The Theory of Life that Brings Value to our Suffering

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 2017

The Danger of Obedience

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 am a lover of rules.
I have a deep belief that most rules were created to keep me safe. I cling to safety and I enjoy comfort, thus I comply with the rules.
Moses Tissot
There is an expectation when we follow rules that our obedience will bring about a desired result. When we obey the rules, we feel entitled to a certain outcome.
We have often, I fear, misunderstood the promised outcome of submitting to Jesus.
As did His disciples.
They had just seen Jesus feed the five thousand when He made them get into a boat and cross the lake while He stole some much needed alone time with His Father.
Storm Clouds
While they were crossing the lake, a storm came up. One of those storms that tends to sweep across the Sea of Galilee, swamping and overturning all boats in its path.
And the disciples were caught right in the middle of it. They clung to their boat for dear life, crying out with fear in a danger that was the direct result of their obedience to Jesus.
Storms
Has this happened to you? If not yet, as you continue to obey Jesus it is bound to happen sometime.
Whether it is physical danger or a danger of a different sort, submission to Jesus does not guarantee safety.
Quite the opposite, actually. Obedience to Jesus often brings trouble down on our heads.
Yet it also brings peace beyond understanding and joy that is made complete.
Most precious of all, surrender brings us the presence of Jesus Himself.
Jesus walks on the sea
Jesus came down from the mountaintop, walked out on the water, strode into the storm,
Christ Walking on the Waters Von Klever
and stepped into the boat with the disciples.
And immediately there was calm.
Obedience does not bring safety and it does not bring comfort.
Obedience does, however, bring the presence of God Almighty Himself.
It is worth every dangerous moment.

Art Credits: Moses and the Ten Commandments by James Tissot; storm photos by Kirk SewellJesus Walks on the Sea by Gustave Dore; Christ Walking on the Water by Julius Sergius Von Klever

God’s Law

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.

 

My youngest is in that cute-right-now-but-not-so-cute-in-3-years sort of stage where she will turn and make sure she has my attention just before she does something wrong. She wants to be sure I know she is breaking the rules.
Testing the Law
There is something about breaking the rules that makes all of us more conscious of who is around us. As grownups, we probably want to be sure that no one is watching rather than making sure that the rule-enforcer is paying attention; regardless, we want to know who can see us.
When I make rules for our kids, I am really just describing to them how life works.
Don’t touch that stove because fire is hot and will burn you.
Don’t hit people because then no one will want to play with you.
Upset Mad Angry
I’m sure my girls often feel as though I am just trying to ruin everything they want to do, but the truth is that I understand better than they do how life works best and I want to teach them how to navigate life in a way that will make them content.
Ever wonder why God gave the Ten Commandments? Why He gave over six hundred laws in the Old Testament or why more than one thousand in the New?
Is it because He loves rules? Is it because He enjoys watching His children stay restrained and unable to enjoy their lives?
If God did indeed create this world and everything in it, then this has consequences for every realm of human life. It’s not just about being moral, it’s about metaphysics. It’s about the nature of things.
In simpler terms, God knows better than anyone else how this life works.
If God knows how life works best, it would be cruel to withhold that information from those He loves.
Thus, He gave us His laws.
Rembrandt Moses with the Ten Commandments
Not as a way to restrain us, rather as a way to help us navigate life in a way that will help us to be most content, that will bring us the most peace and joy, that will make us most like Him.
Asking us to obey, then, becomes not a way to keep us far away from Him, but a way to bring us close. A way to prove His love for us by making us fit for His presence.
The next time you are chafing under His rules, remember who created this life and thus knows it best. Trust in His love, obey Him, and reap the benefits.
The next time you hesitate to bring your faith into the public realm, remembering that Christ’s rule has public ramifications may be the most generous and loving service you can offer to your neighbors.
A life of consistent obedience leads to ever-increasing joy.
Put it to the test and you’ll see.

