Abiding in our Daily Lives

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Paul says that Christ is before all things and that in Him all things hold together, yet 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 Goodnight, Moon.
mundane
ordinary
Yet if we are to abide in Christ, as I wrote about last week, these are exactly the kinds of activities in which we are to look for Him. If God is present in the singing of a hymn, He is also present in the folding of a spouse’s shirt.
A.W. Tozer, in The Pursuit of God, directs our eyes to Jesus, pointing out that if Christ’s claim to only do the things that please the Father is true, then this would also include such prosaic activities as eating, sleeping, and being with friends.
all to the glory
Tozer writes that Paul anticipated an objection to his command to “do all to the glory of God”. The objection is that there are sacred and secular separations in our lives, and Paul fully negated that objection by specifically including eating and drinking in his command. Every act of our lives should be done to God’s glory.
Of such a one it may be said that every act of his life is or can be as truly sacred as prayer or baptism or the Lord’s Supper. To say this is not to bring all acts down to one dead level; it is rather to lift every act up into a living kingdom and turn the whole life into a sacrament. ~ Tozer
Turn the whole life into a sacrament.
It is a beautiful idea and one that fits perfectly with Scripture. God clearly cares about the menial details of our lives.
God cares
all is sacred
If any doubts this, he only must read the book of Leviticus.  
In Leviticus, God gives minute instructions to the Israelites concerning how to go about daily life, from how to care for articles of clothing to how to work in a vineyard.  He tells them how to clean cooking pots that have come into contact with an insect and what to do when their tent gets moldy.  He tells those who work the land not to harvest the fields too thoroughly but to leave a little for the poor.  
It turns out that He does indeed care about every moment; He cares about even our everyday routine.  He cares so much about us that He wants to be present to us in everything we do.  
There is, it turns out, no separation between sacred and secular. All is made sacred and all is in Christ.
So how do we become awake to His presence in our daily lives? How do we learn to abide in Jesus so that there is no place of our lives in which He does not dwell, no place in which we walk without dwelling in Him?
After all, as Evelyn Underhill says, “The spiritual life is simply the life in which all we do comes from the centre, where we are anchored in God.” How do we live anchored to God?
prayer
Scripture intake
Largely, though not entirely, through the Spiritual Disciplines.
As we practice the Holy Habits, we learn to become aware of God’s presence in every area of our lives. We wake up to God’s presence and His purposes in our lives and our world. Rather than going through our days mindful only of the world we can see, as we weave in the Holy Habits we become more fully conscious of how completely intertwined are the physical and spiritual worlds.
A.W. Tozer speaks of this intertwining in The Pursuit of God. He says that the spiritual world is real in the same sense that the visible world is real.
We must break the evil habit of ignoring the spiritual. We must shift our interest from the seen to the unseen.
Tozer tells us that the Kingdom of God is not some distant future promise, but a present reality, a parallel to the seen world. The Spiritual Disciplines help the eyes of our soul to see this kingdom everywhere we turn.
I’ll give an example of using the Spiritual Disciplines to help us see God in our every day lives, as well as expand this idea a little more next week. To be continued…

