The Girl Whom Jesus Loved

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.

 

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

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

Lift Up Your Head

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. If you choose to listen, be sure to also scroll through the photos while listening…the photos are the main point of today’s post.

 

The deep darkness in this world can sometimes weigh our heads down. Our eyes remain fixed on our next step, our minds focused on not stumbling, not falling flat on our faces.
It is easy to become mired in the muck of a broken world. We struggle and strive, our backs bent under the bulk of all that is upon us.
Yet God is here.
Right here.
Closer than your breath.
The evidence is all around you. So lift up your head just for a moment.
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You who are bowed down with physical pain, lift up your head.
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You who dwell under the weight of loneliness or depression, lift up your head.
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You who are crushed by a grief that prevents you from even getting out of bed in the morning, lift up your head.
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You who are burdened by the venom between fellow countrymen and fellow Christ followers, lift up your head.
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You who plead with God to do something, to rescue you, to save you, for God’s sake doesn’t He even care,
lift up your head.
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Lift up your head and take a breath of wonder. He is all around you. This beauty is for you.
It doesn’t fully dispel the darkness, at least not yet, but it will give you the strength to keep shining your own light for another day.
And that’s all you need. Just one more day.
Lift up your head.

Art credits: Mountain photos and tulip photo by Kirk Sewell; Space photos by NASAElk photo by Kevin Tuck; Elephant photo by Stella Bogdanic; all other photos are mine

Layers of Meaning in Scripture

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.

 

I am often astonished at the beauty of Scripture.
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Not only astonished at the beauty of individual books or passages, although that happens too.
What often takes me aback is the elegance of how the entire Bible fits seamlessly together, flowing in and out of itself like a river flowing into the sea.
The Old Testament points toward the New Testament, while the New Testament points back to the Old as well as forward into the future.
There are layers of meaning to everything – the personal inside the theological inside the historical – and every layer is truth.
Everything that Jesus said and did points back to what God did for Israel and forward to what He was going to do for all the nations.
Exquisite.
Beauty
Look at the Crucifixion.
It was certainly historical and political. It happened to one man in one place on earth at one particular time, a man caught between two powers struggling for supremacy.
It was theological. When Jesus died, He took upon Himself the sins of the world to atone for them once and for all.
It was personal. Jesus paying the penalty for your own sins is about as personal as it can get.
Light
Look at the meeting between Jesus and the disciples after the resurrection. The one after the disciples had been out fishing and Jesus called them to shore for breakfast.
Jesus spoke to Peter and told him, If you love Me, then feed My sheep. That is a very personal calling.
A calling which is nestled inside of the layer of Jesus as the Passover Lamb and all of the theological meanings implied therein.
The theological meanings that are nestled inside the first Passover and Israel overthrowing Egypt in their escape through the Red Sea and all the historical and political pieces of those events.
Personal meaning burrowed inside theological meaning burrowed inside historical meaning.
Truth
You see? Go look for it. Find it everywhere and be astonished.
See the Word as beautiful.

Taking Time

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I’ve written before in this space about the beauty and goodness of time.
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I’ve written about this time we are in now, the thousands of years between creation and restoration, and how the delay of Christ’s coming is a gift to us.
I’ve written of the idea that it is not a failing of the created world that it reaches its fulfillment only through time. This is part of the way God made things. The created world takes time to be what it is. ~ Jeremy Begbie, Resounding Truth
Sometimes, though, it is easier for me to accept this idea in the abstract than it is to accept it in my own little life.
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It is easier to be okay with Christ’s delay in returning, because that feels a long way off anyway, than it is to be okay with a delay in God fulfilling a dream that I think is His will for my life.
I feel sure that I am not alone.
We think that if God wants us to do something, to accomplish some purpose, then it should happen now. Or at least within a year or two. If it doesn’t happen quickly, perhaps it really wasn’t God’s will.
I am certainly guilty of this thinking. I dream of writing in a way that changes hearts for God. I dream of articles and books, of ministry that is a part of the story of God’s kingdom.
When I get yet another rejection, I wonder if perhaps I was mistaken. Perhaps God does not want to use my writing after all.
I forget.
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I forget about Joseph who spent thirteen years in slavery before becoming second to Pharaoh. I forget that it took Moses forty years to get from the burning bush to Canaan. (Yes, I know he didn’t actually make it to Canaan, but that’s another story for another essay.) I forget that David waited over twenty years from when Samuel anointed him as king before he actually became king over all of Israel.
Like many of you, I forget that part of fulfilling God’s purpose means delay. It takes time to become what God created us to be.
Would Joseph or Moses or David have been the leaders they were without the waiting? Would they have been able to live out God’s story and lead His people without the process that shaped them into those very leaders?
No.
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And neither can we do anything within God’s story without allowing Him the time to change our hearts into the beauty He intended.
Whether it takes thirteen years or forty, we must accept where we are now, we must be faithful and obedient now, trusting that waiting is not bad, that delay is not ugly.
Growing into our role in God’s story takes time, so rather than chafing as though it were a setback, let Him use that time to make you into who He created you to be.
It will be beautiful, I promise.

