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

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.
fire
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?
death
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.
dying
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.
trust in our death
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.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

We are surrounded by words.
words

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

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

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

Trusting the Spring

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

snow on flowers

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

snow flowers

Last year was a hard year.
Nothing major happened, simply quite a few little frustrations and disappointments.
No victories to speak of.
Discouraged
Frustrated
Perhaps you had a similar sort of year.
The sort of year when you feel as though you have made no progress toward becoming like Jesus,
the sort of year when you missed out on what you had hoped for,
the sort of year when the people around you seem to be moving away from what you dream for them.
A hard year.
Hard Year
A dear friend recently pointed out to me that throughout this hard year I kept showing up.
I kept trying to obey even though I thought I was failing.
And God was pleased.
I have to keep reminding myself of that. God is pleased when we keep walking with Him, even when we feel as though we are walking backwards sometimes.
God doesn’t need us to obey perfectly.
He wants our obedience more than our strength.
“I think of what the Desert Fathers said of the spiritual life. We are always beginners. We fall and we rise, we fall and we rise. (Continuing in the spiritual life) means continuing to show up for life – even when we’d rather not, even when we think we can’t.” ~ Judith Valente in Atchison Blue
This life is a struggle, and the spiritual life even more so. We must live a cruciform life in order to become like Christ.
cruciform life
God has promised that He will transform us into the likeness of Jesus. We can trust Him to keep that promise.
We can trust Him to keep that promise even when all that we are experiencing tells us that we are farther than ever from any resemblance to His Son,
just as we in the Midwest can trust that spring is truly here even when all that we experience tells us that winter is here to stay.
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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.