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

A Letter

1_25_16Deep in history, a man penned a letter to people he’d probably never meet. His vision was far beyond the recipients, as he hoped his words would motivate them to engage the people of Italy and Spain.

At this stage in his life, he must not have had control issues. Oh, to trust a group of people you don’t know with such an important task…

To God’s beloved in Rome:
…We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything
to work toward something good and beautiful
when we love Him
and accept His invitation to live according to His plan…

Love,
Paul*

It’s a dance, right? It takes courage to integrate in society and yet live counter-culturally. It takes wisdom to pursue community without being influenced by a value system ruled by what’s temporary. And even among faith circles, we sometimes have to go against the grain by choosing a gospel-centered life instead of the “safety” of religion. Paul’s letter was a bit of a roadmap on how to swim upstream.

And swimming upstream leaves us so weary.

He wrote much, much more. But this. THIS. This short excerpt of Paul’s letter touched on themes we can’t ignore but still try to resist:

    • believing God is who He says He is
    • believing He is capable of orchestrating my life’s complexities
    • believing He restores and repurposes and creates beauty
    • believing His plan is worth following… is worth surrendering

Or, maybe you’ve heard it this way:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. (Romans 8:28). 

I so wanted it to be all about my circumstances.

For years I read Paul’s words and interpreted them as a promise that God would work everything out. Or I’d eventually have my way. Or things would at least make sense some day.

You, too?

But his heart-wrenching statements in the whole letter – before and after this tiny excerpt — whisper to wake up deaf ears. He pries open blind eyes.

They call to every mortal, resonating with all who’ve felt the tension — the tension between the sin fostering our brokenness and an honest desire to be different. Sin patterns and surrender.

Might Paul’s promises really be about changing our HEARTS rather than our circumstances? 

You’re not a slave to fear. (v15)
Our current suffering foreshadows a greater glory. (v18)
Someday we’ll transcend from bondage to freedom. (v21)
We ache as we wait in hope. (v22-23)
We’re invited to love God back and live according to His plan. (v28)
He chose us to look like His Son. (v29)
His love is so intense it can’t be conquered by suffering or deception.  Never ever. (v35)

Maybe believing He’ll “work for the good of those who love Him” means fear won’t be my master anymore. I wish I was there today.

Maybe I’ll hold my suffering in the palm of an eternal perspective.

And maybe my hope will be so great that I ache inside… my hope to be like my Redeemer… my hope for intense intimacy with my Maker.

“In all things God works for the good of those who love Him.” It’s really not about our circumstances. No, it’s truly all about our hearts.

He’s refining you, molding you, repurposing your heart to receive His deepest affections… To receive His love letter that bleeds with grace.

photo source | daria nepriakhina

*Romans 8:28 (the voice)

Hope

10888478_10203590246578826_910944565872039823_n Be strong, I thought as I silently scolded my quivering voice. Deep breath. Don’t you dare let those eyes water.

“I’m sorry this is your story,” I said to my 13 year-old.

“I’m sorry this is your story, too,” he replied.

My goodness, how does he do this? How does he balance between childhood one minute and manhood the next? I was trying to comfort him, and he let his tenderness spill out, flowing right toward me like a stream I wasn’t expecting.

We were talking about nothing life-threatening. Nothing that would look tragic to someone on the outside. To us, though, the ache we whispered about, the pain that was reaching both our hearts, was real. It was a simple conversation in the car that suddenly turned intimate.


And here we all are — well into the second half of 2015. I had intentions of taking a seat at the table again as we approached mid-year. July 1. It would be a Happy New Year and a Half post, full of reflection and challenge and grace as we pondered where we all were on December 31, 2014… and what we were hoping for on January 1.

But sometimes you literally can’t find words. Sometimes you must wait for your mind and heart to intersect again, in what you know and believe to be true, before you bring words into the equation. And as hard as it is to give yourself grace in the silence, sometimes it’s your season to be quiet. When you can’t find clarity within, it’s certainly hard to join the conversation again — especially that cyber one.

I remember back to last New Year’s Eve. I was weary, carrying burdens that really weren’t mine to carry. I was in the company of dear friends and slipped away for a moment, succumbing to social media numbing myself with social media. And somehow, I stumbled upon this photo of a street called “Hope” victoriously giving direction through the brokenness.

This will be my story in 2015, I determined. I am choosing Hope. A picture says a thousand words, and this would be my voice. So I boldly posted and shared this photo of Hope personified. Thank goodness we can’t see the future, for if we did, we’d be constant cynics.


“They’re really struggling,” I said to my husband recently.

“Who isn’t?!” he replied. It wasn’t said in disgust, but almost in a comforting tone.

I read between the lines. He was speaking truth again. We’re not lone victims, Christan. Our chapters read differently, but we’re all surrounded with the reality that we were made for a different Place.

We’re all kind of aching for something that doesn’t exist here, yes?


Another school year’s about to start. And you know what a whirlwind fall is, as we hold on tightly and watch life quickly unfold into new stories. It’s easy for me, come August, to mentally place myself in the autumn cool and the bustling holidays and another calendar year coming to a close. We blink, and what in the world?! We’re already Christmas shopping after stocking up on pencils and glue sticks and notebooks galore.

But this year I’m choosing to mentally place myself half-way through 2015. Seven months down, five to go. Am I still clinging to Hope? Watch closely, I am preparing something new; it’s happening now, even as I speak, and you’re about to see it. I am preparing a way through the desert; Waters will flow where there had been none. Isaiah 43:19

I’m still so thirsty, and I’m really needing those streams in my desert. I look at my friends, my dear community near and far, and they’re choking on broken relationships and cancer and parenting aches and racial inequity and loneliness and mental illness and more. They need grace to wash it all down. My friends — those I hold dear have carried quite a bit in 2015.

And if I’m not careful, I start doubting in my mind what I know to be true in my heart… I am preparing a way through the desert; Waters will flow where there had been none. 

But in the voice of a child, or in a young teenager this time, I’m reminded that I am seen, and those I love are not forgotten, and Hope really does rise boldly out of the rubble.

“I’m sorry it’s your story, too, Mom.” You see, I was resenting the fact that sometimes you just can’t protect your kids, and out of nowhere, I drank in empathy. And tenderness. And I saw facets of God’s character I had been ignoring.

Whatever it was you were hoping for on January 1, let yourself go back to that place. My intentions are not always yours, explains the Author, and I do not go about things as you do. My thoughts and My ways are above and beyond you… My word will go out and not return to Me empty, but it will do what I wanted; it will accomplish what I determined. Isaiah 55:8-11

And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts. Romans 5:5

Cheers.