Abiding in Great Storms

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For the past several weeks in this space we have been talking about the vital importance of abiding in Jesus. If you would like to catch up, you can read the introduction here, the first part of abiding in daily life here, and the second part of abiding in daily life here. This week we will speak about how the practice of abiding in daily life gives us roots and a safe place when the storms come.
It is this daily abiding in Christ, largely through the Spiritual Disciplines, that keeps us safe in Him when storms come.
Storm Clouds
Jesus certainly promised that storms would come.
storms
When we have made Jesus our home through the mundane, yet sacred routines of daily life, we have His peace and His joy deep within us. We emerge safely on the other side, though perhaps a bit battered and wind-torn.
When we have neglected these Habits, however, when we have claimed busyness as a reason for leaving them behind, we are left out on the doorstep to bear the full brunt of the storm. We may eventually still emerge on the other side, but will carry many more wounds into the rest of our lives.
suffering
One thing that is certain in this world is that life is full of pain. Our world is broken, and time is broken, and we are broken, and the result of all the brokenness is pain. From loneliness to cancer, from dealing with tantrums to fleeing from hurricanes, we are all suffering.
pain
Jesus didn’t try to hide this from us. In this world you will have trouble. He didn’t pull a bait-and-switch to convince us that following Him would make our lives rosy. In fact, He talks a lot about carrying a cross around as we follow Him.
Some of this suffering is chosen. Fasting. Simplicity. Solitude. This kind of holy suffering is what we choose when we decide to practice the Spiritual Disciplines.
Some would go so far as to say that suffering is necessary to living a holy life. Jesus’ own words seem to bear this out: If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself…
cross
This chosen suffering is what creates the space for the Holy Spirit to transform and strengthen our interior world so that we are able to stand up under the pain of the exterior world in order to serve it.
An Abba (an older, spiritual mentor) from the 5th century A.D., St. Mark the Ascetic, put it this way:
He who does not choose to suffer for the sake of truth will be chastened more painfully by suffering he has not chosen. 
Whether our suffering is chosen or unwelcomed, the way we choose to respond to suffering matters.
Chosen suffering
Over and over, Scripture tells us that the choices we make in this life ripple forward into the next (Matthew 25.31-46, as an example). What we do with the ebbs and flows in our lives matter.
From interruptions to worries, from marriage to loss, every choice we make in response to our circumstances is changing us. Changing the very essence of ourselves into something different than what we are now.
C. S. Lewis said it best:
Taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself.
Choosing to live these Holy Habits, activities like Scripture reading and prayer, solitude and worship, are how God the Holy Spirit transforms us into people of His Kingdom. People who, by obedience and love, are helping the Kingdom, God’s rule, to break through here and now.
Prayer
Scripture
Solitude
Paul speaks all through Philippians of living now as though we were already perfected. One habit leads to another which leads to another which suddenly leads to hope and love breaking through into our world. When we deliberately choose these Disciplines, we slowly become the sort of person who naturally and authentically follows after God.
It takes work, it takes choice by painful choice to build these habits, but the more work we put in, the more natural it becomes, and the easier it is to abide when the world is hurling its worst at us.
Next week, if you are gracious enough to join me, I will give some specific examples of people who abide through great storms in their lives.

Art credits: both storm photographs are by Kirk Sewell; photograph of Christ on the cross sculpture by asta kr; all other photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2017

