A Whisper from God

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Some of the sparkle and light went out of our world on Wednesday when little Calla died.
Calla
I will come clean and admit that I do not understand God at times like these.
Why do I get to kiss my almost-nine little girl tonight and Calla’s parents go home with empty arms?
Why does one child gain his mother back cancer-free and another child grows up without a mom?
Why does one family receive the miracle of a healing and another family receives heart-break?
no miracle
We live in a broken world.
A world broken and distorted by sin.
Our sin.
This sickness and pain and loneliness and death?
This is not how it was supposed to be.
This is NOT how it was supposed to be.
In the Beginning
We should lament and wail and grieve, because this is not the way God created us or our world.
And the miracles that do happen?
Perhaps they are a whisper from God.
A whisper that says Remember.
miracle
Remember how it was in the beginning.
Remember how it was created to be and remember how it will be again someday.
Remember what we are straining toward.
Remember what creation is groaning for.
Remember.
glimpse of hope
Perhaps the miracles that happen, whether or not they happen to you, are a glimpse of light,
a glimpse of hope,
a glimpse of
Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore…Behold, I am making all things new.
miracle is coming
A glimpse of the day when the miracle will be standard fare for all of us.
E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come.

Art credits: Adam and Eve by Foster; all other photographs except the one of Calla are copyright Made Sacred 2019

Finding God in the Darkness

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Where is God when your world falls apart?
When your pleas seem unheard, when the horror seems to increase, when God Himself seems to have withdrawn into the darkness,
where do we find God?
Meet Calla.
Calla
Calla
The Woods
Calla is a nine year old girl full of sparkle and light, full of love and joy.
Until now.FightingUntil now when she is fighting for her life against the darkness of aggressive, rapidly growing tumors in her brain.
Where is God when your world falls apart?
Here.
He is right here.broken
Emmanuel.
God with us.
Jesus promised us crosses. We are to expect them.
And He also promised us empty tombs in the end.
It may not happen until the end, but He gave His word that He would make those tombs empty again.
So we must remember.
This is beyond hard when your baby girl is fighting for her life, yet Calla’s parents, Ben and Crystal, are also fighting hard.
love
love
Fighting hard to remember,
to remember that God broke into time to show us that the empty tomb will always follow the cross.
In the words of Corrie ten Boom from the hell of a Nazi concentration camp: No matter how deep our darkness, he is deeper still.
broken with us
And if that were not enough, if the promise of the rising sun melting away these sorrows like the morning dew were not enough,
He also promised to be with us through it all.
This is what Calla’s parents are fighting to shine into their darkness –
that God is good and He is with us.
When it feels as though life is beating you into the ground, when the weight of your burden does not allow you to rise from your bed in the morning, when you cannot carry your cross for one more step, you can know that He is here with you, carrying your cross with you, taking your burden on Himself.
Every tear we shed becomes His tear. He may not yet wipe them away, but He makes them His. Would we rather have our own dry eyes, or His tear-filled ones?
He came to us. He is here with us. We can be certain of Emmanuel in all circumstances.
Job learned this in a very real way.
When he wanted to know why his world was burning to ashes around him, God showed Job the wonders of the zoological world and the stunning beauties of the galaxies and told him, I did this!
When Job wanted, even demanded, an answer from God, God gave him something much more beautiful than a simple answer.
He gave Job the same answer that He gives to all who ask, to all who seek: Himself.
And when we declare all of this – His goodness and power, His love and His with us,
then God is glorified and our hearts are nourished.
If He does not heal all our broken bones and loves and lives now, He comes into them and is broken, like bread, and we are nourished.
the gift of Himself
Our Bread of Life, broken for us, will nourish us. He will never leave us.
broken for us
Will you join me in praying for Calla and her family? Pray for a miracle of healing to bring God all the glory, of course, and also pray for peace and joy and a tangible sense of God’s presence in the middle of this darkness to bring God all the glory.
I have only done this once before in my eight years of writing in this space, but would you consider giving a little to help my friends, as they wait? The waiting is so hard, especially when you have two other children back home in another state, especially when you must leave your work to wait with your girl. You can give by clicking here. If you want to stay updated on Calla and the ways in which God is being glorified by her family, click here.
Calla
my friends, the Woods
Thank you for praying. And may the peace of God be with you wherever you may be.
On Another’s Sorrow 
by William Blake
Can I see anothers woe,
And not be in sorrow too.
Can I see anothers grief,
And not seek for kind relief.
Can I see a falling tear
And not feel my sorrows share,
Can a father see his child,
Weep, nor be with sorrow fill’d.
Can a mother sit and hear,
An infant groan an infant fear—
No no never can it be.
Never never can it be.
And can he who smiles on all
Hear the wren with sorrows small,
Hear the small birds grief & care
Hear the woes that infants bear—
And not sit beside the nest
Pouring pity in their breast,
And not sit the cradle near
Weeping tear on infants tear.
And not sit both night & day,
Wiping all our tears away.
O! no never can it be.
Never never can it be.
He doth give his joy to all.
He becomes an infant small.
He becomes a man of woe
He doth feel the sorrow too.
Think not, thou canst sigh a sigh,
And thy maker is not by.
Think not thou canst weep a tear,
And thy maker is not near.
O! he gives to us his joy,
That our grief he may destroy
Till our grief is fled & gone
He doth sit by us and moan.

