Too Slow, Too Common

Slow.
Discipline.
Cultivation.
Practice.
slow
These are not popular ideas these days.
We prefer glitz and glamour, look for fast-paced action, demand instant results.
glitz
We are impatient of slow, meandering ways of reaching goals.
This is what we have been taught as we live in this technological age: this dismissal of slow as substandard, this elevation of streamlined over satisfying.
We want to rush through everything in order to cram in more. We strive to find the most efficient ways of reaching our goals so we can stretch ourselves toward newer, better achievements.
We want to do more, have more, be more.
There is much that is lost when we fall into this way of reaching career, parenting, or personal goals.
discipline
Everything is lost when applying these technological methods to our relationship with God.
We read our chapter of Scripture, have our devotion, talk at God for a moment or two, then rush off to the rest of our day, wondering all the while why we feel such deep emptiness inside.
We try to fill that emptiness with more worship music, more religious podcasts, more sermons, yet none of this will make up for what we have lost.
What can bring us back?
cultivation
That which we have rejected:
slow and steady,
being disciplined over a period of decades,
a long cultivation of spiritual habits,
practice and more practice and yet more practice.
The idea of cultivation and exercise, so dear to the saints of old, has now no place in our total religious picture. It is too slow, too common. ~ A. W. Tozer
Spiritual practices such as silence and solitude, lectio divina, contemplation, self-examination and confession – these are the slow habits that bring us into a deep, abiding relationship with God.
We are called to abide with Christ, and abiding is necessarily a long and slow process, one that takes place by degrees over many decades.
practice
If you are wondering where God is, perhaps you need to slow down, make time.
He is here. He is always here. We do not often perceive him, but he is always here.
Perceiving takes time. It is a sacrifice of time to be sure. I won’t pretend that it is easy to move against the flow of our age.
Yet for me, at least, I want this awareness more than I want the illusive rewards of hurry and instant.
I am trying. I fail often. The process is so much slower than I would prefer.
slow
Slow as it may be, I begin to notice progress. I begin to notice God.
It is for increasing degrees of awareness that we pray, for a more perfect consciousness of the divine Presence…He is nearer than our own soul. ~ A. W. Tozer
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 Want My True Colors To Be Brilliant

Autumn is my favorite time of year.
Autumn
Colors
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
Creation
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
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.

All photographs copyright Made Sacred 2020

Offering My Incompetent Fish

I feel incompetent in a lot of ways these days.
So much feels so new.
So different.
So…strange.
masks
Whether you are learning how to work from home, work with protective gear, or find work when your industry has collapsed,
whether you are learning how to help your children learn from home, learn online, or learn with a mask on their sweet faces,
whether you are dealing with hurricanes, fires, or derechos,
I would wager that most of you feel as I do.
Incompetent.
strange times
We want to serve and glorify God here in this little piece of the earth where he has placed us.
We want to love well the people God has placed within our small sphere of influence.
Yet all too often in these oh-so-bizarre days, we feel as though it takes all that we have inside of us just to survive.
We are hanging on by sheer grit, and even that fails us at times.
What are we to do when our hearts desire to do great things for God’s kingdom yet all of our energy is focused on not surrendering completely to the difficulties of life?
I have discovered that it helps to think about fish.
fish offering
Well, to be specific, fish and bread.
Remember the time when Jesus fed five thousand men plus women and children?
loaves and fish
When the hour for supper arrived, Jesus looked around and asked if anyone had any food to share.
Jesus, the bread of life, the one who spoke grain into being, asked for help in feeding his people.
While the grown-up Jesus followers were staring gape-mouthed in disbelief at each other, a little boy came up with his tiny little lunch and offered it to Jesus.
He only had enough for himself, and probably barely enough at that, but he offered what he had to Jesus.
And Jesus took that inadequate offering and multiplied it to feed all of those masses who were hungry
abundance
with abundance left over.
So rest in what Jesus is capable of doing rather than in what you are capable of doing.
Simply offer him what little you have and trust that he can make it more than enough.
You are not asked to do great things, only to offer what you have to the One who has done great things over and above all that you could ask or imagine.
Be still and rest in his more than competent hands.
To hear my blog post read aloud or to hear the music video, 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 credits: Feeding the Five Thousand by Marten van Valckenborch; photos of fish are from a former band student of mine, Jon Miller, who now runs a successful fishing business in Louisiana

Is Tolerance All That We Can Manage?

