Is God In Control?

I am hunkered down this week, writing my final project (another book!) for this spiritual formation Master’s level course I have been  working on for two years.  Please enjoy this essay from my archives as I finish up my writing.
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 is in control.
This phrase seems to float around a lot, especially after events like presidential elections.
At the end of the day, everything will turn out okay because God is still King.
God as King
What do people mean by this?
Do they mean that everything in their lives will be beautiful? Do they mean that crises will never plague them?
Since this is clearly not true, since suffering is common to us all, either God is not in control after all or that is not really what God meant.
Yet God Himself did claim to be in control.
If being in control does not mean that justice reigns, that love wins, that pain vanishes, what does it mean?
beautiful result of labor pain
It means that somehow, in some inexplicable way, all that is hard in this world is only labor pain. The beautiful end is already decided and all that we go through in this world is somehow necessary to bring about that glorious end.
I don’t pretend to understand how this works out. I certainly don’t mean that every evil thing a person chooses to do is required for God’s plan. Yet a world in which free will exists and thus in which a broken mankind and a broken creation is possible is crucial to God’s plan.
In that moment in time when God broke into our broken world, He caused the end of the story to come crashing down into the middle. The end of death, the rescue of man and creation, our glorious new bodies, all of this has already happened in the first century, in little Israel.
this life
storm of life
Just as winter storms can still throw blizzards and hail to destroy the tulips after the calendar has already declared it to be spring, Satan is still casting icy lances to destroy as many as he can after the resurrection has already declared God’s victory.
It is our mission, our part of God’s story, to bring about God’s kingdom here on earth, to plant our tulips in the certain hope that spring is on the way.
God is in control, but that doesn’t mean that everything will happen now the way we may wish.
It does mean that the end is decided and that everything that happens is bringing us swiftly toward that end.
So plant your tulips in hope.
hope is here
Our faith is certain. The warmth of spring is on its way.

Art credits: Woodcut for “Die Bibel in Bildern”, 1860; tulips photograph by Kirk Sewell

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The Line Between Us and Them

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.

 

Them.
You know, the ones who are not us.
The ones who stand against everything that is important.
The ones who stand for everything that is wrong with our world.
The ones whose sole aim is to bring down our way of life.
It is our job, no, our duty, to bring them down first, before all that we love is destroyed.
We must watch out for them.
They are everywhere.
They are in our schools, in our workplaces, in our neighborhoods,
in our hospitals.
I met one of them.
I met one of them in a hospital waiting room, waiting for his young daughter to come out of surgery.
He was one of them, no doubt about it.
My defenses went up and I prepared to go on the attack.
He was one of them.
And he was hurting.
Just like us.
He was grieving.
Just like us.
He was worried about one he loved.
Just like us.
I heard a whisper saying, He, too, is My beloved.
Rembrandt_The_Three_Crosses_1653
And suddenly the line between us and them seemed just a bit blurry.

Art credit: The Three Crosses by Rembrandt

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Eight Years of Writing

It has been eight years.eight years
Eight years of weekly coming into this space with words.
writing
Some words have been better than others.
Some have been addled; a few have been helpful.
I have always loved writing. I have never thought of myself as a blogger.
Perhaps, after eight years, that thought should evolve.
This summer I am finishing up work on a two year journey of learning about spiritual formation. I do not know whether different venues for my writing will open up or whether I will remain solely in this space, but I am confident that either way I am held by the One who does know.
This space has brought me discipline in my writing; it has provided a place for me to hone my craft and learn how to make my words sing.
This space has given me a place to continue working out what I think and believe about this world, this life, this God of ours; it has allowed me the gift of helping others, some of you, perhaps, who read these words every week.
I do not know what the future holds for me and my words. For now I will remain quietly here, content to offer these words to a few. If the Holy Spirit allows me to touch even one heart and mind, it is enough.
I will continue to be obedient, to hold out my words in this space until I feel Him say, Enough. Then I will close my laptop and ask, What next?
I wonder what the answer will be.
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Breathe

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.

 

Breathe
He knelt down, leaned in close, and
breathed into the dust.
Dust became man and man
breathed in His image and life.

 

He breathed His Word and
Word gained skin and
breathed life into twelve who then
breathed that life into more.

