We Eat One Another Alive

Why do we eat one another alive?
 Stalking
It happens all the time.  Just look at what happens any time a Christian leader is found out or, worse, confesses.  Just look at what happens whenever a Christian public figure says something that is outside of our comfort zone.  Just look at what happens so many times when someone in our own churches does or says something we don’t agree with.
We talk, we rant, we fill up the air with our words.  And our words are not of grace.
It is too easy to speak harshly within the anonymous confines of the internet.  We forget at times that those on the receiving end of our arrows are as beloved as we are.
Why do we do it?
Fear, perhaps.
We fear that others will think poorly of us or of our faith if we do not speak out quickly and harshly against whatever was wrong.  We fear that we will be viewed as the same if we speak words of love instead of words of condemnation.
We fear, perhaps, that we are the same deep down inside, and we do not want anyone to know the truth.
Yet the irony of it all is that the very One we are trying to defend is the same One who shared meals, shared life with those who made the most public of mistakes.
Loving those with public mistakes
The irony is that the Bible is crammed full of one another verses…and not one of them mentions devouring one another.
Show kindness and mercy to one another.
Love one another.
Outdo one another in showing honor.
Welcome one another.
Bear with one another.
Be kind to one another.
Forgive one another.
These are just the beginning.
Jesus said that people would know that we follow Him by our love.  Too often love is not what we show to the world.  I confess that perhaps I would not think very highly of Jesus if all that I knew of Him was what I read on the blogs and Facebook pages of His followers.
May God help us.
May the God of love and grace teach us how to get rid of our motto of We eat one another alive.
May He instead change our hearts to adopt the motto of We never leave a fallen comrade behind.

Art Credits: Lion photo by Juliane Riedl; Christ and Samaritan Woman painting by Henryk Siemiradzki

When Praise is a Sacrifice

Sacrifice is hard.
I suppose that is clear from the very definition of the word.
The idea of a sacrifice of praise seems a strange sort of concept.  We tend to view praise as spontaneous, as rising from our rising and joyful emotions.  How can such praise be a sacrifice?
Easy to praise
Easy to praise
That sort of praise is not such a sacrifice.  But what about the praise that comes from a woman who has just lost her child?  What about the praise from a man who does not know how he will feed his family?  What about the praise from Christ-follower who lives every day in fear of torture or death because of Who he follows?
Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name. (Heb. 13.5)
The praise of the one ravaged by cancer, the praise of the one dying inside from loneliness, the praise of the one who isn’t even sure that God is really there…these are a sacrifice.  These are that sacrifice of praise.
Suffered years of illinesses
Steph – Suffered years of illnesses and still chose to try to praise God
Kristina - died of cancer, leaving her husband and baby behind
Kristina – died of cancer, leaving her husband and baby behind, yet still sought God while alive.
But how?  How is it even possible to praise God while living through such circumstances?
Through Him
Through who?
Look back just one chapter.
…looking to Jesus…who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Heb. 12. 2-3)
How?  By looking to Jesus.  By looking to the One who was able to offer up His own sacrifice of praise while enduring the physical pain of the cross, while enduring the emotional shame of the cross, while enduring the heartbreaking separation from His own Father.
Jesus - crucified, humiliated, abandoned, yet still offered praise to God
Jesus – crucified, humiliated, abandoned, yet still offered praise to God
By keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, and therefore off of ourselves, we are given courage and strength to do what we think is impossible.  We are kept from growing weary and fainthearted.
By fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, we are able to continually offer up a sacrifice of praise.  An offering of praise that endures all time and all circumstance.  An offering of praise that is beautiful to God.

Art credits: Sunlight through tulips photograph by Kirk Sewell Photography; photograph of Jesus carrying the cross sculpture by Asta Rastauskiene

Be Right or Love the Person?

“Is it more important to be right or to be loving?”
Angry
I ask her the question as she stands with her hands on her hips, righteous indignation quivering through every inch of her little body.
Frustrated
It seems an easy question when put in such stark terms, but which of us answers it correctly in each one of our little choices every day?
Certainly not me.
I find myself struggling with whether loving the person or desiring to be right is more important.  I wrestle with the decision of whether having the perfect event or loving the person is better.  I fight hard against the desire to let my agenda, my task list trump the to-do of loving the person.
Love God.  Love people.
Love the Lord your God
It is that simple.  It is that hard.
Pride stands in our way.  Desire for an experience to be amazing puts up a wall.  Need to feel accomplished plants its roots.
Yet it truly is simple.  Will we obey our own desires or will we submit ourselves to God?
Stubborn
“To be loving.”  The answer barely escapes through her gritted teeth.  She doesn’t want that to be the right answer.
I know, my darling.  I know.  I, too, want a different answer.  I, too, want to protect myself, to protect my perceived interests and rights.
The trouble is that when you commit yourself to this God of power and love, you commit to letting Him defend you.  Your job is to obey.  In this case, that looks like love.
It is making yourself vulnerable in order to love the person.  It is making yourself nothing in order to love the person.  It is making yourself a servant in order to love the person.
Love God.  Love people.
Love your sister
It is that simple.  It is that hard.