Art credit: World Time by rizeli53; Ornate Clock by Kevin Tuck; Just In Time by Adrian van Leen; Clock Tower by Miriam Wickett

There Is Good News

Sometimes I am weary of this world.
Wearied
Often I adore this crazy beauty that surrounds us. There is much to love, much to be grateful for.
Every once in a while, however, the brokenness of it all begins to weigh heavy on me.
Broken
My former pastor shares that he has cancer.
Blood work comes back and tells me I must take my daughter to a specialist.
The vitriol in the politics on my Facebook makes me just close my eyes.
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There are no easy answers. For all of its goodness, the fact remains that we have sinned and thus infused our world with darkness.
Darkness
The ugliness we see around us is here until Jesus returns.
The good news for right now?
He is here in the meantime.
God came down to live this same life in the midst of the brokenness.
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God died on a cross so that we can be with Him now through forever, so that we can be part of Him making the ugly beautiful again.
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God stayed here with us, to walk with us through the darkness. More than that, to be light inside of us that cannot be overcome by the darkness.
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So as I feel the heaviness press down, I don’t try to escape the hurt of this world.
Rather, I try to lean into it as God did, knowing that He is working through me to heal.
Healed
Knowing that in the end He will heal it all perfectly.
And all that will remain will be 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: The Holy Night by Correggio; photo of Christ on the Cross statue by Asta Rastauskiene; Pentecost by Mildorfer

He Has Made Promises

I lost a friend this week.
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Jenna After Prom
In high school, she was one of my best friends. We played and sang together. We did show choir and musicals together. We volunteered together. We even had secret names for each other. (Yes, we still did that in high school. We were nerds.) I got to be a part of her life when she was baptized. We lost touch over the years, but I still loved her.
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I’ve lost three friends over the past year and a half. This weighs heavy on me.
There is nothing that makes this okay. Jesus Himself wept at the death of His friend.
Death and pain, sorrow and grief. These are not how life was created to be.
There is nothing that makes this okay. Only one thing makes this bearable.
Our God.
He has made promises to us that He will make it turn out all right in the end. He has made promises to us that when we see Him face to face, all the horror that came before will seem as insubstantial as a morning mist blown away by the rising sun. He has made promises to us that He will remain with us and in us until that beautiful day arrives.
How do I know He will keep His promises?
I know because God loves us enough to put on skin and come down to live with us, to suffer for us, to die for us. I know because God has enough power to rise from the dead and conquer death for all time.
He loves us enough and He has power enough.
I don’t know why God didn’t put it all right from the beginning. I don’t begin to understand why He places so much importance on human freedom of choice or why our sin and redemption are so closely intertwined with creation itself.
But I know He keeps His promises and I know that His promises are beautiful beyond imagining.
And for that I will trust Him.
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This one’s for you, Jenna. Until we meet again.

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.

 

Surrounding Ourselves with Quality

I have inadvertently begun a small series on faith and the arts. I think that this will be the last essay in the series. Of course, I didn’t think that there was going to be any series at all. So, we’ll see. If you missed the first two, I would love for you to read about how ethics helps us live like a great jazz pianist and about some of the things that music teaches us about God. Today I’m moving away from music and toward the visual arts. Specifically, architecture.