Art Credit: Moses and the Ten Commandments by Rembrandt

Prayer

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.
Prayer.
This one word means so many different things.
IMG_3421
Asking. Adoration. Doubt. Despair. Confidence. Confusion.
We pray with expectation; we pray with hopelessness.
We pray in altruism; we pray in selfishness.
We pray boldly stepping up to the throne; we pray pessimistic, not expecting a favorable answer.
Prayer.
Gethsemane_Carl_Bloch
Regardless of how you view it, aside from what you expect from it, no matter how you approach it, the Bible is clear.
We must pray.
From seek and you will find to the story of the widow who bothered the judge enough that he finally gave her justice, we are told to take everything to God in prayer. Everything.
Whatever else prayer is, if we are praying without ceasing, the words we offer to God permeate everything we do, everything we are.
Whatever else prayer does, if we continually give our hearts to God, we end up also offering our selves to others.
IMG_5704
If we offer our prayers to God while we offer ourselves to others, the power of God acts as a wireless network, acting for others to give rescue, healing, comfort, light.
As we offer our prayers to God, we become less ourselves and more a piece of a whole. A whole that covers the whole earth, bringing God’s love and kingdom to all.
We are woven into the fabric of God’s power and love, becoming a part of bringing His kingdom to earth, a part of His restoring of creation.
It (prayer) moves from God to others through us, because we have ceased to be self-centered units, but are woven into the great fabric of praying souls, the “mystical body” through which the work of Christ on earth goes on being done. ~ Evelyn Underhill (Christian philosopher and writer, early 1900’s)
All because of prayer.

Art credit: Gethsemane painting by Carl Bloch

There Are Times

I took a short break from blogging after experiencing some very difficult times related to my writing, and I’m glad to be back in my writing space. As I searched for the way to be obedient in what happened, I discovered that I don’t believe God has released me from writing here in this space, so I published a couple of essays from my archives while I prayed and thought and wrote. Here is what I wrote in the aftermath of my troubles. I pray that it will give a small bit of help to 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.

 

There are times when I feel desperate for God.
Times when my path forward seems dark
as the hour before dawn.
IMG_8834
Times when the darkness seems to creep into my soul and
times when it wants to burst out of my heart and
threaten to hurt those around me.
IMG_5370 - Copy (2)
I always know in a cerebral sense that my very being depends on God, but
there are times when I know it in a deep, carnal way.
These are the times I see clearly into my own heart and
tremble with fear for the rage I see there.
IMG_5316
These are the times I am asked to forgive, to
turn the other cheek in a real and painful way.
These are the times I find I must return something
to God that is precious to me and find that my deepest self
wants to turn away from Him instead.
IMG_7339
It is in these times that I fall on my face and
beg Him to surround me with Himself.
It is in these times that I lift up my eyes and
plead for Him to heal me from the inside.
It is in these times that I know with a gut-wrenching certainty that
I am, indeed, desperate for God
in all times.
I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee.
Oh, bless me now my Savior,
I come to Thee.

The Absurdity of Jesus

Once upon a time, there was an American who took a hike in the Smoky Mountains.
'The_Good_Samaritan'_by_David_Teniers_the_younger
He was a couple of days down the trail when he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.
Maximilien_Luce_-_Le_bon_samaritain
Now by chance a State governor came along the trail, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.
Good_Samaritan_(icon)
So likewise, a conservative talk show host happened upon the American as he walked down the trail, and he too passed by on the other side.
El_bon_samarità_(1838),_de_Pelegrí_Clavé_i_Roquer
Also a local pastor, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
Bon_samaritain
But a middle-eastern man, dressed in military fatigues and carrying a sub-machine gun, looking much like the pictures of ISIS soldiers, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds…
Much of what Jesus says is ridiculous. Completely unreasonable and absurd. Crazy, even.
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and to the evil.
Then the King will say…, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father…For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a refugee and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.
It doesn’t make sense and it is uncomfortable and it is hard. It is so very hard.
Domenico_Fetti_-_Parable_of_the_Good_Samaritan_-_WGA07860
The idea of praying for those who want to bomb me is ludicrous. The thought of welcoming people who might be preparing to hurt my children is absurd. It makes my heart freeze and my stomach hurt.
I am frightened and I want to obey Jesus only when I can see the outcome, only when I know that I will be blessed, not blown to smithereens, in return.
There are so many commands of Jesus that I skip right over. I look at them, read them, and decide that they are not for me. Following Jesus is hard, and I am a coward.
Which means, if I am honest with myself, that I am no better than those I am frightened of.
while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son…
And God reached down to earth for me. He became a refugee, a stranger, for my sake, to bring me back to Him.
God, help me.
Give me courage, give me strength. Give me faith to trust that in Your ridiculousness, You know what You are talking about.
Help me to love You enough to obey You. To obey all that You command.
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever.
Help those who do not love You, including myself who does not love You enough.
All_Saints_Church,_Bracknell_Road,_Ascot,_Berks_-_Wall_painting_-_geograph.org.uk_-_898496
Emmanuel, God-with-us, help me. Help your Church.

