Covered with Ashes and the Cross of Christ

Most merciful God, we are sinners.
We are covered with the ashes of our sins.
We are at war against you and our fellow human beings in what we say, in what we think, and in what we do.
We have even left undone the good things you have commanded us to do.
Lent
Thousands of Jesus-followers covered themselves in ashes on Wednesday. The ashes of mourning and grief over our sins, the ashes of repentance.
I do not belong to a faith tradition that follows the Church calendar, yet I have found great value in the rhythms and liturgies of these traditions. So I have found a local church to whom I can go on occasion to celebrate these holy days.
Each year we stand and together confess that we have failed. That we have sinned against God and against each other.
Even the good we have failed to do.
Ash Wednesday
We are beginning a season of facing our sins. Of looking straight in a mirror and not shrinking from what we have done. Or from who we are.
Even if you do not follow these days of Lent, you must have times of examining your heart with the Spirit’s help. It is necessary for the health of your soul.
God has given us rhythms of celebration and mourning, and this, these days leading up to Easter, is the time for us to look deeply at the depth of our own depravity.
This is the time for us to try to understand how wretched, how filthy, how empty-handed we are.
guilt
Yet we do not only cover ourselves with ashes.
We are covered with ashes in the shape of the cross.
I stood before the pastor who dipped his thumb into the ashes from the burning of last year’s palm branches, and he placed those ashes in the sign of the cross on my forehead.
And he spoke over me.
He spoke over me and everyone who stood before him, just as the thousands all over the world who received these ashes heard words spoken over them in every language and every tongue.
You are covered with the cross of Christ.
Always and forever.
I usually spend the rest of the service with tears flowing down my cheeks.
Yes, I am wretched, I am filthy, I am empty-handed.
And I am covered with the cross of Christ.
hope
Ashes that are left after a purging fire become the fertilizer for the new growth.
These ashes are not just the leftovers from destruction, they are the life-enablers.
How?
Because we are covered with the cross of Christ.
That is the hope of Lent.
That is the hope that propels us straight into Easter.
But you can’t take any shortcuts. You can’t skip over your sin or Easter won’t mean anything to you.
You need this season of Lent to let God’s Spirit search the depths of your heart and show you what is truly there.
But don’t be afraid.
Who you are in your depths doesn’t change whose you are.
You are covered with the cross of Christ.
Ash Wednesday – by Malcom Guite
Receive this cross of ash upon your brow
Brought from the burning of Palm Sunday’s cross;
The forests of the world are burning now
And you make late repentance for the loss.
But all the trees of God would clap their hands,
The very stones themselves would shout and sing,
If you would covenant to love these lands
And recognize in Christ their lord and king.
He sees the slow destruction of those trees,
He weeps to see the ancient places burn,
And still you make what purchases you please
And still to dust and ashes you return.
But Hope could rise from ashes even now
Beginning with this sign upon your brow.

 

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.

Art credits: Two photos of the statue of Christ carrying the cross by Asta Kr; Three Crosses sketch by Rembrandt; photo of cross in cemetery by Made Sacred

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How to Practice Discipleship in the Middle of Suffering

How do you practice discipleship in the middle of suffering?
When everything seems aligned against you, seems to be throwing up barriers to your life with God, how do you continue walking in the way of Jesus?
Bonhoeffer
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor and theologian in Germany during the Third Reich. He gave all that he had to fighting evil. Including his life. Bonhoeffer wrote a book entitled The Cost of Discipleship. He truly knew what that meant.
Bonhoeffer’s theology was first of all Christ-centric, but second it was centered around community. He wrote that the way to successfully practice discipleship in the midst of suffering was found in the idea of the Sermon on the Mount.
SermonOnTheMount
The practices of turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, giving up the cloak, these were all essential to staying true to Christ when the darkness is enticing you to give up.
This seems counterintuitive. When evil and injustice are all around, we want to fight, to punch back. God, in fact, tells us to do the opposite.
God tells us to feed our enemy, to give him water to drink when he is thirsty.
Not once does God tell us to punch him in the nose.
discipleship
Paul tells us in Romans to overcome evil with good.
This is how we practice discipleship in the middle of suffering. This is how we die to ourselves, and in so doing, bring God’s kingdom rule to our world.
Jesus was, after all, as he was teaching these practices, living in the middle of his own enemies.
Part of the way we are able to have the strength to live out the Sermon on the Mount while surrounded by our enemies is by knowing that we are not alone.
Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, and he has not left us alone. He has given us his Spirit inside of us and is himself praying for us before the Father.
Christ with us
We also have each other. This was the other piece around which Bonhoeffer’s theology revolved. The way we are able to follow the commands in the Sermon on the Mount, the way we successfully practice discipleship when everything seems conspired against this kind of life, is by living it together.
We are the body of Christ, and together we are stronger than each individual. Together all the parts of Christ are joined and are unified in one heart and mind. Together we are united with Christ in the bringing of his Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
We are to speak God’s truth to each other, encouraging each other to continue the incredibly difficult practice of dying to ourselves and living for Christ. No matter our circumstances.
In Christ, we are together even when physically apart.
We are one in Christ, and in Christ we can do this.
So encourage each other as you continue to live out your discipleship in the middle of your enemies by loving them well.
discipleship
God will take care of the rest.
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.

