Repost: Why We Must Zakar

Nativity-4

Last year, I wrote this post as a reminder of why celebrating Christmas is something I hold dear. This time of year, people are especially hungry for love and meaning in their lives, giving us a great opportunity to share the gospel. So, whether you celebrate this season or not, please take time to remember the coming of our Lord and reach out to those around us who have no hope. Because we have hope, sisters! This day, and everyday, we have joy in the most precious gift ever given: God Himself coming to pay the price for our salvation. That, truly, is cause for celebration.


“He was created of a mother whom He created. He was carried by hands that He formed. He cried in the manger in wordless infancy. He, the Word, without whom all human eloquence is mute.”

 – Augustine of Hippo –

Zakar is Hebrew for remember.

Some things must be remembered.

One set of people holds these things dear by celebrating them all year long, because these things permeate all days, not just one or two.

Others recognize this, but also value a set-apart day–needing a reminder of the wonder, a day to refresh all the year’s living.

One of these days is Christmas.

We’ve always celebrated it at our house. And yet, dear friends choose not to. It’s okay, really. One of those things God lets us choose—let those who celebrate the day, do it to the Lord. And those who don’t—they do it for His glory as well.

And truly—Christmas. Christ with us. Emmanuel, always—not just on one holly-decked square on the calendar, but forever.

It’s the same with other days.

It’s impossible to cram into one day the wonder of His rising, of His death-quenching. It’s ridiculous to think it can be stuffed into a hundred thousand Easters. Millions of Sundays would not suffice.

A day of Thanks—as if all the other days were to be full of complaining? Not at all. But something in the soul is refreshed that the idea is important enough to have a day of remembrance. A day when the whirling-away  and the head-spinning and the busy commercialization must stop so that thanks can snuggle deep into the soul.

Just as a friend is every bit as special the rest of the year as she is on her birthday. Just as special. But to have a special day to say it? This is good. Maybe your friend knows you love her all the time. Friendship—her life—is just as much to be celebrated any other day. But that one day is for you—not her—in a way. Yes, on that day you thank God for her. But really…who is it that needs reminded of the wonder of having a friend? She may get presents on that day, but it is you who receive the greater gift. You are reminded of just how much you have, on her birthday.

Isn’t it the same for His birthday? The date does not matter. The tinsel does not matter—neither do the molasses-dark cookies shaped like pudgy men or the lights twinkling or the cinnamon drifting from the kitchen or the gifts nestled under an everlastingly-green tree.

The Tree

Ah—but the tree can remind us, help us Zakar. Some call it pagan. Whoever, ages ago, worshiped a tree or chronicled it as a symbol of paganism—this man did not corrupt God’s trees. The trees on this planet still lift leafy faces to the heavens. They don’t hang down or die away because their purpose has been stolen away. Not at all. Still, tree crowns grow high, pointing skyward to a Creator enthroned beyond our glory-stealing schemes.

And that one spicy pine or fringy spruce or musky cedar with which the halls are decked–its green fades a bit when the life is cut off at the roots. The holder of lights, stretching out limbs to cover everything, guarding the secrets till the Christmas dawns. An everlasting tree dying. Something like an Everlasting God-Man dying, cut off to be the gift. The Holder, Maker, Shaper of light, stretching out His limbs to cover it all, to flood every sin with bloody grace.  The great Secret of the ages, foretold in a host of whispered, echoing prophesies, now shouted out to the world. Emmanuel! Emmanuel! He’s here, with us. With us!

The Gifts

The gifts remind us. Those oddly-shaped packages swathed with way too much metallic wrapping paper. The little tucked-in-the-stocking goodies. Every tiny sneaked-in item that a relative crept around the store with, trying in vain to keep secrets on a mass shopping trip where every family member ends up hiding, arms full, in a separate checkout line.

“Christmas is based on an exchange of gifts, the gift of God to man – His unspeakable gift of His Son, and the gift of man to God – when we present our bodies a living sacrifice.”

– Vance Havner –

Gifts remind us that God stepped down out of splendor to be curled and vulnerable in a womb. Christmas is a refresher course in generosity, a day when prayers seep in deep and stinginess can seep away. A special set-aside time when a hunted-for gift is placed in quivering, open hands and delight begins its ecstatic dance in two pairs of eyes. Close your eyes and remember. Zakar for a while.

“For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given…”

– Isaiah 9:6 b –

The Nativity

Okay, so the wise men weren’t really there that first night that the angels proclaimed the royal birth. But a glance at the manger, at the faces bowed in awe, they too can help us Zakar.