Art credits: All photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2017

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The Importance of Abiding

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Imagine you are driving down a dark, winding road, far from any city or town.
Van Gogh Dark Road
You have been driving all day and the sun set an hour ago. You are tired and stiff, there is a hollow feeling in your stomach, and a stale, recycled-air scent in your nostrils. As you make your last turn, you catch a faint glow ahead of you and suddenly the stiffness disappears, your shoulders straighten, and your foot presses just a bit more firmly on the accelerator.
Home.
As you pull up in front of the house, windows glowing with a light that makes the darkness flee, the front door flies open and people run out to greet you. Your people. Their arms grab you and hug you, they tug you towards the open door, the warmth and light draws you farther in, and the smell of your favorite meal is an almost tangible rope that pulls you the rest of the way.
Home.
abide
It is the place where you live, dwell, abide. The place in which you are safe and joyful and comforted. The place where you live your mundane kind of life as well as the place to which you cling when trouble comes.
Home.
dwell
Jesus says that we must abide in Him in order to bear fruit, in order to be transformed into His likeness. That word, abide, is such a rich word, containing the ideas of peace, comfort, fulfilled needs, constancy, and close relationships, to name just a few.
Home.
John tells us in his gospel that Jesus used the word abide repeatedly during His last night with His disciples. Jesus spoke of abiding in Him, of abiding in His love, of allowing His words to abide in us. If we do this work of abiding, Jesus promises, then the Father will be glorified and we will bear much fruit. Fruit that, among other things, allows us to love one another in the same way that Jesus loves us.
We are, in other words, to make Jesus our home.
Vermeer
We are to make Him the place where we live out our ordinary, everyday lives and the place where we dwell in times of great storms. We are to make Him the place we remain every moment of every day.
This happens largely through the practice of the Spiritual Disciplines. Weaving these Holy Habits into our lives awakens us to the presence and workings of God all around us. Jesus promised that He would never leave us , but we are creatures who lean into our physicality more than our spirituality, and so the Spiritual Disciplines help us to be more aware of the ways in which Jesus fulfills His promise.
The more we practice these Habits, the more we move ourselves into a place where the Holy Spirit can work to transform us to look like Jesus. 
Then we will truly be Home.
Home
I have been learning about the Spiritual Disciplines in a two-year course in Spiritual Formation that I have just begun. I will continue, in the next weeks, to write more about what I have learned so far. I pray that it will transform you as much as it has transformed me.

Art Credits: Country Road in Provence by Night by Van Gogh; first home photo from www.oliverstravels.com; second home photo by Maria Langer from www.aneclecticmind.com; Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Johannes Vermeer; Welcome Home by Thomas Kinkade

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Word Revealed and Revealing

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The Word is.
The Word is and the Word reveals what is.
God breathed the Word and life blazed out.
life blazing
Life exploded into being and revealed God to man.
The life of the heavens and the life of the earth revealed.
They revealed His invisible qualities to all who cared to look.
the heavens
the earth
It is the nature of words and the Word to reveal.
God sent the Word and new life blazed out.
The Word reveals
Jesus was the Word and He spoke the words that revealed God to man.
The Word revealed the heart of God far more than life ever could.
As the people received the Word, new life exploded into being.
They were formed by the Word.
The Word forms
The Word formed the people into new life, a new creation.
This new creation then spoke the same Word and new life again blazed out.
As we receive the Word, we are formed by the Word.
We are formed by the Word
We, too, become new life. We, too, then speak the same Word.
The revelation of the heart of God continues through the generations.
It is the nature of words and the Word to reveal.
The Word reveals what is.
The Word is.
The Word is

Art credits: space photos by NASA; Christ and the Samaritan Woman painting by Henryk Siemiradzki; The Road to Emmaus painting by Robert Zund; all other photos copyright Made Sacred 2017

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Living on Isaac’s Altar

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I awake each morning and climb onto Isaac’s altar.
Abraham Sacrificing Isaa-Adi_Holzer_Werksverzeichnis_835_Abrahams_Opfer
I feel much like I imagine that Isaac felt, fearful and yet trusting.
I trust that my Father knows. I trust that He knows what will happen and I trust in His love for me.
I trust that whatever He brings me to this day He also will bring me through.
I give this body that He gave to me, give it back for whatever His purpose might be.
Rembrandt_The_Sacrifice_of_Abraham
I am fully awake to the truth that it is only by His mercies that I am acceptable to Him. Only because of His sacrifice that I am made lawful for sacrifice. Only because of His grace that I am made holy, made pure and spotless as the ancient lamb.
Abraham_Sacrificing_Isaac_MET_DP856882
This death of myself leads to resurrection of self, myself as I was created to be. I am raised to live in worship, my life as worship to Him.
I climb off Isaac’s altar and onto the mountain of Jehovah Ra’ah. The LORD will provide. Like Abraham, I trust in the Lord’s provision. I trust in His promise that I will love Him and love others, trust that He will provide what I need to obey.
The_Phillip_Medhurst_Picture_Torah_114._Abraham_sacrificing_Isaac._Genesis_cap_22_v_12._Coypel
My body remains my sacrifice, my life remains my worship.
By His mercies, I belong to Him and I will not take that lightly.
I often fall off my altar, but I climb back on, and at the end of each day I sleep in peace, knowing that His mercies are new each morning.
Knowing that He will help me, when I wake up, to climb onto Isaac’s altar once again.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. ~ Romans 12.1

