Is God Truly in Control?

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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?
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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.
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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 Way into Suffering

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Suffering.
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It infiltrates all lives. No one is exempt.
Physical pain, grief, loneliness, fear.
At times the suffering is wholly yours, at other times you suffer by witnessing another’s pain.
Although it is common to us all (or perhaps because it is common to us all), we spend much of our time and energy attempting to avoid pain.
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When our own efforts toward that end seem doomed, we resort to prayer. We beg and plead with God to remove our pain, to rescue us from our distress.
Satan seems to know this about us. He knows that we would do almost anything to evade discomfort and he uses this knowledge to his advantage.
He certainly did with Jesus. In the wilderness, Satan’s temptations were aimed at convincing Jesus to achieve his goals any other way than God’s way of the cross. God’s way of suffering.
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Yet the cross, the way of suffering, was the purpose of the incarnation. Yes, Jesus performed miracles and taught wisely, but His mission was the cross.
Now my soul is troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I have come to this hour.
Jesus understood what was coming. He knew what agony was lurking. Yet He also knew His purpose.
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He did ask once to be spared. He wept in a garden and pleaded for there to be another way to heal the world from the consequence of another garden.
And in the end, He submitted. He surrendered to the way of the Cross and was made perfect by His suffering.
If Christ had to suffer to be made perfect, why in the world, why in God’s broken world do we think we can gain Jesus’ resurrection without passing through His suffering?
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I do not mean that we should seek out adversity. In this world, it will assail us soon enough.
I mean that when it does come, these pangs that are common to us all, we should lean in and allow it to do its work.
Allow your suffering, whatever it may be, to carry you toward perfection.
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This is the way of Christ. This is the way of all who follow Him. This is the way toward perfection.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. ~ James 1.2-4

Art credits: Three Crosses sketch by Rembrandt; Gethsemane by Carl Bloch; tulips photograph by Kirk Sewell; all other photographs copyright 2017 by Elizabeth Giger

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The Girl Whom Jesus Loved

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Who are you?
How do you see yourself?
Are you parent, child, sibling, aunt? Are you friend, lover, loner, partier? What about artist, engineer, plumber, teacher?
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There once was a man. A pastor and author, one of the main leaders of the Church as it existed then, an eyewitness to Jesus’ miracles. He had a lot going for him.
How did he see himself? What was his self-given identity?
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The disciple whom Jesus loved.
That’s it.
No leaning on his accolades, no referencing his great accomplishments (and he had quite the list of them!), no resting on whom he knew, only falling upon what Jesus thought of him.
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The other day, one of my daughters came into my bedroom while I was getting dressed for the day. She looked at me for a bit, then asked me why my stomach hung down all funny and whether I wished it wouldn’t.
I don’t always handle these sorts of things this well, and it took every ounce of self control not to cover up, hide, start mumbling excuses about how I know I need to eat fewer pieces of dark chocolate but YOU KIDS drive me to it…
Instead, I knelt down, looked her in the eye and told her that no, I didn’t wish my body was different. I told her that I knew my body was beautiful because God made it. I told her that my body had grown four human beings inside of it and that made it a little stretchy but that I wouldn’t change it if I could because if my stomach wasn’t stretchy, I wouldn’t have four beautiful girls in my life now.
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I told her that I was beautiful because God loves me.
She’s only six, so she may not understand just yet, but I want desperately for her and her sisters to only see themselves as one whom Jesus loves. Whether she is looking at her body or her intelligence or her talents, I want her to only see one whom Jesus loves.
I want desperately to be like John.
Every time John refers to himself in his gospel, he calls himself the disciple whom Jesus loved. Nothing else. He does not identify himself by his name or what he did. Only by how Jesus saw him.
When I get to the end of my life, when I look back on all I have seen, all I have done, and all I am, all I want to see is Jesus.
All I want to be is the girl whom Jesus loved.