 

Spirit became fire and
breathed mighty wind into
hearts and minds which then
breathed change into the world.

 

We breathe a human breath then
slip under the waters where
all breath stops and when
we come up we now have His
breath in our souls.

 

One day our lungs will
breathe one last breath and we fall
asleep but when we wake we
find Him leaning close and He
breathes into us perfect life everlasting.

Art credit: Holy Spirit painting by Jakob Häne

edited from the archives

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Regaining Joy and Wonder

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 world is full of wonder.
joy
wonder
We are surrounded by truth, goodness, beauty.
truth
goodness
beauty
Yet rather than pausing to drink it all in, rather than marveling at it all, I find myself slogging through each day with my head down and my heart full of drudgery.
Worse, I am discovering that this blindness is contagious. Rather than inviting my children to stop and gaze at the wonder all around, I am teaching them to plod through their days of math and grammar with nary a glance toward the splendor without or within themselves.
joy
wonder
joy
I am teaching them that learning is only toil rather than a work that satisfies our longing for truth, goodness, and beauty.
It is an easy thing to do three weeks before the end of school.
I must repent.
I must repent of my lack of joy and wonder. Joy in this creation and wonder in the learning of this creation.
wonder
joy
wonder
Even in these last days of school, I must pull my head up and take time to pause and gaze.
I must invite my children to pause and gaze.
The final goal of learning is, after all, to become a better human, to become the person God created us to be.
I cannot only tell my girls about truth, goodness, and beauty.
I must show them.
beauty
truth
goodness
And before I can show them, I must regularly repent of losing my own joy and wonder.
Beautiful Creator of all, forgive me for my lack of joy. Teach my heart never to lose awe and wonder at all that is around and within me.
joy
wonder
God
Let me never cease to gaze at truth, goodness, and beauty
And in that gazing may I catch a glimpse of You.

Art credits: All photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2019

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The Weight of Holy

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.

 

I grew up in, and still attend, a Christian Church, one of those denominations bursting out of the Restoration Movement in the United States.
High Church
In many ways I am proud of my faith tradition. I will be the first to admit that we have our troubles, things with which I don’t agree, but there are many things I think we get right.
I am grateful for our emphasis on the Bible, our insistence on a personal relationship with God, our reliance on Jesus’ sacrifice to make us clean.
There are a few pieces of Christianity I think we miss out on, though.
Depth
One of those pieces is our loss of a sense of the sacredness and holiness of God when we focus solely on a personal, intimate relationship with God.
Weighty
In our casual services, in our emphasis on God as friend, we forget sometimes how other God is. He is holy, which means separate.  Apart.
He is not like us. He is so far above us that we cannot begin to comprehend Him. We are not worthy to stand in His presence. We cannot meet His gaze. To see His face is to die.
Sacred
We attended a Lutheran church service a few Sundays ago.
I was struck by the ceremony, the honor and respect with which they treat all things belonging to God: in particular, the Word and the Lord’s Supper.
Every move was accompanied by a genuflect before the table holding the Bible and the Communion. There was a reverence to that portion of the service that was weighty.
Holy
 Set apart
There was a hush of holiness over the proceedings that I do not see in my own tradition. As each person came up to receive the bread, they were looked in the eye and told This is His body which was broken for you. As each person came up to receive the cup, they were looked in the eye and told, This is His blood which was shed for you“. As each child came past with their parents, a hand was laid on their head and a blessing given on them.
It was holy and it was personal.
As each server of the bread and wine came to their turn to be the receiver, they bowed before the Word and the Communion. Not in worship of those items, but in reverence for the One they represent. In a recognition that God is holy and has declared these things to be sacred.
Holiness
 Reverence
Our whole lives are to be sacred. I recognize that there is no separation between sacred and secular in our everyday lives. That is the premise behind this very blog. Yet it serves us well to be reminded every now and then of the absolute holiness of the One who makes everything sacred.
Nothing is sacred without God.
Cathedral
Sometimes we forget how much more sacred is the Giver than the gifts.
Sometimes we lose the weightiness of holy and in that shallowness can float upward until we believe that we are closer to God than we truly are.
The weight of holy
…and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald…From the throne came flashes of lightening, and rumblings and peals of thunder…Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!