 

Art credits: photograph of Bonhoeffer from The New York Times; The Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch; The Sermon on the Mount by Gustave Doré; The Road to Emmaus by Robert Zünd; Christ Washing the Disciples’ Feet by Francesco Vanni

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How to Know God – Part Two

Last week we began to explore the way that we can know God. If you haven’t read that post, you may want to click here and read that one first.
How do we know God?
know God
By obeying.
By doing what we see Him do, and this best by watching Jesus, by imitating Him.
This does not mean that we should spring immediately into action.
This is not the way that Jesus obeyed.
Be still
First, it means to be still.
Be still and know that I am God.
It means to go to the wilderness, to the lonely places, to get away and be alone with God.
in the wilderness
A lot.
Jesus spent much time alone with God before He did anything of importance.
Before beginning His ministry.
Before choosing the apostles.
Before the crucifixion.
alone with God
Don’t worry. Action will come.
Obedience does not only mean being still. There is much to be done to bring God’s kingdom to rule here on earth as it does in heaven.
But obedience first means to be still and know.
be still
Once you know what to do, then you begin the work of obeying.
You begin the practice of obeying. It, like anything, feels awkward at first. You continually go back to Jesus to figure out how to obey. You have to return again and again for specific instruction.
Yet slowly, over time, it feels more natural. You know more quickly what to do or what not to do. When to act and when to go back to being still.
Obedience becomes instinct.
I have used the image of a jazz musician before, but I will bring it back here again because it gives such a beautiful and concrete example of why this practice of obedience is so important.
obey like jazz
It shows us why obeying is what brings us to know God.
A jazz pianist, a really good one, knows his art intimately. It is a part of his spirit.
When he plays with a band, he knows what exists in the music. He knows the nature of the musical form, he knows the structure of the harmonics well enough to think quickly and compose something that fits in with the reality of the music.
It is so seamless it appears effortless.
This kind of perfection, however, is far from effortless. This kind of intimacy with the music does not come easily or quickly. It takes hours and days and months and years of practice.
This, too, is how we know God. By practicing the discipline of obeying for hours and days and months and years.
This is how we learn to know God. This is how we learn to know the way He created the nature of this life and this world well enough to know how to respond no matter what is happening around us.
This way of obedience leads to knowing God which leads to better obedience which leads to…
a beautiful circle.
A circle wherein we abide with our Father in peace and blessing.
abide
How do we know God?
By obeying Him.
There is no other way.
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.

Art credits: Children at Prayer byAntoine Édouard Joseph Moulinet; Prayer by Mednyánszky László; Gethsemane by Carl Heinrich Bloch; Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Johannes Vermeer

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How to Know God – Part One

We all, every one of us, want to know God.
We want to know God
Whether we acknowledge or even realize it, knowing God is one of the deepest desires placed immovably into the heart of humanity.
It has been so since the beginning of time.
It is the reason behind the Fall.
We want to know God without having to obey
To know.
The tragedy behind Eve’s choice of disobedience is that God had already given her the way to know Him. He had already given her the way both to know Him and to stay with Him.
It is the same tragedy that lies behind every act of our own disobedience, when we believe that our way is better, that our shortcut is easier than God’s (admittedly, often longer and harder) way for us to know Him.
What is this way? This way both to know God and to remain with Him?
By obeying Him.
To obey him is the only way to be one with him. ~ George MacDonald
If you want to know the mind of God, do what He says.
Jesus' way of knowing God is through obedience
Jesus, who was the very image of God, knew the Father absolutely. He also obeyed the Father absolutely.
Jesus told the Jews that He can only do what He sees the Father doing.
Why? Because the Father loves the Son and shows Him all that He Himself is doing.
The Father loves the Son. He wants Jesus to know Him and to know what He is doing.
The beautiful, astounding piece of this?
He loves all of His children in the same way.
Jesus affirms this when He prays that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
He wants us to know Him because He loves us.
He is not hiding from us. He is not playing games with us. He wants us to know Him.
How do we know Him?
By obeying.
By doing what we see Him do, and this best by watching Jesus, by imitating Him.
This does not mean, however, that we should spring immediately into action.
Will you join me next week as I ponder this idea a little more? I would love to explore with you about the way Jesus obeyed so that we can obey and know the Father in the same way.
I am grateful for you.
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.

