Do You Need Christmas, Too? (Part 2)

Find Part 1 of “Do You Need Christmas, Too?” here

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


Sacrifice. Does it mean death? Yes. Does it mean life? Yes.

As we reach out for the “hope of all hopes and dream of all dreams,” our full hands prevent us from clinging, really clinging, to the Prince of Peace, the Mighty God, the Counselor. I’m carrying fear this year with a little resentment. You may be grasping dreams that never flourished… or plans others won’t acknowledge… or wounds that can only be healed by forgiveness. You may be carrying good things that, over time, have come to replace your passion for the very One who breathed life into us. 

Mirriam-Webster understands the complexity of “sacrifice.” There’s the literal definition that points back to ancient worship — the slaughtering of life to present an offering to God. There’s pain and work and reflection all wrapped up in an act of humility to acknowledge there’s Someone bigger than yourself. To surrender to Someone bigger than yourself. And in that surrendering, we find redemption.

Even Mary and Joseph, when presenting eight day-old baby Jesus to God in the temple, gave a sacrifice, an offering, out of their poverty. Trading uncleanliness for purification, they were to sacrifice a lamb plus a bird. Instead, they gave the offering of the poor — two birds.   

But we find less physical acts of sacrifice defined, too, like the “surrender of something for the sake of something else” and the choice to “suffer loss of, give up, renounce, injure, or destroy especially for an ideal, belief, or end.” And let’s pause while we wrap our minds are that.


How do I surrender for the sake of something else? How do I make the choice to lose something, to destroy something, for what will stand in the end? How do I discern what’s worth giving up? What end, ideal, or belief is worth risking?

And what about when the decision is made for me? To me?

Is sacrifice death? Absolutely. It’s often as raw and messy — in a figurative sense — as the animal sacrifices of ancient years. There’s a carving of one’s heart as we slowly begin to align our passion with God’s desires. There’s pruning away that which prevents restoration, what prevents life. There’s letting go and releasing and submission and strength and courage and maturity all wrapped up in the dying.

But, is it life, too? 

“Brothers and sisters, in light of all I have shared with you about God’s mercies, I urge you to offer your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God, a sacred offering that brings Him pleasure; this is your reasonable, essential worship. Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image. Instead, be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind. As a result, you will be able to discern what God wills and whatever God finds good, pleasing, and complete. Romans 12:1, 2

God’s mercies
living sacrifice
sacred offering
essential worship
authentic transformation
renewed mind
discernment in rhythm with my Creator’s desires

Yes. This life. It begins with God’s mercies and ends with His desires. This is the life my thirsty soul is craving. This is the life that looks nothing like what I pursue here. This is the life reminding me I was created for more than the brokenness I reach for.

For Joseph, it was the mystery of fatherhood when he least expected it. It involved mentoring and teaching and raising up the One who had formed him in his mother’s womb. For Mary, it was never doubting she was seen and known by God. For the magi, it was dreams and studies fulfilled. And for the shepherds, it was inclusion in the most breathtaking way — being invited to the divine party and asked to dance.

For us, might we reach out and catch the mercy? Might we lean into the intimacy of what’s sacred? Lean into Him who is sacred? Might we be transformed and have our thought process renewed? Might we crave what the God of the universe desires?

Friend, I see your tender heart, weary from worry, craving relief. And I see you who are determined to live purposefully even though doors are slamming shut. And I see you who have reluctantly surrendered simply because you’re tired of fighting. I see you because I am you.

But maybe, just maybe, the hunger and closed doors and weariness will show us something greater than our dreams of beauty ever could.

Maybe they’ll show us our need for Jesus.

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. Journey toward the One who satisfies the deepest thirst — even when surrender is required. It’s a risk, for sure. But there’s more than enough in His deep, deep well of grace. For when we refuse to come to the water, He brings it to us. When we lack the courage to let go as our full hands carry the weight of misguided passions, He still reaches. He grasps us and holds us in the most intense, rescue sort of way.

“A thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices…”

Photo by Jesse Bowser on Unsplash

Do You Need Christmas, Too? (Part 1)

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


Gosh, I need Christmas this year. You, too?

