s purpose to it all. Teach me how to stay untouched by the very pain that drives me to seek.”Have you been there? Are you there this advent season?

A person of substance is unashamedly thirsty.

The quest to comprehend is endless. The more we find, the more we don’t know. The more we discover, the more we see our ignorance.

Cynicism sneaks in and whispers doubt. And out of fear, or maybe just exhaustion, we choose the desert. The parched, the impenetrable, is often more bearable than the fertile truth. Even the searching and the longing and the humbling thirst — it’s sometimes all easier than His flood of grace.

But wholeness is born out of my moments of dying, out of my surrender. And His truth blooms on a weary, withered soul, and I live despite the storm of deception throughout my land, my culture. Throughout my own thoughts.

A person of substance is thirsty. She uncovers her ache, looks her longing in the eye, and runs to the Source that can quench her forever.

I swim in His endless, raging ocean of grace and thrust my hand upward. As He carved me on the palm of His hand, I too, etched Him on mine. “Property of the Eternal” is my forever mark. Forever.

And Isaiah, that prophet who promised sweet water on a parched land and the unleashing of His Spirit on my children and the assurance of being known — that same Isaiah seemed to touch the depth of everyone’s doubt. The naturalist, the philosopher, the realist, the dreamer — he spoke to us all:

“Hope of all hopes, dream of our dreams, a child is born, sweet-breathed; a son is given to us: a living gift. And even now, with tiny features and dewy hair, He is great. The power of leadership, and the weight of authority, will rest on His shoulders. His name? His name we’ll know in many ways— He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Dear Father everlasting, ever-present never-failing, Master of Wholeness, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

Are you wandering in the desert of your heart this Christmas? The very Source of the stream will pursue, washing you away in His mercy time and time again.

On the sixth day of Christmas my True Love gave to me the humility to admit my thirst and the courage to quench it.

…He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found…

Choosing Substance

  • Read Isaiah 44:1-8
  • In verse 6 God proclaims, “There is no God except for Me.” To what gods of culture have you been running to quench your thirst?
  • Read verse 8 again. What promises has God made that you’ve seen revealed? How has He been your Wonderful Counselor, your Giver of Wisdom, this past year? When was He the “ever-present never failing” in 2015? What has the Master of Wholeness redeemed in your life?
  • Deepen your definition of what it means to choose substance. What is He revealing to you?

photo source | David Marcu

Choosing Substance: Defiant Hope (Day 5)


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: Identity (Day 4)

Advent 4b identity

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us
from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35, 39 niv

A person of substance recognizes the all-too-often pull toward an identity crisis. She sees her insecurities deep and is truthful about them. Those who choose substance — especially at Christmastime — are not defined by what they own.

She was made in God’s image, so she unashamedly craves beauty. But tangible blessings and temporary pleasures don’t give her meaningShe’s brave enough to hold her physical pleasures with open hands, for they were not hers to begin with.

As simple as this all sounds, it’s easier sometimes to have an eternal perspective or sit in our sadness than to keep our head in the game when others admire our physical blessings — our homes, our cars, our fashion sense, you fill in the blank.

We have this broken way of seeing others’ worth based on what they can accumulate in this world. We have this broken way of seeing ourselves. We mask it by an admiration of hard work or an artistic eye, but do you ever live to impress those you’ll never talk to? Or crave approval from value systems shallow? Does honesty uncover a striving to impress those you’ve never even met?

A person of substance — she finds her identity in what Christ did for her on the cross. 

We rank ourselves high, and we rank ourselves low, but might we carry that insecurity back to Christ this season and throw our feelings of unworthiness in the shadow of the Cross?

Absolutely nothing will separate us from the love of Christ — our shallow longings, our tendency to forget, our lack of perspective, our materialism — nothing will separate us from the love of Christ and the identity His work on the Cross gives us.

And a radical miracle unfolds as I understand, again and again, who I am in Christ. As I recognize my brokenness vast and see an even bigger cross, restoration occurs even within my human relationships. Only through the lens of my own brokenness can I view others with grace. Only as I cling to the cross can I respect people simply because they, too, were made in God’s image… simply because His sacrifice saves them, too. Period.

