The Resurrection Is Our Crocus

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.

 

Reality.
All of creation conspires to teach us what is real.
When God created, He carefully crafted the laws of nature to point toward reality.
reality
nature
reality
Every growing seed points to the reality that we must die in order to bear fruit.
Every autumn leaf points to the reality that in dying to ourselves, our true colors burst forth.
Every new birth points to the reality that new life comes only after great labor pains.
All of creation shouts out God’s beautiful reality.
Today, as I look out the window on a Palm Sunday in the middle of April and see this:
winter
spring
I am meditating on the reality that when the calendar says it is spring, when the crocus first peeps up from the ground, it is truly spring, even when it still feels like winter.
winter
Because, let’s be honest, it still feels like winter in this world.
As refugees stream out of war-torn countries,
as friends fight deadly diseases,
as families continue to grieve beloved ones who have died,
it still feels like winter to me.
winter or spring
And yet.
I sit here on Palm Sunday, contemplating the Holy Week to come:
The road into Jerusalem which led to the giving of bread and wine,
a desperate prayer in a garden,
the cross.
The ghastliness of Holy Saturday and the knowledge that God is dead.
And then.
A weighty boulder moved easy like a feather.
An angel wondering at anyone presuming to find Jesus in a tomb.
A familiar voice: Mary
Jesus.
Alive.
Resurrection.
And suddenly I understand what I am truly seeing out of my window on this Palm Sunday in the middle of April, when the crocuses have peeped out their heads and yet snow lays heavy on the ground.
signs
reality
The resurrection is our confirmation.
Yes, it may still feel like winter all around,
but the resurrection is our crocus.
resurrection
Spring is really here.

Art Credit: all photographs are mine, copyright Made Sacred 2019. And yes, I know that none but the last photograph are actually of crocuses. Mea culpa.

Easter Joy and Sorrow

I had another post ready for this week, but have been grieving my Gram and Papa a little more heavily this week, so decided to post this from the archives instead, as it more accurately describes my current feelings. May it bless you as well.

Easter.
Spring.
New life.
On Easter morning, my eldest ran into the living room where we had left Jesus on the cross the night before, eyes wide with hope of resurrection. “Daddy, look! Jesus left us flowers that God made!”

Hope and joy at the end of sorrow and pain. This is Easter.

On Easter morning, gathered with our Family, we sing

The greatest day in history
Death is beaten, You have rescued me
Sing it out, Jesus is alive!
Endless joy, perfect peace,
Earthly pain finally will cease
Celebrate Jesus is alive!
Oh, happy day, happy day…
My heart swells and overflows with emotions that at first glance seem to be at odds. For some time now, I often feel both joy and gratitude, sorrow and longing.
On Easter morning, the joy is easy. Jesus is alive!

Sorrow and longing, though, those are things that are more difficult. Yet they are real and, although hard, they are what should be.

My sorrow is over our first Easter without my Gram.

March-July10 036
As we celebrate Jesus’ victory over death and as our family celebrates a new season of birth from my youngest brother and his wife, we miss Gram with a physical ache.

We acknowledge that all of this, this pain and death and sadness, is not how it was supposed to be. None of this existed before we rebelled against God.

And so I sorrow.

My longing is for that day of redemption and transformation. The day when earthly pain will cease and death will be banished for all time. I desperately wish to be gathered into Jesus’ arms and told that all is now well.

And so I long.

Sorrow and longing. At second thought, they are what we should feel. After all,

Our kind, heavenly Father has provided many wonderful inns for us along our journey, but He takes special care to see that we never mistake any of them for home. ~ C.S. Lewis
May I return for a moment to gratitude?

On Easter morning, as we worshiped together, we sang

You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of the dust.
You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of us.
My heart cries out “Why?”

Why do You love me that much?

You went to the cross to allow me to become a daughter of God. Wasn’t that more than enough? Why would You now also work so very hard to make beautiful things out of the dust that I am? Why would You pour so much into molding me into someone who looks like You?

There is much deep theology in this. Perhaps I will explore these things later.

For now, I will fall on my knees in gratitude for such deep love.