Art credits: The Sacrifice of Isaac by Adi Holzer; The Sacrifice of Abraham by Rembrandt; Abraham Sacrificing Isaac by Luca Penni; Abraham Sacrificing Isaac from the Phillip Medhurst Picture Torah

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For All Who Wonder

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Sometimes I wonder.
Christ Carrying the Cross
I wonder if it is worth it to obey Christ?  He does, after all, say crazy, ridiculous things about giving yourself away and having trouble in this world and carrying a cross into the world’s darkness as He did in order to follow Him for love of Him and love of the world.
Starry Sky
I wonder if anyone is actually listening when I pray?  I have, after all, asked for many beautiful things that never came to pass, things that any sane person would want to occur, and have hurled words into the void of space, words that seemed to return home empty.
busy street
I wonder if God really does exist when much of the time the world around me and sometimes even my own heart says that He does not.
What do we do when we wonder?
Wondering
Take the next step.  Say the next prayer.  Obey the next time.  The only way to find out whether all of this is true is to try it, live it, do it.
Ask and you will be given.  Seek and you will find.  Draw near to Him and see if He will draw near to you.  Ask for Him and see if He will come to you in ways that you alone can comprehend.  Look for Him and see if you can see a light at the heart of this darkness.  This is the only way to go on.
Our Light
Speak your doubts out loud when your heart hears only echoing silence.  “God? Do You know me even though I don’t know You?” is still a kind of prayer.
We draw near to him by following him even on clumsy and reluctant feet.  ~ Frederick Buechner
Is this a turning away from faith?  Not at all.  It is only moments and days, and sometimes weeks and months, that come to all of us who believe.  This wondering is common to us all.
Adeste fidelis.  That is the only answer I know for people who want to find out whether or not this is true.  Come all ye faithful, and all ye who would like to be faithful if only you could, all ye who walk in darkness and hunger for light.  Have faith enough, hope enough, despair enough, foolishness enough at least to draw near to see for yourselves.  ~ Frederick Buechner

Art credits: Christ Carrying the Cross by Joachim Beuckelaer; Planetary Nebula by NASA; Crowds by J. Solis

edited from the archives

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Why Your Choice Matters

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One thing is certain.
This life is full of pain.
Sadness
Our world is broken and time is broken and we are broken and the result of all the brokenness is pain.
From loneliness to cancer, from dealing with tantrums to fleeing from hurricanes, we are all suffering.
suffering
Jesus didn’t try to hide this from us.
In this world you will have trouble.
He didn’t pull a bait-and-switch to convince us that following Him would make our lives rosy.
In fact, He talks a lot about carrying a cross around as we follow Him.
choosing the cross
Some of this suffering is chosen.
Fasting. Simplicity. Solitude.
Much is unwelcomed.
Depression. Grief. Poverty.
Either way, chosen or unwelcomed, the way we choose to respond to suffering matters.
Michelangelo's_Pieta
Over and over, Scripture tells us that the choices we make in this life ripple forward into the next. What we do with the ebbs and flows in our lives matter.
From interruptions to worries, from marriage to loss, every choice we make in response to our circumstances is changing us.
Changing the very essence of ourselves into something different than we are.
And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself.  ~ C.S. Lewis
God wants to transform us.
He wants us to look like Jesus, and this life with all of its choices and pain is the method through which we are changed.
(It is) all for our good, the finished product, God’s work of art, the Kingdom of Heaven. There is nothing outside heaven except hell. Earth is not outside heaven; it is heaven’s workshop, heaven’s womb. ~ Peter Kreeft, Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing
We are a part of God’s story, His work of art. If Earth is heaven’s workshop than our choices matter significantly. The way we choose to respond to our circumstances carries consequential weight.
If Earth is heaven’s workshop, then God uses all things that happen on this Earth to shape us, to mold the dark and dull thing that we are into something extraordinary, something full of light.
light
This life is full of pain.
Pain can be meaningless, sending us spiraling downward into the darkness.
Or.
Pain can be used by God for a beautiful purpose, filling us up with the light of Himself.
fill us with light
It is your choice.

Many of the ideas in this post come from Water from a Deep Well by Gerald L. Sittser, a book I would highly recommend. The link to this book is an Amazon affiliate link. Purchases through these links allows you to help support this blog through no added cost to you. Thank you.