I need the Prince of Peace, and the perspective, and the reminder that there’s something bigger underneath the everyday. I need the challenge to slow down, to stop working, to stop striving so much.

A year ago, I needed the Mighty God. I needed to know, to believe, “the power of leadership and the weight of authority” really did sit in His hands because I lacked strength like never before. That was the year I read Psalm 40 over and over, begging God to not let go because I certainly wasn’t “steady enough to continue the journey again.” I read that passage well into 2018.

The year before that in 2016, I needed the Counselor at Christmastime. There was too much to navigate. There were too many questions and not enough answers and certainly not enough wisdom.  


Yes, I’ve needed peace, strength, and wisdom numerous times over the years — but never, ever would I have said I need sacrifice at Christmas. I can weave suffering and sacrifice into Easter, but Christmas? Yet the theme of surrender is imprinted on the hearts of all those in the Nativity story — Mary and Joseph and the magi and shepherds and all the unknown, unremembered people who were part of God’s great design we’ll never know.

Mary radically surrendered to God’s plan, and Joseph eventually did, too. They risked their reputations in order to join God in His rescue plan despite all the glances and whispers and judgments made without the whole story. They exchanged people’s approval for the chance to help bring redemption to humanity. God’s hand pointed to a different path as their hands held their former dreams loosely.

Sacrifice. The sacrifice of plans.

The magi set aside their pursuit of knowledge and sacrificed their time. They exchanged prestige for humility, safety for risk, and became active participants in God’s rescue plan rather than just discussing it. All the years of reading and deciphering and wondering and dialogue — they boldly reimagined their purpose and became travelers and worshippers. Their role became even more radically defined as they stood up a power-hungry, blood-thirsty king to protect the very One humanity had waited for.

Sacrifice. The sacrifice of time. The sacrifice of safety.

And the shepherds, the ones in the margins of society, left their stations and risked not feeding their families that day. They walked away from their work — and maybe away from their paychecks — and ran toward mystery. Hearing God speak in the song of angels, they turned a deaf ear to the boundaries of society. Exchanging their social-class shame for the belief that God valued them, they joined His rescue plan and worshipped Him on that first night He kissed the world in the flesh.

Sacrifice. The sacrifice of material security.

Embracing the “hope of all hopes, dream of our dreams” meant sacrificing what all these used to hope for before they knew there could be more. A quiet family life built on tradition and hard work and religion… A life of research and study and academic discussions… A way to provide for their wives and feed their children — Mary and Joseph, the magi, and the shepherds traded it all to participate in something bigger than themselves. They sacrificed, and this sacrifice became their offering. 

Yes, I really need Christmas this year in the worst way. I’m anxious about my son and daughter — their present and their future — and I’m not quite sure how to guide them when I don’t have answers. Surrendering — when it involves my kids — is the hardest for me.

And I want the quiet academic discussions instead of rolling up my sleeves. I want to live my life the way I planned instead of embracing what’s clearly given to me, forcing me to reimagine my purpose. It takes so much humility to surrender.

And in a bizarre way, sometimes it feels safer to hide in my shame instead of living a life of passion. Maybe my sacrifice this year involves letting go of the way others define me, embracing vulnerability, and trusting God really will sustain me. It’s hard to let go of control.

Those we hold dear… Career dreams… Relationships… Our place in the world, our place in society — Yes, I really do need Christmas — excuse me, I really need Jesus this year.

So, what does sacrifice look like? Is it death? Is it life?

Yes and yes.


Come back for Part 2. We’ll define sacrifice in a counter-cultural way…

Photo by Emanuel Hahn on Unsplash

Choosing Substance: The Whole Story (Day 12)

advent12_post
A person of substance understands the whole story:

From the beginning of time…
I AM GOD.
     I make known the end from the beginning,
          from ancient times what is still to come.
     MY PURPOSE WILL STAND.   Isaiah 46:9-10

To the unraveling of relationship…
     For our offenses are many in your sight,
          and our sins testify against us. Isaiah 59:12-13

To the pursuit…
And she gave birth to a firstborn, a son.
     She wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger. Luke 2:7

To the sacrifice that brought restoration and redemption…
     Darkness fell over the whole region. The darkness persisted until about three in the
afternoon, 
and at some point during this darkness, the curtain in the temple was torn in
two. Luke 23:44-45

And I heard a great voice, coming from the throne.
     See, the home of God is with His people.
     He will live among them.
     They will be His people.
     And God Himself will be with them. Revelation 21:3

To the longing…
     Amen. Come Lord Jesus. Revelation 22:20  


Yes, here we are back at the longing, the forever Advent.

