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

 

A Dry and Weary Land Where There Is no Water

We are living in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
dry and weary land
All around us are people who are dying of thirst.
In our neighborhoods.
In our workplaces.
In our schools.
We are in desperate need of springs of living water.
living water
One of the beautiful things about our God is the way He allows us to be the ones to bring His kingdom into being on this earth.
Perhaps allows is not a strong enough word.
Part of our calling, our mission, as Jesus followers is to proclaim God’s kingdom rule in every corner of the piece of earth in which He has placed us.
For me, this begins in my home.
I want every person who enters my home to experience the love and peace of Christ. I want the love and peace of Jesus to radiate out from our home. I want our home to be a sacred place that draws others to Him.
Space matters, whether that space is a sprawling farmhouse in the country or a tiny apartment in the city, and what we do with the space we are given matters.
Let Thy kingdom come, let Thy will be done, in my home as it is in heaven.
We are called to fill our spaces with truth, goodness, and beauty.
We are called to fill our spaces with water.
We who have chosen this God-life have been promised that the living water given to us will become springs of living water.
A spring is an opening in the surface of the ground where water from deep under the ground comes bubbling out.
This is what we are given and this is what we are called to.
We who will never be thirsty again, we who have been satisfied in our deepest places, we who have been filled up with Him,
we are not to hoard this gift.
We are to be springs, not stagnant ponds.
Our land is a desert land.
Our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our schools are all parched and dusty places.
We are surrounded by people who are in desperate search for a true water that can quench their thirst once and for all.
They need springs that are not stopped up but are flowing freely.
We do not need to fear running out, do not need to fear not having enough. Our spring will never run dry because it comes from a place that is deeper than ourselves.
We only must ourselves continue to drink from the source. We must continue to fill ourselves up so that we can continue to overflow.
We live in a dry and weary land, and God has asked us to water the desert.
watering the desert
He has made us into springs of water for this very purpose.
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: photograph of Cleopatra spring of water in Siwa by Sara Nabih; photograph of mountain spring by Kirk Sewell; photograph of sand by Made Sacred

Nothing Is Wasted

What is the point?
What is the point of all that we do in this life?
work
labor
effort
service
striving
We struggle to become like Jesus, make a small gain and then fall right back into our old behavior.
We work to serve others, to love them and help them, only to have our service rejected and misunderstood.
We strive with all our being to live as a witness, a light, to those we love, yet no one will listen.
We labor to create beauty in our own little piece of the world, then watch it all descend back into chaos.
Why do we bother? Why should we continue to persevere when there is so little to show for our travail?
Take heart, dear one.
Nothing done for our Father is ever wasted.
Nothing.
nothing is wasted
Every choice made to do the right thing, every resistance of the wrong,
every kind word to a stranger, every meal cooked for a friend,
every flower planted, every toilet cleaned,
every word written, every note sung,
all of it is used by our King to bring His kingdom more fully to this earth.
God sees it all, the outward action and the inner thought, and none of it is wasted.
What is the point?
nothing is in vain
We pray for it every time we say the Lord’s Prayer: we pray that His name will be holy, that His kingdom will come, and that His will shall be done, and all of this to be done on earth exactly as it is done in heaven.
The point is heaven and earth becoming one, the whole of creation becoming new again, the point is nothing less than God Himself dwelling with His restored and remade people.
That is the point.
So do not be discouraged when you see no result from all of your effort. Do not lose hope when all seems for nothing.
Our Father has promised. Nothing that we do for Him will be wasted.
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. ~ I Corinthians 15.58
Take courage and press on. The Holy Spirit is working within our most feeble efforts and will bring the most astounding beauty out of it all.
God brings beauty
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: all photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2020

I Need His Silence

Sometimes the silence is daunting.
silence
I sit and I sit and I sit and I wonder where God is.
I want the Voice, the delight, the spiritual moment, and when it is not there I wonder what went wrong.
Yet if I only experienced bliss, I might only trust in bliss. If I only experienced delight, I might only trust in delight.
I might never trust in the infallible character of God.
silence
It is easier to make a lot of noise.
It is easier to keep up a steady stream of words and song.
By filling my space with words it is easier to convince myself that all in my world is as it should be.
By making a lot of religious din we assure our faltering hearts that everything is well. ~ A. W. Tozer
The silence, therefore, however daunting, is necessary.
silence
I must be taught to rely on the Everlasting Father rather than on His comfort.
I must be taught to put my faith in the promise of His presence rather than on my experience of that presence.
I must be taught to trust in Christ the Rock regardless of any corroboration.
silence
I need to sit in the silence.
God often withdraws His inward comforts. Sometimes for long periods.
I need to sit in His silence. And be okay with it.
The silence is still daunting.
I sit and I sit and I sit and I know that He is here.
He is here
I will put my trust in Him.
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: all photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2020

Deep Love in the Darkness

Deep love.
deep love
Deep love turning scumbag into son, derelict into daughter.
Deep love transforming stone into flesh, filth into snow.
It is beyond my comprehension, this love, a love that covers a thousand sins and yet refuses to leave me sinful.
It is a promise of restoration, this love, a hope of lasting joy, a covenant of the very Presence Himself.
deep love in the dark
What of the times I am fumbling through the dark? The times the pain engulfs my heart, the sorrow blinds my soul, the ugliness of this world threatens to destroy all that I hold dear?
What of the times when I, seemingly alone, cannot catch even the faintest whiff of Him?
It has happened before and it will happen again that I feel deserted.
Alone.
Forsaken.
My God, my God!
It brings to mind another cry. Another forsaking. Another time of searing loss as the Father turns His face away.
Yet this time it was not only a feeling but a truth. A forsaking for a time in order for me, for you, for us to never be truly forsaken.
deep love proven
Deep love that took Him to the cross.
Deep love that took my filth upon Himself, that felt the greatest of all absences so that the Father would never turn away from me.
Those times when I am fallen in the dark?
Deep love is still surrounding me, still transforming me, still giving me Himself.
I can trust in His deep love.
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: When the King Came by George Hodges; photograph of wooden statue by Asta Kr