The Tension in Which We Live

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

God promised to give Abram the land.
Abram
God promised Moses the same.
He brought Moses right up to the edge and promised the land to Israel.
Moses
God promised Joshua the land
and asked Joshua to fight.
Joshua
His promise was to give Israel the land
and He also asked Israel to fight the battles for the land.
Joshua led Israel in battle
and Israel fought for the land.
And yet God gave it to them.
Joshua's fight
As Israel fought, God caused the enemy to flee.
As Israel wielded their swords, God sent hailstones that killed more than the swords.
As Israel ran and sweat and grew bloody and bruised, God made the sun stand still.
God gave them the land
and Israel had to fight.
It is a tension within which we, too, are required to live.
God has promised to make us like Him
and He has asked us to work.
Our fight
God has promised to transform our lives
and He has given us disciplines to practice.
God's battle
It is by grace you have been saved, and not by works, so that no man may boast
and
Faith without works is dead
God, who saved us and called us…not because of our works, but because of His own purpose and grace
and
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
We live in this tension.
This tension
As we sit in silence and solitude, God transforms our hearts.
As we meditate on God’s Words, God changes us into the hands and feet of the Word.
As we whisper faltering prayers, God grows fruit and works miracles.
God gives us our inheritance
and we are asked to fight. Our beautiful tension
It is beautiful, this tension in which we live.

Art credits: God’s covenant with Abraham, Bible primer; Moses Viewing the Promised Land by Frederick Edwin Church; Crossing the Jordan, Bible primer; Joshua at Gibeon, 5th century mosaic; all other photographs by Made Sacred, copyright 2018

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Never Outside of God

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In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
beginning
created
earth
Yet God’s creative work did not stop there.
He did not create the universe, set it into motion, then step back and let things take their course.
For by Him all things were created…and in Him all things hold together.
in Him
never outside of Him
hold together
All creation was brought forth out of Himself and all creation is sustained by Him.
His presence is here, all around us, intimately close to us and yet also other than us. Other than creation.
He is still creating, still sustaining. He is constantly “bringing forth”.
creating
sustaining
bringing forth
This is not pantheism. God is not His creation.
Sustaining does not equal being.
Sustaining also does not equal controlling.
We still make our choices, live our lives, do what we were created to do.
live
art
science
Yet on a deeper level, God is sustaining us while we do what we were created to do.
We work on different levels. God has His work and has given us work to do. He has given all of creation work to do.
Perhaps we are the only ones who can refuse that work.
For God is other than His creation.
Too often we make Him the same, just bigger.
He is not the same, and we do well to remember it.
He has given us work to do, and while we are to obey and do that work He has given us to do, we are deceived if we believe we do that work on our own.
caring
praising
tending
providing
For while we work, doing what we were created to do, God is also at work, sustaining all things , holding all things together within Himself.
May that truth give you rest, for you are never outside of the sustenance of God.
You are never outside of God Himself.

Art Credits: Photograph of space by NASA; all other photographs copyright 2018 Made Sacred

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When We Enter the Darkness

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Sometimes it happens this way.
Sometimes when you are closest to God, you feel as though you are farthest away.
It seems to happen that when you are a new Christian, God speaks clearly, you feel His presence solidly, light is all around you.
New
Fresh
As you progress in your faith, God’s voice gets fainter, His presence is harder to grasp, the clouds begin to form around you.Old
Dry
This is how it was for Mother Theresa who began her life full of fire and certainty and spent the last fifty years of her life full of darkness and silence. She continued to obey, even when the dry times outnumbered the rich times.
As a baby, you need God to discernibly carry you. When you become more mature, you need to trust that God is still carrying you.
When God first showed Himself to Moses, it was in the light.
Light
In a miracle of a fiery bush that did not become ash, He revealed Himself to a man who did not yet know Him.
Later, God showed Himself to Moses in a cloud.
Cloud
In the middle of the cloudy dimness of a pillar of cloud, God spoke to a man who was learning to trust Him.
Once Moses became more perfected, he saw God in the darkness.
Dark
In the darkness on the top of a mountain, God gave His Word to a man who knew Him.
We should not think that this is unusual. We should not despair when we must enter the darkness. We should not give up on God when we can no longer see Him.
Rather, we should continue to obey, continue to trust, continue to speak and to listen.
What you discovered about God in the fiery light does not disappear once He cloaks Himself in darkness.
He is still there, He still loves you, and He is still working to perfect you.
Perfect
Especially in the darkness.