All photographs not of Calla and her family are copyright Made Sacred 2019

Quotes are from Peter Kreeft

One Another

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There is much suffering in this world.
suffering
There is much pain.
It is one thing that connects us all, a piece of what it means to be human.
Sometimes the sheer force of it all is enough to sink me.
And yet.
one another
Recently I was struck deeply by the idea that we could be a part of someone’s healing simply by being willing to bear their suffering through compassion.
In compassion, one may carry the sin and suffering of others in such a way that they may be restored to wholeness precisely because their sin and suffering are borne. ~ Andrew Purves
Compassion often involves great personal cost as we become involved with another.
Perhaps we could go so far as to say that compassion requires suffering.
Why not?
This kind of suffering, this level of involvement incurring great personal cost, is precisely the kind of suffering that Jesus bore on our behalf.
compassion
If our goal, our telos, is to become like Jesus, to live a life like His, than we should not be surprised that our lives should involve suffering, specifically compassionate suffering.
Jesus’s suffering is the method of our healing.
Jesus suffers with the world in order to heal it.
healing
What is surprising, the truth I want to ponder more, is the idea that our suffering, like His, could be the means by which another could be healed.
Perhaps this should not be startling.
If we are, as Paul writes to the Corinthians, to be the body of Christ, to be His hands and His feet,
if we are to care for one another as we would care for our own body,
perhaps we should instead expect to be able to do what He did.
one another
Perhaps we should be even more willing to take on the suffering of others, as Jesus did for us, because we know that in so doing, we will be given a part in restoring them to wholeness.
One person at a time, as we are lead by the Holy Spirit,
perhaps we can begin to heal the whole world.

Art credits: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise by Benjamin West; The Palsied Man Let Down Through the Roof by James Tissot; The Three Crosses by Rembrandt; Pietà by Michelangelo

Found in the Dark

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Dark.
There is darkness outside at three in the morning and there is darkness inside of ourselves from which we cannot escape.
Dark.
There is darkness in the middle of a storm and there is darkness in the destructive aftermath when the sun is shining.
Dark.
Darkness
There is danger in the dark and there is fear, but is it the darkness that we fear or is it whatever lies within the darkness that we cannot see?
We light candles and we plug in nightlights and we busy ourselves to do whatever is necessary to hold the darkness at bay.
Lighting Candles
What are we really afraid of? Are we afraid that God is not there in the dark? Are we afraid that God is only in the light and if we enter into the darkness, whether it be the darkness of loss or of sin or of depression or even of death, we will lose the glory of His presence?
Yet in the darkness was where the glory of His presence was found, within the dark cloud over Mt Sinai when He made His covenant with His people Israel.
Yes, there is death in darkness.
And
There is new life in the dark.
New life
In fact, life can only begin in the dark. A seed sprouts underground and a baby grows in the womb and even Jesus was raised into His new life in the dark.
In the darkness of a cave.
We see the afterwards of the resurrection, the earthquake and the angel and the glorious, blinding light.
But the resurrection itself?
It happened in the dark.
It happened in the dark, in the silence, with the smell of damp earth and the roughness of rock all around.
And if new life can only happen in the dark, well then,
instead of doing all we can to avoid it, perhaps we should lean in to the darkness, lean in to our fear.
Perhaps if we do, we will discover a new life that could not have been found otherwise.