 

 

If you would like 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.
Are facts and logic the only things that point toward truth, or can beauty and good artistry move you toward the same truth?
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Does what you surround yourself with eventually affect your character, moving you closer to or farther from godliness?
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Brent Hull, author of Building a Timeless House in an Instant Age, believes so. Hull is a master house builder, trained in the art of historic design and museum quality preservation. He believes that the home you build communicates something about who you are.
The reason we study the pyramids in Egypt is that they tell us about Egyptians, leading us to an understanding of what they believed, what they valued, how they lived…The process of homebuilding has been so commoditized that we don’t recognize the fact that our choices reflect our values…The decisions we make for our homes weave a tale of our character, value, history, and heart. What happens when we examine our homes and lives with the same lens of discovery we place on the Egyptian pyramids? What do our homes say about us?
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Regardless of the kind of task that is currently in your focus, is your aim to create beauty or is it on the bottom line? Are you more concerned with creating something timeless or with getting the most for your dollar? Are you dishonest about what impression you present to the world while being content on the inside with cheap imitations?
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These are weighty questions, questions that contain ideas that relate to more than just house building.
I don’t plan to build a house any time soon, but even as I furnish and change the inside of my home, what am I teaching my children? Am I teaching them that craftsmanship and quality furnishings that take time to create or to save up for are worthwhile or am I teaching them that it is better to buy cheap things that will soon break just so that I can gather more stuff?
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As I create our home, whether I’m building something or just purchasing a sofa, how can I communicate the values of honesty, integrity, strength, and wisdom to my children?
This is something I’ve pondered before in a broader sense, wondering what has happened in the Christian art world to the quality of our art. If God is creator and if beauty points back to Him, then Christians should be leading the world in the quality of our music, our literature, our visual arts, and yes, our homes as well.
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Why would you build an ugly home?
Hull writes that many authors from the Renaissance through the early 1900s wrote about character in buildings. The character of buildings and the character of community were thought to be closely tied together. Build honest homes and you will get honest citizens.
Don’t I want my children to chase quality rather than chasing price?
Emphatically yes.
And if the home is the place where we spend the most time, the place we want our children to return to, the place that is meant to be a safe haven from the world, then home is the place where we should put beauty and quality above all else.
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Dome St Peters
To build a timeless house today, we need to desire beauty over cost. We need to wonder if building cheap houses doesn’t cause us to become a cheap culture. Now is the time to examine ourselves, our motives, and our hearts. When we do, the rewards are immense; high quality and meaningful design in our homes are but two of the many benefits. They endure even after we are gone. They enrich our lives for generations. ~ Brent Hull, Building A Timeless House in an Instant Age
May we, in all that we do, seek to enrich lives for generations.

Art credit: all photos of cathedrals by Kirk Sewell of R.K. Sewell Photography; Adoration of the Shepherds painting by Charles LeBrun

God in Music

(I’m trying something new this week. If you would like to hear me read my blog post aloud, just click the play button. Let me know in the comments if you’d like me to do more of this!)  (If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.)

 

