Archives for December 2017

This Industrious Advent

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.

 

It is a quiet hush, this advent, but a hush that is expectant.
hush
It is a silent waiting, this advent, but a waiting that is heavy.
waiting
It is the upraised conductor’s baton before the explosive opening salvo.
advent
Don’t let the quiet waiting deceive you. The very idea of the God who spoke light into existence becoming an eyeless embryo swimming in the dark of a womb is astounding.
Don’t let the season itself distract you. The caroling and feasting, the decorating and gifting, it all tries to smother the startling significance of advent.
bling
Candy cane 2We must try to “restore that quietness, that inner peace, that willingness to wait unfulfilled in the dark, in the midst of a season that conspires to do nothing but fling bling and tinsel at us right through December.” ~ Malcolm Guite
Find your quiet moments and stay focused.
quiet
Advent celebrates a visitation to our world. A visitation that will happen again.
The visitation of our God upon this little planet of ours happened once and will happen again and we are to work to bring it about.
It is not a passive waiting. It is a heavy and expectant waiting. A waiting into which we are welcomed.
That is why, behind all our fun and games at Christmastime, we should not try to escape a sense of awe, almost a sense of fright, at what God has done…Nothing can alter the fact that we live on a visited planet. ~ J. B. Phillips
This advent is a waiting in which we are to pray and work for the spreading of God’s kingdom, for His will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven.
This advent is a waiting in which we are to be awake and alert so that His coming will not be a horror to us but an unending joy.
It is a quiet hush, this advent, but a hush that is focused.
It is a silent waiting, this advent, but a waiting that is industrious.
advent
E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come.

All photographs copyright Made Sacred 2017

Abiding in Great Storms Part Two

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.

 

For the past several weeks in this space we have been talking about the vital importance of abiding in Jesus. This will be the last week of this series until after Christmas, when I hope to begin writing about a few specific Spiritual Disciplines. Perfect, perhaps, for the New Year.
If you would like to catch up, you can read the introduction here, the first part of abiding in daily life here, the second part of abiding in daily life here, and the first part of abiding in great storms here.
John Donne shows us how beautiful and natural it can be when we have steeped ourselves in Holy Habits and are thus able to allow God to transform us through our sufferings rather than to turn away from God in our bitterness or anger.
suffering
Donne is best known as a great English poet, but he was also a cleric in the Church of England. In 1623, he suffered through a serious illness. So serious, in fact, that he believed he was on his deathbed. During this illness he wrote Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, a book that combines Donne’s brilliant writing with his devotion to Christ to illuminate the ways in which we can respond to suffering when we have deliberately given over the time in our days to the Holy Spirit.
John_Donne_by_Isaac_Oliver
John Donne had a love for and a knowledge of Scripture that is stunning. He interacted with Scripture throughout his book as the Word of God to him, asking a question, quoting a Scripture in return, then responding once again. It is not as though he left all fear behind – he was honest about his weaknesses and his doubts – yet the Holy Spirit clearly was strengthening him, giving him hope, holding out truth to sustain him.
When he wrote of pain and tragedy, he admitted that he was fearful, but emphasized the hope also contained within: …because Thy hand being upon me, Thou wilt never let me fall out of Thy hand.
He understood the hope in death that we have in Christ: When one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. 
Donne also wrote of the way God uses suffering to shape us, to mold the dark and dull thing that we are into something extraordinary, something full of light: Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. 
beauty in pain
Peter Kreeft, in Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing says something similar: (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. 
heaven's womb
The point, after all, of the Spiritual Disciplines is to allow God to reveal Himself to us, to give us Himself, to change us into the likeness of His own Self. When we are faithful to practice the Disciplines, the Holy Spirit changes our own self in a way that allows God to fill us with His presence when we are experiencing pain and suffering.
This, God’s presence, is what we need when we are struck by a sudden storm, but it is not what we desire. What we desire is for the storm to vanish, leaving sunshine and rainbows in its wake.
our storms
When we are not abiding in Christ, we can be blindsided when the storm does not vanish after we have prayed.
When Christ’s words are not abiding in us, we can deceive ourselves into believing that we are safe and when the ugly occurs to us or those we love, we are surprised and angry. We strike back at God, even if we claimed not to have believed in Him before, putting Him on trial for the brokenness we see around us.
Job did the same.
When disaster struck, stripping him of material possessions, his children, even his health, he demanded answers from God.
If only I knew where to find Him; if only I could go to His dwelling I would state my case before Him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would find out what He would answer me and consider what He would say.
Job demanded explanation and God responded not by answering his demands but by giving him a guided tour of creation.
creation
creation
creation
creation
It seems unsatisfactory. Job wanted to know why his world is burning to ashes around him and God showed Job the wonders of the zoological world and the stunning beauties of the galaxies and told him, I did this! He showed Job the mysteries of our world and our universe and said to him, I did this!
When Job wanted, even demanded, an answer from God, God gave him something much more beautiful than a simple answer.
He gave Job the same answer that He gives to all who ask, to all who seek: Himself.
After God had revealed Himself to Job through all of His wonders, Job said,
My ears had heard of You but now my eyes have seen You.
His seeing, his knowing came only through great pain.
seeing pain
Is this the only way to know?  I truly believe that when we choose a holy kind of suffering, a suffering that Jesus also chose, a suffering through the Holy Disciplines, we can know God in a more beautiful and less scarring way.
The Holy Habits can also lead to a darkness of their own.
We are, after all, in a spiritual war, and God wants us, in the end, to love Him rather than only what comfort He brings to us.
Yet whether our suffering is chosen or unwelcomed, at just the right time, just when we think that we will never find a way out of the darkness and are ready to give up all hope of ever catching a glimpse of light or beauty again, God responds by disclosing not explanation, but the light of the world in a deeper way than we have ever seen before.
seeing God
This is what the Spiritual Disciplines do: they allow the Holy Spirit to change our very hearts so that God can use the ugliness of this world to open us up so that we can receive what is truly the deepest desire of our hearts.
God Himself.
Conclusion
There are things in life which are common to us all.
We all have pieces of our lives that are ordinary, common, and mundane.
We all have pieces of our lives that bring pain, suffering, and ugliness.
We all dream of home.
Whether we have experienced a true home or have only read about such things, we all dream of a place where we are loved unconditionally and are safe. We dream of a place of light and warmth, of comfort and contentment.
home
We dream, whether we know it or not, of finding our home in Jesus.
We must be taught how to abide in Christ. We cannot even do this much on our own. We must watch Jesus, imitate His life, do the things He did in order to learn how to abide in Him as He abides in the Father. What we call the Spiritual Disciplines are simply the spiritual activities that Jesus practiced while on this earth.
When we weave these same Habits into our days we are simply following Jesus. We are following Jesus as He lived out His everyday life and we are following Jesus as He went through the kind of suffering most of us will never know. We are following Jesus as He lived the life of all humanity.
It is this following after Jesus that opens us up to knowing God.
disciplines
These Holy Habits allow the space in our lives and our hearts for the Holy Spirit to transform us into the people God created us to be, the people who know God and dwell in Him and look just like Him.
Our world desperately needs “little Christs”, people who bear much fruit because they are abiding in Jesus.
Our world, the little piece of the world where we live, is full of people who are drowning in the loneliness of the ordinary.
Our world is full of people who are being crushed by the ugliness of pain.
Jesus is the light of home that shines out, drawing us into Himself.
abide in Jesus
He calls us who claim to follow Him to be the people who abide, the people who reflect His light to the bit of world in which He placed us.
Jesus calls us to make Him our home so that through us, others can come Home too.