Ideas in this post come from St. Gregory of Nissa (335-395 AD)

Art Credits: God Appears to Moses from Saint Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg; Pillar of Cloud is a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company; Promulgation of the Law by Gerard Hoet; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2018

I have three papers to write this week for my Master’s course, so this post is edited from the archives. I hope you enjoyed it!

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Ruminating On Light

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I sit in a space filled with light.
Light
The sunlight streams in through the trees in a way that completely surrounds me with its warmth and illumination.
The light is intimately close to me on all sides, yet I cannot truly see the light itself.
Light
All I can see are the objects, both large and small, off of which the light reflects.
The light reveals what is there. It reveals the world that is around me and makes the objects near me able to be known by me.
If I were capable of looking away from the objects that reflect the light, I would not be able to see the light anymore.
Light
I can only see the light by its reflection.
The light surrounds me, intimately close, revealing the reality in which I sit, yet the light itself remains invisible.
Light
I am the light of the world.

Art credits: all photographs by Kirk Sewell

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The Otherness of God

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Our God is astounding.
He is vast, but not in a way that is simply a larger version of ourselves.
He is not the giant at the top of the beanstalk.
He is other.
Other
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Yet He did not create in the way that we as artists create, taking what is already there and crafting it into something new.
God’s creating was closer to the way we give birth. Out of Himself, He brought forth a completely new, unique, original thing.
Creator
Yet even that is not exactly what God did.
We do not craft our children.
God, using only Himself, bringing forth out of nothing but Himself, crafted precisely and perfectly an entire universe.
Universe
Otherness
Creator
Creation
Original
Sit with that for a moment.
The Lord is a God of knowledge.
Other
God knows everything.
Yet He does not know in the same way that we know.
The most intelligent and well-educated people in this world must learn in order to know. They must study what is outside of themselves in order to know.
Most of the time, we must learn even to know what is inside of ourselves.
Knowledge
Knowing
Understanding
Other
God knows because there is nothing that is outside of Himself. All that exists came out of God Himself, and thus He knows all things in a much different way than we can ever know anything. His knowledge comes from a much different place.
Sit with that for a moment.
Sit with the otherness of God,
then praise Him for who He is.

Art Credits: space photos from NASA; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2018

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From One Generation to Another: A Tribute to my Gram

