Fearing Death

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Death.
avoiding death
It is not something we want to talk about.
It is not something we want to think about.
Death.
ignoring death
It is uncomfortable at the least and terrifying at the most.
It is coming for all of us, yet we rage and fight against it.
Death is common to all of us, yet is a topic avoided by most of us.
Even among those of us who claim to follow Christ, death seems to be a frightening event and so we try our best to ignore it.
Death will not be ignored.
fearing death
This week I attended a funeral for a young man who was a close friend of my youngest brother growing up.
We all know people for whom death came at a young age.
Death will not be ignored.
Yet death does not have to be feared.
Jesus Himself teaches us this.
Jesus taught us of death
He allowed Lazarus to remain in the grave for several days, rather than healing his illness, to show us that He could control death.
He interrupted funeral processions to raise up the dead, just to show us that He could.
He spoke lightly of His own death, telling His followers that He would die but soon rise again.
Jesus teaches us that death does not have the final word.
death does not win
We serve a God who has all power over everything that we fear, even power over death.
We serve a God who has all power and who loves us as His children.
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. ~ Hebrews 2.14-15
He became flesh so that through death He could conquer death.
Rembrandt The Three Crosses
He conquered death and we do not have to be slaves to the fear of death.
defeating death
Lift up your heads. Look to Jesus and do not be afraid.

Art credit: Three Crosses sketch by Rembrandt

The Theory of Life that Brings Value to our Suffering

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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

When You Cannot Believe or Feel or Care

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Suffering is not always great pain.
Sometimes suffering is a great numbness.
A deep loneliness or a fog of discontent.
A feeling that you are not doing much with your life or a lack of emotion in general.
Suffering is sometimes an absence of the felt presence of God.
My God
My God, my God!
A cry of despair toward a seemingly empty heaven.
An emotion of not-caring which you feel should be frightening but is not.
Sometimes this is the cross we are asked to bear.
It is not as flashy or book-worthy, yet is just as real.
Just as difficult.
If this is you, may I believe for you until you can believe again?
God is here.
He is with you, even in the cloud.
Presence in the Cloud
He is with you, even in the dark.
Presence in the Dark
Even when you cannot feel Him, when you cannot believe,
even when you cannot care,
just do the next right thing.
Behave as though you feel, believe, care.
I believe, I know.
He is here.
Even in the dark.
He is with you
Perhaps especially in the dark.
He is with you.
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
No matter how long you must continue to live this suffering that is your cross.
So He has promised.
So it shall be.
So take courage and keep walking.
He is with you.
Always.

Art credits: Moses in the cloud from a Bible primer by Hult, Adolf, 1869-1943; Augustana synod.; all other photographs copyright by Made Sacred, 2017.

Emmanuel on the Cross

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The beauty of Lent is the demonstration of God’s presence in all circumstances.
Lent
The beauty of the cross is the proof that God is with us.
cross
Wherever you are, whatever your cross is today, God is with you.
Emmanuel. God with us.
From Advent to Lent, God stepped into His world and submitted to the same rules we must follow.
Whatever the reason we all suffer, whatever the purpose, we cannot say that God did not play fair by asking us to be subject to something He was not willing to experience.
broken
Are you broken? Jesus is broken with you.
Are you lonely? Jesus was despised and rejected by men.
Are you betrayed by your closest loved ones? Jesus, too, was betrayed by those He loved.
Does grief seem your closest and most constant companion? Jesus grieved and wept over those who would not accept Him.
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.
deeper
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.
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.
Emmanuel
Be nourished by the bread of life and know that He is with you.
Peace to you.

Final two quotes and many of the thoughts in this post are by Peter Kreeft in Bread and Wine

All photographs are copyrighted by Made Sacred, 2017.

