The Implications of a Created Order

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There is a created order.
order to nature
order to family
order to government
order to food
There is an outward created order. This is what scientists attempt to discover.
There is an inward created order. This is what poets attempt to discover.
The truth of this created order is what we Christ followers attempt to discover.
discovering the created order
If it is true that there is a created order to everything (and I do believe that this is indeed what Scripture indicates), then the way we think about everything matters.
Every aspect of the way we live matters.
There is no separation between God and work or family or government or health or…
anything.
If there is a created order then there are implications for all spheres of life.
order to home
order to agriculture
order to family
There is a way we were meant to consume food and material things.
There is a way we were meant to grow crops and tend animals.
There is a way we were meant to shepherd our imaginations and order our emotions.
If there is a created order then we should be seeking the truth of how we should follow that order in more areas than simply our churches and our private worship.
order to home
order to study
order to the earth
We should be seeking to know and have the mind of Christ, to see all things through Christ’s eyes.
Living a cruciform life involves all the nooks and crannies of our lives.
order to music
order to art
order to chores and service
order to nature
order to death
order to neighborhoods
order to government
order to food
This takes a great bending of our wills.
It is a bending that I, admittedly, am not ready to undertake in all of my crevices.
I think it is worth contemplating, however.
Perhaps the contemplation is the precursor to the work of bending my will so that I am able to live out this created order in all things.
This beautiful, created order.

Creation and Life from Silence

I apologize for being absent last week. Perhaps none of you even noticed, but in the six years of writing in this space I have missed posting only a handful of times as I want to be faithful to what God has asked of me. I was sick almost the whole week, and am grateful to be (almost) well and writing 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.

 

We are surrounded by words.
words

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Buy me! Eat me! Need me! Love me!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In our ears and in our eyes, in our hearts and in our minds, words penetrate us every where and every time.
power
Words are losing their power.
Words are losing their meaning.
Word
In the beginning and out of the silence God spoke.
God’s words had power. Power to create.
God’s words brought (and bring) life.
silence
Our words used to have the same power.
We had the power to create beauty and joy and peace, to bring life to others.
When we only speak out of noise, only bring words out of other words, our own words lose their life-giving power.
Only from the silence can we speak words of creation.
Only from the silence in which we have listened to the Word can we speak words of life.
The Word of God is born out of the eternal silence of God, and it is to this Word out of silence that we want to be witnesses. ~ Henri Nouwen
We must find regular times of silent listening. We must be quicker to listen and slower to speak when out in the world of words.
listen
When we pour out words, our words lose their power.
When we Christ-followers pour out words, the Word in us loses His power to create life through us.
I don’t understand why He allows His power to depend on these weak vessels, but He does.
silent
Words people speak have dynamite in them and a word may be all it takes to set somebody’s heart on fire or break it in two. ~ Frederick Buechner
Practice silence.
Practice regular times of going away to be silent before God. Practice being silent when surrounded by others.
Be silent.
From your silence the Word of life will speak, bringing life to yourself and to others.
Wait in silence.
For God alone my soul waits in silence; from Him comes my salvation.

Art credits: Times Square photograph by Daniel Wildman; billboard photographs by Jay Simmons; street signs photograph by Michal Zacharzewski; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2018

Trusting the Spring

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Here in the Midwest, the calendar declares it to be spring several weeks before it actually appears to be spring.

snow on flowers

It is not unheard of to still be shoveling snow in April.
It is sometimes difficult to trust the calendar more than what my own experience is telling me.