 

I hear many voices crying out for tolerance in these days.
busy street
We are exhorted by our leaders, our culture, to show tolerance to those around us.
Everywhere I turn, I am pleaded with to be tolerant, to show tolerance to anyone who is different, anyone who thinks or behaves differently than I.
Is this what we who are Christ followers are called to be? Tolerant?
Is this really all that we can manage, all that we can aspire to do?
Tolerance is easy. It costs me nothing.
Tolerance shrugs its shoulders and walks away, leaving you to your own devices. Tolerance doesn’t care.
And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Love is much harder.
Natalie189
Love affirms the reality of the other person, culture and way of life.
Love takes the trouble to get to know the other person and find out what makes them special.
Love wants what is best for that person or culture.
It was love that drove William Wilberforce to lead the British parliamentary campaign to abolish the slave trade, not tolerance.
It was love that brought the world to oppose an apartheid regime in South Africa, not tolerance.
It was love that led Martin Luther King to pursue civil rights, not tolerance.
It was love that sent Jesus to the cross on our behalf, not tolerance.
Rembrandt_The_Three_Crosses_1653
As I live in this world that is increasingly intolerant of anything that is other, as I live my life in contact with people who are different than me, I will pray for strength to choose the harder way.
If I am to be Jesus to those around me, if I am to make a difference for Him in this world, I must choose love, not tolerance.
Love must confront Tolerance and insist, as it has always done, on a better way. ~ Tim Keller in Generous Justice
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 credits: Crowds by J. Solis; The Three Crosses etching by Rembrandt

edited from the archives

What to Do With Your Half-Finished Songs

I often feel as though I fall short.
falling short
No, that’s not quite true. I mostly feel as though I fall short.
I fall short in my marriage. My pride so often chokes me up.
I fall short in my parenting. My selfishness makes me stumble.
I fall short in my writing. My laziness keeps me from doing all that God desires.
It is enough to make me quit.
failure
This continuous falling short is enough to make me want to stop trying.
Why bother, when all of my very best efforts are never quite enough?
I am learning in my God-life, and I think that it applies to all of life (as all of life is and should be my God-life), that falling short doesn’t really matter.
What matters is that I do not give up.
What matters is that I continue to persevere.
Trying matters.
We live in a broken world and we inhabit broken bodies. We shouldn’t be surprised when our best efforts fall short.
We shouldn’t be surprised when the outcome toward which we are aiming doesn’t quite come to fruition.
But all of our failures don’t change a thing about who we are.
For we are God’s beloved.
And as I wrote earlier, nothing that we do for God is ever wasted.
nothing is wasted
We are a part of bringing God’s kingdom to earth, and even our failures are used to that end.
It is a beautiful truth that God uses our broken efforts to restore His broken world.
All of creation is aimed with all of her being toward her creator, giving of herself in praise, waiting with eager longing for her freedom.
This is what we are asked to work toward in our marriage, in our parenting, in our art, in our work.
…since creation is going to declare (his great faithfulness) either way, we might as well jump in with our half-finished songs and join the chorus. ~ Andrew Peterson in Adorning the Dark
Dear one, we must not let our failures keep us from trying.
God desires even our failures, especially our failures, for His kingdom purposes.
He looks forward to hearing all of your half-finished songs.
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.

all photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2020

We Are Slicing Off Ears Again

I made a mistake on Facebook the other day.
A friend of a friend posted something harsh about those who believe differently than she does about face masks, and I had had enough.
I responded.
I shouldn’t have, but I responded.
When she escalated, making comparisons to people in concentration camps, I realized my mistake. I am not going to change anyone’s mind on Facebook. I cannot not argue someone into a different viewpoint.
I can, however, love people on Facebook. I can show the unity and love of Jesus in the way that I interact with others. My comment, while not harsh or ugly, did not show unity or love.
I deleted my responses.
I expect harsh words and vitriol from the world. Christians, however, should never engage in that kind of vicious attack and nasty rhetoric.
As emotions become more volatile in this season of uncertainty, as choices about what to do next vary wildly, as words become our weapon of choice, I offer a word of warning, a plea, to myself as well as to you.
Satan wants this. This is a perfect opportunity for him to divide the church over this issue of shelter-in-place vs reopening the economy, over enforced face masks vs the freedom to choose.
I’ve already written of how important it is for us, the Church, to be unified.
DSC_0033a (21)
Not for us to agree on everything, but to love each other. To love each other no matter what.
This is so important that it was one of the last things Jesus asked of God before He was crucified.
Why is this particularly important right now, in this season?
As more and more people get sick with COVID-19 and die, as more and more people lose their jobs because of prevention measures, we become more and more afraid.
And fear causes us to do crazy things, both to each other and to those around us who are outside of the Church.
We are living in uncertain times. Our lives and our livelihoods are threatened. The illusion that we are in control has been stripped away.
We find ourselves fighting back against this invisible enemy by fighting with the people we can see.
We as a Church are good at fighting.
crusades
We have a tendency, when we are afraid, to lash out at anyone who disagrees with what we believe to be true. Rather than following Jesus’ way of loving those who hurt us, of being at peace with those around us, we strike out blindly at anyone near us in an attempt to fight the enemy we cannot reach.
This is what Peter did. He was terrified of losing Jesus, terrified of losing his own life, uncertain of what would happen next, and he reacted by pulling out his sword to start slicing off ears.
st-_peter_cut_slaves_ear_by_duccio
Jesus, however, picked up that ear, calmly placed it back onto its owner’s head, and walked quietly off to meet His death.
We have a perfect opportunity in this season to react out of love rather than out of fear. To treat those who disagree with gentleness, bringing peace rather than war. To show that we are Jesus’ disciples by the way we love each other.
Jesus speaks over and over again about His kingdom coming through the humble, the weak, the foolish. He is adamant that the kingdom of God is not about force or hatred.
When Jesus gets down on his knees to wash the filthy feet of the apostles, he washes Judas’ feet as well.
IMG_4362
Everything we do to live out God’s kingdom here on earth must be done under the shadow of the cross.
Perhaps we should stop fighting to convince other believers that we are right and start figuring out how to work together to show God’s love to the sick and the jobless. Perhaps we should begin by humbly admitting that we don’t have all the answers and we might be wrong. Perhaps we should remember that God’s kingdom grows best one soul at a time through lives lived in quiet love and service, not through arguing angrily on social media.
Perhaps we should stop slicing off ears and instead begin the work of healing by dying to ourselves as we live as Jesus did. We can start by loving each other.
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: Photograph of cathedral by Kirk SewellImage of the Croisés from 1922; St. Peter Cuts the Slave’s Ear by Duccio di Buoninsegna

Take This Chance to Start Over

Most of us have recently found ourselves abruptly forced into a strange new normal.
We were busily running around, bouncing from one activity to the next, spending our days and evenings driving from one event to the next, when it all came to a sudden, screeching halt.
starting over
Activities canceled. Events abandoned. Plans postponed.
We are spending more time at home than we ever have before.
May I make a suggestion? Perhaps I would even call it a plea.
When the world starts back up again, when activities and events begin to crank back to life,
please don’t rush straight back in without any thought or consideration for what you are giving up.
We have a rare chance to start over, to slow down, to make more deliberate choices for our lives.
What do you want your life to look like? Do you want more space in your life? Do you want more time at home as a family? Do you want your kids to have more time to play and just be…kids?
Be wise.
You do not have to leap back into every activity you participated in before.
Consider each one and together with God decide whether it is truly good and necessary for your family as a whole.
Space is good. A slower life is good. Making sure that there is regular time in your schedule to connect with God and with your family is very good.
make space
Most of us didn’t plan to live this way. Many of us added just one thing, then another, and another, and another…
until we woke up one morning with no white space at all in our week.
You do not have to go back to that life, to a life that is cram-packed to the brim.
You can choose.
You can choose which activities and events are life-giving to your family and which ones suck you dry.
You cannot be close to your loved ones, you cannot be close to God without time.
So while we have it, take time to consider. Be prayerful and wise as you begin to resume a more normal sort of schedule. Take this chance to start over.
Make the necessary and life-giving choice of space and time for yourself and your family.
We all need this.
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: Fairy Tales by Jessie Willcox Smith

This Deep Ache I Feel

This season of Lent into Easter always leaves me with an ache in my heart.
Lent
I ache as I sit in the heart-wrenching tension between what is now and what is not-yet.
This year my heart has been even more tender than usual.
It is tender with an ache of longing for God to fulfill His promise to make all things new.
It is tender with an ache of longing for God to return and set all things right.
It is tender with an ache of longing for God.
ache of longing
We have sat in silent mourning through Lent, grieving our sin and our broken world and longing for Messiah.
We have rejoiced in exultation on Easter, celebrating Christ’s victorious defeat over sin and death.
Now we wake up to a world that is still sinning. still broken, still dying.
We trust, on our best days, that Jesus’ defeat of sin and death really happened, that God will not forget any of His promises, that God’s Spirit truly dwells inside of us.
And our hearts ache.
We are filled, more on some days than on others, with an aching, homesick kind of longing for what is still to come.
This is good. This is as it should be.
We should not be satisfied with this world in its brokenness.
We should not be satisfied with ourselves in our sinful nature.
We should not be satisfied to be physically separated from God.
Listen to this ache, for we are not yet home.
Let yourself feel this tenderness fully.
We should allow this ache in our hearts to spur us on to seek God more, to love God more, to love those around us more, to do all we can to bring His kingdom to rule on earth.
It is good to have seasons in which your heart is more tender, in which that longing ache is closer to the surface.
It simply means the end is not yet here.
On the day when our earth is made new, when heaven and earth are joined together, when Jesus descends from the clouds and we run into His arms,
On the day when God will dwell with us and we will be His people,
On that day, this ache we feel will melt away.
We shall be home.

feel your ache

For now, learn to be still and truly feel this ache in your heart. Let it draw you closer into the arms of the One who will someday heal you completely. You can trust Him.
Easter has already come.

