Living on Isaac’s Altar

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I awake each morning and climb onto Isaac’s altar.
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I feel much like I imagine that Isaac felt, fearful and yet trusting.
I trust that my Father knows. I trust that He knows what will happen and I trust in His love for me.
I trust that whatever He brings me to this day He also will bring me through.
I give this body that He gave to me, give it back for whatever His purpose might be.
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I am fully awake to the truth that it is only by His mercies that I am acceptable to Him. Only because of His sacrifice that I am made lawful for sacrifice. Only because of His grace that I am made holy, made pure and spotless as the ancient lamb.
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This death of myself leads to resurrection of self, myself as I was created to be. I am raised to live in worship, my life as worship to Him.
I climb off Isaac’s altar and onto the mountain of Jehovah Ra’ah. The LORD will provide. Like Abraham, I trust in the Lord’s provision. I trust in His promise that I will love Him and love others, trust that He will provide what I need to obey.
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My body remains my sacrifice, my life remains my worship.
By His mercies, I belong to Him and I will not take that lightly.
I often fall off my altar, but I climb back on, and at the end of each day I sleep in peace, knowing that His mercies are new each morning.
Knowing that He will help me, when I wake up, to climb onto Isaac’s altar once again.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. ~ Romans 12.1

Art credits: The Sacrifice of Isaac by Adi Holzer; The Sacrifice of Abraham by Rembrandt; Abraham Sacrificing Isaac by Luca Penni; Abraham Sacrificing Isaac from the Phillip Medhurst Picture Torah

Loving All 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.

 

God is love.

Love

God is justice.

Justice

God is tender and merciful and He is sharp and condemning.
To love God is to love everything about Him. Even the parts we don’t understand. Even the pieces we wish were different.

Merciful

To wish that God were only comfort and healing is to wish away judgement for those who abuse children, rape women, sell humans. It is to wish away the cross, and this diminishes Christ’s sacrifice.

Condemning

When we wish for God only to be mercy and grace, we wish away His sharpness, and it is His sharpness that prunes and perfects us.
Christ’s love is not the soft love of human emotion, but a burning fire that cleanses and sears. It is a love that demands self-sacrifice. ~ J. Heinrich Arnold in The Center
And sacrifice is the only way to conquer death, defeat Satan, rescue the world.

Grace

So we come full circle.
To love the saving, forgiving piece of God is to love the judging, condemning part of God.
These pieces which come together in the Christ who hangs on the cross.

Sharp

On this Good Friday, look up at His bloody form and love Him.
All of Him.

When Praise is a Sacrifice

Sacrifice is hard.
I suppose that is clear from the very definition of the word.
The idea of a sacrifice of praise seems a strange sort of concept.  We tend to view praise as spontaneous, as rising from our rising and joyful emotions.  How can such praise be a sacrifice?
Easy to praise
Easy to praise
That sort of praise is not such a sacrifice.  But what about the praise that comes from a woman who has just lost her child?  What about the praise from a man who does not know how he will feed his family?  What about the praise from Christ-follower who lives every day in fear of torture or death because of Who he follows?
Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name. (Heb. 13.5)
The praise of the one ravaged by cancer, the praise of the one dying inside from loneliness, the praise of the one who isn’t even sure that God is really there…these are a sacrifice.  These are that sacrifice of praise.
Suffered years of illinesses
Steph – Suffered years of illnesses and still chose to try to praise God
Kristina - died of cancer, leaving her husband and baby behind
Kristina – died of cancer, leaving her husband and baby behind, yet still sought God while alive.
But how?  How is it even possible to praise God while living through such circumstances?
Through Him
Through who?
Look back just one chapter.
…looking to Jesus…who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Heb. 12. 2-3)
How?  By looking to Jesus.  By looking to the One who was able to offer up His own sacrifice of praise while enduring the physical pain of the cross, while enduring the emotional shame of the cross, while enduring the heartbreaking separation from His own Father.
Jesus - crucified, humiliated, abandoned, yet still offered praise to God
Jesus – crucified, humiliated, abandoned, yet still offered praise to God
By keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, and therefore off of ourselves, we are given courage and strength to do what we think is impossible.  We are kept from growing weary and fainthearted.
By fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, we are able to continually offer up a sacrifice of praise.  An offering of praise that endures all time and all circumstance.  An offering of praise that is beautiful to God.