“He lived among us…He made a throne out of a manger and a royal court out of some cows. He took a common name—Jesus—and made it holy. He took common people and made them the same. He could have lived over us or away from us. But He didn’t. He lived among us.

He became a friend of the sinner and brother of the poor. He touched their sores and felt their tears and paid for their mistakes. He entered a tomb and came out and pledged that we’d do the same. And to us all…He shared the same message. “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me….I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also’ (John 14:1,3)

Some pretend that He doesn’t exist….Others hear Him, but don’t believe Him. It’s not easy to believe that God would go so far to take us home….But then a few decide to…venture out of their corners….”

– Max Lucado, from When Christ Comes –

While the contagious laughter rises around you and the coffee mugs clink together in the sink and the lights on the Christmas tree twinkle off the glittering ornaments, remember why He came. To seek and save the lost, so they could come home. Isn’t Christmas a foretaste of a forever-home?

“Some pretend He doesn’t exist.” That He never came. That Christmas is about hullabaloo and December 26th sales, chubby mall Santas and seasonal eggnog.

“Others hear Him, but don’t believe Him. It’s not easy to believe that God would go so far to take us home” (emphasis mine).

Zakar. God did “go so far to take us home.” Remember this, savor it with all your might. He came once. And He will do it again.

“And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans–and all that lives and move upon them. He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused–and to save us from our foolishness, from all our sins, He came down to earth and gave us Himself.”

– Sigrid Undset –

For this Christmas, and every other, remember all His goodness.

Zakar. Always.

Thank you to Atalie with Atalie Bale Photography for today’s lovely Christmas photo!

Love Beyond Flannelgraphs

flower-meadow-1371791084S3k

“Jesus replied, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way.

A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’ “

Luke 10:30-35, CEB


The parable of the Good Samaritan is a well-worn path for me. Those horrible “religious” Jews ran away from the problem; the good “unclean” outcast stayed to love. I can almost see my childhood’s flannel board now: the resolute Samaritan, and the man lying pale and bandaged across the back of a compliant donkey.

This story is nearly as reminiscent of Sunday school as John 3:16 and goldfish crackers.

I’m not sure whom I always identified with in the story. Maybe the Samaritan, because of course I would stop to help, right? Or perhaps I always focused on the robbed Jew, the man lying splayed on the rocky soil. Poor guy. Yeah, I’d want someone to help me too.

But I don’t think I ever once identified with the Jews that did not stop. Reading Gary Inrig’s The Parables recently, I came upon this passage:

“We should not make the mistake of thinking these are ‘bad’ men. No, not bad, but busy. For them, and too often, for me, people in need are problems, interruptions, nuisances. They intrude awkwardly on my privacy. They deflect me from my duty. They distract me from my responsibility. They keep me from my pleasures. I agree that they need help, and I hope that someone does help. But not me, not now, not here. I have a different agenda.” – p. 37

Oh. Oh, I see. To my shame, I see I am the priest that crossed to the other side, the Levite who skirts around, every time I do not stop for my neighbor.

“And who IS my neighbor?”

This time I take the part of the questioning teacher, the student of God’s law whose query prompted Jesus’ parable. “Ahem. Teacher. So we’re supposed to love God and our neighbor. But who is my neighbor?” I’m sure he felt very smug, thinking, Yes, let’s clarify. Because of course there are limits to love.

Or, to rephrase….

“Isn’t there someone I don’t have to love? This sounds pretty involved. Where can I draw the line? When do I not have to stop and take pity? When can I cut back on this love business? I mean…really, you can’t expect me to love everyone all the time, can you?”

And Jesus answers with a powerful story that we have reduced to a flannelgraph lesson promoting the moral standards of the nice Samaritan--an impotent, sanitized repackaging of a radical love:

And here seems to be the thrust of the story: When a need appears on the path, Love stops.

To the best of its ability, Love lends a hand.