Easter

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.

All photographs copyright Made Sacred 2020

How to Know God – Part Two

Last week we began to explore the way that we can know God. If you haven’t read that post, you may want to click here and read that one first.
How do we know God?
know God
By obeying.
By doing what we see Him do, and this best by watching Jesus, by imitating Him.
This does not mean that we should spring immediately into action.
This is not the way that Jesus obeyed.
Be still
First, it means to be still.
Be still and know that I am God.
It means to go to the wilderness, to the lonely places, to get away and be alone with God.
in the wilderness
A lot.
Jesus spent much time alone with God before He did anything of importance.
Before beginning His ministry.
Before choosing the apostles.
Before the crucifixion.
alone with God
Don’t worry. Action will come.
Obedience does not only mean being still. There is much to be done to bring God’s kingdom to rule here on earth as it does in heaven.
But obedience first means to be still and know.
be still
Once you know what to do, then you begin the work of obeying.
You begin the practice of obeying. It, like anything, feels awkward at first. You continually go back to Jesus to figure out how to obey. You have to return again and again for specific instruction.
Yet slowly, over time, it feels more natural. You know more quickly what to do or what not to do. When to act and when to go back to being still.
Obedience becomes instinct.
I have used the image of a jazz musician before, but I will bring it back here again because it gives such a beautiful and concrete example of why this practice of obedience is so important.
obey like jazz
It shows us why obeying is what brings us to know God.
A jazz pianist, a really good one, knows his art intimately. It is a part of his spirit.
When he plays with a band, he knows what exists in the music. He knows the nature of the musical form, he knows the structure of the harmonics well enough to think quickly and compose something that fits in with the reality of the music.
It is so seamless it appears effortless.
This kind of perfection, however, is far from effortless. This kind of intimacy with the music does not come easily or quickly. It takes hours and days and months and years of practice.
This, too, is how we know God. By practicing the discipline of obeying for hours and days and months and years.
This is how we learn to know God. This is how we learn to know the way He created the nature of this life and this world well enough to know how to respond no matter what is happening around us.
This way of obedience leads to knowing God which leads to better obedience which leads to…
a beautiful circle.
A circle wherein we abide with our Father in peace and blessing.
abide
How do we know God?
By obeying Him.
There is no other way.
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 credits: Children at Prayer byAntoine Édouard Joseph Moulinet; Prayer by Mednyánszky László; Gethsemane by Carl Heinrich Bloch; Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Johannes Vermeer

How to Know God – Part One

We all, every one of us, want to know God.
We want to know God
Whether we acknowledge or even realize it, knowing God is one of the deepest desires placed immovably into the heart of humanity.
It has been so since the beginning of time.
It is the reason behind the Fall.
We want to know God without having to obey
To know.
The tragedy behind Eve’s choice of disobedience is that God had already given her the way to know Him. He had already given her the way both to know Him and to stay with Him.
It is the same tragedy that lies behind every act of our own disobedience, when we believe that our way is better, that our shortcut is easier than God’s (admittedly, often longer and harder) way for us to know Him.
What is this way? This way both to know God and to remain with Him?
By obeying Him.
To obey him is the only way to be one with him. ~ George MacDonald
If you want to know the mind of God, do what He says.
Jesus' way of knowing God is through obedience
Jesus, who was the very image of God, knew the Father absolutely. He also obeyed the Father absolutely.
Jesus told the Jews that He can only do what He sees the Father doing.
Why? Because the Father loves the Son and shows Him all that He Himself is doing.
The Father loves the Son. He wants Jesus to know Him and to know what He is doing.
The beautiful, astounding piece of this?
He loves all of His children in the same way.
Jesus affirms this when He prays that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
He wants us to know Him because He loves us.
He is not hiding from us. He is not playing games with us. He wants us to know Him.
How do we know Him?
By obeying.
By doing what we see Him do, and this best by watching Jesus, by imitating Him.
This does not mean, however, that we should spring immediately into action.
Will you join me next week as I ponder this idea a little more? I would love to explore with you about the way Jesus obeyed so that we can obey and know the Father in the same way.
I am grateful for you.
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 credits: Children at Prayer by Antoine Edouard Joseph Moulinet; Adam and Eve by Foster; Christ Washing the Disciples’ Feet by Francesco Vanni