On Easter morning and beyond, I will let my heart swell with sorrow and longing, joy and gratitude, knowing that Jesus is alive.

art credit: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise by Benjamin Westheaven picturecross picture by Asta Rastauskiene

To Hope While Living in Hell

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.

 

What does it look like to become like Jesus?
becoming like Christ
What does it look like when your heart is in the process of being transformed?
transformed
I have come to believe that one major characteristic of those who are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit is the supernatural power to keep your eyes fixed on Christ when your world is crashing down around you.
eyes on Christ
Whether it is your inner world or the world all around, the ability to cling to God no matter what is a powerful witness to all around us.
physical pain
grief
loneliness
depression
worry
fear
There is so much that could swamp us in our life with God.
be still
I am learning that being still before God, practicing the disciplines of silence and solitude, is one of the most important ways that we can open up space to allow the Holy Spirit to change us.
I hope to write more about that soon, but I wanted simply to write today about the idea that God can so surround us with Himself that nothing else can devastate us.
I don’t mean that we won’t feel negative emotions such as fear or sadness, but that we will still be able to hope regardless of our inner and outer circumstances.
In the monastic tradition, the highest form of sanctity is to live in hell and not lose hope. ~ Gregory Boyle in Tattoos on the Heart
Hope
trust
To know that God is with you, even when you don’t see Him.
To know that in the end everything will be okay, even if the end is not in sight.
To know that below all of the the hurt and pain, underneath all of the heartache and sorrow, there lies the incomprehensible and immovable peace and joy of Jesus.
Hope
hope
May God grant you the ability to hold on to hope, no matter what happens to you this week.

Art Credits: St. Peter’s Rescue from the Lake of Galilee by Herbert Boekl; Jesus and His Disciples on the Sea of Galilee, author unknown

To Confess I Cannot

We are on spring break this week, so I am posting a Lenten essay from the archives. May it bless you this week.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

I really hate admitting that I cannot do something.  I have experienced quite a few tragedies that occurred because I was unable to swallow that thing inside of me that rises up and prevents me from asking for help.
I cannot
The one notable exception is raising children.  I am all about seeking out advice when it comes to my children (which is its own problem because too much advice leads to indecision which invariably leads to paralysis).  This is not by any particular virtue of my own, rather it is because I am completely terrified of irreversibly messing up another human being.
Messing up my own life, however, is fine, because whatever the thing is, I can do it.
Even if I cannot.
This causes a definite problem, however, when it comes to my faith.  I want to be able to be good enough, to make myself righteous enough, to climb up the ladder and reach God all on my own.
Tower of Babel
I would have done well in Babel.
I want to do it myself so that I can then take credit.  I want to be proud of my own accomplishments.  I want, in short, to seek and worship myself.
Worshiping Self
God, however, is quite clear.  We can never rise up to Him, so He, in His infinite mercy, came down to us.  
Lent
This is folly and this is scandal.  It cannot be understood by our own reason and intelligence.  This is offensive.  It offends our pride to know that there is nothing for us to do.
God is too high and holy and our sin is too deep and depraved for us to be able to reach God.
Our souls become crippled and cramped by trying to rise to the highest height.  The end is despair, or a self-righteousness that leaves room neither for love of God nor for love of others. ~ Emil Brunner
It hurts as a crucifixion always does, but I must crucify myself and admit that I cannot reach God.  I cannot be good enough and I cannot make myself righteous.
So God descends to us at Christmas and finishes His descent on Good Friday.  What is His goal and where does He end His descent?  He ends where we belong.  In Hell.  Our rightful place is separation from God, which is hell, and God descends down to hell.
Fire
Jesus experiences our separation from God and despairs of loneliness from God so that we can be free of it.  He descends all the way down so that He can lift us out and reconcile us to God.  It is the only way.
Lent
If the only way to receive God’s Spirit and nevermore to be separate from Him is to admit that I cannot do it, I will crucify my pride every single day and bow my head to the ground in worship and thanksgiving.
I will confess: I cannot.

Art Credits: Construction of the Tower of Babel painting by Pieter Brueghel the Younger; The Three Crosses by Rembrandt; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2019

A Taste of Hope

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.

