You know the familiar sound well.
You’re walking into the grocery store to do some last-minute Christmas shopping, and you hear it.
That high-pitched bell, ringing incessantly, always accompanied by a red bucket and a smiling face.
It’s the Salvation Army, asking if you could spare a little Christmas change.
Maybe you’re exhausted and irritated by the bell’s unrelenting sound, and you walk briskly into the store, not even glancing in the bell ringer’s direction.
Maybe you smile, but pat your pants pockets as if to say, “I only carry credit cards.”
Maybe you throw a couple quarters into the bucket, recognizing the big impact that a little change can make.
I’ve taken all three approaches. This week.
The truth is, Christmas is a season of change. I’m not referring to a change in weather, or a change in decor at your favorite department store. I’m not even talking about our change in attitude or priorities, as we, perfunctorily and annually, put aside our differences with family and walk away from the hustle and bustle of adulting, and simply spend time with those we love.
I’m talking about a little baby who changed everything, though we knew it not.
No fanfare. No triumphant entry. No celebration. Instead, the Creator of the universe stepped down from his throne to become a bawling baby. A baby whose parents couldn’t even get a room in a hotel. A baby who was fully divine, yet fully human. A baby who, from his ignominous birth surrounded by farm animals, would grow up to suffer. A baby who, at the cradle, was crawling to the cross.
Why? Because he loved us. More than anything. He couldn’t fathom eternity without us, so he chose to give up everything, so that he could change everything for us.
Steven Curtis Chapman puts it this way: “It happened one night with a tiny baby’s birth. God heard creation crying, and he sent heaven to earth.”
Who knew that a Middle Eastern baby born in a tiny town to parents who had suffered a rocky start to their marriage, who would later become a refugee, an immigrant, and a convicted criminal, and who would be murdered in full view of friend and foe alike, would change everything forever?
Sometimes, seemingly small decisions have enormous consequences. The word change itself, in a numismatic sense, refers to the smallest monetary units. Yet, a little change can have an enormous impact.
Just ask the Salvation Army. Or Mary and Joseph.
This Christmas has been a season of change for me, as well.
I’m writing this from 37,000 feet, en route to Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow. By tomorrow, I will have arrived in Dubai for a short vacation, before heading to Uganda to volunteer and help implement clean water solutions to villages who don’t have access to it. One week ago, I rented out my house in Portland and officially became homeless. I packed my whole life up in a garage, and took Moo to a friend’s apartment. Last Thursday, I quit my job of thirteen years. Today, I’m beginning a new season of my life, determined to listen to God rather than trying to get him to listen to me, to serve him instead of hoping that he’ll serve me.
I’ve done a lot of talking these past couple years. Talking about the person I want to become. Talking about what matters to me, and where my priorities should be. Talking about how I want to trust God with every area of my life, not just the ones that are convenient for me to do so.
In the end, though, talking gets you nothing except perhaps a little hoarse. Unless words translate into action, they’re just words. Unless good intentions traslate into change, they’re merely good intentions.
So, here I am. Alone on this airplane. Empty hands, full heart.
I’ve spent my whole life planning. Working. Telling God what my intentions are, and then asking him to bless them. I’ve never been good at listening. Trusting. Following.
So, I’ve booked this trip, but have literally no idea what I’m going to do next. I don’t doubt that God will put me where he wants me. I pray that this trip will kick off a new chapter of my life, one without much of a script. That it will be the first of many opportunities to serve the God who gave everything for us.
While I’ve tried to be smart by saving money and setting up a situation that I’ve worked hard for in which I will earn passive income from my rental properties, the truth is that I don’t know exactly how this is going to work. Can I trust God with my finances? Do I truly believe that money isn’t the most important thing to me? I guess it’s time to find out.
All I know is that I want to serve. To love. To give. To meet people’s tangible needs. To explore. To listen to a Creator who is still in the business of creating; a Savior who is still in the business of saving. I want to live a life of purpose. I want to learn what it’s like to help others behind the scenes. To not be on stage or in front of TV cameras, but to get my hands dirty and challenge myself to see the big in the small.
Simply put, I want to follow Jesus, not tell him where I’m going.
I’d like to stress the fact that while these are big steps for me, I am no hero. This last month has been one of the most hectic periods of my life, and I’ve had a myriad of moments of doubt, of tears, of questioning. Of being so busy that I don’t take time to listen to the God I’m making these changes for. I’m leaving a very comfortable routine that I’ve created, and it’s more than a little scary. I’ve also come face to face, again, with my own selfishness, my own sin, my own desperate need of grace. I’m not very good at sacrificing unless I get something in return for it.
The truth is, I’m not sacrificing anything except my own comfort, my own routine, my own need to be in control. Yes, I’m a little lonely today. Yes, I’m going to have to live much more frugally. Yes, I miss my cat, my friends, my life, my job. But these are barely even sacrifices. Anything we’re asked to give up looks pretty insignificant in comparision to all that Jesus forfeited to become a baby.
Also, I’m about to go to Dubai before I actually start volunteering. So, I should probably shut my mouth about this whole sacrifice thing.
So, what’s the point of me sharing my journey with you? Am I saying that to follow Jesus, you need to quit your job, become homeless, and travel across the world, much as I’ve done? Not at all. All I’m asking you is that this Christmas, take time to listen. Listen to those Salvation Army bells, and recognize the big impact a little change can make. Listen to what that baby in that manger two millennia ago is telling you. Listen to what choices he might want you to make, next steps he might want you to take. Listen when he confronts you with the radical truth that he is madly in love with you, and let that change everything.
The Goo Goo Dolls sum it up pretty well: “So take these words, and sing out loud, because everyone is forgiven now. Tonight’s the night the world begins again.”
One little decision can change everything. The decision to believe that what Jesus says is true: He loves you. More than his own life. He wants to make you new inside. He wants to take you on a crazy adventure of living your life for more than yourself.
Choose him. Choose life. Choose change.