What if Sin is Not the Problem?

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I’ve been working my way through a new book by N. T. Wright called The Day the Revolution Began, and I have a lot to tell you. This is just the first post containing some of what I have learned. I hope you gain as much as I have.

 

The word sin gets tossed around a lot these days.

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Yelled at by Mommy

Either we don’t put enough emphasis on sin and everyone is heading straight to hell, or we put too much emphasis on sin and everyone needs to offer a lot more grace to everyone else.
What if sin is not really the problem?
Of course there is plenty of moral misconduct happening all around us, ample wrongdoing both surrounding and within us, but what if that is just a symptom rather than the disease itself?

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We were created to be a royal priesthood, to reflect the worship of creation to the Creator and to reflect the wise rule of the Creator into the world.
We were, in short, created to worship God.
“Human beings, worshiping their Creator, were thus the intended key to the proper flourishing of the world.”
Yet we have all failed in this mission, this vocation.
When we worship anything other than the one true God, the trouble is not simply that we do bad things, although this certainly is what also happens, but that we hand over to whatever created thing we are worshiping the power that was given to us.

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We have turned over our ruling power to the very things we were meant to rule. This is the underlying disobedience we have committed: a failure to worship the Creator.
When we worship God, when we gaze “with delight, gratitude, and love at the creator God”, we are formed by our worship into wise stewards through whom God’s beautiful love is sent into the world.
This is how it was meant to be.
The cross, rather than only dealing with our individual sin symptoms (which it certainly also does), deals with the prior disease of our failure to worship.
If we reduce the cross to the divine answer to our problem with doing wrong things, we will miss the deep heart of it all.
If sin is only the breaking of God’s rules and death is only the severe penalty dealt out by a just God, it appears that the cross is Jesus inserting Himself in between God’s wrath and us.

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If sin is, however, the turning away from God’s intended role for the human race, then it is a choice to worship creation rather than the Creator. And death, then, is the natural consequence of that choice.
“Choosing to worship the creature rather than the Creator is the choice of death over life…deep down there is nothing arbitrary about sin or death. Choose the one and you choose the other…Obey the serpent’s voice, and you will forfeit the right to the Tree of life. You can’t have it both ways.”
Death is not the punishment of an angry God, it is the natural consequence of turning over our God-given power to the created things. It is the natural consequence of Sin.
For mankind to flourish, for creation itself to be as it was created to be, sin (as the choice to worship creation) must be dealt with.
“The purpose of the cross is to take us back, from where we presently are, to that intended goal” of being a royal priesthood.
The redemption and the restoration of the world comes back to a restoration of man’s vocation of being a royal priesthood.
To the restoration of man’s vocation of worship.
It all comes back to worship.

All quotes are from The Day the Revolution Began by N. T. Wright

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The Role of the Spirit Within the Trinity

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I have always been a little hazy about the Holy Spirit, a little unclear about His role in the Trinity.
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Don’t misunderstand; I’m certainly not claiming to have obtained clear and certain understanding of the role of the Father or the Son. I simply am more unsure about the Spirit.
I grew up in a faith tradition in which the Holy Spirit was only mentioned in soft tones while the Father and the Son were proclaimed from the pulpit. Literally.
Yet I hunger for more. If the Spirit is the One who changes me to look like Jesus, I want to know Him more.
I recently read a book for a class that imparted more illumination of the Spirit than I had received during most of my growing up years put together.
Horton Holy Spirit
The book is Rediscovering the Holy Spirit by Michael Horton. I highly recommend it to anyone who desires to know the Spirit more.
This particular post will not be very long; I only wanted to share with you one piece of the knowledge I have gained.
The Trinity works as a whole in every act throughout history (and outside of history), yet each has a different role.
We encounter the Father as the origin of creation, redemption, and consummation, the Son as the mediator, and the Spirit as the one who brings every work to completion. ~ Horton
Take creation, for example. The Father spoke and creation began. All things were created through the Son. The Father breathed His Spirit into creation to complete it.
Or take redemption. The Father sent His Son. We are redeemed through the blood of the Son on the cross. God’s redemptive work is made complete when His Spirit comes to dwell in us.
The oneness and the individuality of the Trinity are beautiful.
Ponder the mystery of it all
and worship our God in awe and wonder.