Art credits: Children at Prayer by Antoine Edouard Joseph Moulinet; Adam and Eve by Foster; Christ Washing the Disciples’ Feet by Francesco Vanni

 

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A Dry and Weary Land Where There Is no Water

We are living in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
dry and weary land
All around us are people who are dying of thirst.
In our neighborhoods.
In our workplaces.
In our schools.
We are in desperate need of springs of living water.
living water
One of the beautiful things about our God is the way He allows us to be the ones to bring His kingdom into being on this earth.
Perhaps allows is not a strong enough word.
Part of our calling, our mission, as Jesus followers is to proclaim God’s kingdom rule in every corner of the piece of earth in which He has placed us.
For me, this begins in my home.
I want every person who enters my home to experience the love and peace of Christ. I want the love and peace of Jesus to radiate out from our home. I want our home to be a sacred place that draws others to Him.
Space matters, whether that space is a sprawling farmhouse in the country or a tiny apartment in the city, and what we do with the space we are given matters.
Let Thy kingdom come, let Thy will be done, in my home as it is in heaven.
We are called to fill our spaces with truth, goodness, and beauty.
We are called to fill our spaces with water.
We who have chosen this God-life have been promised that the living water given to us will become springs of living water.
A spring is an opening in the surface of the ground where water from deep under the ground comes bubbling out.
This is what we are given and this is what we are called to.
We who will never be thirsty again, we who have been satisfied in our deepest places, we who have been filled up with Him,
we are not to hoard this gift.
We are to be springs, not stagnant ponds.
Our land is a desert land.
Our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our schools are all parched and dusty places.
We are surrounded by people who are in desperate search for a true water that can quench their thirst once and for all.
They need springs that are not stopped up but are flowing freely.
We do not need to fear running out, do not need to fear not having enough. Our spring will never run dry because it comes from a place that is deeper than ourselves.
We only must ourselves continue to drink from the source. We must continue to fill ourselves up so that we can continue to overflow.
We live in a dry and weary land, and God has asked us to water the desert.
watering the desert
He has made us into springs of water for this very purpose.
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.
Art credits: photograph of Cleopatra spring of water in Siwa by Sara Nabih; photograph of mountain spring by Kirk Sewell; photograph of sand by Made Sacred
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Nothing Is Wasted

What is the point?
What is the point of all that we do in this life?
work
labor
effort
service
striving
We struggle to become like Jesus, make a small gain and then fall right back into our old behavior.
We work to serve others, to love them and help them, only to have our service rejected and misunderstood.
We strive with all our being to live as a witness, a light, to those we love, yet no one will listen.
We labor to create beauty in our own little piece of the world, then watch it all descend back into chaos.
Why do we bother? Why should we continue to persevere when there is so little to show for our travail?
Take heart, dear one.
Nothing done for our Father is ever wasted.
Nothing.
nothing is wasted
Every choice made to do the right thing, every resistance of the wrong,
every kind word to a stranger, every meal cooked for a friend,
every flower planted, every toilet cleaned,
every word written, every note sung,
all of it is used by our King to bring His kingdom more fully to this earth.
God sees it all, the outward action and the inner thought, and none of it is wasted.
What is the point?
nothing is in vain
We pray for it every time we say the Lord’s Prayer: we pray that His name will be holy, that His kingdom will come, and that His will shall be done, and all of this to be done on earth exactly as it is done in heaven.
The point is heaven and earth becoming one, the whole of creation becoming new again, the point is nothing less than God Himself dwelling with His restored and remade people.
That is the point.
So do not be discouraged when you see no result from all of your effort. Do not lose hope when all seems for nothing.
Our Father has promised. Nothing that we do for Him will be wasted.
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. ~ I Corinthians 15.58
Take courage and press on. The Holy Spirit is working within our most feeble efforts and will bring the most astounding beauty out of it all.
God brings beauty
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.