Art credit: photo of statue of St. John the Evangelist by John Stephen Dwyer; detail from fresco of Jesus Christ and St. John the Apostle from Ubisi, Georgia

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Science as Worship

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The heavens declare the glory of God, and science explores His handiwork.
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Why are we, the Church, so afraid of science? Are we fearful that our God will turn out to be a sham?
I will always maintain that we have nothing to fear from science. If science is man’s way of figuring out our world, of using our God-given intellect and reason to understand the works of God, than we should be able to enjoy the breakthroughs of science rather than trembling every time a new discovery is made.
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After all, truth is truth. Truth cannot disprove truth. ~ Francis S. Collins, head of the Human Genome Project
When we attack the findings of science without fully understanding the facts, we bring ridicule on Christ’s Church, driving away those who are seeking His truth.
It happened before, between the Church and Galileo. I believe it is happening now, between the Church and Darwin.
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There is no real conflict between theistic religion and the scientific theory of evolution. What there is, instead, is conflict between theistic religion and a philosophical gloss or add-on to the scientific doctrine of evolution: the claim that evolution is undirected, unguided, or unorchestrated by God (or anyone else).  ~ Peters and Hewlett, Theological and Scientific Commentary on Darwin’s Origin of Species
Why does evolution threaten us so? It doesn’t say anything about what was before the Big Bang, whether anything set things in motion so as to produce our current existence, or of what value is our existence.
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What goodness or beauty is, why we are here, and what happens next are all questions for theologians, not scientists.
Why can we not follow the urging of Copernicus? To know the mighty works of God; to comprehend His wisdom and majesty and power; to appreciate, in degree, the wonderful working of His laws, surely all this must be a pleasing and acceptable mode of worship to the Most High, to whom ignorance cannot be more grateful than knowledge.
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Science can be worship.
Seeking to understand the stars and the oceans, attempting to comprehend the laws that govern our universe, yes, even the study of evolution, all of this can be worship.
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Science is moving forward. New breakthroughs are being made and people are deciding what to do with those discoveries.
The ethics of how to use such new findings will be debated with or without people of faith sitting at the table. We, the Church, have a responsibility to join in the conversation, to learn the facts and not get defensive about where those facts will lead.
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The need to succeed at (figuring out these ethics) is just one more compelling reason why the current battles between the scientific and spiritual worldviews need to be resolved – we desperately need both voices to be at the table, and not to be shouting at each other. ~ Francis S. Collins
So let’s stop shouting and begin talking. Please. For the sake of the Church. For the sake of us all.
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Note: I am not a scientist. I am not qualified to argue the specifics of whether or not evolution is true. Yet like it or not, evolution is now the accepted truth of how life came to be, and we must have a conversation about how to accept evolution within the Biblical worldview of our Christian faith, or to at least accept those Christians who do accept evolution as truth. Why? Two reasons: The first is that so many intelligent people are being driven away from Christ because we, the Church, continue to dismiss evolution out of hand, becoming defensive and angry whenever the topic is broached. The second is one I brought up at the end of this essay, the ethical issues that are here now and those that will be coming in the future. We must be present for both of these kinds of conversations. Our world needs us, as representatives of Christ, to be present, not fearful and defensive, for conversations about evolution. God can handle evolution. Evolution is not something to be feared but something to be thought about deeply, pondering how it could fit within our Biblical framework.
If you are truly interested in reading more about this topic from a Christian and scientific perspective, I highly recommend The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins. Collins is a committed Christian and a brilliant scientist. You may be familiar with his scientific work as the head of the Human Genome Project.
I understand that this can be an inflammatory topic. If you choose to comment, please keep your conversation seasoned with grace and, above all, love. Thank you, dear readers.

Art credit: all space photos are from NASA; all other photos are my own, copyright Elizabeth Giger, 2017

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Identity-Changing Worship

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Worship is powerful.
Worship
Not the singing-in-church kind of worship, but the kind of worship that you live. The kind of worship in which you adore something so much you give your life over to it. The kind of worship that focuses your whole being toward the single aim of praise.
That kind of worship is powerful. It shapes who you are. It gives you your very identity.
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God created this world, this universe, to be a temple. The building of Moses’ tabernacle and the building of Solomon’s temple mirror the 7 day progression of the creation story, and the Jews reading the Genesis account would have recognized it as such.
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This temple, our universe, contained within it the Garden of Eden as the Holy of Holies. Within that holy space were creatures who were made in God’s image, made to be homo liturgicus or man made for worship.
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Man was made to reflect God to the world and to reflect worship back to God. We were created to worship God and, in that worship, become like Him.
What we worship molds our identity. Or to put it another way, we are what we worship.
When we spend our lives focused on and chasing after power, money, sex, adoration from others, we become like those things. We become shallow, insatiable, discontent.
Yet when we, here in this glorious temple of creation, spill our very lives in worship to God, we become like Him. We become joyful, content, full of peace.
Which identity would you prefer?
Power of Worship
God knew how powerful worship was, He knew that what we loved would shape our identity, our very being. This is why He is so fierce in stamping out idolatry. This is why He is so firm on the subject of having no other gods before Him.
We are His children and He wants what is best for us. He wants us to reflect His image, not the image of something shallow and low. He created us for more than that.
You who want to become like Christ, turn your focus toward Him. Adore Him and love Him with all of your life, with everything that you do and say and think.
Worship is a powerful force. So be careful what you worship. Your very identity will reflect your choice.

