Fear Into Faith

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Fear.
fear
It creeps in everywhere and is so hard to banish.
There is much to fear in this broken world of ours.
Fear is, at its root, the failure to believe God.
We don’t truly believe that He will take care of us, that He wants what is best for us, and so we are afraid.
There is much fear in the gospels.
The disciples fear the storms on the sea, fear the hungry crowds, fear the strange suffering of which Jesus keeps speaking.
In Mark’s gospel the opposite of faith is not unbelief but fear. ~ Bonnie B. Thurston in The Spiritual Landscape of Mark
fear
I recently was afraid.
We are still paying off medical bills from last year, and suddenly both of our cars needed work done and were not driveable.
At the same time.
Immediately I felt the fear creeping in.
How will we take the girls places? With four children, we don’t all fit in just any kind of vehicle! How will we pay for it all?
Often, I confess, I give in to the fear.
This time, however, God gave me the grace to resist.
My husband and I continued to tithe.
The night our vehicles broke down I spoke with my girls about God as our Provider, about the promises He made to always take care of us, about the ways He has provided in the past.
Our Bible story that evening happened to be the story of the loaves and the fish.
The story that happens in the desert.
With no natural food sources to be found.
Where God provides enough.
And more than enough.
That same night I received a text from my parents.
Five days previously, they had decided, for no particular reason, to give a monetary gift to each of their children.
Five days previously.
I fell to my knees in gratitude.
God our provider.
The next morning I got to gather my girls into my arms and tell them that even before we knew we needed it,
God provided.
fear
Fear is everywhere.
The circumstances that produce the feelings of fear are constant.
Will we choose to dwell in that fear, allowing thoughts of worry and anxiety to win?
Or will we choose to push them out with reminders of the character of God, the times He has cared for us in the past, the stories in Scripture of His care for His beloved?
Will we choose to believe?
There is much fear in the gospels.
The gospel of Mark, in fact, ends in fear.
Mark ends with an empty tomb, a message from an angel, and three women who say nothing “for they were afraid.”
I am those women.
More often than not I give in to my fear rather than choosing to believe.
Mark lets me know that God is gentle with my fear, wanting to comfort rather than chastise me.
We do, after all, still live in this broken world, in this space before the restoration of all things.
This is where we live: after the resurrection but before the Return, entrusted with a message that is wonderful, but the import of which we don’t quite understand. ~ Bonnie B. Thurston in The Spiritual Landscape of Mark
Mark gives me hope.
faith
Hope that God is gentle with my fear, that He still entrusts me His message.
Hope that He will not give up on me but will continue to change my fear into faith.

Art credits: photographs of storms by Kirk Sewell; Jesus and His Disciples on the Sea of Galilee from The Story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation; Jesus Walks on the Sea by Gustave Dore

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Theology Is Not a Dirty Word

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There is always a reason behind our actions.
Whether or not we realize it, the way we view God affects what we do and how we do it.
theology
Even if we never explore the beliefs behind our actions, we all believe something about God and the world and it is this belief that comes out in our behavior.
theology
theology
It is precisely because our beliefs dictate what we do that makes it so vital to explore those convictions.
Part of loving God with all of our mind, after all, means being deliberate about what we believe, knowing why we believe it. We all want our actions to be based on truth.
theology
theology
Enter theology.
It is a dirty word in some Christian circles. Some believe that it takes away the joy or emotion of loving God. Others think that theology does nothing but stir up trouble and break up churches. Still others suppose that theology moves away from Scripture, that it creates something that wasn’t there before.
Yet you already have a theology. You have already read Scripture and interpreted it and let what you believe it teaches you about God influence the way you live.
Wouldn’t you rather your theology be one you have prayerfully and thoughtfully considered rather than one that just evolved without conscious decision in your mind over time?
theology
Paul, I believe, was the first theologian. He used his knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures along with his knowledge of Jesus to write some of the first doctrines of the Church. Certainly no one would have accused him of not knowing what he believed or why he believed it.
Theology is what brought us the teaching of the Trinity. The word Trinity is not found anywhere in the Bible, yet by taking such Scriptures as the Shema, Christ’s own claims, and the teachings on the Spirit in the epistles, Church theologians have come up with the doctrine of the Trinity that we all know.
We all want to love God the best we can. We all want our actions to be based on truth. To do this, we all need to evaluate our own beliefs about God with the help of Scripture and what historically the Church has confessed.
Make sure that what comes out in your life, your words and thoughts and actions, is based on well-thought-out theology, not just-what-I-grew-up-thinking theology.
Let’s do our best to know why we do the things we do. Let’s do our best to be sure our actions are based on truth.
Let us love God with all of our mind.