Art credit: all photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2020

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Made Sacred

Brother_Lawrence_in_the_kitchen
Mopping the floors, baking the bread.
Changing the diapers, making the bed.
Cleaning toilets, these things we dread.
We are told in Colossians that Christ is before all things and that in Him all things hold together, but it is difficult to believe that God could be a part of something as ordinary as cleaning toilets, as tedious as reading yet one more rendition of Good Night, Moon. It is difficult to understand how we could possibly involve Jesus in these dreary tasks. How in the world, how in the middle of this mundane world, could a holy Christ possibly relate to the filth of toilets?
I had the honor this week to have my essay published over at Foundling House. I would love for you to click over and read the rest of my essay. While you’re there, you should explore a little. There is much to be discovered.

Art credit: drawing of Brother Lawrence is from a book published by Fleming Revell Co. in 1900.

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I Need His Silence

Sometimes the silence is daunting.
silence
I sit and I sit and I sit and I wonder where God is.
I want the Voice, the delight, the spiritual moment, and when it is not there I wonder what went wrong.
Yet if I only experienced bliss, I might only trust in bliss. If I only experienced delight, I might only trust in delight.
I might never trust in the infallible character of God.
silence
It is easier to make a lot of noise.
It is easier to keep up a steady stream of words and song.
By filling my space with words it is easier to convince myself that all in my world is as it should be.
By making a lot of religious din we assure our faltering hearts that everything is well. ~ A. W. Tozer
The silence, therefore, however daunting, is necessary.
silence
I must be taught to rely on the Everlasting Father rather than on His comfort.
I must be taught to put my faith in the promise of His presence rather than on my experience of that presence.
I must be taught to trust in Christ the Rock regardless of any corroboration.
silence
I need to sit in the silence.
God often withdraws His inward comforts. Sometimes for long periods.
I need to sit in His silence. And be okay with it.
The silence is still daunting.
I sit and I sit and I sit and I know that He is here.
He is here
I will put my trust in Him.
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.

Art credits: all photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2020

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This Magic is Real

There is a magic making whole again that which was broken.
magic
There is a magic transforming the wrecked into what it was before it was hurt.
good magic
This is not a magic of tricks and illusion. It is not a magic that pretends or puts up a shiny veneer. It is not a magic that pushes things to be something other than what they are.
It is, rather, a magic that honors what is real, what is true. It restores.
true magic
Sometimes this magic takes a long time to work.
Sometimes this magic takes effect right away.
It changes with each person. What is needed is what is done.
What is needed.
Not what is desired.
You must be willing to change. This magic will not force itself.
Yet as far as you are willing, this magic will nurture you to grow into what you truly are. It will refine you into what you were intended to be.
It sounds too good to be true. It sounds like a fairytale.
Yet this fairytale is real.
magic from the king
The King came to earth and sacrificed Himself so that His beloved can hold this magic and become worthy of the King.
The fairytale is true and this magic is yours.
All you have to do is reach out your hands and believe.
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.

Art credits: The Fairy Tale by Walther Firle; Fairy Tales by Jesse Willcox Smith; Fairy Tale by Barnstar; Fairy King and Queen by unknown

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O Antiphons

advent
The O Antiphons are a sequence of seven Advent prayers written in the first centuries of the Church. These prayers call on Christ to come, addressing Him not as Jesus, for in Advent the Messiah has not yet appeared, but by titles given Him in the Old Testament.
The poet Malcom Guite has written seven sonnets in response to the seven O Antiphons. I am going to share two of them here with you today. The first is O Clavis, O Key, and the second is O Oriens, O Dayspring. The first speaks of the darkness of our humanity and our need for the Key to unlock our prison; the second speaks of the rising Morning Star that will come to illuminate all our darkness.
Linger over these. Read them slowly. Read them again. Let the Key, let the Morning Star speak to you in the stillness.
advent waiting
O Clavis
Even in the darkness where I sit
And huddle in the midst of misery
I can remember freedom, but forget
That every lock must answer to a key,
That each dark clasp, sharp and intricate,
Must find a counter-clasp to meet its guard,
Particular, exact and intimate,
The clutch and catch that meshes with its ward.
I cry out for the key I threw away
That turned and over turned with certain touch
And with the lovely lifting of a latch
Opened my darkness to the light of day.
O come again, come quickly, set me free
Cut to the quick to fit, the master key.
advent light
O Oriens
First light and then first lines along the east
To touch and brush a sheen of light on water
As though behind the sky itself they traced
The shift and shimmer of another river
Flowing unbidden from its hidden source;
The Day-Spring, the eternal Prima Vera.
Blake saw it too. Dante and Beatrice
Are bathing in it now, away upstream…
So every trace of light begins a grace
In me, a beckoning. The smallest gleam
Is somehow a beginning and a calling:
‘Sleeper awake, the darkness was a dream
For you will see the Dayspring at your waking,
Beyond your long last line the dawn is breaking.’
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.
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