Art credits: cathedral and nature photos by Kirk Sewell; artist’s rendition of Solomon’s temple; Solomon Dedicates the Temple by James Tissot

 

 

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Using the T Word

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There is always a reason behind our actions.
Whether or not we realize it, the way we view God affects what we do and how we do it.
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Even if we never explore the beliefs behind our actions, we all believe something about God and the world and it is this belief that comes out in our behavior.
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It is precisely because our beliefs dictate what we do that makes it so vital to explore those convictions.
Part of loving God with all of our mind, after all, means being deliberate about what we believe, knowing why we believe it. We all want our actions to be based on truth.
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theology
Enter theology.
It is a dirty word in some Christian circles. Some believe that it takes away the joy or emotion of loving God. Others think that theology does nothing but stir up trouble and break up churches. Still others suppose that theology moves away from Scripture, that it creates something that wasn’t there before.
Yet you already have a theology. You have already read Scripture and interpreted it and let what you believe it teaches you about God influence the way you live.
Wouldn’t you rather your theology be one you have prayerfully and thoughtfully considered rather than one that just evolved without conscious decision in your mind over time?
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Paul, I believe, was the first theologian. He used his knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures along with his knowledge of Jesus to write some of the first doctrines of the Church. Certainly no one would have accused him of not knowing what he believed or why he believed it.
Theology is what brought us the teaching of the Trinity. The word Trinity is not found anywhere in the Bible, yet by taking such Scriptures as the Shema, Christ’s own claims, and the teachings on the Spirit in the epistles, Church theologians have come up with the doctrine of the Trinity that we all know.
We all want to love God the best we can. We all want our actions to be based on truth. To do this, we all need to evaluate our own beliefs about God with the help of Scripture and what historically the Church has confessed.
Make sure that what comes out in your life, your words and thoughts and actions, is based on well-thought-out theology, not just-what-I-grew-up-thinking theology.
Let’s do our best to know why we do the things we do. Let’s do our best to be sure our actions are based on truth.
Let us love God with all of our mind.

credit: Thanks to Todd Daly for many of the ideas contained in this post.

 

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Who Am I?

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I recently stopped nursing our last little one, and it was harder on my emotions than I expected.
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I expected that I would be grateful to have a little extra freedom. I expected that I would be glad to hand over some of the nighttime routine to my husband. I expected that I would be happy to have my body belong only to me again.
I did feel all of those, but only a little.
Overwhelmingly, rather, was a sense of loss. A loss of part of myself, of who I am.
It took me by surprise until I realized that for over nine years I have been either pregnant or nursing. No breaks at all.
Of course that would become a major part of my identity! Nine years is a long time. Almost a decade of being identified as a pregnant or nursing mommy is certainly enough to cement that into who I am as a person.
All of those big emotions (and I am normally not an overly emotional sort of person) made me pause and think hard about who I think I am compared to who I want to be.
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As a mom of four children, eight years and younger, it is so easy for that one piece of me to become my entire identity. I’m a mom. It’s what I do twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Even when I am away from my babies, my thoughts are still full of them.
Yet I recognize that I must be careful. Of course being a mom is and always will be a large part of who I am, but I need to guard carefully against it becoming all that I am.
Someday, after all, these babies will not be babies anymore, and being a mom will not fill up quite so much of my time. Or my house.
I must be careful to keep my heart close to God, to make sure that my primary identity is as His child. He is, ultimately, the most important piece of me, the One who is with me always.
I must take care to remain close to my husband. He will, Lord willing, be my dearest companion still when the children have homes of their own.
I must be mindful of my own self. I need to continue reading, continue learning, continue making my art, continue cultivating deep friendships.
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I believe wholeheartedly that if I lose myself in my children, I and they will be the poorer for it.
Yet that piece of who I am is so consuming that I cannot just drift along and expect to hold on to the rest of my self.
I must be deliberate about caring for the other pieces of me. The more I cultivate all of the fragments of me, the richer and deeper the whole of them will become.
Those of you with children, what do you do, or for those whose children are older, what have you done to keep yourself from getting lost in your identity as a parent? I am still a mother of little ones, and I need your ideas.
I don’t often write about parenting issues, but I supposed that this particular struggle was one that was common to many. I pray that my written thoughts will spark your own heart-searching.
Peace.
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It All Began with a Lamb

