The Eighth Day

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It is finished.
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A cry in which is heard echoes from the beginning of time.
The cry of God on the cross is the same cry proclaimed at the end of creation.
The finished work of the old creation pushes toward the finished work of the new.
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John crafts his gospel with great care, word by word putting the story together.
How does he begin? In the beginning. A bold start, echoing the start of all things.
He weaves his signs of God’s glory throughout. Seven signs, of course.
On the sixth day, on a Friday, Pilate declares Behold the man.
The culmination of creation, the culmination of God’s created glory.
On the sixth day, on a Friday, God declared that it was finished.
On the seventh day, on a Saturday, on the Sabbath, God rested.
He rested from His work. He rested in the heavens and He rested in the tomb.
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And then?
What happens after the Sabbath?
On the first day of the week…early, while it was still dark…
The new creation begins.
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Just as new creation followed the original seventh day of rest, so does new creation follow God’s day of rest after the cross.
New creation on this earth, heaven breaking in to the old to bring God’s kingdom here and now.
God’s kingdom come, His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
It is the eighth day once again.
Rejoice and get to work.

Art credits: all photography is copyright Made Sacred 2017

Science as Worship

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The heavens declare the glory of God, and science explores His handiwork.
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Why are we, the Church, so afraid of science? Are we fearful that our God will turn out to be a sham?
I will always maintain that we have nothing to fear from science. If science is man’s way of figuring out our world, of using our God-given intellect and reason to understand the works of God, than we should be able to enjoy the breakthroughs of science rather than trembling every time a new discovery is made.
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After all, truth is truth. Truth cannot disprove truth. ~ Francis S. Collins, head of the Human Genome Project
When we attack the findings of science without fully understanding the facts, we bring ridicule on Christ’s Church, driving away those who are seeking His truth.
It happened before, between the Church and Galileo. I believe it is happening now, between the Church and Darwin.
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There is no real conflict between theistic religion and the scientific theory of evolution. What there is, instead, is conflict between theistic religion and a philosophical gloss or add-on to the scientific doctrine of evolution: the claim that evolution is undirected, unguided, or unorchestrated by God (or anyone else).  ~ Peters and Hewlett, Theological and Scientific Commentary on Darwin’s Origin of Species
Why does evolution threaten us so? It doesn’t say anything about what was before the Big Bang, whether anything set things in motion so as to produce our current existence, or of what value is our existence.
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What goodness or beauty is, why we are here, and what happens next are all questions for theologians, not scientists.
Why can we not follow the urging of Copernicus? To know the mighty works of God; to comprehend His wisdom and majesty and power; to appreciate, in degree, the wonderful working of His laws, surely all this must be a pleasing and acceptable mode of worship to the Most High, to whom ignorance cannot be more grateful than knowledge.
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Science can be worship.
Seeking to understand the stars and the oceans, attempting to comprehend the laws that govern our universe, yes, even the study of evolution, all of this can be worship.
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Science is moving forward. New breakthroughs are being made and people are deciding what to do with those discoveries.
The ethics of how to use such new findings will be debated with or without people of faith sitting at the table. We, the Church, have a responsibility to join in the conversation, to learn the facts and not get defensive about where those facts will lead.
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The need to succeed at (figuring out these ethics) is just one more compelling reason why the current battles between the scientific and spiritual worldviews need to be resolved – we desperately need both voices to be at the table, and not to be shouting at each other. ~ Francis S. Collins
So let’s stop shouting and begin talking. Please. For the sake of the Church. For the sake of us all.
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Note: I am not a scientist. I am not qualified to argue the specifics of whether or not evolution is true. Yet like it or not, evolution is now the accepted truth of how life came to be, and we must have a conversation about how to accept evolution within the Biblical worldview of our Christian faith, or to at least accept those Christians who do accept evolution as truth. Why? Two reasons: The first is that so many intelligent people are being driven away from Christ because we, the Church, continue to dismiss evolution out of hand, becoming defensive and angry whenever the topic is broached. The second is one I brought up at the end of this essay, the ethical issues that are here now and those that will be coming in the future. We must be present for both of these kinds of conversations. Our world needs us, as representatives of Christ, to be present, not fearful and defensive, for conversations about evolution. God can handle evolution. Evolution is not something to be feared but something to be thought about deeply, pondering how it could fit within our Biblical framework.
If you are truly interested in reading more about this topic from a Christian and scientific perspective, I highly recommend The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins. Collins is a committed Christian and a brilliant scientist. You may be familiar with his scientific work as the head of the Human Genome Project.
I understand that this can be an inflammatory topic. If you choose to comment, please keep your conversation seasoned with grace and, above all, love. Thank you, dear readers.