credit: Thanks to Todd Daly for many of the ideas contained in this post.

edited from the archives

all photographs are copyright 2019 Made Sacred

The Slow Work of God

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When it comes to the things of God, I am impatient.
While I am certainly not immune to this problem in other realms, I am not particularly plagued with it.
Except when it comes to God.
impatience
I grow so weary of waiting for God to fulfill His promise to transform me into the image of Jesus:
I want to quit fighting my pride and my anger and my jealousy.
I want to stop saying the wrong thing to my husband, yelling at my children, hiding from others out of fear.
hurry
restless
I am easily frustrated when God is not maturing the hearts of my children as quickly as I might wish.
When they do not mature in the way and at the speed I think best, I grow anxious and worried, even irritated.
anxious
I am in a hurry for some that I love to decide to pursue God wholeheartedly rather than to continue on lukewarmly.
slow
I often want to “fix” things, to see signs of “progress” before continuing on the path to which I believe God has called me.
slow work
I recently read a phrase that has hushed me like a child. Teilhard de Chardin writes of trusting in “the slow work of God”.
The slow work of God.
slow work of God
The very words soothe my spirit, calm my impatience.
Ours is a God who waits. Who are we not to? It takes what it takes for the great turnaround. Wait for it. ~ Gregory Boyle in Tattoos on the Heart
Who am I that I should be the one who hurries God? Who am I that I should get to skip past the waiting?
Am I better than Moses, waiting for forty years in Midian? Am I more privileged than David, waiting for fifteen years to fulfill his anointing?
Ours is a God who waits. Who am I not to?
wait
In my impatience, I could easily abandon the slow work of God.
God forbid that I should miss any work of His.
Especially the slow kind.
Wait for it.

all photographs copyright Made Sacred 2019

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Mostly There Is Nothing…and Yet

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O, God
I thirst for You.
silence
I am learning to listen,
to sit in silence and to wait.
solitude
I mostly come away disappointed
and yet…
I mostly come away without a word
and yet…
I mostly come away feeling a failure
and yet…
And yet my thirst is growing.
I am learning to listen,
to sit in silence and to wait.
waiting
I strain to know Your thoughts, but mostly my own still swarm like a plague of gnats
and yet…
I seek to hear Your words, but mostly my own still darken my way
and yet…
I long to comprehend Your desires and plans, but mostly my own still lead me astray
and yet…
And yet my thirst is mounting.
I am learning to listen,
to sit in silence and to wait.
listen
Outwardly nothing changes.
There is no voice from heaven.
There is no flood of emotion.
There is no flash of understanding.
And yet…
Inwardly something is stirring.
Nothing grand,
nothing immense,
only the beginnings of a something is stirring.
Mostly there is nothing
and yet…
And yet my thirst is rising.
I am learning to listen,
to sit in silence and to wait.
thirst
 I thirst for You.
Oh, God.

all photographs copyright 2019 Made Sacred

A Post Full of Questions

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What if?
What if God did nothing more for me than what He has already done?
Would I still submit in obedience?
What if
What if?
What if, like Job, I was suddenly bereft of all whom and all that I love?
Would I still offer up my gratitude?
What if
What if?
Why do I do what I do?
Why do I pray and immerse myself in Scripture?
Why do I practice spiritual disciplines?
To be transformed into the image of Christ?
What if
A worthy pursuit, but what if?
What if God does absolutely nothing with my obedience,
with my gratitude,
with my spiritual practices?
What if?
What if
Am I willing to offer these spiritual disciplines to God for days and years and decades,
even if God does absolutely nothing with it?
Simply because He asked it of me?
Simply because it is Jesus?
So Jesus said…’Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…’