Art credits: Sunlight through tulips photograph by Kirk Sewell Photography; photograph of Jesus carrying the cross sculpture by Asta Rastauskiene

The Day God is Dead

Holy Saturday.
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The day God is dead.
The day we lose God Himself.
Don’t miss this.  Don’t rush through it.  On the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, God is dead.
Belgium
One part of the Trinity, yes, but God nonetheless.
The Word of God is gone.  We can no longer hear Him.
Linger in this day.  Does the earth feel different?  Somehow vacant?
Elmendorf
There is, for this day, no possible way to reach God.
And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.
No Most Holy Place where the high priest could meet with God.
It is finished.
He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.
No Word of God in whom we can see the Father.
No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
Garden Tomb Side
Remain in this day as long as you can.  I don’t understand how, but somehow this day exists on which we are completely isolated from God.
Breathe in the horror of this day.  God is dead.  He is, for this day, unattainable.  Can you catch even a glimpse?
The disciples did.  They lived it for what must have felt like an eternity.
We’d rather skip past this day, this Saturday that contains Christ’s body in the tomb.  Yet we must linger if we are to grasp the power of Easter Sunday.  We must dwell here awhile if we are to be allowed to hold the joy of Easter Sunday.
When the Son, the Word of the Father is dead, then no one can see God, hear of Him or attain Him.  And this day exists, when the Son is dead, and the Father, accordingly, inaccessible. ~ Hans Urs Von Balthasar (theologian and author)
Can you feel the terror of it?  Do you sense the incomprehensible void that stretches before us on this day?  What does it even mean?
Do not rush too quickly past this Holy Saturday on your way to the miracle.  You may miss the deepest part of the gratitude and joy that are to come.
Garden Tomb
The deepest gratitude and joy that come only when you understand what was absent, and understand that it was only for a day.

 

Art credits: Preparation of Christ’s Tomb by Vittore Carpaccio; Tomb of knight Philip Keerman in Flanders, Belgium; 1912 photograph of Jerusalem Garden Tomb by Dwight Lathrop Elmendorf; Side view of Garden Tomb by Deror Avi; Jerusalem Garden Tomb by Berthold Werner

I Cannot

I 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.
clenched fist
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.  
Coming Down
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.
Fires
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.
Reconciliation
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

Today

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Today, our world seems darker.
Today, my heart is heavy and grieving.
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Today, I acknowledge my guilt and wrap myself around my shame.
Today, I try to fully take in the magnitude of this beautiful, amazing Love.

 

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 On this day, creation mourned and the sun hid itself in grief.
On this day, Jesus chose to stay nailed down, for His heart was full of love.
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On this day, Jesus took my guilt into His own body and gave up, for a time, His perfect closeness with God the Father.
On this day, God once for all proved His love for us.
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On this day, He proved His Word, that He truly meant it when He said
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
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He loves me. He came to rescue me and to make me perfect and holy. He came to conquer death and to make me alive.
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On this day, God proved through Jesus that He means to accomplish all of these things.
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And yet.
Is He able?
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Today, I do not yet know.
I suppose I’ll have to wait until Sunday to find out.
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art credit: Sketch by Rembrandt, The Three Crosses

Receiving Grace with Grace

This week’s post is the last guest post.  I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing from some other talented and wise writers!  Next week you’ll be stuck with me again. :)  This essay was written by yet another old friend from my undergrad days at Harding University, Kelly Wiggains (known as Kelly Duncan back in the day).  I am grateful that we have kept in touch over the years, as she is not only a talented writer (she writes regularly about words, books and beauty over at kellywiggains.com. You should definitely head over and explore her blog…you’ll love it!  Go ahead and subscribe to receive her posts by email.  While I’m thinking about it, you can subscribe to receive mine as well.  Go on…I’ll wait…), but she is a wise and godly woman who is also a beautiful wife and momma.  I keep her around as a friend because she is incredibly intelligent and can give me much needed advice.  She’s also stinkin’ hilarious.  I’ll admit that I’m not sure why she keeps me around.  Enjoy her beautiful thoughts!