snow flowers

Last year was a hard year.
Nothing major happened, simply quite a few little frustrations and disappointments.
No victories to speak of.
Discouraged
Frustrated
Perhaps you had a similar sort of year.
The sort of year when you feel as though you have made no progress toward becoming like Jesus,
the sort of year when you missed out on what you had hoped for,
the sort of year when the people around you seem to be moving away from what you dream for them.
A hard year.
Hard Year
A dear friend recently pointed out to me that throughout this hard year I kept showing up.
I kept trying to obey even though I thought I was failing.
And God was pleased.
I have to keep reminding myself of that. God is pleased when we keep walking with Him, even when we feel as though we are walking backwards sometimes.
God doesn’t need us to obey perfectly.
He wants our obedience more than our strength.
“I think of what the Desert Fathers said of the spiritual life. We are always beginners. We fall and we rise, we fall and we rise. (Continuing in the spiritual life) means continuing to show up for life – even when we’d rather not, even when we think we can’t.” ~ Judith Valente in Atchison Blue
This life is a struggle, and the spiritual life even more so. We must live a cruciform life in order to become like Christ.
cruciform life
God has promised that He will transform us into the likeness of Jesus. We can trust Him to keep that promise.
We can trust Him to keep that promise even when all that we are experiencing tells us that we are farther than ever from any resemblance to His Son,
just as we in the Midwest can trust that spring is truly here even when all that we experience tells us that winter is here to stay.
trust the spring
So for all who have had a hard year, just keep showing up.
We rise and we fall, we rise and we fall.
And someday we will rise never to fall again. We will be like Him for we shall see Him as He is.
spring will come
He promised.

Art credits: photograph of tulips in snow by Gavin Spencer; photograph of crocuses in snow by Traute Klasser; photograph of Christ Carrying the Cross statue by Asta Kr; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2018.

Abiding in our Daily Lives Part Two

If you missed my introduction to practicing the Spiritual Disciplines or part one of using the Spiritual Disciplines to help us abide with Christ in our everyday lives, you can click on the links to read or listen to those.
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One example of using the Holy Habits to remain mindful of God throughout our days, even in the most mindless of chores, comes from the writings of Brother Lawrence.
Brother_Lawrence_in_the_kitchen
Many have found wisdom in the actions and words of the seventeenth century monk.  Brother Lawrence wasn’t the most important monk in the monastery; on the contrary, he was the dishwasher.
This dishwasher for an entire monastery certainly knew how commonplace and uninteresting such tasks could be, yet his thoughts and writings about living in the presence of God at all times, even while washing dishes, influenced many around him and have continued to influence Christ-followers to this day. 
For Brother Lawrence, standing at the kitchen sink was as sacred as kneeling at the altar.  Both were opportunities to commune with Christ in an uninterrupted fellowship, both brought him a flow of peace as ceaseless as a river.
The time of business does not differ with me from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great  tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament. ~ Practicing the Presence of God
In the same passage from the gospel of John in which Jesus speaks of abiding in Him, He reminds us that apart from Me you can do nothing. Whether you are able to find large spaces of time in which to practice these Habits regularly or whether you simply wrap your day in them through small ways, God the Holy Spirit uses this regular abiding in Him to increase our dependence on Him.
abide in Him
They force us to rely on God to provide for this day only.
God transforms us in the now, through the present moment, and this sacred routine keeps us rooted in this present moment when we mostly desire either to dwell in the past or fret about the future.
Thomas Moore spoke of the sacredness of this routine when he said that “the ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest.”  
daily life
daily routine
Frederick Buechner also spoke of ordinary life as a fathomless mystery.  He admonishes us to listen to the ordinary, everyday life and see it for what it truly is:
In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.
When we find our way to the holy and hidden heart of our daily routine, we find that Jesus truly is before all things, that Christianity is not compartmentalized and relegated to a few hours on Sunday.  Our Christian faith is a way of life.  It is a way of doing life, a way of living life in relationship to the One who is the way, the truth, and the life.
Caravaggio
God asks not for a few hours on Sunday.  He asks not even for a few moments each day.  He is Lord and He demands nothing less than all of us.  It seems arduous, yet He promises that His burden is light and so we find, after all, that our greatest joy and our deepest peace is found on those days during which we are most successful in inviting Him into every moment of our day.
We find, too, that His command to abide in Him is, in the end, a promise. A promise that one day we will be fully His, transformed to be fully like Him, and we cooperate with this transformation as we do the things that Jesus did, watching to see what His habits and practices were and imitating them.
abide in Christ
Christ is before all things, even toilets, and in Him all things hold together.  All things were created by Him and for Him. If all things are created, then all things are sacred and can be used by God to awaken us to His presence and to transform us into His likeness.

Art credit: Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2017

Abiding in our Daily Lives

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

Art credits: All photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2017

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The Importance of Abiding

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

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

Living on Isaac’s Altar

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

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

Sojourners Together

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

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

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

 

When You’ve had a Rough Week

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

Choosing the Given

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

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

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