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

Learning from Elijah at the End of a School Year

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It is the end of the school year, and I find myself thinking about Elijah.
Elijah fights
After the fight with the prophets of Baal, after the flight from Jezebel, after his journey into the wilderness, Elijah was worn down physically, he was emotionally depleted, he was feeling inadequate to what God had asked of him.
He plopped down in a cave and moped.
This. This is what I want these days. To sit in a cave by myself (solitude is key) and mope.
God asks Elijah why he is sitting and sulking in a cave, and Elijah informs God of all that he has accomplished for Him, complains that he  is all alone in his fight, and is honest about his fear for his life.
This is my daily life, especially at the end of a school year.
I feel worn down physically by the demands of small children who depend on me for everything, from getting dressed to being educated to learning about God.
I am often emotionally depleted from pouring out myself for my family.
I feel completely inadequate to the task God has set before me of raising my children to honor Him.
I am lonely from being in a new town with the added difficulty of meeting people as a homeschooling mom.
Most days, I feel like a failure.
Elijah is fed
Before Elijah made it to his brooding cave, he collapsed under a broom tree where God met his needs.
An angel brought him food and drink and allowed him to rest, saying, “The journey is too great for you.”
Elijah rested and took in nourishment from God before he traveled to the mount of God.
I need to learn to depend on God for every single daily need, just as Elijah was forced to do under the broom tree.
God told him that the journey was too much for him and gave him food and rest.
God knows that I am inadequate for the job He has given me, and He has given me His Spirit, the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead, to provide everything I need for my mission.
Elijah was sustained by God. He did not make his journey in his own strength. I need to learn to do the same.
Elijah hears God
God also made it clear that He was still with Elijah. When the Lord passed by Elijah on the mount of God, God spoke to him in a still small voice rather than in the fire or the earthquake, perhaps to let Elijah know that He was near and close to him.
I desperately want my times with God to train me to listen to God’s still small voice so that, even in the midst of my weariness and loneliness I know beyond a doubt that He is with me.
That will be enough.

Art credits: Elijah kills the Ba’al priests, woodcut for “Die Bibel in Bildern” by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld; Elijah in the Wilderness, exterior of the Duomo in Milan by Yair Haklai; Elijah Cave inside Stella Maris Church in Haifa by Larry Koester

The Poison and Peace of Words

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Our words have power.
It was so from the beginning.
The Word
The Word spoke and it was done. The Word breathed and life was bestowed.
We are created and we have His image and like our Father, our words make things happen.
Just as His words go out and do not return empty, neither can we throw heedless words to the wind. Just as all He speaks has deliberation and purpose, so should we have careful thought bolstering what we say. So should we speak with wisdom, with peace.
The Word peace
Too often we talk, we rant, we fill up the air with our words. And our words are not of grace.
Poison
When we who pray the Lord’s Prayer also write ugly in online spaces, when we who sing of God’s love also snip at our family at home, when we who praise His servant-love also speak short and proud to those who serve us,
we pump poison into our world.
We forget that those on the receiving end of our arrows are just as beloved as we. When truth is forgotten, we who are called to reign and serve, to glorify and praise, we set the name of our King afire in the eyes of this world.
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Words exist for a different purpose.
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 flesh
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.
The Word came to be wisdom and peace, and that is what we should speak into our world, with our mouths and with our lives, into this space we are given to influence.
The Word peace
So speak with wisdom and with peace rather than with poison and with fire.
the Word harvest
Our harvest of righteousness is waiting.

 

Art credits: Holy Night by Antonio da Correggio; Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Jan Vermeer; all other photos copyright by Made Sacred 2017

 

Today’s guest post is by Elizabeth Giger who writes weekly on her blog, Made Sacred (madesacred.com).

Our Manner of Death

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Death
We all will experience it.
Does it matter?
Does it matter how we die?
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Death is something we all must think about, especially as physician assisted suicide becomes more and more accepted in our world.
If, as I argued last week, there is a created order to all things and therefore the way we think about and live out all things matters, then it matters how we think about death and dying.
If we do not, our culture will.
And we may not like our culture’s decisions.
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As life becomes more individualistic, so does death.
Most of us, when asked our preferred manner of dying, would say that we would rather slip away peacefully in our sleep without any warning.
For most of Christian history, the answer would have been different.
A common prayer was A subitanea morte, liber nos, Domine – From a sudden death, deliver us, O Lord.
Why? Christians understood that they existed in community. They understood that they were interwoven with the people around them and they wanted the chance to say their goodbyes, to make right any lingering feuds.
We seem to have become more frightened of death.
God in our death
There are two extremes in our culture, neither of which seem to fall within the confines of our Christian faith.
The first is to preserve life at all costs.
The quality of that life receives no consideration; doctors are asked to keep people alive regardless of the misery in which they may be existing.
It is a fear of death that keeps people clinging to a pale semblance of life.
The second is to end life prematurely.
It is autonomy run amok, autonomy that says I have the right to do whatever I wish with my life, including the right to end it, autonomy that rejects our creatureliness, our dependence on God.
It is a fear of a life that is “less than” that sends people seeking the oblivion of death.
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We, as Christians, can accept death. We can recognize that God holds all times in His hands, that there is a time to live and a time to die, and when it is our time to die we are held close in those hands.
I have watched one I love recognize this and choose quality of his last days over the miserable clinging to a side-effect filled life that might have gained him a few months in the span of a full life well lived.
We, as Christians, can resist death. We can use the power of medicine to heal and see it as a gift of God for gaining more time to love those around us and to do His work, to bring His kingdom rule here on earth.
I have watched many I love fight for life while there was still hope and accept whatever was given to them by the hands of God.
death in God's hands
What we, as Christians, cannot do is to accept either extreme of avoiding death at all costs or aiming at death with all purpose.
Death
We must all consider it.
Does the manner of our death matter?
Culture is making its decisions.
Will we make ours?
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Thanks to Dr. Todd Daly for his research and thoughts on this topic.

all photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2018

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.
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We are surrounded by words.
words

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

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In our ears and in our eyes, in our hearts and in our minds, words penetrate us every where and every time.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.”  
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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?
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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