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Art credits: Dove of the Holy Spirit by Bernini; Pentecost by Fidelis Schabet

The Givenness of Creation

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Creation is given.Planet Earth
It is made, created ex nihilo (out of nothing), yes, but it is also given.
In all of its beauty, in all of its glory, in all of its uncertainty, in all of its pain,
it is given.
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The givenness of this creation is important.
The air we breathe, the spaces through which we move, the thoughts and emotions in which we dwell,
all of it is a gift.
Even our bodies.
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Many of us are adept at seeing the gift of a sunset or a mountain range.
We are not so accomplished at acknowledging the givenness of our bodies.
Our world tells us that if we are not strong enough, thin enough, white enough, then we are not  enough.
And we believe it.
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We throw this gift of God back into His lap and tell Him that it is not enough.
We take the variety, creativity, artistry of God and diminish it by believing that it is not enough.
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You who were always told that you were too weak
You who were always told that you were too fat
You who were always told that you were too dark, too other
God created you with the same brilliance as He did the stars.
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He longs for you to love and care for this body He gave you as much as He longs for you to love and care for the piece of earth on which He placed you.
He desires for you to appreciate the beauty of it as much as you appreciate the beauty of a forest.
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Your body is just as given.
More so, perhaps, because no one else was given your exceptional body.
Only you.
It is a gift from the same Artist who crafted the rivers.
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When you find yourself listening to the world and feeling that you are not enough,
ask God to remind you of the givenness of your body.
It is a gift.

Art credits: Earth and super nova photographs from NASA; mountain and river photographs from Kirk Sewell; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2018

God’s Answer to Our Why

I lost my Gram this week unexpectedly. In the wake of her death and in the middle of so much suffering around the world, I offer this post from the archives. May it breathe a little hope and peace into your heart today.
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Why?
It is a cry that explodes from a pain-filled heart. It is a cry that whimpers from a lonely soul.
It is a cry that propels its way out of all who hurt in one way or another.
Why did my twenty-six year old sister-in-law have to die in such a horrible way?
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Why did my Papa labor in pain to leave this earth on the very same day that I labored in pain to bear my daughter into it?
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Why do my friends suffer illness and miscarriage and even death while we still are young?
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Why?
And yet I have to wonder: what would we get if we got an answer to our questions of why?
Would we gain satisfaction? Would it really change anything if God sat down in front of us and explained everything to our face?
We would still have to face the empty chairs. We would still be faced with the memories of pain.
Job asked why. He didn’t just ask, he demanded the chance to ask God why. He shouted for the opportunity to plead his case before God.
And God came.
He came not with reasons but with glory.
God didn’t reveal His ultimate plan, He revealed Himself.
God didn’t show the reasons for what happened, He showed His face.
And Job?
Even covered with sores and ashes, he looks oddly like a man who has asked for a crust and been given the whole loaf. ~ Frederick Buechner
In answer to all of our questions, may God be gracious enough to give us Himself.