My Gram died this summer. I have been close to her and my Papa most of my life (in terms of relationship…for most of my life we were fairly far from each other in terms of geography), and the temporary loss remains deeply painful. This week I want to share the tribute I wrote for her funeral. May it be an example to you of how one generation can shepherd another generation in the ways of God.
Gram and Papa
Gram was so beautiful. She was always very concerned about her appearance, but she shouldn’t have been. She was beautiful. Death has a way of causing us to look back over the life of the one who has died, and as I did that over the past couple of weeks, my memories came almost in a series of vignettes that show her servant love.
Gram
Gram
Gram and Papa
As a child, I would sometimes get to be with Gram and Papa all by myself (this is almost as much about Papa as it is about Gram because, in my memory, Gram and Papa are inextricably linked together). I’m sure Gram was a very busy woman, but she set aside everything when I came to visit and gave unstintingly of her time.
She taught me how to bake and how to sew. She taught me how to swim and dive and play tennis. I’m sure she tried to teach me how to draw, but that lesson just didn’t take. She taught me how to welcome people into my home.
Gram and Papa
Gram and Papa
Gram
The next flash of memory is from my undergrad days at Harding.
So many weekends found me and a whole gaggle of my friends showing up on Vallejo Drive. It was a much closer drive than coming home, and I took full advantage. Copious amounts of home-cooked food (with many leftovers finding their way back into the dorm rooms of all who came), a listening ear to whatever problems I was dealing with, wisdom to share for how to be like Jesus, all of these were dealt out with a free hand in their home. Also, a few rescues from car troubles or accidents.
Gram and Papa
Gram and Papa
There are memories from my teaching days.
Again, I would escape to Gram and Papa’s for food, solace, and wisdom when life felt hard. Again, they would welcome me with open arms unconditionally. Always free to offer advice and counsel, but never holding it against me if I didn’t follow it. I learned quickly, however, that it usually worked out best when I followed it.
I remember bringing my choir students to sing at their little country church and give a singing class (they didn’t think bringing the band kids would have worked out quite so well…) and Gram and Papa throwing us a huge shindig out at The Place (their farm outside of Dallas). Those kids talked about the love that they felt and the food that they ate for months afterward.
Gram
Gram
Gram
Papa
Gram
Gram
Gram
Gram and Papa
The trips to Dallas didn’t happen quite so often after I moved back to Illinois, but I was very happy to discover a direct flight from Champaign to Dallas.
I flew pregnant, with an infant, with a toddler and pregnant…you get the idea. Every time, even when I brought with me a baby who wouldn’t sleep through the night, I was welcomed and loved. Gram would serve me so unselfishly every time I came so that I, as a young mother, could have a little break. She cared for me and my family, played with my babies so I could take a nap, sent me home with food so that I didn’t have to cook as much… Gram’s love always came out in service.
Which is the way it should be.
I’m not as good at it as she was, but I learned at her feet how to show Jesus love to those around me.
I am so grateful for the years we had with Gram living here in Springfield.
Gram
Gram and Samantha
Gram
We were able to have so many more deep conversations about life and parenting and marriage. My girls were able to know her so much better than if she had still been in Dallas. I am grateful for the extra time my girls had with her, to be able to learn that kind of servant love from one who did it so well.
Gram
Analise and Gram
Gram
Gram
When I asked my girls about their memories of her, asked about what they loved about Gram, what came out most was her gift of her time and attention. Not everyone pays close attention to children, but Gram did. She played with them, did art with them, gave them little jobs like washing toys, and then did those jobs right along with them. My girls remembered Gram talking with them, taking them seriously. They remember her patiently explaining (probably for the one hundredth time) what every carved bird in her glass case was.
I’ll admit that I am greedy for more time. More time to just BE with Gram, more time to listen to her and soak up all of her knowledge and wisdom, more time to learn how to love like she loved, more time for my girls to know her, for my youngest to be able to remember her.
Run to Gram
Yet I know that I have a choice in all of this. I can choose to be angry with God, letting my anger and grief drive me away from Him, or I can choose to be obedient and thank Him, clinging to Him and letting Him be all that I need.
So at least for today, I will choose this:
Thank You, Father, for the gift of my Papa and my Gram.
Thank You for giving me so many years with them, years of such close relationship and of so many beautiful times with them.Thank You for giving them so many talents and abilities and for giving them the desire to teach and share those skills with me and my family.
Thank You for their wisdom, for all that I have learned from them, for all of the wisdom that I now have stored in my own heart, wisdom that I can now pass on to their great-grandchildren. To the next generation.
Thank You most of all for making their hearts like Yours. Thank You for allowing me to see You in them, to see in their lives how You want me to live. Thank You for showing me through them how to live faithfully as a child of Yours, as a spouse and as a parent.
Thank You for the beauty that is their lives.
Thank You, God, for Your grace.
Gram and Papa

Gone From My Sight
Henry Van Dyke

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.
Then, someone at my side says, “There, she is gone.”
Gone where?
Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me — not in her.
And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”
And that is dying…
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How Love Wins