All photographs this week are by Kirk Sewell. You can purchase canvas prints of many of his gorgeous art on his website: photographybysewell.webs.com

edited from the archives

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The Resurrection Is Our Crocus

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.

 

Reality.
All of creation conspires to teach us what is real.
When God created, He carefully crafted the laws of nature to point toward reality.
reality
nature
reality
Every growing seed points to the reality that we must die in order to bear fruit.
Every autumn leaf points to the reality that in dying to ourselves, our true colors burst forth.
Every new birth points to the reality that new life comes only after great labor pains.
All of creation shouts out God’s beautiful reality.
Today, as I look out the window on a Palm Sunday in the middle of April and see this:
winter
spring
I am meditating on the reality that when the calendar says it is spring, when the crocus first peeps up from the ground, it is truly spring, even when it still feels like winter.
winter
Because, let’s be honest, it still feels like winter in this world.
As refugees stream out of war-torn countries,
as friends fight deadly diseases,
as families continue to grieve beloved ones who have died,
it still feels like winter to me.
winter or spring
And yet.
I sit here on Palm Sunday, contemplating the Holy Week to come:
The road into Jerusalem which led to the giving of bread and wine,
a desperate prayer in a garden,
the cross.
The ghastliness of Holy Saturday and the knowledge that God is dead.
And then.
A weighty boulder moved easy like a feather.
An angel wondering at anyone presuming to find Jesus in a tomb.
A familiar voice: Mary
Jesus.
Alive.
Resurrection.
And suddenly I understand what I am truly seeing out of my window on this Palm Sunday in the middle of April, when the crocuses have peeped out their heads and yet snow lays heavy on the ground.
signs
reality
The resurrection is our confirmation.
Yes, it may still feel like winter all around,
but the resurrection is our crocus.
resurrection
Spring is really here.

Art Credit: all photographs are mine, copyright Made Sacred 2019. And yes, I know that none but the last photograph are actually of crocuses. Mea culpa.

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Easter Joy and Sorrow

I had another post ready for this week, but have been grieving my Gram and Papa a little more heavily this week, so decided to post this from the archives instead, as it more accurately describes my current feelings. May it bless you as well.

Easter.
Spring.
New life.
On Easter morning, my eldest ran into the living room where we had left Jesus on the cross the night before, eyes wide with hope of resurrection. “Daddy, look! Jesus left us flowers that God made!”

Hope and joy at the end of sorrow and pain. This is Easter.

On Easter morning, gathered with our Family, we sing

The greatest day in history
Death is beaten, You have rescued me
Sing it out, Jesus is alive!
Endless joy, perfect peace,
Earthly pain finally will cease
Celebrate Jesus is alive!
Oh, happy day, happy day…
My heart swells and overflows with emotions that at first glance seem to be at odds. For some time now, I often feel both joy and gratitude, sorrow and longing.
On Easter morning, the joy is easy. Jesus is alive!

Sorrow and longing, though, those are things that are more difficult. Yet they are real and, although hard, they are what should be.

My sorrow is over our first Easter without my Gram.

March-July10 036
As we celebrate Jesus’ victory over death and as our family celebrates a new season of birth from my youngest brother and his wife, we miss Gram with a physical ache.

We acknowledge that all of this, this pain and death and sadness, is not how it was supposed to be. None of this existed before we rebelled against God.

And so I sorrow.

My longing is for that day of redemption and transformation. The day when earthly pain will cease and death will be banished for all time. I desperately wish to be gathered into Jesus’ arms and told that all is now well.

And so I long.

Sorrow and longing. At second thought, they are what we should feel. After all,

Our kind, heavenly Father has provided many wonderful inns for us along our journey, but He takes special care to see that we never mistake any of them for home. ~ C.S. Lewis
May I return for a moment to gratitude?

On Easter morning, as we worshiped together, we sang

You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of the dust.
You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of us.
My heart cries out “Why?”

Why do You love me that much?

You went to the cross to allow me to become a daughter of God. Wasn’t that more than enough? Why would You now also work so very hard to make beautiful things out of the dust that I am? Why would You pour so much into molding me into someone who looks like You?

There is much deep theology in this. Perhaps I will explore these things later.