 

Often this life seems unfair.
God’s answers to desperate prayers seem arbitrary and rare.
Prayer
Prayer
Prayer
One family prays for their unborn child and gives birth to a stillborn; another family prays for their unborn child and applauds at his piano recital.
One mother fights cancer and loses; another mother fights cancer and dances at her daughter’s wedding.
Sometimes God chooses to step in. Often He does not.
Why?
This is the age old question, is it not?
Why did God do this and not that?
Why, even in Scripture, does God say yes to some and no to others?
Taste
Why did Jesus not heal everyone He came across? Why did He not save everyone from death?
As my Papa used to say, Well, I’ll tell you.
I don’t know.
I’ll tell you what I do know.
This world is broken. It is broken because of sin.
It is broken because of the sin of men.
Our sin.
The ugly in our world?
This is our world as we have made it.
This is our world and we cannot fix it.
We are helpless and hopeless to bring any kind of beauty out of the ugly.
Except.
Except God.
Our God stepped down into the ugly and took on our flesh so that He could be God-with-us, so that He could make everything beautiful again.
hope
This He has done. It is finished.
And yet it is not finished.
The end is certain, yet this world takes time to be restored to its original perfection.
I don’t know why this is so. It feels so long since the days of Christ.
It is, at times, easy to give up, to decide that He is never coming back and that the broken state of our world is its inevitable end.
hope
Except.
Except God.
Except for those moments when God steps in and gives us a taste of what is to come.
Those moments when God steps in and reminds us that a time is coming when there will be no more sickness or grief or pain, when there will be no more veil between Him and His people.
Those moments when God steps in and gives us hope.
This world is broken and full of the ugly and the suffering, and it would remain so for always.
Except.
Except God.

Art Credits: Prayer by Antonio Parreiras; The Pathway of Life by Thomas De Witt Talmage; Prayer by Mednyánszky László; When the King Came by George Hodges; Jesus Christ by Asta Kr; candle-lit cross by Made Sacred

This Kind of Sorrow

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.

 

Sorrow is common to us all.
Sorrow is part of what it means to live, part of what it means to be human.
Frederick Buechner says that this universal experience is what pulls us together, is what makes us feel akin to each other.
sorrow
Sorrow is what keeps coming back to me as I prepare for this season of Lent.
While we all experience sorrow, only those of us who claim the name of Jesus have experienced the sorrow that comes when we are brought face to face with the shadowless light of God that exposes all of the ugliness deep inside.
It is this kind of sorrow that leads to the cross of Christ.
It is this kind of sorrow that leads to the beauty of transformation.
It is this kind of sorrow that changes everything.
godly sorrow
Paul says that this kind of sorrow produces hope within that does not fail.
Paul also says that there is a worldly sorrow and a godly sorrow.
The worldly kind of sorrow produces death.
The godly kind of sorrow produces repentance which leads to salvation.
It is this kind of sorrow that breaks us and opens us wide to the painful healing that saves us.
It is this kind of sorrow that I want to lean into this Lent.
repentance
Our God is standing with His arms wide open, offering this kind of sorrow.
“Yet even now,” declare the Lord, “return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. ~ Joel
I attended an Ash Wednesday service at a nearby Lutheran church this week.
We stood and confessed all together that we had sinned, that we had done wrong against God and against each other, that we couldn’t even manage to do the good God had asked of us much less refrain from doing evil.
And then we walked up to the pastor, one by one, and were marked with ashes.
We were marked with ashes as we mourned the wrong we cannot seem to turn away from.
We were marked with ashes in the sign of the cross as we remembered that we are covered by the grace of God.
The pastor looked me straight in the eye and said, “You are marked by the cross of Christ. You are a child of God.”
This is what this kind of sorrow produces.
The gift of becoming children of God.
So lean into your sorrow in this season so that you can settle into the hope of joy for eternity.
hope
You are marked by the cross of Christ.
You are a child of God.