Art credits: Pieta by Michaelangelo; photograph of light streaming through the trees by Kirk Sewell; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2017

 

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Sojourners Together

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We don’t belong here.
not our home
The longer we live, the older we get, the less we feel at home.
At home on this earth, at home in these bodies.
It doesn’t make sense, it goes against expectation,
unless we were made for something else.
longing for beauty
The longing we feel when we see or hear beauty.
The despair we feel when we hear of yet another way in which our world is broken.
The sadness we feel when our bodies begin to age and fail.
longing for love
All reminds us that the current state is not our end state.
The sword pierce of loss upon death or disaster.
The restless spirit searching for more.
The sense of separation from the God we want so desperately to know.
All reminds us that we are sojourners and that the best is yet to come.
Sojourners. It invokes a nomadic people’s sense of vagrancy, a praying people’s knowledge of estrangement, a thinking people’s intuition of sharp loss. Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk
And yet.
This piece of earth is also home.
home
There are bits and pieces that feel dear to us. Familiar.
Hearth and garden. Meals with family. Light and warmth.
hearth and warmth
These remind us that we have a home.
We are not home yet. We must not forget.
This world and our bodies and our relationships are still broken.
waiting for restoration
One day they will not be.
One day they will all be whole, perfect, as they were meant to be.
One day this veil will be torn and we shall see Him face to face.
No more estrangement. No more longing.
Sojourners
Until that day, let us be kind and do all we can to help each other through this place and time that is so strange and yet not so strange.
Let us sojourn together.

Art credits: Earth photograph from NASA; last photograph by Kirk Sewell; all other photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2017

The link to Annie Dillard’s book, Teaching a Stone to Talk, is an Amazon affiliate link. Purchases through these links allows you to help support this blog through no added cost to you. Thank you.

 

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Election and Free Will in Scripture

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Scripture can be difficult to understand.
img_0736
When taken as a whole, when read as one, consistent story, it is easy to get confused by various passages that seem to state different realities.
One such difficulty is how we are able to accept God’s salvation.
img_0731
Some passages in Scripture (Ephesians 1 and Romans 9, as only two examples) seem to say that God decrees (or elects) some to be saved and some to be damned.
Other passages in Scripture (Romans 8 and I Peter 1, for example) seem to say that we are given free will in the matter and can accept or reject God’s salvation (having first been given by God the grace to accept). The election comes from God’s foreknowledge, not His decree.
This is, admittedly, a very simplistic version of these complex issues, but it is enough to get us started in our pondering and discussing.
How do we reconcile these? As much as we would wish to sometimes, we cannot ignore the sides of Scripture that are uncomfortable or distressing.
img_0741
We in our American culture and modern time cringe at the idea of not having complete free will. It goes against everything in us to think that we have no choice in the matter of salvation or that God would create beings in order to damn them.
Yet we cannot throw out Ephesians and Romans.
So where does that leave us?

Ev. Gesellschaft in Wuppertal Jahresversammlung März 1956 Karl Barth

A man named Karl Barth went the farthest in harmonizing the two varieties of passages. He noticed that in the passages that speak of election, the election is spoken of as in Christ.
We are chosen in Him (Christ) before the creation of the world…God predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.
Barth’s idea is that both the election and the rejection spoken of by Scripture was applied to Christ.
Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man. Two separate natures fully united in one person. Jesus Christ is, then, both the electing God and the elected man, both the subject and the object of election.
God’s welcome and His rejection are both fulfilled in Christ, who was rejected by God for our sake.
Barth writes that “God has given to man the former: election, salvation, and life; for Himself, however, He has chosen the second: rejection, damnation, and death.”
Rembrandt_The_Three_Crosses_1653
God’s no falls on Christ so that God’s yes can fall on the rest of us.
Is Karl Barth correct?
I have no idea.
I apologize if you were hoping for a definitive answer.
If the greatest theological minds over the centuries have not come to agreement on this, far be it from me to speak otherwise.
Yet Barth’s ideas make sense to me as I study and pray.
What do you think?

Thanks to Todd Daly for introducing me to many of these idea.