Art Credits for Good Samaritan paintings in order: David Teniers the younger; Maximilien Luce; Russian iconPelegrín Clavé y Roqué; Rvalette; Domenico Fetti; All Saints Church wall painting

Works and Grace

His thoughts and wisdom come from years of walking steadily towards God.
Steadfast
This father of mine who has read the Bible through every year for years upon years, who yet still is searching and seeking, discovering new depths in this Word that he loves.
Walking
We walk through the woods, sunlight blazing through the red and yellow leaves, the sounds of fall in the leaves at our feet.  In spurts, in between the happy screams of children running up and down hills, he speaks to me of his latest wonderings.
He wonders about the difference between the writings of Paul and words of Jesus.
“What if…” he feels his way forward.  “What if we didn’t have Paul’s letters?  What if all we had were the gospels, the words of Jesus?  Jesus speaks much more of actions, of behavior, of thoughts and emotions.  He almost never speaks of grace.”
He’s right.  Jesus doesn’t dwell much on the beauties of grace.  His business seems to be with the practical, with the fruit that a life of a disciple should bear.
Only those who do the Father’s commands will enter the Kingdom.
By your words you will be acquitted or condemned.
When asked, What must I do to be saved?, His answer is simple: Keep the commandments.
It is enough to bring despair, if that were the only way to be saved.  Obedience for salvation?  This is not gospel.  This is not good news.
Yet when someone comes to Him for healing, Jesus tells them that it is their own faith that has saved them.
Healing
What does it mean, this faith that is a saving faith?  What kind of a faith will save us?
Perhaps a clue comes from the times that Jesus tells us, Whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. 
Bible Reading
Perhaps it does all come down to whether or not we truly believe Jesus.  If we truly believe that His way is best, that He is who He says He is and therefore knows what in this crazy upside down world He’s talking about, then we will obey Him.
Not perfectly and not all the time (Which is where Paul’s grace seems to come in.  Which is where Jesus’ statements like it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God…but with God all things are possible seem to bring in grace), but if you really believe then you will allow your heart to be changed.
Sometimes it is dramatic and fast, like Paul.  Other times it comes slowly and painfully, small choice by small choice, like the disciples.
It does seem, at times, that there is an apparent contradiction between works and grace in the New Testament.
Searching
It also seems, though, that while we can never be good enough to earn our way in, and while it is only by the blood of Christ that we are able to come near to God at all, at the same time, once we have decided that He is truth then our lives should reflect that truth.
A life that is given up to the Lordship of Christ should bear fruit.
We do not try to obey so that we can be loved, but rather the love of Jesus allows us a beginning of the ability to obey, however imperfectly.
The grace brings about the works.
I am still learning, however, and welcome your own wisdom.  What would happen if we only had the gospels and not the letters of Paul?  How are grace and works reconciled, and should we put a greater emphasis on works?

Be Right or Love the Person?

“Is it more important to be right or to be loving?”
Angry
I ask her the question as she stands with her hands on her hips, righteous indignation quivering through every inch of her little body.
Frustrated
It seems an easy question when put in such stark terms, but which of us answers it correctly in each one of our little choices every day?
Certainly not me.
I find myself struggling with whether loving the person or desiring to be right is more important.  I wrestle with the decision of whether having the perfect event or loving the person is better.  I fight hard against the desire to let my agenda, my task list trump the to-do of loving the person.
Love God.  Love people.
Love the Lord your God
It is that simple.  It is that hard.
Pride stands in our way.  Desire for an experience to be amazing puts up a wall.  Need to feel accomplished plants its roots.
Yet it truly is simple.  Will we obey our own desires or will we submit ourselves to God?
Stubborn
“To be loving.”  The answer barely escapes through her gritted teeth.  She doesn’t want that to be the right answer.
I know, my darling.  I know.  I, too, want a different answer.  I, too, want to protect myself, to protect my perceived interests and rights.
The trouble is that when you commit yourself to this God of power and love, you commit to letting Him defend you.  Your job is to obey.  In this case, that looks like love.
It is making yourself vulnerable in order to love the person.  It is making yourself nothing in order to love the person.  It is making yourself a servant in order to love the person.
Love God.  Love people.
Love your sister
It is that simple.  It is that hard.