Art credits: Sketch of The Three Crosses by Rembrandt; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2019

The Practice of Lent

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

 

I have been contemplating Lent recently.
Lent
I am still fairly new to the practice of Lent, but it seems healthy in our spiritual lives to have a time each year when we examine the deepest places of ourselves.
Lent is a time of practicing our dependence on God by giving up something we are dependent on that is not-God.
Lent is a time of being alone and quiet in order to search out the deepest places of ourselves that we are still keeping back from God.
Lent is a time to give those places back to God so that He can heal them and make them whole.
silence
I don’t yet know what Lent will look like for me this year.
I have been asking God how He wants me to die to myself during this season of Lent so that I can more fully be alive with Him when Easter arrives.
As much as I am tempted to try, we cannot skip over death and straight into resurrection glory.
I have been trying to listen to God during my times of silence and solitude with Him.
I have not yet heard any answers.
Perhaps it is because I am still so new to this practice.
Perhaps it is because He doesn’t have an answer for me.
Often He leaves the decision up to us.
dying to self
Lent is also a time of looking straight into the face of death itself,
and seeing that, after all we have been through,
after all this world has to throw at us,
after all of the screaming and crying and groaning and God where in this hell are You,
 God is still with us.
He is still Emmanuel.
Emmanuel
He is still the One who came to us and died a gruesome death for us so that He could be with us forever.
He is the God of Lent and the God of Easter, and we cannot reach the one without suffering through the other.
So will you consider Lent with me?
contemplating Lent
Lent begins on March 6 with Ash Wednesday.
Take some time in the quiet before then and ask God how He wants you to practice this season of Lent.
And then be still and listen.
Maybe you will hear something.
Maybe you won’t.
Either way, you are beginning the work of dying to yourself so that by His grace you can live more fully and abundantly with Him.
IMG_0314
If it would be of help to you, attached to this post are two links to a devotion that I have written for this season of Lent, one for the PDF version and one for the online version. It will take you through Ash Wednesday, the six Sundays of Lent, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.
Take it and may God bless you through it.
You can download the PDF version by clicking here.
You can access the online version by clicking here.

Art credits: all photographs copyright Made Sacred 2019

The Dangerous Grace of the Cross

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.

 

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
I am only beginning to explore this journey that is Lent.  This season was not a part of my faith tradition growing up, but it seems to be growing more popular among evangelicals these days.
Lent
This long season of Lent is not a frivolous sort of giving up as it appeared to a fairly oblivious teenage self (fasting from M&M’s anyone?) but a giving up for the purpose of giving away.  It is a period of self-denial in order to become more unified with the Spirit of Christ.
It is a difficult thing to be unified with Jesus.
Gazing into the eyes of Christ for too long has frightening consequences.
When you stare at the cross, you find yourself looking at your own death, at your sin and its just consequence.  You come face to face with all of the spiritual deformities that are in your own soul and find yourself tempted to turn away from the harsh reflection.
Crucified with Christ
When you gaze at Christ crucified for these forty days that are Lent, you are pulled close to the grace and forgiveness of your death finished for you.  But it is a dangerous grace.
This grace is one that does not leave you unfinished.  It is a grace that purges and renews.
The purpose of Lent is to awaken in you a sense of your own sin, your guilt for your sin, and your sorrow over your sin.
The purpose of Lent is to awaken “the sense of gratitude for the forgiveness of sins.  To (awaken) or to motivate the works of love and the work for justice that one does out of the gratitude for the forgiveness of one’s sins.” (Edna Hong in Bread and Wine) 
Awakening
This grace can only be approached at the end of Lent.
It is a long journey, these forty days.
It is a necessary journey, one that fights the apathy and smugness of this world in which we often find it easy to spot deformities in the souls of others and find it also easy to turn away from the crippled places of our own souls.
Yet we do not travel this path of Lent alone.
God’s Spirit Himself travels with us, maneuvering us down this steep path that ends at the foot of the cross.
As we stand at the foot of the cross, stripped of our illusions about ourselves, we gaze at the battered and broken body of the One who came to rescue us.
This body of Jesus that is our grace.  This grace that brings fire.  This fire that purges and cleanses and does not consume but instead resurrects us into a new self.
Gaze at the Cross
It is beautiful, this amazing and dangerous grace.
Dangerous Grace
When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie
My grace all sufficient shall be your supply.
The flame shall not hurt you, my only design
Your dross to consume and your gold to refine.
How Firm a Foundation

edited from the archives

Credit to Edna Hong and Walter Wangerin in Bread and Wine for many of the ideas in this post.

