Yokes of Weariness

Christmas may be over, but I still have the refrain “the weary world rejoices” playing in my head. I think we’ve been grasping this year for rejoicing. We are a weary world, and I have to think that 2018 won’t magically hold a quick fix for our weary hearts.

Over the last few days the weariness has born down heavy to the point where I could feel the weight settling in for a good long stay. A tension between heaviness and lightness began to build though, as I didn’t want to close out this year with such a view of it and also enter a new one with this weighted feeling.

That is when I was reminded of scorched earth in a photo, what I felt embodied so much of what this year has felt like at least for me. Alot of earth scorched. There were highlights, don’t get me wrong here, but there was much heaviness. As I looked on at this photo a friend took I saw the starkness of the earth and this tree, barren and bleak. I came back to Christ’s words for some reason in Matthew, where He reminds us that He came not that we would take on this weariness and brokenness, that this bleakness was ours to bear. He took it on. He bore it out. He faced it and He overcame.

For each one of us. For us to come to Him.

To bring Him our yokes we build and tie around our shoulders, we fashion out of worry, anxiety, burdens of health and death, grief and loss. To loose the yokes and lay them down. To take upon His of rest, to learn humble hearts. To become like Him and know light.

From this bleakness there is hope. Standing in the stark contrast is Christ asking for our weariness here at the end of 2017, and at the beginning of 2018. He asks for it daily. In the moments we want to carry our weary hearts, He asks we carry them straight to Him and let them go. Taking the burden off, He loosens our hearts to know Him more and trust Him deeper. To depend further upon Him in order to rejoice at His coming.

May our hearts rejoice in the beauty of the scorched earth and bleakness, knowing He is right there with us in it. He stands in the field, present in the manger, calling wise men to Him, and our hearts to His. To unburden and to release the yokes of life.


If you’d like to take a look at the photo that inspired part of this post, you can see it over at my friend’s site here.

The First Sunday of Advent: Hope

This time of year always has me hopeful. I am not sure what it is, if it’s the story of Christmas, the childlike enamorment with giving gifts to others, or white twinkly lights.

I think it might be all three, and the smell of snow and cold.
I do love this season of the year and the hope many seem to carry, including myself. As I dig into the Christmas story, as I am prone to do each year about this time I find there is grit to hope
where we often put gleam.

I think about the hope Mary carried within her for months. That hope that she carried the Messiah, the hope of the entire world. Do you think that hope shone when others questioned her reality? I think it got gritty and messy and probably a bit scarred.

Hope got scary and truly unknown when strangers came to greet the One she gave birth to in a barn. They came because they too had been called by hope, a gleaming star guiding their journey to them. Shepherds, the veritable lowest class of society at the time, bowed before them because hope came in a heavenly host of angels. How would hope shine when it was wrapped up in the form of a newborn? One that had been born and placed in a feeding trough?

It’s absolutely absurd to leave hope as this shiny thing we see only during this current season. We cling to hope with dirt under our nails and tear-streaked faces. We grasp it with grit and dust all around because hope is there in it all. It’s a Hope we give nod to at this time of year but it’s the same exact hope that lasted for three days in the darkest hours of humanity. It’s the same Hope that brings blessing and allows trial.

This Hope gives traction with it’s grittiness because it’s a Hope that’s been used before. It’s been there before in the dark bringing light and shining brightly through the crack in the doors. It’s been there in the wild, bright shiny moments of joy and laughter. It remains, Hope remains regardless of whether we see it in it’s grittiness or it’s gleaming.

Not because of what it is, but who we are. We see with eyes and hearts that are fallible and ascribe only the glitter of hope while the grit remains there as well. All for our benefit and for His glory. Hope is His, and ours.

The grittiness of hope is where perseverance meets passion after all.

 

Growing up I don’t remember being grounded much. That’s not to mean I was the perfect child (far from it y’all) because I was met with a spanking instead when my mouth got me in trouble. A grounding would mean my oft-times introverted self would have a reason to sit and read for hours instead of playing with the majority of boys that grew up in our neighborhood.

Being grounded or getting grounded has taken on the connotation of that of airplanes more than it’s intended meaning. We’ve been there when a plane has gotten grounded, and the disparate sighs of the passengers and the crew too become the soundtrack of a gate. Or it’s been our own and we scurry to try to get around it, finding another one to hop onto to bypass the grounding. But being grounded as a person means you are stable, realistic, unpretentious. Wouldn’t you want that for your plane as well as your character?

Maybe that grounding as a kid was so that we could be more grounded as an adult, emotionally and mentally stable, realistic. Being grounded gives us time to think about what put us there to begin with as a kid. What consequences our actions (or words) hold for us and those around us.

I thought on this as well when I saw Paul’s words to the Ephesians of “being rooted and grounded in love”. And then again his words to those at Colosse, “if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard.” That grounding means rooted, holding fast, and found tapped into the very love of Christ and hope of the gospel. Being grounded isn’t a punishment but a reflection of character and of Christ Himself, who we are called to reflect. That to be grounded means we are unmoving and not blown about by whims and feelings, but connected to the source of our rooting, the True Vine Himself.