Art Credits: The Resurrection by Luca Giordano; The Road to Emmaus by Robert Zund; Christ and the Samaritan Woman by Henryk Siemiradzki; Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Henryk Siemiradzki

The Fading Colors of Me

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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
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

Art Credit: all photographs by Made Sacred copyright 2018

edited from the archives

How Love Wins

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This Jesus life is hard.
Hard
Suffering
Struggle
Difficulty
Anything that demands that you surrender your entire self is going to be just that. Hard.
It is sometimes tempting to give up and take the easy way.
It would be much easier to just sink into the flow of our world, to follow the crowd,
to do what I want to do instead of fighting against my natural desires.
I have to keep reminding myself that I didn’t ever think that becoming a disciple of Jesus would be easy.
Quite the opposite, in fact. Jesus promises through His words and by His example that His way is the way of struggle, of self-denial, of suffering.
Example
Of the cross.
When Jesus died on the cross, when He rose from the dead, He demonstrated that love wins against the Enemy.
Against Sin.
Against Death.
Love wins.
But love wins not over suffering but through suffering.
Cross
If Jesus’ love wins through suffering, we can guess what that means for us.
The victory that we win through Jesus will also have to be won in the same way, by the slow course of love rather than the swift course of battle.
I often become frustrated that at the age of forty I am still unable to conquer so much of myself.
I become frustrated that this God life is so hard.
N.T. Wright reminds me that if Jesus’ victory was won through the slow road of love, then my own victory will have to “be implemented step by step, not all at one single sweep, (and that) those steps have to be, every one of them, steps of the same generous love that took Jesus to the cross. Love will always suffer.”
I don’t like this.
I still want to give up sometimes.

Steady

Perservere

Yet what is my alternative?
If suffering is the cost of discipleship, what is the cost of non-discipleship?
Dallas Willard writes that when we are tempted to quit, when we feel that this Jesus life is too hard, we should count the cost of non-discipleship.
Nondiscipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil. In short, it costs exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring.
Suddenly, this God life doesn’t seem so hard anymore.
Or, rather, it still seems hard, but it also seems worth it.
Abundantly worth it.

Art credits: Gethsemane by Carl Bloch; Jesus Scourged by Marillier; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2018

Missing the Gift of the Small

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It is difficult to remain content with the small.
small
The small grace of a quiet hour.
The small measure of spiritual understanding.
The small moment of victory over a sin.
We are conditioned to stretch for the large.
large
We believe that it is of a higher godliness to grasp for the more astonishing miracle, the more arduous purity, the more splendid spiritual insight
rather than to be thankful for what God has chosen to give.
satisfied
We think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be looking forward eagerly for the highest good. Then we deplore the fact that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experience that God has given to others, and we consider this lament to be pious…Only he who gives thanks for the little things receives the big things. ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together
We miss so many of God’s beautiful and perfect gifts when we are focused on the tremendous and the tomorrow instead of looking up and becoming aware of the right now.
good
When God chooses to grant us a small shard of wisdom, a small snatch of victory, a small sliver of intimacy with Him,
it is enough.
We look for visions of heaven, and we never dream that all the time God is in the commonplace things and people around us. ~ Oswald Chambers
Yes, sometimes God chooses to give us the grand and the monumental, but much of the time He chooses to grace us with the small.
grace
If we do not remain awake to the right now, we will miss most of His daily gifts.
We will miss some of the best that God has to offer.
After all, God often delights in using the smallest to bring about the greatest blessing.
The small boy with the sling and the stones.
The small loaves and fishes.
The small baby in the stable.
Remain awake to the right now and grateful for the small.
grateful
When we view the little things with thanksgiving…even they become big things. ~ Father Tim in Jan Karon’s book, These High, Green Hills

Art credits: cathedral photograph by Kirk Sewell; all other photographs copyright 2018 Made Sacred

The Givenness of Creation

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

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

Momentary Peace

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

Art credit: all photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2018