The Importance of Abiding

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Imagine you are driving down a dark, winding road, far from any city or town.
Van Gogh Dark Road
You have been driving all day and the sun set an hour ago. You are tired and stiff, there is a hollow feeling in your stomach, and a stale, recycled-air scent in your nostrils. As you make your last turn, you catch a faint glow ahead of you and suddenly the stiffness disappears, your shoulders straighten, and your foot presses just a bit more firmly on the accelerator.
Home.
As you pull up in front of the house, windows glowing with a light that makes the darkness flee, the front door flies open and people run out to greet you. Your people. Their arms grab you and hug you, they tug you towards the open door, the warmth and light draws you farther in, and the smell of your favorite meal is an almost tangible rope that pulls you the rest of the way.
Home.
abide
It is the place where you live, dwell, abide. The place in which you are safe and joyful and comforted. The place where you live your mundane kind of life as well as the place to which you cling when trouble comes.
Home.
dwell
Jesus says that we must abide in Him in order to bear fruit, in order to be transformed into His likeness. That word, abide, is such a rich word, containing the ideas of peace, comfort, fulfilled needs, constancy, and close relationships, to name just a few.
Home.
John tells us in his gospel that Jesus used the word abide repeatedly during His last night with His disciples. Jesus spoke of abiding in Him, of abiding in His love, of allowing His words to abide in us. If we do this work of abiding, Jesus promises, then the Father will be glorified and we will bear much fruit. Fruit that, among other things, allows us to love one another in the same way that Jesus loves us.
We are, in other words, to make Jesus our home.
Vermeer
We are to make Him the place where we live out our ordinary, everyday lives and the place where we dwell in times of great storms. We are to make Him the place we remain every moment of every day.
This happens largely through the practice of the Spiritual Disciplines. Weaving these Holy Habits into our lives awakens us to the presence and workings of God all around us. Jesus promised that He would never leave us , but we are creatures who lean into our physicality more than our spirituality, and so the Spiritual Disciplines help us to be more aware of the ways in which Jesus fulfills His promise.
The more we practice these Habits, the more we move ourselves into a place where the Holy Spirit can work to transform us to look like Jesus. 
Then we will truly be Home.
Home
I have been learning about the Spiritual Disciplines in a two-year course in Spiritual Formation that I have just begun. I will continue, in the next weeks, to write more about what I have learned so far. I pray that it will transform you as much as it has transformed me.

Art Credits: Country Road in Provence by Night by Van Gogh; first home photo from www.oliverstravels.com; second home photo by Maria Langer from www.aneclecticmind.com; Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Johannes Vermeer; Welcome Home by Thomas Kinkade

Why Your Choice Matters

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One thing is certain.
This life is full of pain.
Sadness
Our world is broken and time is broken and we are broken and the result of all the brokenness is pain.
From loneliness to cancer, from dealing with tantrums to fleeing from hurricanes, we are all suffering.
suffering
Jesus didn’t try to hide this from us.
In this world you will have trouble.
He didn’t pull a bait-and-switch to convince us that following Him would make our lives rosy.
In fact, He talks a lot about carrying a cross around as we follow Him.
choosing the cross
Some of this suffering is chosen.
Fasting. Simplicity. Solitude.
Much is unwelcomed.
Depression. Grief. Poverty.
Either way, chosen or unwelcomed, the way we choose to respond to suffering matters.
Michelangelo's_Pieta
Over and over, Scripture tells us that the choices we make in this life ripple forward into the next. What we do with the ebbs and flows in our lives matter.
From interruptions to worries, from marriage to loss, every choice we make in response to our circumstances is changing us.
Changing the very essence of ourselves into something different than we are.
And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself.  ~ C.S. Lewis
God wants to transform us.
He wants us to look like Jesus, and this life with all of its choices and pain is the method through which we are changed.
(It is) all for our good, the finished product, God’s work of art, the Kingdom of Heaven. There is nothing outside heaven except hell. Earth is not outside heaven; it is heaven’s workshop, heaven’s womb. ~ Peter Kreeft, Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing
We are a part of God’s story, His work of art. If Earth is heaven’s workshop than our choices matter significantly. The way we choose to respond to our circumstances carries consequential weight.
If Earth is heaven’s workshop, then God uses all things that happen on this Earth to shape us, to mold the dark and dull thing that we are into something extraordinary, something full of light.
light
This life is full of pain.
Pain can be meaningless, sending us spiraling downward into the darkness.
Or.
Pain can be used by God for a beautiful purpose, filling us up with the light of Himself.
fill us with light
It is your choice.

Many of the ideas in this post come from Water from a Deep Well by Gerald L. Sittser, a book I would highly recommend. The link to this book is an Amazon affiliate link. Purchases through these links allows you to help support this blog through no added cost to you. Thank you.

Art credits: Pieta by Michaelangelo; photograph of light streaming through the trees by Kirk Sewell; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2017

 