 To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

This Jesus life is hard.
Hard
Suffering
Struggle
Difficulty
Anything that demands that you surrender your entire self is going to be just that. Hard.
It is sometimes tempting to give up and take the easy way.
It would be much easier to just sink into the flow of our world, to follow the crowd,
to do what I want to do instead of fighting against my natural desires.
I have to keep reminding myself that I didn’t ever think that becoming a disciple of Jesus would be easy.
Quite the opposite, in fact. Jesus promises through His words and by His example that His way is the way of struggle, of self-denial, of suffering.
Example
Of the cross.
When Jesus died on the cross, when He rose from the dead, He demonstrated that love wins against the Enemy.
Against Sin.
Against Death.
Love wins.
But love wins not over suffering but through suffering.
Cross
If Jesus’ love wins through suffering, we can guess what that means for us.
The victory that we win through Jesus will also have to be won in the same way, by the slow course of love rather than the swift course of battle.
I often become frustrated that at the age of forty I am still unable to conquer so much of myself.
I become frustrated that this God life is so hard.
N.T. Wright reminds me that if Jesus’ victory was won through the slow road of love, then my own victory will have to “be implemented step by step, not all at one single sweep, (and that) those steps have to be, every one of them, steps of the same generous love that took Jesus to the cross. Love will always suffer.”
I don’t like this.
I still want to give up sometimes.

Steady

Perservere

Yet what is my alternative?
If suffering is the cost of discipleship, what is the cost of non-discipleship?
Dallas Willard writes that when we are tempted to quit, when we feel that this Jesus life is too hard, we should count the cost of non-discipleship.
Nondiscipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil. In short, it costs exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring.
Suddenly, this God life doesn’t seem so hard anymore.
Or, rather, it still seems hard, but it also seems worth it.
Abundantly worth it.

Art credits: Gethsemane by Carl Bloch; Jesus Scourged by Marillier; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2018

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Missing the Gift of the Small

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It is difficult to remain content with the small.
small
The small grace of a quiet hour.
The small measure of spiritual understanding.
The small moment of victory over a sin.
We are conditioned to stretch for the large.
large
We believe that it is of a higher godliness to grasp for the more astonishing miracle, the more arduous purity, the more splendid spiritual insight
rather than to be thankful for what God has chosen to give.
satisfied
We think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be looking forward eagerly for the highest good. Then we deplore the fact that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experience that God has given to others, and we consider this lament to be pious…Only he who gives thanks for the little things receives the big things. ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together
We miss so many of God’s beautiful and perfect gifts when we are focused on the tremendous and the tomorrow instead of looking up and becoming aware of the right now.
good
When God chooses to grant us a small shard of wisdom, a small snatch of victory, a small sliver of intimacy with Him,
it is enough.
We look for visions of heaven, and we never dream that all the time God is in the commonplace things and people around us. ~ Oswald Chambers
Yes, sometimes God chooses to give us the grand and the monumental, but much of the time He chooses to grace us with the small.
grace
If we do not remain awake to the right now, we will miss most of His daily gifts.
We will miss some of the best that God has to offer.
After all, God often delights in using the smallest to bring about the greatest blessing.
The small boy with the sling and the stones.
The small loaves and fishes.
The small baby in the stable.
Remain awake to the right now and grateful for the small.
grateful
When we view the little things with thanksgiving…even they become big things. ~ Father Tim in Jan Karon’s book, These High, Green Hills

Art credits: cathedral photograph by Kirk Sewell; all other photographs copyright 2018 Made Sacred

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Beloved

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You are beloved.
Beloved
Do you know that?
Truly know it, deep down in the core of you?
Before you were born,
before your parents were born,
before any of your ancestors were born,
before the creation of the world,
you were beloved.
Before you were loved by your parents,
before any of your achievements were praised by teachers,
bosses,
family,
before your friends knew you and loved you,
you were beloved.
You were carefully crafted.
Your physical body,
your personality,
your talents and passions,
all were formed with the greatest and tenderest of care.
The world will try to tell you otherwise.
The world will lie and manipulate you, trying to make you believe that you are
how you look,
what you do,
the way you behave.
Don’t believe it.
You are beloved.
Before you did or were or acted,
you were beloved.
Find and remain with those who tell you the truth.
Hold on to those who remind you that
you are beloved.
And be grateful.
Thank God for choosing you.
Thank God for loving you.
Thank Him by believing that,
by trusting that,
by holding tightly with white knuckles to the idea that
you are beloved.

Art credit: Fairy Tales by Jessie Willcox Smith

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Your Kingdom Come

I’ve been working my way through a new book by N. T. Wright called The Day the Revolution Began, and I have a lot to tell you. This is the final post containing some of what I have learned. You can read the first post here, the second post here, and the third post here. I hope you gain as much as I have.