Art Credit: all photographs by Made Sacred copyright 2018

edited from the archives

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

God’s Answer to Our Why

I lost my Gram this week unexpectedly. In the wake of her death and in the middle of so much suffering around the world, I offer this post from the archives. May it breathe a little hope and peace into your heart today.
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.

 

Why?
It is a cry that explodes from a pain-filled heart. It is a cry that whimpers from a lonely soul.
It is a cry that propels its way out of all who hurt in one way or another.
Why did my twenty-six year old sister-in-law have to die in such a horrible way?
Kristina
Why did my Papa labor in pain to leave this earth on the very same day that I labored in pain to bear my daughter into it?
Papa
Why do my friends suffer illness and miscarriage and even death while we still are young?
Stephanie
Why?
And yet I have to wonder: what would we get if we got an answer to our questions of why?
Would we gain satisfaction? Would it really change anything if God sat down in front of us and explained everything to our face?
We would still have to face the empty chairs. We would still be faced with the memories of pain.
Job asked why. He didn’t just ask, he demanded the chance to ask God why. He shouted for the opportunity to plead his case before God.
And God came.
He came not with reasons but with glory.
God didn’t reveal His ultimate plan, He revealed Himself.
God didn’t show the reasons for what happened, He showed His face.
And Job?
Even covered with sores and ashes, he looks oddly like a man who has asked for a crust and been given the whole loaf. ~ Frederick Buechner
In answer to all of our questions, may God be gracious enough to give us Himself.

What I Know

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This week I’m dusting off an old essay I wrote after my brother’s wife, Kristina, died of breast cancer just after watching her firstborn celebrate his first birthday. I’ve been thinking a lot about her lately, probably because a woman with whom I used to sing is fighting the same thing. She is a mother of several young children and is watching the cancer spread rapidly all through her body. What do we do with circumstances such as these? Well, I don’t know much, and often there is nothing that we can say, but my thoughts from seven years ago haven’t changed much. I haven’t posted this since 2013, so here you go. Peace.
Through this long struggle, through one piece of bad news after another, through the next days and months and years of memories, where is God?
When all pleas seem to go unanswered, when even let the end be peaceful is ignored, what are we to think?
What do I really believe about God in all of this?
The Word of Life
God’s Words tell us clearly that there is pain, there is heartbreak in this world.  We should not be surprised.
More often than not, God chooses not to save His people, chooses not to spare them sorrow and hardship.  Hebrews 11 gives a long list of those who were killed or lost ones they loved, Jesus’ closest friends died martyr’s deaths, even His earthly father died without His intervention.
I have pondered long and hard this question of what I believe about God in the midst of “it wasn’t supposed to be like this”.  Here is my conclusion.
Ocean Waves
I know my God, His character, well enough to trust Him when I don’t understand, when I cannot see in the darkness.  I know, from what He has said about Himself and from what I have seen, that He is always good and always love.  I know that, if we only knew the reasons, we would adore Him for what He does.
God promises that we will have trouble in this world.  He also promises that if we are grateful to Him He will give us peace.  He doesn’t promise that He will take the pain away but that we will be at peace, that we will have joy.
Isn’t that a much bigger promise?
No matter what, God is still God.
Will I only praise and thank Him when He does what I like?  Will I only accept from Him what I deem to be good?
When I deeply think through the idea of declaring my circumstance to be bad, it seems incredibly arrogant.
How can I think that I know better than God what is good?  How am I more capable of naming something to be good than the One who is good?
Will I trust that God has a beautiful, amazing plan only when I can see the beauty of it?  Either God is God, and capable of having plans and reasons that I cannot comprehend, or He isn’t God, and I am silly for blaming a myth. There is not really any in-between place for the things with which I do not agree.
…if I go to Jesus, he’s not under my control either.  He lets things happen that I don’t understand. He doesn’t do things according to my plan, or in a way that makes sense to me.  But if Jesus is God, then he’s got to be great enough to have some reasons to let you go through things you can’t understand.  His power is unbounded, but so are his wisdom and love…He can love somebody and still let bad things happen to them, because he is God–because he knows better than they do.  If you have a God great enough and powerful enough to be mad at because he doesn’t stop your suffering, you also have a God who’s great enough and powerful enough to have reasons that you can’t understand.
King’s Cross by Timothy Keller
God is God, and since he is God, he is worthy of my worship and my service.  I will find rest nowhere else but in his will, and that will is necessarily infinitely, immeasurable, unspeakable beyond my largest notions of what he is up to. ~ Elisabeth Elliot
Aslan
can trust God, trust in His nature.
Of course he’s not safe.  Who said anything about being safe?  But he’s good.  He’s the king. ~ Mr. Beaver as told to C.S. Lewis in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
 Fiery Furnace
When faced with the fiery furnace, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego told King Nebuchadnezzar that
If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. ~ Daniel 3
When Job lost all of his children and all that he owned and was himself in great physical pain, he declared
Though he slay me, yet will I hope in Him. ~ Job 13.15
No matter what, I will praise God and offer Him my gratitude, my sacrifice of praise.
God tells us over and over in His word that He has a beautiful plan for humanity and creation as a whole.
And that he has a beautiful plan for each of our lives.
Sometimes I doubt this promise, this truth.
And then I look at Jesus, at His cross.
Bearing the Cross
I’ve been clinging to Romans 8.32 through all of this:
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
If God ever had to prove Himself, prove His love for us, prove that He is taking care of us, He has more than proved it all through the cross.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about Hezekiah.  In II Kings 20, he pleaded with God to “change his story”, to give him more life when God had told him (through Isaiah) that he was going to die.  God did change His mind that time, gave him fifteen more years of life.  And in that fifteen extra years, Hezekiah’s son Manasseh was born.  This son that wouldn’t have been born if Hezekiah hadn’t asked God to change the ending of his story ended up as king and “lead (Israel) astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites”. ~ II Kings 21.9
Our desired story ending versus God’s desired story ending.
Perhaps, just perhaps, God really does know best.  Perhaps He does know which story will bring about a beautiful, redeemed, transfigured people.
Light Shines Through
When through the deep waters I call you to go,
The rivers of woe shall not overflow;
For I will be with you, your troubles to bless,
And sanctify to you your deepest distress.
The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.
~ How Firm a Foundation, att. John Keith, 1787 (modernized)