I think for me I’d much rather be grounded more and more as an adult, finding that if it’s in love it ends up setting up roots that grow deep and secure not in my own actions, words, whims and feelings but in Christ’s, in the very Hope of the world.

I cannot stop listening to Ellie Holcomb‘s album, Red Sea Road. For almost two weeks now I have been playing it on repeat and having a good ol’ fashioned worship with it. Particularly I have been dwelling on the title track itself (Ellie shares more about it’s origination here). These very words are the prayer of my heart these days when it seems like everything wants to break the hope I have, even my own mind:

We will sing to our souls
We won’t bury our hope
Where He leads us to go, there’s a Red Sea Road
When we can’t see the way, He will part the waves
And we’ll never walk alone down a Red Sea Road

 

I am not facing a death, a health battle, a family falling apart…but there’s been a season of hope dying in many ways in my life. I hadn’t been able to put my finger on it until recently when the dry bone season changed me to thirst more and more for Christ. When I had exhausted all of my means and went back to the God Who just asks me to be still. In retrospect I had decided to bury hope for some dreams I had carried, that I thought were God-given but felt were all but lost.

Prayers had gone unanswered, unaddressed, or they had simply been told no. I wanted to pack it all away and go on living with buried dreams, a hope left by the wayside. I didn’t want to see God as faithful and with me. In fact I was so dry that I just didn’t feign to look at all towards His direction.

I could write more on justifying how God used this song to convince those who may not believe He can do that, but I won’t. What I will do is say that I trudged through the dryness to a night in January where I was trying to give every excuse not to be at women’s worship night that I could. But a new friend from this last year was going with baby in tow, so I thought I’d better go if for nothing else than to be where I said I would. Then Ellie comes out to lead part of worship with Christy Nockels, and they sing this song they co-wrote. Y’all, I couldn’t…God was slowly reaching down to give me water with it. Then Ellie sings Red Sea Road. It was God’s heart cry to my hope, a Hope that is everlasting and unfading. One that I had attempted to bury was now calling me to sing, to unpack it and allow it to stand in the face of fears, doubts, lies and brokenness.

It reminded me of the very story Ellie wrote her song from, of the Israelites facing opposition chasing them and a wall of water before them. What could have easily been a dead-end for them, their hope and even their lives. He provided the way then, and He does so now. It may not be conventional, but the God who made a road out of the dry land of the Red Sea will be with us on our road we walk.

Is it easy? Absolutely not.

Are there days when I want to bury that hope? Yes.

But the last two weeks I have seen that hope that is Christ-driven, God-ordained and Spirit-led is Hope that cannot be buried. It can only be grasped fully in the obedient walk with God, knowing we only need to be still, He goes before us.

The Manger

You know the song we sing around this time of year, “Away in a Manger”? Well that song has been on my mind for weeks now. Odd, I know. Of all the Christmas carols, hymns, songs to have, that one isn’t one that truly sticks out as a mind-grabber. But alas, here I am this morning humming it while I clean up breakfast and look at the tree partially lit up (half the lights at the top went out, it’s a thing I just don’t have the will to drag out new lights for).

The line “the little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head” is what keeps popping into mind and I am having a hard time here with it. Here’s why…

I think we like to look at Christ as this babe in a feeding trough there in a stable-structure. We like to see Him as this babe that shepherds came to marvel and wise men sought to honor with gifts, but we keep Him there in this context throughout our lives.

jesus-in-the-mangerWe have this concept that Christ is infant-to wonder and lavish love upon, but we don’t like the reality that His Presence commands of our lives. We don’t like that when He came with us, our selves got a bit too uncomfortable, our lives got rocked by Emmanuel. God with us.

Because that meant we couldn’t point to His absence, His silence, as excuse. He physically laid out His life, relinquishing the glories of heaven and His right in order that we might be in relationship with Him. In a few months we’ll look to Him on the cross, but I think we often upgrade the image of Christ as a babe in order to downplay our need for Him.

When we put Christ only in the image of the manger, born in a stable as a helpless babe, it appeases our self to think He can’t do it all, He can’t be relied upon and maybe He needs our help instead of the other way around. We don’t greet Him with welcoming in our lives often, but instead stare in wonder at this humanness of God Incarnate instead.

In reading Luke’s account of Christ’s life, I love the honesty of Mary with Gabriel. Just yesterday  we talked about Zechariah’s response to him as he hears the news of an impending birth. Then just a few verses later, we see Mary greeted by this angel (y’all he wasn’t some little cherub all cute and fluffy, this was Gabriel, mighty angel come to bring the news). Same truth of a birth coming, only this one is the Savior of the world, God Himself. Mary’s initial response is one of confusion, not doubt. But how can she get pregnant as a virgin, unwed? She wasn’t doubting his news, she just couldn’t see the possibility of it with her.

But her response to Emmanuel coming to her, coming to us?

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered.