 

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

If what we need is a new Exodus, as I wrote last week, if we need a forgiveness of Sin (the worship of anything other than the Creator God) to return us from exile, to return us to our true purpose of being a royal priesthood, and if God accomplished this through the cross, how did He do this?
What happened on that Friday afternoon?
The Cross
The power of Sin was centered within the person of Jesus.
Throughout history, God had been focusing the powers of Sin and darkness, drawing all of Sin’s power towards one place, one person.
He did this in Israel through the law. This is partly what Paul means when he writes to the Galatians of the law being added because of transgressions, of the law bringing the curse to the people.
Then Jesus came. Israel’s Messiah. The true Adam. The true Israel.
God in the person of Israel’s Messiah came at a specific moment to a specific place, drawing all the powers of Sin and darkness to Himself.
drawing the power of Sin
The power of the political authorities, the power of the religious authorities, all power was focused on one man on a cross. The King of the Jews.
And all earthly powers were killed.
But the man? The King?
For Him, Sunday was a new day.
Sunday is a new day
Yet when we look at what Jesus Himself said about His purpose, we see a lot of talk about the coming of the Kingdom of God.
The coming of the Kingdom of God. What would that have meant to first century Israel?
According to N.T. Wright, it would have meant three main things:
~ The restoration of true worship, God’s Presence coming to dwell with His people, enabling them to worship Him fully.
~ The worldwide rule of Israel’s God (perhaps, from Old Testament prophecies, through the agency of the Messiah), bringing a new reign of justice and peace.
~ The hope of Israel to be rescued from pagan rule, set free from the dominion of pagan overlords.
restoration of worship
The Kingdom of God, the place where God rules, coming to earth. God’s space coming into our space.
This is, after all, what Jesus taught us to pray: Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
God's kingdom come
What happens after the crucifixion, after the resurrection? We see the coming together of heaven and earth in the person of Jesus.
Jesus, the risen man, is taken up into heaven, “thereby joining together in his own person the two spheres of God’s good creation.” Earth in the human body of Jesus is now fully and completely at home in heaven.
We also see the coming together of heaven and earth in the opposite direction within every follower of Jesus in Acts 2 when the Spirit comes upon the disciples.
“This is one of the New Testament equivalents of the filling of the tabernacle with the cloud and fire or of Solomon’s Temple with the glorious divine Presence…Jesus himself and his Spirit-filled people constitute the new Temple, the start of the new world.”
This is exactly what we see in the book of Acts, the story of the beginning of the new creation, the coming of God’s kingdom fulfilling just what Israel could have expected:
new creation
~ We see a new people living in a new pattern of life and worship, the restoration of true worship in the presence of God.
~ We see the forgiveness of sins as a real event and the whole world being called to order in the name of Jesus, the worldwide rule of God. For example, in Acts 12, Herod attacks the church and arrests Peter, but Peter is miraculously released by angels, At the end of the chapter, Herod dies “but God’s word grew and multiplied”.
~ We see Israel and, through Israel-in-person, the nations set free from death and therefore set free from the ultimate weapon of every tyrant, the hope of Israel to be rescued from pagan rule. When Christ was raised from the dead, all of His people were “set free from the ultimate exile imposed by every Babylon.”
We see the Kingdom of God beginning a kingdom rule here on earth, just as it is in heaven.
This is what happened on the cross.
killing off death
Heaven and earth becoming one. God’s people reclaiming their vocation as a royal priesthood, reflecting the worship of creation to the Creator and reflecting the wise rule of the Creator into the world. God’s creation being restored through the work of His redeemed people.
God’s covenant faithfulness is proved true.
God's rescue
He has returned and has rescued His people.
The new Exodus is here.
All glory and honor and power and praise be to our God who did not give up or prove unfaithful even when we did.

Art credits: The Three Crosses by Rembrandt; Jesus Scourged by Marillier; The Pillar of Fire by Paul Hardy; all other photographs copyright 2018 by Made Sacred

All quotes are from The Day the Revolution Began by N. T. Wright

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