Fairy Tale Truth

I love how much truth can be found in fairy tales and myths.  I love that God chooses to give us glimpses of Himself and His Word in the words of storytelling throughout time.
Reading Fairy Tales
We often view Christianity as rules and laws, as limitations on our freedom.  We wonder why God puts so many limits on our fun.  I recently experienced a switch of perspective.
I am reading Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton.  In his book, he points out that in fairy tales, there is always an “if”.  You may go to the ball IF you return by midnight.  You may marry the princess IF you never let her see a cow.
The Princess
All the dizzy and colossal things conceded depend on one small thing withheld. All the wild and whirling things that are let loose depend upon one thing that is forbidden. ~ Chesterton
Everything beautiful and glorious that cannot be understood is dependent upon a condition that equally cannot be understood.
In fairy tales, this does not seem unjust.  If Cinderella asks her Fairy Godmother why she has to be home by midnight, the Godmother may reply “why should you go to the ball for any amount of time?”  If the miller asks “why can’t I let the princess see a cow?” the fairy may reply “why should you get to marry the princess at all?”
Wild and fantastic
Fairy tales never focus on the condition.  The condition is so small as to seem irrelevant.  The focus is on the dazzling, the wild, the fantastic vision.
We don’t focus on the vision.  We focus on the limitation.  We wonder why we must not get drunk instead of marveling at the beauty, the deep color, the richness of the wine.  We wonder why we must only marry one person instead of living in wonder at the existence of sex.
No restriction on sex seemed so odd and unexpected as sex itself…keeping to one woman is a small price for so much as seeing one woman…It showed, not an exaggerated sensibility to sex, but a curious insensibility to it. A man is a fool who complains that he cannot enter Eden by five gates at once. ~ Chesterton
What a beautiful change of viewpoint!  To look not at the limitation but at the wonder of the permission.  To not complain about being asked to keep our words pure but to wonder at the startling glory of language.  To not gripe of not being allowed to eat all that we desire but to be astonished at the wild and vast expanse of color and taste of food.  To look upon the dazzling, wild, fantastic vision.
Vision
In Christ, all is made sacred, so search for Him everywhere.  Look for Him in the stories and fables, in the myths and fairy tales that you read.  You will find Him there.

Stories

Art credits: Fairy Tales by Jessie Willcox Smith; Fairy Tale Barnstar by Arman Musikyan; In Fairyland by Richard Doyle; A Fairy Tale by Dorothy M. Wheeler; The Fairy Tale by Walther Firle

Keep Fighting

To live life well is hard.
It is difficult to live deliberately, to continue to work for the good of yourself and those you love.  It is easier to coast, to react, to let things slide.
Messy Table
Messy Sink
For myself, it is easier to let the clutter pile up than to keep our house feeling like a home.  It is easier to read mind-candy sorts of novels than to ponder the nature of our God and this universe.  It is easier to let my children learn on their own or through their schools, to allow my girls get away with small acts of unkindness and to be passive in the way they discover God than to fight for their hearts and their minds.  It is easier to let my relationship with my husband drift, to sit in our separate corners in the evenings than to work to know him and enjoy him.
Often I do not want to fight.  I do not want to fight for what is good.  I do not want to fight for what is God-honoring and God-pleasing.
Yet I fight anyway.  I fight because I love and, in this world anyway, loving requires you to fight.
Loving Well
I don’t fight perfectly, though.  I fight in fear of the needs that others have.  I fight in fear of my own inability to give anything good.  I fight in fear of doing the wrong thing and causing irreparable harm.
But still I fight, imperfect as it may be.  I fight in obedience to One who fought for me.
Christ Fought Well
Just like you.  You go and you fight. You go to the bedside of the sick or even the dying and you fight.  You go to the home of someone who is lonely and you fight.  You go to a meeting of a church group in need of volunteers and you fight.  You go to the food pantry, the orphanage, the shelter, and you fight.  You go to funeral, the party, the study, and you fight.
We go because it is where His way leads us; and again and again we are blessed by our going in ways we can never anticipate, and our going becomes a blessing to the ones we go to because when we follow His way, we never go entirely along, and it is always something more than just ourselves and our own emptiness that we bring.  ~ Frederick Buechner
So keep going.  Keep fighting.  And be blessed because when you go and when you fight, you are never fighting alone.

Art credit: photo of Christ carrying the cross by Asta Rastauskiene