I imagine we’ll be here in this ache until we meet Him face to face. For Advent is not about just waiting for the baby in a manger. Advent is waiting again for the One who pursues when we rebel, for the One who heals when we sin against those we love, for the One who makes us brave when forgiveness is the only way.

As more hurts unfold year after year, He becomes all the more beautiful.

Are you longing for Him, too? Yes, “come, Lord Jesus.” 


Thank you for being part of these Advent devotionals over the past 12 days. What acts, what traits, do you think are important for one who desires to push against culture and choose substance instead?

On the twelfth day of Christmas my True Love gave to me a perspective bigger than my own story.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

…*Joy to the world, the Lord is come!



Photo by ANIMESH MANDAL on Unsplash

*song excerpt | Joy to the World

Choosing Substance: Fear (Day 8)

fear3

As for me, I will wait for the Eternal, even though He feels absent, even though He has hidden His face from the family of Jacob. I will put all hope in Him. Isaiah 8:17

A Person of Substance knows who her real enemy is.

Oh, the irony.

When I’m scared, I withdraw deeper into myself, farther away from the mystery. My heart can’t bear the heaviness of the unknown or the weight of the worst-imagined brought to fruition.

I may be smiling if you see me out and about. Or, I may become more controlling with my kids and look anything other than fearful. But the smile and the ugly garb of bullying power — those are really just masks disguising my fear. I may look engaged, but I’m really hiding. Reality is just a little too scary, a little too unknown, so I hesitate to “go there” and put more distance between myself and the Prince of Peace.

And Satan is laughing and celebrating. It’s exactly what he wants.

Are you my companion in this? I see you and your scared eyes buried under smiles. I see you trying to control those around you.

And as I attempt to ignore reality, or control it a little too much, I wrap the chains of fear around me and my precious gift of life. I chain worry and anxiety around my friends and loved ones, too, for rarely does my sin only affect me. The enslavement to fear — oh, the bondage can last a lifetime. Fear of never rising from the past into a new identity. Fear of the spinning present that taunts with confusion.  Fear of what is not yet seen but distorted in our imaginations.

Since we, the children, are all creatures of flesh and blood, Jesus took on flesh and blood, so that by dying He could destroy the one who held power over death—the devil— and destroy the fear of death that has always held people captive.  Heb 2:14-16

And Christ descended into this mess with the plan of destroying not only our biggest fear – death – but the very source of this fear – Satan himself. Satan, the owner of doubt. Satan, the originator of confusion. Satan, the distorter of what’s real. Are you letting him have mini-victories in your life? His very purpose is to destroy you, but he’s oh, so very subtle.

My Redeemer, though, He comes and speaks truth louder than the lies that try to paralyze. He became flesh centuries ago to battle my fear in 2015. His Forever Story more powerful than the finite is my gift this Christmas. It’s your gift, too.

A person of substance knows who her enemy is. She knows who her Rescuer from fear is, too.

On the eighth day of Christmas my True Love gave to me deliverance from my chains of fear. He gave me truth that speaks louder than lies.

…*Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes of life of gathering gloom
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb…
…Glorious now behold Him arise
King and God and Sacrifice…


Choosing Substance

  • How do you respond when you’re scared? Do you withdraw? Fight to control? A little of both?
  • When has your fear and sin hurt those around you?
  • Read Hebrews 2:7-17.
  • What fears are you needing to be released from this Christmas?

photo source | Andrew Pons

*song excerpt | We Three Kings

Choosing Substance: Personality (Day 7)

purpose2

(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