Art credit: all space photos are from NASA; all other photos are my own, copyright Elizabeth Giger, 2017

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Lift Up Your Head

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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

Love Through Trees

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I couldn’t live where there were no trees – something vital in me would starve. ~ Anne of Green Gables
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I love coming across new evidence of God’s love for us.
I have always loved trees, have always felt much like Anne did about living without them, but the most I’d really thought about them in terms of their relation to God is what an amazing job He did in creating them.
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I recently listened to an interview with a couple of artists on Mars Hill Audio Journal.  It was only a minute or two of the entire segment, but they mentioned that after the human face and figure, trees are the main focal point for artists. Whenever there is a tree in a painting, it automatically draws the eye to it.
Why is that true?  One of their hypotheses was that it has something to do with our deep subconscious knowing that we need trees to survive, our knowing that we depend upon trees for life.  I wonder, though, if it is even deeper than that.
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My mind is drawn to the tree that God chose as our point of obedience.  We chose foolishly and we disobeyed.
My mind is also drawn to the tree that God chose as our point of redemption.  He chose beautifully and we were saved.
God has chosen trees for great purposes.  Did He have those purposes in mind as He created trees?  I wonder.
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Trees are often used in God’s Word to show strength and constancy.  One of my favorites is the Psalm that says that a man who delights in and meditates on God’s law is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in season and whose leaves never wither.
I wonder.  And I imagine.
I can imagine that God knew that He would create Man to love images, to hunger after metaphors to help explain the unexplainable.
I can imagine that same God, before He ever spoke light into being, planning out His world to contain specific metaphors of meaning, just because He loves us.
I can imagine Him planning His trees to look a certain way, planning to use them in a particular manner, so that we would see them and draw meaning from them and be satisfied, just because He loves us.
Perhaps that is a stretch.  Perhaps it didn’t really happen that way.  But it seems like something that would be just like our God: to carefully plan out His creation in the way that would give His children the most joy.
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Wouldn’t that be just like Him?

Art credit: last photograph by Kirk Sewell (R K Sewell Photography)

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The Word

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.

 

In the beginning, God spoke.
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God spoke His Word and Word created.
God’s Word created sun and moon, trees and sea grass, sparrows and lions.
Nothing exists that was not created through Him.
In the beginning was the Word.
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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 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.

Word Incarnate

The Word taught us, He showed us how to love and how to live.
God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path while we live on this earth.
The Word came to be light, to shine in the darkness. To be the way so we can know how to go.
He spoke words for us to hear and was the Word for us to see. He was the words He spoke because we are simple and slow and need more than one way to comprehend.
Someday we will no longer need the sun for the Word will be our lamp in the new Jerusalem.
The Word will be our lamp and so we will know the way, will remain in the way.
The Word is light and the Word is love, and the Word shows us that love knows no bounds.
All while teaching by example, the Word gave Himself up for us.

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The Word gave Himself so that we can know love. The Word gave Himself so that we can be love.
The Word is in the beginning and the Word is in the end and the Word holds all the in-between together.
In Him is life.