o is for open

Michael W. May via Compfight cc

“Before I tell you what happened, where are you?” my husband asked. I replied, “Well, I’m sitting in the McDonald’s parking lot. Starbucks was too cold.” One night a week, I spend a few hours all by myself outside of the house to go and write, and my husband watches the kids. On this unusually windy and cold night, I was about to spend my time of solitude in the local McDonald’s, indulging in some coffee and the free wifi.
My husband continued with his story. He and the kids were spending their evening with some Papa Murphy’s pizza and Star Wars (typical “Writing Night” fare) when someone rang the doorbell. Tyler opened up the door to an older man, standing on our front porch with a Christmas gift bag. The man smiled and said, “Tyler?” My husband replied, “Yes.” The man handed him the bag, offered a quick, “Merry Christmas,” and left. Tyler mumbled, “Merry Christmas to you,” in return and walked back into the house.
The package easily weighed five pounds, a deceptive weight in a decorative Christmas bag meant for a bottle of wine. Inside the bag, Tyler found a book, a letter, and a quart-sized mason jar filled with change and small bills. Our family just received a little Christmas miracle of almost $100.
All too often, I’ve heard sermons about the amazing power of being selfless, how giving of your time, effort, money, talents to other people in the name of God’s glory brings joy to your life. We hear about how we should approach those acts of kindness in humility, never letting our left hand know what our right hand is doing. We should give generously, only seeking praise for our Father and not for ourselves.
I’ve learned how to give with love and without expectation. However, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a sermon about how to receive an act of kindness. How should I accept someone else’s sacrifice? Have you ever accepted help with no way to repay that help? Have you ever been the recipient of truly unconditional love and sacrifice?
I’ve seen this kind of love and sacrifice tangibly, vividly in my life several times. As a teenager, my dad fought a battle with cancer for about a year. I can remember my church taking up a special collection for our family. I wept at the sight of my church family readily grabbing at their purses under the pew or digging in their coat pockets for their checkbook. Not long after that, our family received another stack of cash, collected from the merchants of my hometown. My dad sat on his hospital bed in shock before his sister said, “How many times have you thrown in $20 or $50 like that for someone else?” I remember watching this unfold as a teenager. I remember being humbled by it, feeling a sense of gratitude, yet I did not feel the true weight of the sacrifice because I had no idea about the concept of money.
Recently, my mom has been struggling with her own battle with cancer. In the past year, I’ve received cards in the mail from extended family with an unexpected check and a note of encouragement. We’ve only lived in our current city for about six months, yet I’ve had cash slipped into my hand after an embrace with a new friend at church. The only explanation? “A friend wanted me to give this to you. So you can go see your momma.”
Every day acts of sacrifice like this always point me to the The Cross. How much more is the sacrifice of our Father and his Son? Our Father allowed the sacrifice of His only Son to bring an avenue back to His people. Our Brother and Lord, Jesus, gave his life unselfishly for all of mankind. I’ve been taught about this sacrifice all of my life. The enormity of it only washes over me once in a while. Rarely, I can make a tangible connection to the unfathomable sacrifice of our God and his gift of grace to us. More than anything else this year, I’ve learned about the power of grace, unconditional love, and true generosity from normal, everyday, broken, amazing friends and family. There is nothing more humbling or more empowering than seeing this at work.

Searching for My Next Act of Worship

Worship is central to who we are as disciples of Christ.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritualact of worship. ~ Romans 12.1

Our entire lives are to be acts of worship. In church and during the week, inside our homes and outside in God’s creation, serving the homeless and cleaning my toilet, I am to be offering myself to God in worship. No matter what the task.

I have written about worship here before. Worship is part of our job as priests. We are to echo the praise and adoration of all creation back to the Creator. People are the only part of creation who are able to love God back, who are able to give voice to the wordless praise of all creation.

Worship. 

My heart has been aching over this for several months now. 

A large part of who I am is a musician. Music has been a part of my identity as long as I can remember, and a huge part of that musical identity has, from as early as grade school, been to participate in leading my Family in worship to our Father.
Then I heard God ask me to give that up.

I wasn’t sure I had heard Him correctly. Isn’t this the worship He has always asked of me? To use the gift of music that He gave me to serve His people?

Though I balked, I truly did understand what God was asking of me. He was asking me to stop using my music in our church worship service in order to spend more time with my little ones.

He was asking me to give up using my music as my current act of worship.

This made my heart ache to its very core. How would I worship now? In what aspect could my life still be an act of worship?

Then I listened to a video of Sally Clarkson, from I Take Joy, talk about laying the foundation for your children, for your home. She spoke a truth that I should have understood, one that instantly shot peace through my core.

Raising my children is an act of worship. 

My whole life is to be an act of worship. If God is calling me to give up one particular way of worshiping Him, then what is to take its place? 

Being with my little ones.

I breathe and think through this a little more deeply.

God gave me these babies. He gaveme these babies and asked me to raise them into people who bear His image.

Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. ~ Psalms 127.3

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates… ~ Deuteronomy 11.18-20

Aha.

My children are a gift to me and my husband, primarily to me and my husband. Our most precious task right now is fixing God’s Words in their hearts, setting them on the doorframes and gates of our home.

Raising my little ones is my current act of worship.

Suddenly, my heart is filled with peace and joy. 

No more aching, only a sense of gratitude that God has given me such a beautiful way to worship Him. 

I am filled with a sense of the immensity and importance of this act of worship, filled with the urgency that nothing should stand in the way of this worship during this season of my life.