God is a creator.
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It is the first thing we learn about Him. In the beginning, God created.
Perhaps it is because I am an artist myself, but I like to think that this is important. That God-as-creator being the first thing He tells us about Himself is a clue to His character, to what He deems is significant.
Creator God placed art in a position of great importance because it reminds us of the glory that once was and the glory that will be again.
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I don’t know much about the visual arts or about theater or dance.  Music, however, is an art that I know quite intimately, and I love the insights it gives us into the nature and character of God.
For example, music helps us to understand time. It shows us that the present is what is most important. Music only truly exists in the present. Music in the future is just a possibility, just a plan. Music in the past is done, it cannot be heard again. Music in the present? Beauty. Only as it passes that razor edge moment of the present time can it be heard and appreciated.
Music also shows us that taking time to accomplish something can be good. More than good, it can be amazing. We often chafe against the delay between creation and restoration. We want God to come now, for Him to make everything perfect immediately. Yet when we listen to a Beethoven symphony, we are drawn into more than an hour of experiencing the music unfold and are astounded at the way it all fits together to create the final chords. No one would be impatient for that hour to pass just to reach the end. We savor that hour of music and that hour of music makes the ending all the more stunning.
As we experience the music’s dark shadows and turns, we allow ourselves to be led far more profoundly into the story’s sense and power. Music is remarkably instructive here, because more than any other art form, it teaches us how not to rush over tension, how to find joy and fulfillment through a temporal movement that includes struggles, clashes and fractures. ~ Jeremy Begbie in Resounding Truth
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Music give us insight into understanding the trinity. Three-in-one is beyond the grasp of comprehension, yet God gave us music to help. If I play one note on the piano, it fills up all available aural space. There are no gaps. If I play a three-note chord on the piano, all three notes still fill up all the same available aural space, yet all three notes also sound their distinctive pitch. More than that, it is not a particular chord unless all three notes are played together.
The notes interpenetrate, occupy the same heard space, but I can hear them as (three) notes…What could be more apt than to speak of the Trinity as a three-note chord, a resonance of life; Father, Son, and Spirit mutually indwelling, without mutual exclusion, and yet without merger, each occupying the same space, ‘sounding through’ one another, yet irreducibly distinct, reciprocally enhancing, and establishing one another as one another? ~ Jeremy Begbie in Resounding Truth 
There are many other ways that God uses music to teach us about Himself, to give us wisdom to understand Him more. What are some that you have thought of?
It leaves me awestruck with gratitude. I am grateful beyond measure that He gives us something so beautiful as a way of revealing Himself.
You artists who practice other genres of art, what theology do you find in your particular art form? What about those of you who are non-practicing art lovers? Do you see God in any particular form of art?

Art credit: Thanks to NASA for sharing such magnificent photographs of the mysteries of space.

The Brilliant Colors of Jesus

Autumn is my favorite time of year.
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The cool, crisp air striking your skin, the blazing bonfire scent filling you up with every breath, the crunch of leaves underfoot. Most of all, the leaves. The dazzling display of fiery colors that fill your sight in every direction.
Dazzling
Those radiant colors that inspire poetry and art are, I recently discovered (or perhaps rediscovered as I feel sure I probably learned this at one time during my elementary school career), actually the true colors of the leaves. The green that we see for most of the year, the green that fills up our springtime and summer, is just the tree-feeding chlorophyll covering up the brightness. It is not until the tree is no longer making food, not until the leaves are beginning to die, that their true colors blaze out.
Green
I want that.
Changing
Oh, how I desperately want that.
Becoming
As I age, as my body moves closer to death, I want for the colors of this life to begin to fade away and the colors of Jesus in me to blaze out.
Beginning
From the moment we choose life in Jesus, we are changing.
Fading
Little by little, day by day, the green of this world starts to fade.
Shining
Little by little, choice by choice, the light of the life to come begins to shine.
Light
The older I become, the more I want people to look at me and see Jesus. I want the colors of me, the colors of my natural self, to fade away. I want the brilliance of Jesus to take over.
Brilliance
At the end of my life, my body will be bent and wrinkled, dry and withered. My prayer is that by then my own self will be so one with Christ that when people look into my eyes, they are taken aback with the dazzling display of Jesus that fills their sight.
Dazzling
What are some of the lessons that Mother Nature is teaching you about our common Creator? She speaks loudly if we will only listen.
Beauty
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Nature
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. ~ Romans 1.20

The First Few Months

These first few months are really hard.
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Sleepless nights, hours of crying, lives revolving around nursing and napping, siblings who are desperate for attention…even the bad kind.
These first few months are really beautiful.
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Adored
Baby weight snuggled on your chest, satin soft skin wrapped in blankets, warm breath from tented mouth on your cheek, siblings huddled around in adoration.
There is much that is difficult and frustrating, bringing tears and even depression.
And.
There is an obvious beauty, a very clear purpose and reason to the difficulty.
Purpose
It makes me wonder whether this is the way God sees what we call ugly. Whether He can see the obvious beauty, the very clear purpose to the very hard things in life.
Perhaps we struggle only because we feel the sleepless nights and cannot yet see the first toothless smile.
Perhaps we would find more joy in our ugly places if we would trust that God has beauty planned ahead.
Perhaps we would find more peace if we would trust that God can turn even the hardest bits of life into a reason that is adored.
Adored
Even if that reason is not discovered this side of death.
Think of those first few months…
Hope
and hope.