For now, I will fall on my knees in gratitude for such deep love.

On Easter morning and beyond, I will let my heart swell with sorrow and longing, joy and gratitude, knowing that Jesus is alive.

art credit: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise by Benjamin Westheaven picturecross picture by Asta Rastauskiene

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To Hope While Living in Hell

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.

 

What does it look like to become like Jesus?
becoming like Christ
What does it look like when your heart is in the process of being transformed?
transformed
I have come to believe that one major characteristic of those who are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit is the supernatural power to keep your eyes fixed on Christ when your world is crashing down around you.
eyes on Christ
Whether it is your inner world or the world all around, the ability to cling to God no matter what is a powerful witness to all around us.
physical pain
grief
loneliness
depression
worry
fear
There is so much that could swamp us in our life with God.
be still
I am learning that being still before God, practicing the disciplines of silence and solitude, is one of the most important ways that we can open up space to allow the Holy Spirit to change us.
I hope to write more about that soon, but I wanted simply to write today about the idea that God can so surround us with Himself that nothing else can devastate us.
I don’t mean that we won’t feel negative emotions such as fear or sadness, but that we will still be able to hope regardless of our inner and outer circumstances.
In the monastic tradition, the highest form of sanctity is to live in hell and not lose hope. ~ Gregory Boyle in Tattoos on the Heart
Hope
trust
To know that God is with you, even when you don’t see Him.
To know that in the end everything will be okay, even if the end is not in sight.
To know that below all of the the hurt and pain, underneath all of the heartache and sorrow, there lies the incomprehensible and immovable peace and joy of Jesus.
Hope
hope
May God grant you the ability to hold on to hope, no matter what happens to you this week.

Art Credits: St. Peter’s Rescue from the Lake of Galilee by Herbert Boekl; Jesus and His Disciples on the Sea of Galilee, author unknown

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To Confess I Cannot

We are on spring break this week, so I am posting a Lenten essay from the archives. May it bless you this week.
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.

 

I really hate admitting that I cannot do something.  I have experienced quite a few tragedies that occurred because I was unable to swallow that thing inside of me that rises up and prevents me from asking for help.
I cannot
The one notable exception is raising children.  I am all about seeking out advice when it comes to my children (which is its own problem because too much advice leads to indecision which invariably leads to paralysis).  This is not by any particular virtue of my own, rather it is because I am completely terrified of irreversibly messing up another human being.
Messing up my own life, however, is fine, because whatever the thing is, I can do it.
Even if I cannot.
This causes a definite problem, however, when it comes to my faith.  I want to be able to be good enough, to make myself righteous enough, to climb up the ladder and reach God all on my own.
Tower of Babel
I would have done well in Babel.
I want to do it myself so that I can then take credit.  I want to be proud of my own accomplishments.  I want, in short, to seek and worship myself.
Worshiping Self
God, however, is quite clear.  We can never rise up to Him, so He, in His infinite mercy, came down to us.  
Lent
This is folly and this is scandal.  It cannot be understood by our own reason and intelligence.  This is offensive.  It offends our pride to know that there is nothing for us to do.
God is too high and holy and our sin is too deep and depraved for us to be able to reach God.
Our souls become crippled and cramped by trying to rise to the highest height.  The end is despair, or a self-righteousness that leaves room neither for love of God nor for love of others. ~ Emil Brunner
It hurts as a crucifixion always does, but I must crucify myself and admit that I cannot reach God.  I cannot be good enough and I cannot make myself righteous.
So God descends to us at Christmas and finishes His descent on Good Friday.  What is His goal and where does He end His descent?  He ends where we belong.  In Hell.  Our rightful place is separation from God, which is hell, and God descends down to hell.
Fire
Jesus experiences our separation from God and despairs of loneliness from God so that we can be free of it.  He descends all the way down so that He can lift us out and reconcile us to God.  It is the only way.
Lent
If the only way to receive God’s Spirit and nevermore to be separate from Him is to admit that I cannot do it, I will crucify my pride every single day and bow my head to the ground in worship and thanksgiving.
I will confess: I cannot.

Art Credits: Construction of the Tower of Babel painting by Pieter Brueghel the Younger; The Three Crosses by Rembrandt; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2019

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