Photography is copyright Made Sacred 2018

Book links are affiliate links which allow you to support this website when you purchase a book, at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support.

The Eclipse of God

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.

 

 

One dark night, God the Son pleaded with God the Father
and was answered by silence.
silence
cries
One dark afternoon, God the Son cried out to God the Father
and was answered by the turning of His back.
rejection
The Father rejected the Son and the Son experienced “the dark night of the soul, in which everything that makes life something living withers away, and in which hope vanishes.” (Jurgen Moltmann)
For the parents who have just lost their child
For the girl who has just been raped
For the man who has just lost his job
For the woman who is drowning in loneliness
the only answer to your cry of Why? Why, oh God, why? is not a because
it is an experience.
Lent
The reality of whatever makes you feel what Martin Buber calls the eclipse of God can only be answered by the reality experienced by Jesus.
“‘For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you.'” (Jurgen Moltmann)
The Jesus whose cry was met with silence, the Jesus who was rejected by God, He is the friend to whom we can confide everything because He has suffered everything that has happened to us.
And more.
eclipse of God
reality of Christ
For into our unanswered cry to God, He came.
He came and entered into the darkness and the suffering to be with us.
He came as a brother to sit with us in our fears, our weeping, our brokenness.
He came as a mother to reclaim His own. “Could a mother desert her young? Even so I could not desert you.
“He sits beside us not only in our sufferings but even in our sins. He does not turn His face from us, however much we turn our face from Him.” (Peter Kreeft)
It is the truth Corrie ten Boom spoke from the hell of a Nazi death camp, “No matter how deep our darkness, He is deeper still.”
And because He came, He can answer our cry with His reality.
after the eclipse
reality of the resurrection
He can answer our reality with the experience of His reality that no matter how dark the eclipse of God, it is always followed by the blinding dawn of the resurrection.

Art Credits: The Three Crosses by Rembrandt; Resurrection by Luca Giordano; Der Engel öffnet das Grab Christi by Benjamin Gerrisz Cuyp; all photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2018

Value in Our Lenten Suffering

I am relaxing with my family away from the internet this week. To follow last week’s post on Lenten suffering, I have pulled this related post from the archives. Read, be blessed, and go enjoy your own family and friends.
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.

 

Where in the world but in Christianity?
Where in the world could you find a premise about life that ekes value out of suffering?
Beginning
Beginning
Suffering happens. There is no denying this. But to find value in this suffering that is common to us all?
The ancient Jews had come to understand this.
Isaiah. Jeremiah. Daniel. The Psalms.
This theory of the way life works finds its fulfillment in Jesus, of course.
…He learned obedience through what He suffered. And being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.
To be made perfect.
This is our goal, our telos, or vision of life toward which our whole being is aimed.
To bring glory to God and to be God’s rulers on earth.
How? By being made like Jesus.
And it is our obedience in the middle of our suffering that brings this about.
Whether we are suffering from what others have done to us, whether we are suffering from grief or pain, whether we are simply suffering because our faithful lives are out of step with the people and powers of this world, when we are obedient in this suffering, we are made like Jesus.
Middle of Suffering
Middle of Suffering
Obedience in little things, every day, is practice for the urgent things, the catastrophes.
Obedience daily prepares us, is the only thing that can prepare us, for obedience in suffering
We celebrate in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces patience, patience produces a well-formed character, and a character like that produces hope.
Middle of Suffering
Middle of Suffering
Our hope is for the glory of God.
His glory is both the divine stewardship of this earth entrusted to us and the return of His presence to His people after our long exile.
Our hope is to be made like Jesus.
To be made perfect, as He is perfect.
End as it was created to be
End as it was created to be
This is the value in our suffering.
This is what makes it all worth it in the end.
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.

Art credit: All photographs are mine, copyright Made Sacred 2018