What I Know

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This week I’m dusting off an old essay I wrote after my brother’s wife, Kristina, died of breast cancer just after watching her firstborn celebrate his first birthday. I’ve been thinking a lot about her lately, probably because a woman with whom I used to sing is fighting the same thing. She is a mother of several young children and is watching the cancer spread rapidly all through her body. What do we do with circumstances such as these? Well, I don’t know much, and often there is nothing that we can say, but my thoughts from seven years ago haven’t changed much. I haven’t posted this since 2013, so here you go. Peace.
Through this long struggle, through one piece of bad news after another, through the next days and months and years of memories, where is God?
When all pleas seem to go unanswered, when even let the end be peaceful is ignored, what are we to think?
What do I really believe about God in all of this?
The Word of Life
God’s Words tell us clearly that there is pain, there is heartbreak in this world.  We should not be surprised.
More often than not, God chooses not to save His people, chooses not to spare them sorrow and hardship.  Hebrews 11 gives a long list of those who were killed or lost ones they loved, Jesus’ closest friends died martyr’s deaths, even His earthly father died without His intervention.
I have pondered long and hard this question of what I believe about God in the midst of “it wasn’t supposed to be like this”.  Here is my conclusion.
Ocean Waves
I know my God, His character, well enough to trust Him when I don’t understand, when I cannot see in the darkness.  I know, from what He has said about Himself and from what I have seen, that He is always good and always love.  I know that, if we only knew the reasons, we would adore Him for what He does.
God promises that we will have trouble in this world.  He also promises that if we are grateful to Him He will give us peace.  He doesn’t promise that He will take the pain away but that we will be at peace, that we will have joy.
Isn’t that a much bigger promise?
No matter what, God is still God.
Will I only praise and thank Him when He does what I like?  Will I only accept from Him what I deem to be good?
When I deeply think through the idea of declaring my circumstance to be bad, it seems incredibly arrogant.
How can I think that I know better than God what is good?  How am I more capable of naming something to be good than the One who is good?
Will I trust that God has a beautiful, amazing plan only when I can see the beauty of it?  Either God is God, and capable of having plans and reasons that I cannot comprehend, or He isn’t God, and I am silly for blaming a myth. There is not really any in-between place for the things with which I do not agree.
…if I go to Jesus, he’s not under my control either.  He lets things happen that I don’t understand. He doesn’t do things according to my plan, or in a way that makes sense to me.  But if Jesus is God, then he’s got to be great enough to have some reasons to let you go through things you can’t understand.  His power is unbounded, but so are his wisdom and love…He can love somebody and still let bad things happen to them, because he is God–because he knows better than they do.  If you have a God great enough and powerful enough to be mad at because he doesn’t stop your suffering, you also have a God who’s great enough and powerful enough to have reasons that you can’t understand.
King’s Cross by Timothy Keller
God is God, and since he is God, he is worthy of my worship and my service.  I will find rest nowhere else but in his will, and that will is necessarily infinitely, immeasurable, unspeakable beyond my largest notions of what he is up to. ~ Elisabeth Elliot
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can trust God, trust in His nature.
Of course he’s not safe.  Who said anything about being safe?  But he’s good.  He’s the king. ~ Mr. Beaver as told to C.S. Lewis in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
 Fiery Furnace
When faced with the fiery furnace, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego told King Nebuchadnezzar that
If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. ~ Daniel 3
When Job lost all of his children and all that he owned and was himself in great physical pain, he declared
Though he slay me, yet will I hope in Him. ~ Job 13.15
No matter what, I will praise God and offer Him my gratitude, my sacrifice of praise.
God tells us over and over in His word that He has a beautiful plan for humanity and creation as a whole.
And that he has a beautiful plan for each of our lives.
Sometimes I doubt this promise, this truth.
And then I look at Jesus, at His cross.
Bearing the Cross
I’ve been clinging to Romans 8.32 through all of this:
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
If God ever had to prove Himself, prove His love for us, prove that He is taking care of us, He has more than proved it all through the cross.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about Hezekiah.  In II Kings 20, he pleaded with God to “change his story”, to give him more life when God had told him (through Isaiah) that he was going to die.  God did change His mind that time, gave him fifteen more years of life.  And in that fifteen extra years, Hezekiah’s son Manasseh was born.  This son that wouldn’t have been born if Hezekiah hadn’t asked God to change the ending of his story ended up as king and “lead (Israel) astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites”. ~ II Kings 21.9
Our desired story ending versus God’s desired story ending.
Perhaps, just perhaps, God really does know best.  Perhaps He does know which story will bring about a beautiful, redeemed, transfigured people.
Light Shines Through
When through the deep waters I call you to go,
The rivers of woe shall not overflow;
For I will be with you, your troubles to bless,
And sanctify to you your deepest distress.
The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.
~ How Firm a Foundation, att. John Keith, 1787 (modernized)

credit for images: Lion photo, painting by Simeon SolomonCross photo

Momentary Peace

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I have recently been made aware of profound hurt in several people I know.
Current friends and old friends; my heart is aching deep.
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It’s a rough and troubled world we have, and at times the fight for peace and joy seems far out of reach.
The reconciliation between the love of the God Who came down and the hurt of the people for whom He died appears more like an intellectual exercise than a truth that sinks into the heart.
Then, if you keep your eyes open, something happens.
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Often it is a small something.
A ray of sunshine across the floor, making the wood glow with an inner light.
A robin comes close and looks you straight in the eye.
A neighbor brings over a plate of cookies, straight from the oven.
This God of ours is certainly capable of the big, the powerful, the miraculous.
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Yet often He shows up in the small, the ordinary, the whisper.
You can explain it away if you wish.
Or you can let it settle into your depths.
When you keep your eyes open, when you watch for the now rather than looking to the future or the past, God’s promised joy can slip in quietly,
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His assured peace can sustain moment by moment.
And perhaps that’s all we really need.
Peace and joy for this moment.