“May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Is that how we respond to Christ the King? Is that how we address Him even now, knowing His redemption of our souls was purposed through this very season we celebrate? Do we look to Him as the authority of our lives even in the context of the manger? Because y’all, He didn’t stay in the manger. He didn’t stay in the tomb. He reigns, rules and intercedes for us…

He’s not away in some manger, helpless and in need of us. It’s us that needs Him. We needed Him thousands of years ago, in that manger, to herald a new hope, to rejoice as our weary souls cried out for a Savior. We needed the new morning, new mercies, redemption and grace. There it all came, in the form a baby, heralded by an angel and under all authority given by God Himself, so that we may say “I am the Lord’s servant.”

Silent Nights

We are six days from celebrating the birth of Christ. This time of year is most often characterized by the hustle and bustle, songs of cheer and laughter in the air. It’s running from one party or program to another, squeezing in those last minute gifts and errands in order to have this perfect holiday scene you know never makes it to reality.

For me, in this season, I truly enjoy sitting in the quiet of my home with the lights of the tree sparkling in the dark. I love the stillness of it and the peaceful calm that seems to emanate from corners of the season. The world gets loud, it gets rather busy and hectic with so many people vying for my ears and often my eyes. It becomes overwhelming to this heart of mine and sometimes I just need to pull back to pull on peace and quiet.

silent-night-logo-w-text2-copy

But I think I get a bit fidgety if the quiet goes too long when it comes to God. That’s when doubt seeps in rather than peace pervading. I tend to worry that He’s forgotten me, or that He doesn’t love me as much as He has said countless times in countless ways. I question His work ethic and His ability to hear my prayers.

I don’t often read about Zechariah outside of the Christmas season. I don’t dig into his story much in the beginning of Luke except as the precursor to the story of Mary, Joseph, and the Coming Messiah. If we’ve heard the story of the birth of Christ, we can probably give a brief synopsis of his precursor, John the Baptist.

Dad was a priest in the temple, mom was a lovely woman of God but both were without a child and advanced in age. Dad gets called to the temple as part of his rotation, an angel  tells him that “Hey, you’re going to have a kid. He’s going to be the forerunner for the coming Lord. He’ll lead Israel back to prepare their hearts.” (my interpretation, obviously) Zechariah doubted, he wanted confirmation…and so he got silence, for nine months. In one interpretation it says he was mute, meaning he could not speak, nor could he hear.

For nine months.

Silence inwardly and outwardly for that long probably led to some real moments of fidgeting in Zechariah’s life. But then he could see the visual confirmation of the promise from God-growth of human life in his wife, the fulfillment of a long prayed desire. Hope confirmed. Yet God allowed him to be silent until his son came into the world. His first words once he arrived? Praises to God.

For nine months he had time with God alone. Silent nights filled with discerning and relationship building. Discipline lived out, and doubt rooted out. This wasn’t punishment for him, but discipline from God to bring the doubt out of Zechariah and draw him in closer to Him.

How often do I forsake the silence for doubt? How many times do I take the silent nights for granted and turn to God in mistrust and accusation? What if the silence-no matter the longevity-is for my good and His promise to come to full birth? To wait expectantly in the hope of Him who gives good gifts to those that love Him? To root out even the slightest sliver of doubt that may pierce deep within and allow God to have the only voice in my life?

As we enter the final week of expectancy of Christ’s arrival into our world thousands of years ago, may our hope and expectancy be rooted in the hope of a Promise Keeper, a Listener, and a Heralder of Good. May our doubt and fear of unanswered prayers be uprooted and the silence of a holy God take it’s place.

Advent Week: Hope 

This week I broke my first pair of Ripstix, at 5:30am…They are lightly weighted drumsticks used in a fitness class I’ve been taking (I shared about POUND one Friday Favepost) for the last 11 months. It’s a big deal to break them, and it sparked a little hope in me on this well person journey I’m on. 

This week I got asked out. It was unexpected and provided a little hope that I might not be single until death (or The Lord returns). 

This week I saw people chipping in, time and talents, money and spirit to assist those who lost everything in the fires of my beloved Smokies. While lives have been lost, I have seen hope in the eyes of those found and those that made it out. Hope in words and deeds alike. 

Much of this week hope has been very tangible for me. It’s no coincidence as it’s the first week of Advent, the week of hope. While it’s nice to hope in the physical, the tangible, people and things, it’s not where our hope should remain. Our hope should be fully vested in Christ, who is the Hope of the World. A world that needs Him just as much as you and I do right this very minute. 

When I look at hope in Scripture, I see it woven in stories of lament, trouble and heartache. Stories like Ruth, Job, Hosea. I see it reminding us of the praise that is due when we hope in Him from the Psalms. Paul naming Christ as his hope, and ours too, in letters from prison. I am reminded of the truth of Romans 5:5, that hope does not disappoint because of Christ-God’s love poured out. 

Through trials, perseverance and character defining moments we push after hope, hope in the Christ who came thousands of years ago because of us right now. Christ that knew we would need Him, a Hope Everlasting, at this particular time and for this particular season. We hope in One Who is written across the pages of Scripture and lived out fully in our daily lives, calling us to hope in something better than a health plan or a person. 

He is our hope. Then, now and eternally. That hope does not disappoint but instead fills us, knowing our hope lasts when it’s fully in Him.