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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.
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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.
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I want that.
Changing
Oh, how I desperately want that.
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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.
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From the moment we choose life in Jesus, we are changing.
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Little by little, day by day, the green of this world starts to fade.
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Little by little, choice by choice, the light of the life to come begins to shine.
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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.
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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.
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What are some of the lessons that Mother Nature is teaching you about our common Creator? She speaks loudly if we will only listen.
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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 Goodness of Creation

There is a sneaking suspicion that lurks in the back of most of our minds.
A suspicion that colors the way we look at ourselves as well as the world around us.
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It is the suspicion that sin has completely undone the goodness of Creation.
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It is the suspicion that sin has broken our world and our bodies so thoroughly that there is nothing left to it but the ugly.
And if we view Creation through these dark lenses, we will treat it with contempt and shame. Even more, we will increasingly view the world, including our own bodies, as though they have nothing at all to do with God.
We will fall in line with our culture’s idea that we can live perfectly well in this world without ever thinking about how to consider with our lives the glorious reality of God’s Creation.
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Without beginning our salvation story with Creation itself, without including in the gospel the amazingness of God-in-flesh, we are left with a hollow salvation, one that does the bare minimum to get us through the gates rather than one that accomplishes abundance upon abundance of redemption.
When God the Son died and resurrected, He redeemed not just our souls, but our physical bodies and the entire material world around us as well.
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The stuff of creation is what God the Son redeems through his becoming flesh, bearing our sin, enduring death, and rising to life. When we have a truncated doctrine of creation, we have a truncated understanding of salvation. ~ Jonathan Wilson, theologian and author of God’s Good World
Romans 8 speaks of creation in the same terms it uses to speak of men. It speaks of creation as waiting to be redeemed, as yearning to be set free from bondage, as groaning as it waits in the exact same way that we groan as we wait for our own redemption.
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We groan indeed. We groan as we labor through the pain of childbirth, we groan as we struggle to live life well and fail over and over to obey, we groan as we age and approach death.
We are a part of Creation and we groan and wait and hope right along with all of this material world for the return of Christ and for the redemption and perfection of all that we know.
And we would be a bit more successful in living our lives more beautifully if we would continue to consider the ways in which Creation should guide us toward or away from different patterns of life.
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The glories of Creation and the ways in which God continues to interact with Creation have the possibility of helping us to understand how a “well-ordered life in the body presents opportunities for glorifying God and enjoying Him forever by participating more fully in the glorious giftedness of Creation”. (Ken Meyers of Mars Hill Audio Journal)
There is not room in a blog to explore such huge ideas in any depth at all. I only hope to spur on thought and seeking and exploring. Share with me what God shows you?

Art credit: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise by Benjamin West

Embodied Souls

What does it mean to be human?
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It is a question asked by many.  Perhaps asked by all in the way that they live and learn if not with words from the mouth.
It is a question that was recently asked by the Chairman of the National Endowment of the Humanities, William “Bro” Adams. He is exploring how the study of the humanities can answer questions about life, how we should live, and the values by which we should live.
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Adams desires for us as a nation to explore how the study of philosophy and humanities can help us to understand what it means to be human.
There is nothing new in this. Throughout the ages philosophers and psychologists alike have tried to figure out what it means to be human, what a human really is. They have laid out theory after theory, description after description about humanity.
We as Christians and theologians then take those theories and descriptions and use them to figure out Christ’s humanity. Hear that again: we use our own selves to figure out the piece of Jesus that is human.
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Does that seem backward to anyone else?
Karl Barth, one of the great theologians of the twentieth century, wondered how we could possibly know what it means to be human if all we know about being human comes from a messed up, broken state of humanity due to our unnatural state of sin. Christ’s humanity therefore shows us what it means to be human rather than the other way around.
Jesus was an embodied soul, an ensouled body, to use a phrase from Karl Barth. For Jesus, being human was always being a soul and a body. Even after the resurrection He made it a point to eat and drink to show us that even after our own resurrection we will still be embodied souls.
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We have always been body and soul, and of a finite nature. Before The Fall, we were finite in body and soul but were allowed to continue living by way of the Tree of Life. When Adam and Eve sinned, we were still finite, still formed from the dust of the earth, but now we were subject to death and decay because we were cut off from the Tree of Life.
Then the LORD God said, “…Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever –” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden…
Our bodies are part of what constitutes our identity, as important as our thoughts, our feelings, our will.
Is this important? Does it really matter whether we view our bodies as important or as inconvenient?
This is where this post could grow to become book-long, but I will try to only brush up against potential ramifications rather than expanding on each one.
If our bodies are just as important as our souls, then we should spend time caring for our bodies in our daily lives. We should take the time to think about how we care for our babies’ bodies even while in the womb and whether things such as prenatal testing is more helpful or harmful in this regard. We should take the time to consider the end of life and how much should be done to keep our bodies alive.
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The idea that our bodies matter a great deal affects the ethics of medicine, of medical research and technology. If we begin to think of our bodies as unimportant or, worse, as impediments to a good life, then our decision making about the health of those bodies begins to become skewed.
It is as important to the decisions we make every day as it is to the decisions that we will make at the end of our lives or at the beginning of our children’s lives.
Perhaps thinking deeply about what it means to be human, about the nature of our own selves, about the importance of our souls and our bodies, is something that is too important to be left to philosophers and psychologists alone.
Perhaps it is something that is meant to be pondered by all of us.
Pondered and prayed over.