“The Lord is deliberately and carefully shocking his audience. His hero is a despised Samaritan, a man who does not pass by, whatever the pillars of jewish religious society might do. However, it is not his nationality that sets him apart, but his compassion. He doesn’t see anything the other two didn’t, but he feels something they didn’t. ‘He took pity on him.’ All of the normal hostility between Jew and Samaritan is swept away as he allows what he sees to affect his emotions and actions. Strikingly the word translated here ‘pity’ is used elsewhere in the gospels ply of the Lord Jesus. He, above all others, is the model of compassion.” – The Parables, p. 38

In his book, Mr. Inrig points out, “The central question is not ‘who is my neighbor?’ but ‘what is my duty?’ Again our need is not to define ‘neighbor’ but to become the kind of person who cannot pass by on the other side…Am I concerned about calculating the limits of love or about caring for hurting people? The theologian is thinking about his responsibility; the Lord wants us to seize the opportunity. The theologian is thinking about himself; the Lord directs us to the sufferer” (p. 40-41).

In Christian communities, debates still rage. How do we help the needy? Are there people that we have a higher obligation to love and care for than others? How do we help people if they won’t better themselves? Should we give money to that homeless guy that makes minimum wage with only a  scrawled cardboard sign and a grocery cart? How do we balance safety with radical love?

Certainly, wisdom should come into play. The focus of the story is not mindless care–the focus is deliberate love. If loving someone means not giving them certain things, or not enabling them to continue in a particular lifestyle, that is not less loving than binding up a bleeding man’s wounds. And, certainly, there are Biblical priorities–God, then biological and church family, and then those outside the faith.

But–at least for me–the problem is not in the exceptions or the complications.

The problem is in the application.

” This is how we know love: Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. But if a person has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need and that person doesn’t care—how can the love of God remain in him?

Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth.”

– 1 John 3:16-18, CEB –

A man who doesn’t show practical love for his family by doing his best to provide for them is betraying his faith (1 Timothy. 5:8). A Christian who does not have compassion on his fellow heirs in Christ is demonstrating a dearth of love. A man who passes by is showing that he really doesn’t understand the kind of grace that throws away convenience, propriety, reputation, comfort, and possessions just to stop and do something.

We quibble over terms.

Christ came in and acted.

We, of all people, were surely not His neighbors: More inferior to his Divinity than an amoeba is to a great blue whale. More adversarial to his kind advances than a Jew would be to a helpful leper. A cosmos, in a sense, separated us from Him–a world gone amuck, millions of sins piled like stones between the life of God and the life of man.

And us, unaware of it, ran straight into the den of robbers and gave ourselves over to the beatings of the sin we chose, until we lay bloody on the roadside. Utterly hopeless. Utterly undesirable.

But He had compassion. Desiring us! What love is this? He stopped. And, at the cost of His life, bound up our wounds.

It was certainly our sickness that he carried,
    and our sufferings that he bore,
    but we thought him afflicted,
    struck down by God and tormented.
He was pierced because of our rebellions
    and crushed because of our crimes.
    He bore the punishment that made us whole;
    by his wounds we are healed.
 Like sheep we had all wandered away,
    each going its own way,
    but the Lord let fall on him all our crimes.

– Isaiah 53: 4-6 –

We can make wonderful excuses. We can say we’re too busy. We can say that we don’t owe them anything.

Jesus could have done that too.

But He went out into the highways instead.

With such a Savior, how can we hold back for one more minute? Today, my neighbor is the person in front of me–my roommate, my boss at the office, my brother, the cashier at Wal-Mart, the lady walking her dachshund down the neighborhood sidewalk.

How can I not love them? How can I just pass by?


“What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.”

– Augustine –

Why We Must Zakar

Nativity-4

“He was created of a mother whom He created. He was carried by hands that He formed. He cried in the manger in wordless infancy. He, the Word, without whom all human eloquence is mute.”

 – Augustine of Hippo –

Zakar is Hebrew for remember.

Some things must be remembered.

One set of people holds these things dear by celebrating them all year long, because these things permeate all days, not just one or two.

Others recognize this, but also value a set-apart day–needing a reminder of the wonder, a day to refresh all the year’s living.

One of these days is Christmas.

We’ve always celebrated it at our house. And yet, dear friends choose not to.

It’s okay, really. One of those things God lets us choose—let those who celebrate the day, do it to the Lord.

And those who don’t—they do it for His glory as well.

And truly—Christmas. Christ with us. Emmanuel, always—not just on one holly-decked square on the calendar, but forever.

It’s the same with other days.

It’s impossible to cram into one day the wonder of His rising, of His death-quenching. It’s ridiculous to think it can be stuffed into a hundred thousand Easters. Millions of Sundays would not suffice.

A day of Thanks—as if all the other days were to be full of complaining? Not at all. But something in the soul is refreshed that the idea is important enough to have a day of remembrance. A day when the whirling-away  and the head-spinning and the busy commercialization must stop so that thanks can snuggle deep into the soul.