Belong

I watch my littlest follow her sisters around like a puppy.  She is desperate to be big enough to join in with their play.  She is willing to try anything to keep up with them and to feel a part of their games and, more importantly, their friendship.
Following
Following Along
I see myself all too well in her.  I, too, find myself following after others with whom I desire friendship.  I will do things that I don’t enjoy or participate in too many activities just to feel as though I belong.
Joining In
Tagging Along
I find it hard to understand why I do this, to figure out what lies behind this quiet, desperate feeling.  Part of the trouble is that there have been too many occasions of friends drifting away as though I weren’t quite worth the effort.  I think, though, that an even bigger part of the trouble is my disbelief of what God has told me, of what He has told all of us.
 Playing
Striving
I don’t truly, deep down inside, believe that I am worth being loved.
Joining
If I did, it wouldn’t matter how many friendships ended quietly, I would still be ready once again to make myself vulnerable for another.
Following
I don’t believe that I am valuable and that all I truly need is Him.  So I chase after other people, trying to prove my worth to them and to myself.  I think that I need other people more than I need the approval of my God.
One of the bunch
I forget, you see, that I already belong.  I belong to the One who tossed the stars into their orbits and who crafted the sweet violet.  I belong and I am worth more to Him than all the birds in the air.
One of the crowd
Part of the team
Maybe someday I will do a better job of believing it.

Certainty and Faith

There sometimes comes into the heart of all of us a desire to be sure.  A sudden longing for certainty about that which we profess to believe.
Light
We wish to be able to say I believe with no niggling of doubt that causes us to draw back from the ringing shout we had wanted to pronounce.
Light
Doubt is that persistent shadow that startles us now and again just when we’d thought we’d left it behind for good.  It is that small voice that sometimes lingers and sometimes only whispers and is gone.
Light
We want it to disappear for always.  We long to be certain, to be troubled no longer by questions.
Yet I am beginning to discover that certainty is not faith.  Certainty is based on evidence, on proof, on concrete and unassailable fact.  Faith, however, is relationship.  It is risk and it is vulnerability.
Offering
Vulnerability
Certainty is about control, about predicting behavior.  Faith is a gift from me to you, a gift of myself placed into your hands.
Risk
I have read about certainty and faith in the context of a marriage.  Certainty in marriage is secretly reading all of your spouse’s emails and texts and journals.  Certainty in marriage is hiring a detective to follow your spouse to be sure he is being faithful.  Certainty in marriage is tapping the phones to be sure of the trustworthiness of your spouse.
Faith in marriage is a gift.  It is an offering of myself, of my vulnerability and my heart, to you as one whom I believe to be faithful.
When I trust you, I take a little piece of myself…and put it into your hands.  And then I’m vulnerable.  Then you respond, and I find out whether you are trustworthy…I give you the gift of my trust, and you give me the gift of your faithfulness. ~ John Ortberg in Faith and Doubt
Perhaps, after all, certainty is not what we truly long for.
If by it (the intellect) we could prove there is a God, it would be of small avail indeed.  We must see Him and know Him. ~ George MacDonald in The Curate’s Awakening
Perhaps, after all, certainty is not such a prize to be pursued.  Perhaps, after all, God is more pleased with the vulnerable gift of faith than He is by the chasing after an elusive proof of His existence.
Faith
May He be pleased by my trust.

Art Credit: Photographs of light by Kirk Sewell

Blessings

We are delighted to share with you our good news.
New Blessing
New Blessing
We are grateful.