Art Credits: photograph of Karl Barth from the German Federal Archive; Three Crosses sketch by Rembrandt

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When You’ve had a Rough Week

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It’s been a rough week.
I had all sorts of things I wanted to write about this week: the idea of whether art can be Christian, how to reconcile Calvinism and Armenianism, the sacredness of everyday life.
IMG_7589
Yet here I sit, feeling weary and weighed down. All of those big and beautiful thoughts have flown and what remains is a muddled mess of ugly emotion.
Anyone else?
It’s been a rough week in the world.
Hurricanes and flooding in the south, earthquakes in Mexico, ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.
It’s been a rough week at my home.
Multiple kids sick, cranky and ugly attitudes in both kids and parents, downright meanness in the way my girls treat each other. I may have hidden in the nursery closet for a while one day while I was supposed to be homeschooling.
What do we do with these feelings? What do we who follow Jesus do when we are unsatisfied, depressed, weary, weighed down heavy with all of the ugliness in the world and in our lives?
It is not a flashy, feel-good sort of answer, but I believe that Jesus would have us…
take another step.
Whatever the emotion you have swirling around inside, we are simply to continue as we were.
Contiue praying, continue praising, continue in Scripture, continue in study.
Continue serving, continue caring, continue loving, continue working.
Continue.
Perhaps the good feelings will return soon.
Perhaps they won’t.
I don’t think it really matters much.
Jesus didn’t ask us to follow Him when it feels good.
He asked us to deny ourselves to follow Him.
He told us to obey His commandments and then we will abide in His love.
And that is all that really matters. Abiding in His love.
If we know that we are in His love, the same love as the Father’s love for Jesus, we can know that we will be okay.
We may not feel okay, but that is…okay.
If we trust Jesus’ words more than what our feelings tell us, we can know that He in all of His unsurpassable love is with us.
So simply continue.
Take another step.
Do one more thing to make the world more beautiful.
Trust and obey.
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Choosing the Given

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Sometimes the life we are given is not the life we would have chosen.
Storm Clouds
We have plans that didn’t work out, dreams that didn’t come true, hopes that just didn’t happen.
Perhaps it is a career that became other than you expected.
Perhaps it is a relationship that feels as though it is failing.
Perhaps it is simply life in its sometimes drudgery that just feels
disappointing.
clouds1
Sometimes, too, the life we are given is more than only disappointing.
Sometimes it is terrible, full of pain and suffering and grief.
Those who know this sort of life understand that while God is love, His love can be a fierce love.
The love of a holy God sometimes blazes with a cleansing flame.
IMG_5382
We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be. ~ C.S. Lewis
Whether our life is disappointing or full of fire, this is the life we are given.
Is it possible to live a higher life than quietly resigned? Is it possible to accept with joy rather than fighting against what is?
Christ_Walking_on_the_Waters,_Julius_Sergius_Von_Klever
Jesus says it is.
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
To live with joy a life that does not look the way you hoped, you must choose what is given.
Sometimes? Sometimes you must choose fiercely, with the kind of determination that will outlast this world.
You must choose to look only at the given rather than at the might have been.
You must choose to pay attention to the right now rather than to the used to be or the perhaps someday.
weasel
Annie Dillard compares it to a weasel gripping its prey with a grip that lasts longer than the life of the weasel itself.
A weasel that clutches its quarry with such nerve that its skull is found still attached to the throat of an eagle years after the weasel attacked.
Some days do feel that hard.
So hard, in fact, that it is only with the same Holy Spirit power inside of us that raised Jesus from the dead that we are capable of such fierce choosing.
Yet we do have that power.
We have that power and so it is possible to choose the given and to live as joyfully as Jesus means us to live.
I would like to live as I should, as the weasel lives as he should. And I suspect that for me the way is like the weasel’s: open to time and death painlessly, noticing everything, remembering nothing, choosing the given with a fierce and pointed will. ~ Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk
Choosing the given with a fierce and pointed will.
This is the way that leads to joy.

Art credits: storm photos by Kirk Sewell; fire photo copyright Made Sacred 2017; Christ Walking on the Water by Julius Sergius Von Klever; weasel illustration from Brehm’s Life of Animals

The links to Annie Dillard’s book, Teaching a Stone to Talk, are Amazon affiliate links. Purchases through these links allows you to help support this blog through no added cost to you. Thank you.

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