Art credit: all photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2018

A Prayer to the Light of the World

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My Lord, sometimes the words You speak seem cryptic.
You said that You are the light of the world.
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I don’t know what that means.
Does it mean that You show me the way to live or that You show me my sin?
Perhaps it means that You help me not to fall flat on my face as I stumble through life.
The king who fell flat on his face for a woman and yet still was Your king said that Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
O Word of God, show me the way I should walk and I will follow that path.
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Master, You said that whoever follows You will not walk in darkness.
This world is full of darkness. Sometimes it is hard to believe that You can keep all of it at bay.
Hard to believe, that is, with all of my heart.
The darkness feels so weighty. Perhaps if I could ever truly follow you I would find that all darkness had been banished to my peripheral vision.
O King, show me how to follow and I will not stray to the right or to the left.
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Giver, You said that whoever follows You will have the light of life.
I don’t know what that means.
If it is a gift from You, however, I know that I desperately desire to have it.
Your blessed brother said that through You the Father is able to keep me from stumbling and to present me blameless before the presence of God’s glory with great joy.
O Sacrifice, if this blessed assurance is what it means to follow You, my eyes will remain fixed.
O Light, if being the Light of the world means that I have a way to walk through life, that the darkness of this world is defeated, that I will make it safely to the end of all things in Your care,
follow the Light
I will step full into the Light and never again glance back into the shadows.
my Savior and my Lord.

A reflection on John 8.12

Art Credits: final photograph is by Kirk Sewell; all other photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2018

Less a Command than a Promise

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I keep coming back to the idea of trust these days.
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It is difficult to trust God in so many different areas sometimes.
We sing songs that speak things like take my life and let it be all for You and for Your glory. In a song I recently played at church, Grateful, there is a line that says, Whatever comes I won’t complain.
Do I really mean that?
Will I truly tell God that He can have my life for His glory? Am I able to tell God that He can give me cancer, take away my sight, or, as it says in Job, “stretch out (His) hand and strike (my) flesh and bones” if doing so will bring Him glory?
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Perhaps.
After all, this life is a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Of what importance is my body compared to my or anyone else’s soul?
strike my family
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What about my family?
They are just as much a part of my life as my physical body. Am I able to tell God that He can have my family, do to them what He wills, even take them away from me if doing so will bring Him glory?
This is much harder.
Could I say with Job, The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised?
Frightening questions.
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Yet why should I be afraid? Isn’t this the same God of Whom was said, “He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing”? Isn’t this the same God Who “did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?”
Yet it IS frightening. It is so difficult to truly and deeply trust God.
Yet one thing that I am learning is that when God gives commands, He also gives power.
Teresa of Avila
Teresa of Avila, a sixteenth century Carmelite nun, writes of when the Lord appeared to His disciples after the resurrection and said to them, “Peace be with you.” and she writes,
It has occurred to me that this salutation of the Lord must mean much more than the words suggest, as must also His telling the glorious Magdalen to go in peace; for the words of the Lord are like acts wrought in us.
When God commands us to be Holy as He is holy, when He commands us to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, when He commands us to trust in Him with all our heart,
it is less a command than a promise.
Frederick Buechner puts it this way:
The final secret, I think, is this: that the words ‘You shall love the Lord your God’ become in the end less a command than a promise.  And the promise is that, yes, on the weary feet of faith and the fragile wings of hope, we will come to love him at last as from the first he has loved us – loved us even in the wilderness, especially in the wilderness, because he has been in the wilderness with us.  He has been in the wilderness for us.
Because at its heart the gospel is about God moving toward us, doing for us what we are incapable of doing on our own.  
So trust God.
And when you can’t trust God, ask Him to carry you the rest of the way into the promise of that trust.
I think we will find that God has not only moved toward us but has lifted us up and carried us the rest of the way toward Himself, even in the middle of our fear and doubt.