Suddenly, I am not filled with loss for the act of worship I am giving up (for the present) but am filled with contentment for the fullness of the years of worship ahead of me.

May I be intentional about building our home on His Words. May I be purposeful about fixing God’s Words in the hearts and minds of my little ones. May I throw all my being into building our home on Christ Himself. May I let no other good thing distract me from this beautiful worship, from this making our lives sacred.

This. This is my living sacrifice, my sacrifice of praise. In this breathtaking and wondrous season of my life, this is my spiritual act of worship.

Photographs of Love

I have a photograph that sits on my dresser. In this photograph, my then-two-year-old daughter is giving an exuberant hug to my crammed-full-of-baby-sister tummy. Her arms are wrapped around my belly as far as they will go, her sweet face is all squashed up against my belly and I am laughing with joy at her excitement.

I have another photograph that could sit beside the first. In this photograph, my then-two-year-old daughter is lying on top of her now-two-month-old sister, trying to squash her and steal her pacifier, while baby sister is crying with pure frustration. Ah, the fickleness of a child’s love!

My eldest daughter was so excited about becoming a big sister. She talked for months about how much she loved her baby sister, how she couldn’t wait for baby to arrive and how she would give baby sister so many hugs and kisses. Then her baby sister arrived and reality came crashing into her world. The first time I gave baby the attention that my eldest claimed for her own, that previously professed love disappeared as quickly as a child when bedtime is near.

I like to think that I, as an adult, am able to show a much more pure kind of love to all those around me. I want to believe that I am capable of giving true love, a perfect sort of gift-love, if not to everyone, then at least to those who are most important to me. Like my eldest duaghter, however, the gift-love I am capable of giving shines best when captured by photographs.

SnapThere I am making my husband’s favorite meal for supper tonight. Snap Look at me! There I am taking the time to walk with my kids to the park for a fun morning of play time and a picnic lunch. SnapIn this one, I’m making a meal for a dear friend who just gave birth to a baby boy. 

If you look at me in the space between those snapshots, however, I’m ignoring my husband when he gets home from work, snarling at my girls when I am tired and avoiding the friend who is struggling with her past for the pitiful reason that I don’t know what to say. Ah, the fickleness of an adult’s love!

I struggle to understand the true nature of gift-love. Ask anyone on the street and they would say that they desire to be loved. I don’t really comprehend what that means, though. I don’t know what that looks like. What doesit look like to be loved beautifully, perfectly? I begin to look around me for insight, for glimpses that will help my heart to know what love really is.

SnapMy husband gives up certain advancements in his career in order to give me and his daughters more of himself and his time. SnapMy parents give up a needed vacation so that they can support their son as he grieves for his wife. SnapI watch my brother love and care for his young wife who is dying of cancer, giving up all thought of doing anything for himself.

As I watch and tuck away these photographs of memory, I begin to see a strand that connects them all. Each of these moments of perfect love seem to involve sacrifice, a denying of self. I start to wonder: is this what is required for love to be real, for love to be true? For love to be perfected, must the lover give up something of great importance?

The truth of this seems a little clearer when I think about my children. Other than my love for my husband, my love for my children is the closest thing to a perfect gift-love that I am able to give. With my children, I do not expect anything at all in return for my love, my service. Especially while they are young, I know that I must love them even when the gratitude I receive in return for my love is a tantrum in the supermarket. It is when I start expecting something in return from them, when I expect obedience or even a simple “thank you”, that my gift-love fails and those photographs of love turn into the blank in-between space of ugly actions and thoughts. Still, I do expect something in return. I expect to be loved in return for loving them.

I begin to think that perhaps this is why it is so hard to love consistently. I need love for myself too much to be able to give love perfectly to anyone else. Authentic love is unconditional yet I can’t live without the love that I receive from those around me. Those snapshots of perfect love that I tucked away seem to include a forgetting of self, a giving without expecting anything in return, an open-handed gift even if a close-handed gesture is the return. The imperfection of my love creeps in when that cannot be sustained. It seems that, as much as we may desire otherwise, we can only have snapshots of that real love because we all must receive as well as give. We need to be loved in order to give love perfectly. It seems that what we need is someone to love us who doesn’t need us at all.


Perhaps this is why those photographs of perfect love are so beautiful, so cherished, so longed for…because, at least among humanity, they are the exception rather than the rule. They draw us out of the smallness of ourselves and into something bigger, something greater. Those momentary photographs show us a glimpse of the joy and contentment that could be ours in a perfect sort of gift-love. It seems a difficult thing, but perhaps with time, more of the pages of my life can become filled with those beautiful photographs of perfect gift-love with less blank space in between.