Choosing Substance: Surrender (Day 9)


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: Winter Solstice (Day 10)

(Winter solstice is the day with the fewest hours of sunlight during the whole year. In the Northern Hemisphere, it occurs around December 21 or 22. – Farmer’s Almanac)

Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.”
– King David of ancient Israel, Psalm 30:5 nkjv

It’s a painful reality for some—even at Christmastime—when winter’s lifeless trees are sprinkled with light and society boasts an uncommon goodwill toward others.

We clothe ourselves, our homes, our communities with beauty, genuinely trying to grasp the hope Advent holds in its open palms. Yet, our wounds still shout, or sometimes just whisper, when we hide them with holiday bliss.

The Winter Solstice. The ache of a forever night. It’s deepened in midnight’s silence when rest and daily healing should be at work. The sun hides, causing the shadows to linger on earth’s face and even deeper onto human hearts. And the restless mind replays scene after scene, watching the clash of circumstance with what we hold to be true in our souls. Yes, weeping endures for many through a night so heavy it’s almost hard to breathe.

But a long, dark night is a mere shadow compared to 400 years of silence in ancient history. Between our record of Malachi and the book of Matthew, God seemed silent, painfully silent, until He woke the world’s soul. The timeless Restorer brought morning after four centuries.

Out of the darkness, He set His plan in motion to win back the hearts of people believing a lie that He did not love them. He’d woo back those running from the very One who could heal their hearts forever.

Zechariah, he boldly pointed toward the Sunrise, promising their spiritual winter solstice was not as powerful as imagined.The morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,” he proclaimed, “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.” Luke 1:78, 79 esv

And I know He’s light eternal, but I’ve never called Him my Sunrise. Prince of Peace? Yes. Wonderful Counselor? Of course. Mighty God? Yep. Everlasting Father? Yes, that too.

But my Sunrise? My hope fulfilled? My beginning? Yes, all that—over and over and over again.

A person of substance turns her face from the dark and dares to look for the Sunrise.

Friend, should you be one who’s scorning reality when the world is deep in holiday bliss, know the Song is yours, too. He rescues those weeping in the dark and those painfully hiding in the shadow of death. He reaches for the very ones who must be guided back to the path of peace. Guided back to all we were created for.

He lifts us out of the mocking winter solstice. And the longing to understand is swallowed up with His greatness. And the darkness so heavy it taunts, births hope. And the tears in the night find their Promise, their Sunrise.

On the tenth day of Christmas my True Love gave to me a Forever Sunrise. In a few days, we’ll welcome December 25… May the joy of Christmas morning hold new meaning this year. Choose substance.

…With the dawn of redeeming grace…

Choosing Substance

  • Read through the short passage of Psalm 30. This is King David’s song when they were dedicating the temple.
  • Verse 2 – What shattered pieces of your life seem to resurface with the holiday season?
  • Zechariah (in Luke 1:78-79) described Christ as the One who would “guide us to the path of peace.” In what areas of your life do you need to be guided back, pulled toward, peace? Why is avoidance, or even strife, often easier than peace?
  • What will it look like for you, in your specific circumstances, to turn your face from the dark and search for the Sunrise?

photo source

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)