Art Credits: Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Henryk Siemiradzki; Santa Teresa de Jesus by Alonso del Arco; all other photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2018

Learning from Elijah at the End of a School Year

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It is the end of the school year, and I find myself thinking about Elijah.
Elijah fights
After the fight with the prophets of Baal, after the flight from Jezebel, after his journey into the wilderness, Elijah was worn down physically, he was emotionally depleted, he was feeling inadequate to what God had asked of him.
He plopped down in a cave and moped.
This. This is what I want these days. To sit in a cave by myself (solitude is key) and mope.
God asks Elijah why he is sitting and sulking in a cave, and Elijah informs God of all that he has accomplished for Him, complains that he  is all alone in his fight, and is honest about his fear for his life.
This is my daily life, especially at the end of a school year.
I feel worn down physically by the demands of small children who depend on me for everything, from getting dressed to being educated to learning about God.
I am often emotionally depleted from pouring out myself for my family.
I feel completely inadequate to the task God has set before me of raising my children to honor Him.
I am lonely from being in a new town with the added difficulty of meeting people as a homeschooling mom.
Most days, I feel like a failure.
Elijah is fed
Before Elijah made it to his brooding cave, he collapsed under a broom tree where God met his needs.
An angel brought him food and drink and allowed him to rest, saying, “The journey is too great for you.”
Elijah rested and took in nourishment from God before he traveled to the mount of God.
I need to learn to depend on God for every single daily need, just as Elijah was forced to do under the broom tree.
God told him that the journey was too much for him and gave him food and rest.
God knows that I am inadequate for the job He has given me, and He has given me His Spirit, the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead, to provide everything I need for my mission.
Elijah was sustained by God. He did not make his journey in his own strength. I need to learn to do the same.
Elijah hears God
God also made it clear that He was still with Elijah. When the Lord passed by Elijah on the mount of God, God spoke to him in a still small voice rather than in the fire or the earthquake, perhaps to let Elijah know that He was near and close to him.
I desperately want my times with God to train me to listen to God’s still small voice so that, even in the midst of my weariness and loneliness I know beyond a doubt that He is with me.
That will be enough.

Art credits: Elijah kills the Ba’al priests, woodcut for “Die Bibel in Bildern” by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld; Elijah in the Wilderness, exterior of the Duomo in Milan by Yair Haklai; Elijah Cave inside Stella Maris Church in Haifa by Larry Koester

The Poison and Peace of Words

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Our words have power.
It was so from the beginning.
The Word
The Word spoke and it was done. The Word breathed and life was bestowed.
We are created and we have His image and like our Father, our words make things happen.
Just as His words go out and do not return empty, neither can we throw heedless words to the wind. Just as all He speaks has deliberation and purpose, so should we have careful thought bolstering what we say. So should we speak with wisdom, with peace.
The Word peace
Too often we talk, we rant, we fill up the air with our words. And our words are not of grace.
Poison
When we who pray the Lord’s Prayer also write ugly in online spaces, when we who sing of God’s love also snip at our family at home, when we who praise His servant-love also speak short and proud to those who serve us,
we pump poison into our world.
We forget that those on the receiving end of our arrows are just as beloved as we. When truth is forgotten, we who are called to reign and serve, to glorify and praise, we set the name of our King afire in the eyes of this world.
fire
Words exist for a different purpose.
God’s Word created man. He created man and then God’s Word became a man. He put on flesh and dwelt among us.
The Word flesh
The Word incarnate.
The Word came so that the incarnation can continue, so that our lives can become incarnate, the whole of life an incarnation of the Word.
The Word came to be wisdom and peace, and that is what we should speak into our world, with our mouths and with our lives, into this space we are given to influence.
The Word peace
So speak with wisdom and with peace rather than with poison and with fire.
the Word harvest
Our harvest of righteousness is waiting.

 

Art credits: Holy Night by Antonio da Correggio; Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Jan Vermeer; all other photos copyright by Made Sacred 2017

 

Today’s guest post is by Elizabeth Giger who writes weekly on her blog, Made Sacred (madesacred.com).