Junky Art

We love a God of beauty.
Beauty
Beauty
We worship a God of art, of music, of literature.
Michelangelo's Pieta
Michelangelo’s Pieta
We serve a God of perfection.
Perfection
Perfection
We adore a God Who gives us only His best.
Samantha
God’s best
Why, oh why, then do we consistently offer Him art that is, to put it bluntly, junk?
Why do we think that music that is dull and overly simple is what is best for inspiring our hearts to worship?  Why do we think that literature that is bland and is bad storytelling will turn our minds toward thoughts of God?  Why do we think that art that is commercialized and overly sentimental will cause our imaginations to soar to the heavens?
Perhaps this is harsh.  I will fully admit that there are artists (in the full sense of the word) out there who inspire awe in the hearts of all those who come across it.  But this is not the norm.  Not anymore, that is.
It used to be that Christians artists were at the top of their craft.  They were respected and admired throughout the world.  Think Bach.  Think Correggio.  Think Milton and Tolstoy.
Correggio
Correggio
It is not this way anymore.  The secular world no longer looks up to Christian art to lead the way.  Instead it sneers at Christian art and views it as subpar, something to be shunned rather than something to inspire.
To paraphrase James: my brothers, this should not be!  The lack of excellence in our art indicates to the world that we serve a God who is less than excellent.
Much so-called religious art is in fact bad art, and therefore bad religion. ~ Madeleine L’Engle
Oh, we could do so much better.  We could open ourselves up to the power of the Holy Spirit rather than to the power of the market.
Fellow artists, let God inspire you.  Open yourself to that which you cannot control.  Ignore the sale; ignore what you think people want.  Listen instead to the Spirit.  Listen to what God is showing you through your work: “my proper place is as a servant struggling to be faithful to the work, the work which slowly and gently tries to teach me some of what it knows.” (L’Engle)
Let your art sing.  Let it soar.
Those who are not artists, be discerning.  If it is good art, if it inspires you and sets your imagination soaring toward God, then support it.  If it is bad art, don’t support and sustain it simply because it involved the name or image of Christ.
I know that my words do not reach many, but I dream of a day when those who claim to follow a God of beauty and excellence are once again those who  produce that art which leads the entire world in soaring to the heights, are once again those who produce the art which therefore points the way to God.

Still Following the Signs

I sit in the early morning, looking out the window at the wind making shimmery the leaves of our cottonwood, and remember Kristina.  It is the third anniversary of her death (link), and it sometimes still feels as though we are stumbling through the dark.  So much hurt and fear back then, so much hurt and fear all around us now.  In this world, it will always be so.  There are glimpses of light that keep us going, slight breaths of a hope that keeps our eyes searching the gloom for that bright and beautiful future that is promised, but it is easy to get distracted by the ugliness all around.  I am drawn back to a post I wrote soon after Kristina’s death.
pain of death
In the middle of this pain common to all of us who live in this world, as we sit surrounded by those who love us, it is tempting to add a veneer of softness, to speak in clichés that turn raw, ripped-open pain into a lie.  Sometimes this is even encouraged among those of us who follow Christ.  Yet to do this denies that we are real, that our hearts can be ripped in two, that our pain and loss can suffocate and almost overwhelm us.  To do this denies that Christ is real, that His body and heart were also ripped apart.
Forsaken
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

When God seems not to place much importance on whether we are free from pain or suffering, it is difficult not to live in a state of paralysis.  It seems a formidable task both to acknowledge the depth of pain we feel and also to acknowledge the depth of God’s love for us.
We see this pain in the world around us.  We see it all throughout the Bible.  Abel.  Abraham.  Joseph.  Moses.  Uriah the prophet…murdered for prophesying while Jeremiah was allowed to live.  John the Baptist…Jesus’ cousin.  All of the apostles…Jesus’ closest friends.
Understanding why Kristina had to die is hard.  I might never know the reason.
Kristina
God’s purposes are not for me to understand His plans: His plan is for me to understand Who He is…Faith is this unwavering trust in the heart of God in the hurt of here.” ~ Ann Voskamp

What can we do when everything inside of us wants to turn tail and run from the painful possibility of God’s loving best?  Can we truly trust in the heart of God?
Puddleglum
We often learn best through story.  One story that helps to show us what to do is written in C.S. Lewis’ story of Narnia, The Silver Chair.  Two children (Jill and Scrubb) and one Marsh-wiggle (Puddleglum) are given by Aslan (the Christ-figure) four signs with which to find the lost prince of Narnia.  They completely botch the first three signs which leads to their imprisonment with a madman who is chained to a silver chair.  The fourth and last sign is that someone “will ask you to do something in my name, in the name of Aslan”.  The madman entreats the three travelers to free him, who says:
“Once and for all, I adjure you to set me free.  By all fears and all loves, by the bright skies of Overland, by the great Lion, by Aslan himself, I charge you –”
“Oh!” said the three travelers as though they had been hurt.  “It’s the sign,” said Puddleglum.  “It was the words of the sign,” said Scrubb more cautiously.  “Oh, what are we to do?” said Jill.
It was a dreadful question.  What had been the use of promising one another that they would not on any account set the Knight free, if they were now to do so the first time he happened to call upon a name they really cared about?  On the other hand, what had been the use of learning the signs if they weren’t going to obey them?  Yet could Aslan have really meant them to unbind anyone – even a lunatic – who asked it in his name? … They had muffed three already; they daren’t muff the fourth.
“Oh, if only we knew!” said Jill.  “I think we do know,” said Puddleglum.  “Do you mean you think everything will come right if we do untie him?” said Scrubb.
“I don’t know about that,” said Puddleglum.  “You see, Aslan didn’t tell (Jill) what would happen.  He only told her what to do.  That fellow will be the death of us once he’s up, I shouldn’t wonder.  But that doesn’t let us off following the sign.”
That doesn’t let us off following the sign.