Art credits: Nativity by Antonio da Correggio; Supper at Emmaus by Michelangelo da Caravaggio

Outside the World

Outside
We stand outside the world.
We dance and dream and die, and through it all we long.
We long for something else, for something more.  We long for something bigger, for something more real.
Some understand what they long for and others do not.  We long for what is true.  We long for a world that is fully real.
We catch breaths of the morning air, fresh and clean and pure.  We catch glimpses of the morning light, startling and bright and glorious.
Yet we stand outside the world and these hints of morning air do not change us.  We do not become pure or glorious.
We stand outside the world and we hear a Word.  We hear a Word that spreads a rumor.
It is a rumor that this shall not always be so.  It is a rumor that one day we will be allowed to walk through the door and stand on the right side.  On the inside.
It is a rumor that one day we will finally be changed by the Morning.  Through the Morning Star we will become pure and clean, bright and glorious.
We will be as we were made.  We will become as we are remade.  Remade into the very image of the Word.
And by moving through the Word we will be allowed to stand.  To stand in desperate gratitude.  To stand covered in another’s glory.
We will dance and we will dream, but we will not die.
We will stand inside the world.

Junky Art

We love a God of beauty.
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We worship a God of art, of music, of literature.
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We serve a God of perfection.
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We adore a God Who gives us only His best.
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Why, oh why, then do we consistently offer Him art that is, to put it bluntly, junk?
Why do we think that music that is dull and overly simple is what is best for inspiring our hearts to worship?  Why do we think that literature that is bland and is bad storytelling will turn our minds toward thoughts of God?  Why do we think that art that is commercialized and overly sentimental will cause our imaginations to soar to the heavens?
Perhaps this is harsh.  I will fully admit that there are artists (in the full sense of the word) out there who inspire awe in the hearts of all those who come across it.  But this is not the norm.  Not anymore, that is.
It used to be that Christians artists were at the top of their craft.  They were respected and admired throughout the world.  Think Bach.  Think Correggio.  Think Milton and Tolstoy.
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It is not this way anymore.  The secular world no longer looks up to Christian art to lead the way.  Instead it sneers at Christian art and views it as subpar, something to be shunned rather than something to inspire.
To paraphrase James: my brothers, this should not be!  The lack of excellence in our art indicates to the world that we serve a God who is less than excellent.
Much so-called religious art is in fact bad art, and therefore bad religion. ~ Madeleine L’Engle
Oh, we could do so much better.  We could open ourselves up to the power of the Holy Spirit rather than to the power of the market.
Fellow artists, let God inspire you.  Open yourself to that which you cannot control.  Ignore the sale; ignore what you think people want.  Listen instead to the Spirit.  Listen to what God is showing you through your work: “my proper place is as a servant struggling to be faithful to the work, the work which slowly and gently tries to teach me some of what it knows.” (L’Engle)
Let your art sing.  Let it soar.
Those who are not artists, be discerning.  If it is good art, if it inspires you and sets your imagination soaring toward God, then support it.  If it is bad art, don’t support and sustain it simply because it involved the name or image of Christ.
I know that my words do not reach many, but I dream of a day when those who claim to follow a God of beauty and excellence are once again those who  produce that art which leads the entire world in soaring to the heights, are once again those who produce the art which therefore points the way to God.