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They ate their lamb standing up, their robes tucked into their belts.
They stood as they ate, trusting that God would keep his promise, ready to leave at a moment’s notice to head toward freedom.
They trusted and obeyed, and so they remained standing up, their staffs in their hands, as they ate their lamb.
That lamb who had saved their oldest child, that lamb whose blood was painted around their doors, that lamb whose life was substituted for a human life,
that same lamb would now give them what they needed for their journey.
That lamb, as they ate, gave them sustenance for their journey. That lamb was their food at the start of their decades-long journey across a wilderness. They partook of that lamb before they took a first step, a first step of obedience toward a Promised Land.
That lamb which gave them life also gave them strength, and courage, perhaps, too, as they stood ready to take the first steps toward a Land they could not yet see.
Life, sustenance, strength, courage.
And it all began with a lamb.
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We eat our Lamb every week, gathered together with family.
We gather with family, trusting that God will keep his promises, ready to serve and care for each other at a moment’s notice, ready to love.
We trust and we obey, and so we gather together and eat of the Lamb each week.
That Lamb who saved us, that Lamb whose blood was shed for us, that Lamb whose life was substituted for ours,
that same Lamb now gives us what we need for our journey.
This Lamb, as we eat, gives us sustenance for our journey. This Lamb is our food and drink at the beginning of each week in our decades-long journey across the wilderness of our life here on earth. We partake of this Lamb before we take a first step into our week, a first step of obedience through our life toward a Promised Land.
This Lamb who gives us life also gives us supernatural power, and courage, perhaps, too, as we take Him into ourselves and abide in Him, as He through His Spirit abides in us, as we stand ready to take the first steps toward a Land we cannot yet see.
Life, sustenance, power, courage.
And it all began with a lamb.

Art credits: stained glass in Saint Peter and Paul parish church; Eucharist photo by John Snyder

 

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Our Prayer for the New Year

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We live in a weary world.
Our world searches for light, searches for hope.
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We who have the light and hope to offer…
…do we?
Our world behaves foolishly as it clutches after joy, looks frantically for peace.
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We who have knowledge to share of joy and peace in desperate circumstances…
…do we?
Do we shine out the light of the world in rejoicing or shutter it in fear?
Why would we do that? How selfish must we be to withhold life from a dying friend out of fear for ourselves?
Yet we do.
I do.
As we begin a new year, as we close out the old, could we who are light bearers join together in prayer?
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Could we pray together that God would give us boldness and courage, that He would give us words to say and opportunities to say them, that He would help us to behave wisely and to love well?
Oh, Lord, our God. We are yours. We say to you along with Mary, Behold, we are the servants of the Lord. Do with us what you will.
Amen.
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A Carol for You

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all of you. I am so grateful that you are here, sharing this quiet space with me. May God bless you and those you love today. Enjoy the beauty of this poem and song as you rejoice over the birth of Christ and all of the hope this brings to our weary world. Peace.

Carol Of Joy
by Eileen Berry

Green leaves all fallen, withered and dry;
Brief sunset fading, dim winter sky.
Lengthening shadows,
Dark closing in…
Then, through the stillness, carols begin!
Oh fallen world, to you is the song–
Death holds you fast and night tarries long.
Jesus is born, your curse to destroy!
Sweet to your ears, a carol of Joy!
Pale moon ascending, solemn and slow;
Cold barren hillside, shrouded in snow;
Deep, empty valley veiled by the night;
Hear angel music–hopeful and bright!
Oh fearful world, to you is the song–
Peace with your God, and pardon for wrong!
Tidings for sinners, burdened and bound–
A carol of joy!
A Saviour is found!
Earth wrapped in sorrow, lift up your eyes!
Thrill to the chorus filling the skies!
Look up sad hearted–witness God’s love!
Join in the carol swelling above!
Oh friendless world, to you is the song!
All Heaven’s joy to you may belong!
You who are lonelyladenforlorn
Oh fallen world!
Oh friendless world!
To you,
A Saviour is born!

(If you are viewing this in an email or reader, click here to view the video of this song)

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