We aren’t guaranteed that anything here on earth will turn out all right.  We try so hard to grasp at that security, to bring it into existence, but it simply is not there.  Instead, if we have nothing else (and we do have so much else!), if we can turn to and trust nothing else, we have the cross.
After his wife of only four years had died of cancer, C. S. Lewis said, “If only I could bear it, or the worst of it, or any of it, instead of her…But is it ever allowed?  It was allowed to One, we are told, and I find I can now believe again, that He has done vicariously whatever can be so done.  He replies to our babble, ‘You cannot and you dare not. I could and dared.’”

And so we find that perhaps, after all, it does not matter why.  It does not matter whence came the hard thing or even that it may be painfully hard.  If God ever had to prove anything, at the cross He proved His love, His promise to work for the best of all He created.
It is not a bad thing to seek for the why’s and how’s and from where’s.  God is able to handle our questions, our fears.  Yet if we never get any answers, if we never know the reasons, if we never understand, then we who have chosen to follow Christ, who have allowed Jesus to be the Lord of our lives, we who have embraced His sacrifice of love…
We aren’t let off following the signs.

Sketch is Rembrandt’s The Three Crosses

Stomach Doubt

Sometimes it is a hiding in the two a.m. darkness.

Hiding

Sometimes it is a wrestling with something only partly known.

Wrestling

Sometimes it is a stumbling around in the dusk that is almost nightfall.

Stumbling

It is a doubt about God that is common to all who are awake and alive.  Whether you believe in God and at times doubt His existence or you disbelieve in God and at times doubt His absence, it is an experience of humanity.
Frederick Buechner speaks of head doubt and stomach doubt.
Head doubt can happen at any time and about anything at all.  I can doubt the existence of God, the true fabric of reality, even the evidence of my own senses if the mood is right.  When these doubts descend, I usually keep living my life as I have been living, continue to act as though I still believe, and in the end it eventually comes out right.
I have never experienced stomach doubt.  Perhaps only those who whose faith is the strongest, the saints among us, have experienced this kind of doubt.
I believe that Jesus did.  When He cried out “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”  I believe that He was engulfed in stomach doubt.  He had, as Buechner said, “looked into the abyss itself and found there a darkness that spiritually, viscerally, totally engulfed Him.”

 

I don’t know that I am strong enough to withstand that kind of doubt.

 

It seems hard to pray that someday I might be.

Faith Is Not for the Timid

Christianity is frightening.  It is not for the timid.
Sacrificing to the gods
The ancients knew they could not control their world and thus offered sacrifices to the gods in an attempt to exert some control.
controlling nature
We moderns have deceived ourselves.  We think that we control ourselves, our environment, the things and even the people that surround us.
It is this, our self-deception, which makes Christianity so wild and dangerous.
That faith can be only the gift of God emphasizes the scandal of our human condition ~ the scandal of our absolute dependence on Him. I have to depend completely upon what very largely I do not know and cannot control.  ~  H.A. Williams
This giving up of ourselves to that which we cannot control is terrifying.  It is a blind leap into the void.
A blind leap
Yet our belief that we can have some control over our own lives is really just a shutting of our eyes to reality, a whistling in the dark.
We cannot control what happens to us.  We are able to control only our response to what happens, and a giving over of ourselves to that which we cannot understand means giving over the only thing we are capable of controlling.
It is a giving up of all control.  And in return, it is a wild kind of freedom, a dangerous adventure to which the ending is known but not all of the steps along the way.
It is invigorating, lavish, and exhilarating.
Joy
It is abundant.

 

Art credits: plaque depicting scene from the “Aeneid” by Sebastian Brant and Johann Grüninger ; rock garden photo by Jim O’Connor; photo of girl on edge of canyon by Edmilson Sanches