Art credits: painting of John Donne by Isaac Oliver; storm, river, and mountain photos by Kirk Sewell; first home photo by Maria Langer from www.aneclecticmind.com; second home photo from www.oliverstravels.com; all other photos copyright Made Sacred 2017

Abiding in Great Storms

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.

 

For the past several weeks in this space we have been talking about the vital importance of abiding in Jesus. If you would like to catch up, you can read the introduction here, the first part of abiding in daily life here, and the second part of abiding in daily life here. This week we will speak about how the practice of abiding in daily life gives us roots and a safe place when the storms come.
It is this daily abiding in Christ, largely through the Spiritual Disciplines, that keeps us safe in Him when storms come.
Storm Clouds
Jesus certainly promised that storms would come.
storms
When we have made Jesus our home through the mundane, yet sacred routines of daily life, we have His peace and His joy deep within us. We emerge safely on the other side, though perhaps a bit battered and wind-torn.
When we have neglected these Habits, however, when we have claimed busyness as a reason for leaving them behind, we are left out on the doorstep to bear the full brunt of the storm. We may eventually still emerge on the other side, but will carry many more wounds into the rest of our lives.
suffering
One thing that is certain in this world is that life is full of pain. 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.
pain
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.
Some of this suffering is chosen. Fasting. Simplicity. Solitude. This kind of holy suffering is what we choose when we decide to practice the Spiritual Disciplines.
Some would go so far as to say that suffering is necessary to living a holy life. Jesus’ own words seem to bear this out: If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself…
cross
This chosen suffering is what creates the space for the Holy Spirit to transform and strengthen our interior world so that we are able to stand up under the pain of the exterior world in order to serve it.
An Abba (an older, spiritual mentor) from the 5th century A.D., St. Mark the Ascetic, put it this way:
He who does not choose to suffer for the sake of truth will be chastened more painfully by suffering he has not chosen. 
Whether our suffering is chosen or unwelcomed, the way we choose to respond to suffering matters.
Chosen suffering
Over and over, Scripture tells us that the choices we make in this life ripple forward into the next (Matthew 25.31-46, as an example). 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 what we are now.
C. S. Lewis said it best:
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.
Choosing to live these Holy Habits, activities like Scripture reading and prayer, solitude and worship, are how God the Holy Spirit transforms us into people of His Kingdom. People who, by obedience and love, are helping the Kingdom, God’s rule, to break through here and now.
Prayer
Scripture
Solitude
Paul speaks all through Philippians of living now as though we were already perfected. One habit leads to another which leads to another which suddenly leads to hope and love breaking through into our world. When we deliberately choose these Disciplines, we slowly become the sort of person who naturally and authentically follows after God.
It takes work, it takes choice by painful choice to build these habits, but the more work we put in, the more natural it becomes, and the easier it is to abide when the world is hurling its worst at us.
Next week, if you are gracious enough to join me, I will give some specific examples of people who abide through great storms in their lives.

Art credits: both storm photographs are by Kirk Sewell; photograph of Christ on the cross sculpture by asta kr; all other photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2017