credit for images: Lion photo, painting by Simeon SolomonCross photo

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

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

God Revealed

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God, where are you?
We who live in this dark world are searching for the light.

light revealed

We want God to show up in a big way.
We want the cancer healed, the baby conceived, the loneliness taken away.

darkness

death

We wonder why He won’t reveal Himself in all of His glory so that all will believe.
Why does He hide and make it so hard to find Him?
Why does He let us suffer when He could heal us all with just a Word?
We wonder why this world remains so dark.

Rembrandt

Those at the foot of the cross wondered the same.
The chief priests mockingly wondered why He would not save Himself when He had claimed to save others.
The women weepingly wondered why He would not come down from the cross when He had healed so many others.
I begin to understand, but don’t want to admit it. So much suffering is contained in the answer.

God revealed

If Jesus had come down from the cross in a blaze of glory, tens of thousands of angels at His side, He would not have gained love but would have become a tyrant.
If God were to reveal Himself in all of His glory, He would not have children who love Him for Himself but would have slaves who serve out of fear or compulsion.
God instead reveals Himself in the small. He shows Himself in the weak. His light shines through the poor, the sick, the hungry, the captive.

young and old

If we cannot find Him in the common, everyday miracle of life, we cannot love Him as Himself.
If He always arrived to take away the darkness, we would never learn to love Him. We would, instead, love the comfort of the light.
If He made it impossible to deny Him, He would be our dictator, not our Father. And we would be His cowering slaves.
He must forebear to reveal His power and glory by presenting Himself as Himself, and must be present only in the ordinary miracle of the existence of His creatures. Those who wish to see Him must see Him in the poor, the hungry, the hurt, the wordless creatures, the groaning and travailing beautiful world. ~ Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
So let us seek Him and find Him in the faces of the weak, and let us love Him as we stoop to serve the small.

Art credits: Three Crosses sketch by Rembrandt; sketch of a triumphant Christ from a German Luther Bible; all other photos copyright Made Sacred 2018

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edited from the archives