Expecting both Crosses and Empty Tombs

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Crosses and empty tombs.
Cross
This is what life is made up of. Death and rebirth.
Life
Seeds that die in the ground in order to bloom glorious, winter death that must happen in order to burst into green, the dying to self that is the only way into joy.
Crosses and empty tombs.
Rembrandt
Empty Tomb
We are facing a couple of crosses in our family right now.
Really, just the possibility of crosses.
Although, as I sit quiet in candle-lit dark, it occurs to me that perhaps this waiting, this living in the possibility of a cross is, in itself, a cross.
What will I do when the cross looms large in my sight?
Where will I place these fears when all that crowds my vision is rough-hewn wood and sharp metal nails?
Will I continue to hope in the promise of an empty tomb at the end of the cross?
Death
I must. If I have to drop to my knees and beg God to help me, I must remember.
If I am to survive any cross, whether heavy or light, I must pray, I must fast, I must fling myself by any means possible into the hands of the One who bore the heaviest cross of all…the One who then emptied that tomb.
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 I must remember. I must remember that God broke into time to show us that the empty tomb will always follow the cross.
I must remember the times in my own story when God brought an empty tomb after a cross.
Hope
When I cannot see beyond my cross, when I cannot trust on my own, I must look to Jesus who proved that His power and love are strong enough to bring forth an empty tomb after every single cross.
I must remember
and hope.
Crosses and empty tombs. They always go hand in hand.
Lord, we pray we never find ourselves without hope, without a glimpse of the empty tomb each time we happen upon a cross. Help us begin our daily journey expecting both crosses and empty tombs and rejoicing when we encounter either because we know you are with us. Amen. ~ from the Book of Common Prayer

Art credit: The Three Crosses by Rembrandt; Empty Tomb ink drawing from Catholic Hymns, 1860

from the archives

The Way into Suffering

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Suffering.
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It infiltrates all lives. No one is exempt.
Physical pain, grief, loneliness, fear.
At times the suffering is wholly yours, at other times you suffer by witnessing another’s pain.
Although it is common to us all (or perhaps because it is common to us all), we spend much of our time and energy attempting to avoid pain.
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When our own efforts toward that end seem doomed, we resort to prayer. We beg and plead with God to remove our pain, to rescue us from our distress.
Satan seems to know this about us. He knows that we would do almost anything to evade discomfort and he uses this knowledge to his advantage.
He certainly did with Jesus. In the wilderness, Satan’s temptations were aimed at convincing Jesus to achieve his goals any other way than God’s way of the cross. God’s way of suffering.
Rembrandt_The_Three_Crosses_1653
Yet the cross, the way of suffering, was the purpose of the incarnation. Yes, Jesus performed miracles and taught wisely, but His mission was the cross.
Now my soul is troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I have come to this hour.
Jesus understood what was coming. He knew what agony was lurking. Yet He also knew His purpose.
Gethsemane_Carl_Bloch
He did ask once to be spared. He wept in a garden and pleaded for there to be another way to heal the world from the consequence of another garden.
And in the end, He submitted. He surrendered to the way of the Cross and was made perfect by His suffering.
If Christ had to suffer to be made perfect, why in the world, why in God’s broken world do we think we can gain Jesus’ resurrection without passing through His suffering?
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I do not mean that we should seek out adversity. In this world, it will assail us soon enough.
I mean that when it does come, these pangs that are common to us all, we should lean in and allow it to do its work.
Allow your suffering, whatever it may be, to carry you toward perfection.
Sunlight through tulips
This is the way of Christ. This is the way of all who follow Him. This is the way toward perfection.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. ~ James 1.2-4

Art credits: Three Crosses sketch by Rembrandt; Gethsemane by Carl Bloch; tulips photograph by Kirk Sewell; all other photographs copyright 2017 by Elizabeth Giger

Living in the Dark

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Christmas begins in the dark.
Dark
Advent, this season leading up to Christmas, is for us. It is for we who live in the dark.
This season seems to amplify pain. Those who are lonely feel more lonely, those who are grieving feel their grief more deeply, those who are hurting seem to suffer more.
And that’s okay.
It’s okay not to feel happy this time of year.
After all, Christmas doesn’t mean much if we don’t need it.
Mary
Mary understood. Her angel visitation led to a rift between her and her beloved, a painful journey on a donkey, and giving birth next to a chicken.
Even as she clutched her newborn son, she heard the prophecy of a sword piercing her heart and wondered.
Even after her Christmas, her beloved son grew farther and farther away from her, uttering such things as Why would you look for me? Don’t you know I must be about my Father’s business? and, when she came through the crowds to see him, My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.
Yet Mary stayed close. She trusted and held on to her faith in her son no matter how distant he seemed, even when he died. She stayed close. Everywhere we look in the gospels we see Mary, hovering on the outskirts, still showing up, still coming back to her son again and again.
Stay Close
Can we do the same?
Can we hold on to our faith in the Son no matter how distant He seems, even if He seems to be dead?
Light
This world is dark and we live in a continual Advent.
Don’t run away from the bitter-sweetness of this Advent season. You don’t have to pretend to feel joyful.
Colors
Tinsel
Don’t hide behind the tinsel and lights. Neither should you ignore the colors completely.
Linger as you abide with the sorrow and the joy, the hurt and the hope that are woven together in this season. Stay close to the Son however far away He may seem.
Christ
Settle into the knowing of how desperately we need Christmas, how desperately we need God-with-us.
Our Father promised that Christmas would come
Christmas
and it will be all the more beautiful for having lived through the darkness of Advent.