Just a few decades after Christ, Paul wrote to the people of Colossae: Since you have been raised with the Anointed One, the Liberating King, set your mind on heaven above. The Anointed is there, seated at God’s right hand. Stay focused on what’s above, not on earthly things, because your old life is dead and gone. Colossians 3:1-3

We stand in a desperate mess. Go deep this Christmas in your relationships. There’s a heart underneath every amazing outfit. There’s a story of brokenness hungering for redemption in every home.

On the fourth day of Christmas my True Love gave to me discernment to navigate the culture of today… the grace to love others well… the discipline to stop comparing.

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray.

Choosing Substance

  • What shallow longings are nagging you this advent season?
  • Reflect on your patterns. What triggers you into material insecurity? Who are you influenced by?
  • Read Colossians 3:1-3 and verses 12-15, too.
  • Who do you need to see through the eyes of Christ this Christmas?

photo source | Prodigal Pottery

Choosing Substance: Owning Your Grief (Day 3)

griefListen to my voice.
You will hear me begging for Your help
With my hands lifted up in prayer… Psalm 28:2

A person of substance sits in her sadness.

(“Wait!” you say. “This is an Advent series. Don’t turn down this path already!”)

It’s been a long time coming, but I’m slowly becoming a mom who is okay with grief. I was a Dismisser for years, determined to rescue my kids from all things sad. Watching someone suffer and grieve clashed with my need to encourage. Sometimes your talents work against you. Or worse yet, they work against the ones you love.

Maybe you’re a Dismisser, too. Do you play the role of cheerleader? Motivator? Perspective-giver? Do you grab the half-full glass and beg your friends to drink it? Do you drown yourself in it?

It’s all good — it really is — until we get imbalanced. Until we stop living life in moderation. Until our encouragement feels like an interruption, and those we love stop talking. They know we’re not listening anyway.

“Oh, friend, that’s awful. You’ll have a better day tomorrow.”
“Look at the bright side, son. It snowed a little. We don’t have a snow day, but at least we have a four-day week next week.”
“Yeah, you came in second… but there’s always next year.”
And so on. And so on.

Maybe we’re not as comfortable with authenticity as we’d like to think, for we whisk people out of realness. We whisk ourselves away, too.

While there’s a place and a need for encouragement, maybe we’re bestowing it on others a little too soon. Without winter, spring would feel ordinary. Without hunger, there is no fullness. Without suffering, we don’t understand wholeness… we don’t recognize redemption.

If we dare to see we’re lost, we long for Emmanuel all the more. If we sit in our brokenness, we long for the Rescuer. Long for Him.

Choosing substance means seeing your pain, naming it, grieving over it… even during Advent. Because we were made in the image of God, we reflect Him. Because we bear His image, we’re capable of grief. He wrote suffering into His own story, and so a person of substance does not fear the ache. The agony, the mourning, reminds us this isn’t our home.

This Advent season, might you choose to sit in your sadness a while? Might you be a companion to those who can’t hum the carols but are instead singings Psalms of angst? Injustice. Illness. Betrayal. Misunderstanding. I know the list is long.

Watch over my soul,
    and let me face shame and defeat unashamed
because You are my refuge.
    …Vigilantly I wait for You, hoping, trusting. Psalm 25:20-21

On the third day of Christmas my True Love gave to me the courage to sit in my sadness… the hope that He will reconcile the painful mysteries of this world.

…’Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth…

Choosing Substance

  • Read all of Psalm 28 (link can be found at the very top of this post).
  • Think back to how you were raised. Was your home a safe place in which to “sit in your sadness”? Who was the most uncomfortable with your grief? What did you do when you were sad?
  • Ponder your view of your Maker. Do you view God as One who was uncomfortable with your grief? indifferent to it? intimate and caring?
  • Add another concept to your definition of substance.

photo source | Camila Damasio