Sojourners Together

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We don’t belong here.
not our home
The longer we live, the older we get, the less we feel at home.
At home on this earth, at home in these bodies.
It doesn’t make sense, it goes against expectation,
unless we were made for something else.
longing for beauty
The longing we feel when we see or hear beauty.
The despair we feel when we hear of yet another way in which our world is broken.
The sadness we feel when our bodies begin to age and fail.
longing for love
All reminds us that the current state is not our end state.
The sword pierce of loss upon death or disaster.
The restless spirit searching for more.
The sense of separation from the God we want so desperately to know.
All reminds us that we are sojourners and that the best is yet to come.
Sojourners. It invokes a nomadic people’s sense of vagrancy, a praying people’s knowledge of estrangement, a thinking people’s intuition of sharp loss. Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk
And yet.
This piece of earth is also home.
home
There are bits and pieces that feel dear to us. Familiar.
Hearth and garden. Meals with family. Light and warmth.
hearth and warmth
These remind us that we have a home.
We are not home yet. We must not forget.
This world and our bodies and our relationships are still broken.
waiting for restoration
One day they will not be.
One day they will all be whole, perfect, as they were meant to be.
One day this veil will be torn and we shall see Him face to face.
No more estrangement. No more longing.
Sojourners
Until that day, let us be kind and do all we can to help each other through this place and time that is so strange and yet not so strange.
Let us sojourn together.

Art credits: Earth photograph from NASA; last photograph by Kirk Sewell; all other photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2017

The link to Annie Dillard’s book, Teaching a Stone to Talk, is an Amazon affiliate link. Purchases through these links allows you to help support this blog through no added cost to you. Thank you.

 

Choosing the Given

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Sometimes the life we are given is not the life we would have chosen.
Storm Clouds
We have plans that didn’t work out, dreams that didn’t come true, hopes that just didn’t happen.
Perhaps it is a career that became other than you expected.
Perhaps it is a relationship that feels as though it is failing.
Perhaps it is simply life in its sometimes drudgery that just feels
disappointing.
clouds1
Sometimes, too, the life we are given is more than only disappointing.
Sometimes it is terrible, full of pain and suffering and grief.
Those who know this sort of life understand that while God is love, His love can be a fierce love.
The love of a holy God sometimes blazes with a cleansing flame.
IMG_5382
We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be. ~ C.S. Lewis
Whether our life is disappointing or full of fire, this is the life we are given.
Is it possible to live a higher life than quietly resigned? Is it possible to accept with joy rather than fighting against what is?
Christ_Walking_on_the_Waters,_Julius_Sergius_Von_Klever
Jesus says it is.
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
To live with joy a life that does not look the way you hoped, you must choose what is given.
Sometimes? Sometimes you must choose fiercely, with the kind of determination that will outlast this world.
You must choose to look only at the given rather than at the might have been.
You must choose to pay attention to the right now rather than to the used to be or the perhaps someday.
weasel
Annie Dillard compares it to a weasel gripping its prey with a grip that lasts longer than the life of the weasel itself.
A weasel that clutches its quarry with such nerve that its skull is found still attached to the throat of an eagle years after the weasel attacked.
Some days do feel that hard.
So hard, in fact, that it is only with the same Holy Spirit power inside of us that raised Jesus from the dead that we are capable of such fierce choosing.
Yet we do have that power.
We have that power and so it is possible to choose the given and to live as joyfully as Jesus means us to live.
I would like to live as I should, as the weasel lives as he should. And I suspect that for me the way is like the weasel’s: open to time and death painlessly, noticing everything, remembering nothing, choosing the given with a fierce and pointed will. ~ Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk
Choosing the given with a fierce and pointed will.
This is the way that leads to joy.

Art credits: storm photos by Kirk Sewell; fire photo copyright Made Sacred 2017; Christ Walking on the Water by Julius Sergius Von Klever; weasel illustration from Brehm’s Life of Animals

The links to Annie Dillard’s book, Teaching a Stone to Talk, are Amazon affiliate links. Purchases through these links allows you to help support this blog through no added cost to you. Thank you.

When You Crash into No

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What do you do when you barrel straight into a no from God?
Do you weep and wail?
No
Not yet
Stamp your feet and sulk?
Never
Forget it
A dream, a longing fills your heart, spilling over in attempts to fulfill.
What you thought possible becomes flattened by reality.
Perhaps your dream is not for now, is simply not yet.
Perhaps your dream is not ever, is I’ve got something better.
Either way, you wait.
Either way, you grieve.
Either way, it hurts.
You can flail and fight, you can sit and sulk.
Fight
Sulk
Whatever the emotions, you will have to work through.
You will have to release unto God.
Your plans. Your hopes. Your self.
When you submit your whole self to Him, He remakes it.
He holds it and forms it. He tenderly molds it.
And then?
Whatever the shape of the dream He gives back, it is lovely.
Accept with joy
God's way is lovely
And you love it because He loves you.
You love it because He transformed, both you and your dream.
He gives you your heart and He gives you a dream,
and your heart and your dream now glorify Him,
filling you to the brim with joy.

Art credit: all photographs copyright 2017 by Made Sacred

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.