Just as a friend is every bit as special the rest of the year as she is on her birthday. Just as special. But to have a special day to say it? This is good. Maybe your friend knows you love her all the time. Friendship—her life—is just as much to be celebrated any other day. But that one day is for you—not her—in a way. Yes, on that day you thank God for her. But really…who is it that needs reminded of the wonder of having a friend? She may get presents on that day, but it is you who receive the greater gift. You are reminded of just how much you have, on her birthday.

Isn’t it the same for His birthday? The date does not matter. The tinsel does not matter—neither do the molasses-dark cookies shaped like pudgy men or the lights twinkling or the cinnamon drifting from the kitchen or the gifts nestled under an everlastingly-green tree.

The Tree

Ah—but the tree can remind us, help us Zakar. Some call it pagan. Whoever, ages ago, worshiped a tree or chronicled it as a symbol of paganism—this man did not corrupt God’s trees. The trees on this planet still lift leafy faces to the heavens. They don’t hang down or die away because their purpose has been stolen away. Not at all. Still, tree crowns grow high, pointing skyward to a Creator enthroned beyond our glory-stealing schemes.

And that one spicy pine or fringy spruce or musky cedar with which the halls are decked–its green fades a bit when the life is cut off at the roots. The holder of lights, stretching out limbs to cover everything, guarding the secrets till the Christmas dawns. An everlasting tree dying. Something like an Everlasting God-Man dying, cut off to be the gift. The Holder, Maker, Shaper of light, stretching out His limbs to cover it all, to flood every sin with bloody grace.  The great Secret of the ages, foretold in a host of whispered, echoing prophesies, now shouted out to the world. Emmanuel! Emmanuel! He’s here, with us. With us!

The Gifts

The gifts remind us. Those oddly-shaped packages swathed with way too much metallic wrapping paper. The little tucked-in-the-stocking goodies. Every tiny sneaked-in item that a relative crept around the store with, trying in vain to keep secrets on a mass shopping trip where every family member ends up hiding, arms full, in a separate checkout line.

“Christmas is based on an exchange of gifts, the gift of God to man – His unspeakable gift of His Son, and the gift of man to God – when we present our bodies a living sacrifice.”

– Vance Havner –

Gifts remind us that God stepped down out of splendor to be curled and vulnerable in a womb. Christmas is a refresher course in generosity, a day when prayers seep in deep and stinginess can seep away. A special set-aside time when a hunted-for gift is placed in quivering, open hands and delight begins its ecstatic dance in two pairs of eyes. Close your eyes and remember. Zakar for a while.

“For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given…”

– Isaiah 9:6 b –

The Nativity

Okay, so the wise men weren’t really there that first night that the angels proclaimed the royal birth. But a glance at the manger, at the faces bowed in awe, they too can help us Zakar.

“He lived among us…He made a throne out of a manger and a royal court out of some cows. He took a common name—Jesus—and made it holy. He took common people and made them the same. He could have lived over us or away from us. But He didn’t. He lived among us.

He became a friend of the sinner and brother of the poor. He touched their sores and felt their tears and paid for their mistakes. He entered a tomb and came out and pledged that we’d do the same. And to us all…He shared the same message. “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me….I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also’ (John 14:1,3)

Some pretend that He doesn’t exist….Others hear Him, but don’t believe Him. It’s not easy to believe that God would go so far to take us home….But then a few decide to…venture out of their corners….”

– Max Lucado, from When Christ Comes

While the contagious laughter rises around you and the coffee mugs clink together in the sink and the lights on the Christmas tree twinkle off the glittering ornaments, remember why He came. To seek and save the lost, so they could come home. Isn’t Christmas a foretaste of a forever-home?

“Some pretend He doesn’t exist.” That He never came. That Christmas is about hullabaloo and December 26th sales, chubby mall Santas and seasonal eggnog.

“Others hear Him, but don’t believe Him. It’s not easy to believe that God would go so far to take us home” (emphasis mine).

Zakar. God did “go so far to take us home.” Remember this, savor it with all your might. He came once. And He will do it again.

“And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans–and all that lives and move upon them. He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused–and to save us from our foolishness, from all our sins, He came down to earth and gave us Himself.”

– Sigrid Undset –

For this Christmas, and every other, remember all His goodness.

Zakar. Always.

Thank you to Atalie with Atalie Bale Photography for today’s lovely Christmas photo!