Art credit: Pieta by Michelangelo; all other photographs copyrighted by Elizabeth Giger

Be Still

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Be still.
Be Still
Wait.
Wait
Be still and wait for God.
Wait for God
Be still and wait for God to come.
God will come
Advent is waiting and so we become still while we wait for Him to come down and rescue us.
We pause in our fighting and our striving, we rest from our grieving and our mourning, we stop to breathe in our busyness and our too much.
Just for a moment.
It doesn’t take any of it away. Yet.
But we become still like Moses with the Red Sea before and the Egyptian army after and we wait for God to fight for us.
We who have lived with the pain for far too long, we who have just received the phone call and sit at our kitchen table in stunned silence, we who can’t see how we will put one foot in front of the other much less get up from our beds in the morning, we who hide in our closets and weep our wracking sobs while we rock back and forth,
God comes
just for one moment we become still.
We remember that God is and that He is fighting for us.
God fights for us
It doesn’t solve or heal any of it. Yet.
But it will.
God will heal us
Oh, how it will.
We become still and we wait for Emmanuel. We wait for Emmanuel, God-with-us, to come down.
We wait in this season and we wait in this life for our Emmanuel to come down and fight and make it all okay again.
So for just a moment, take a breath and remember how He already did this once to show us that He will do it again.
He is with us
Be still.
Emmanuel
Wait.

edited from the archives

When You Have Trouble

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 promised that this life would be hard.
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It is part of what draws us together as humans, this trouble that comes to us all.
Whether the trouble is harming you directly or whether you are hurting while you watch one you love suffer, trouble is promised to us all.
Trouble is promised, yet Christ asked us to take up our cross if we want to come with Him, implying that we have a choice.
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If trouble is not our cross, if we are guaranteed trouble no matter what, then what does it mean to take up our cross?
What does it mean to share in the sufferings of Christ, as Paul encourages us to do several times in his writings, and how can that bring us joy? This is, after all, trouble we’re talking about, not fun and relaxation.
As I read through the Bible, God seems to tell us that we have a choice. That when trouble arrives, as it invariably will, we have a choice of how to respond.
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If we look to Jesus as showing us how to live life as we were created to live, we can see Him having to make the same choice and showing us which choice to make.
After the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus is telling the disciples that He will have to die in order to be honored and glorified.
Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!
Do you see His choice?
His heart is troubled as He looks ahead a few days to His crucifixion and He sees His choice clearly.
It is the same choice you have.
Will you run away from your trouble, trying your best to escape it?
Or.
Will you make the incredibly hard choice to accept your trouble, asking God to glorify His name in it?
Will you try to escape your cross or will you take it up?
Now, I certainly don’t mean that it is wrong to pray that God will take your trouble away. Jesus asked that of God in the garden when He asked for this cup to be taken away from Him.
Gethsemane_Carl_Bloch
I do believe, though, that the greater portion of peace and joy can be ours if we ask for God to be glorified in whatever we are facing.
This is what it means to be partners with Christ by sharing in His sufferings. This is what brings beauty and meaning to our own suffering. Suffering that will happen regardless of how we choose to respond.
It is hard to wrap our minds around this idea that suffering can be redemptive, bringing hope and healing to the world. Our world reacts so strongly against any kind of discomfort at all. Yet the entire life of Jesus shows us how grace and suffering can fit together.
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This language that combines suffering and joy is all over Scripture. Jesus endured the cross for the sake of joy, Peter tells us to rejoice as we share Christ’s suffering.
Trouble comes to us all. The astounding piece of this is that God chooses to use us, if we will allow Him, for the greater good, for the healing of all around us.
So for you who don’t know how you will pay your bills next month, for you who lost a child, for you who can’t imagine an evening without a fight, for you whose heart just broke in two, for you who are walking through the crippling loneliness, depression, physical pain, doubt,
ask God to help you make the choice that will bring the most peace and joy, the choice that will bring healing to those around you.
Ask God to glorify His name through your trouble.
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In this, you will be like Jesus. And God will grant you what you ask.

Art credit: Gethsemane 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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.