How to Practice Discipleship in the Middle of Suffering

How do you practice discipleship in the middle of suffering?
When everything seems aligned against you, seems to be throwing up barriers to your life with God, how do you continue walking in the way of Jesus?
Bonhoeffer
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor and theologian in Germany during the Third Reich. He gave all that he had to fighting evil. Including his life. Bonhoeffer wrote a book entitled The Cost of Discipleship. He truly knew what that meant.
Bonhoeffer’s theology was first of all Christ-centric, but second it was centered around community. He wrote that the way to successfully practice discipleship in the midst of suffering was found in the idea of the Sermon on the Mount.
SermonOnTheMount
The practices of turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, giving up the cloak, these were all essential to staying true to Christ when the darkness is enticing you to give up.
This seems counterintuitive. When evil and injustice are all around, we want to fight, to punch back. God, in fact, tells us to do the opposite.
God tells us to feed our enemy, to give him water to drink when he is thirsty.
Not once does God tell us to punch him in the nose.
discipleship
Paul tells us in Romans to overcome evil with good.
This is how we practice discipleship in the middle of suffering. This is how we die to ourselves, and in so doing, bring God’s kingdom rule to our world.
Jesus was, after all, as he was teaching these practices, living in the middle of his own enemies.
Part of the way we are able to have the strength to live out the Sermon on the Mount while surrounded by our enemies is by knowing that we are not alone.
Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, and he has not left us alone. He has given us his Spirit inside of us and is himself praying for us before the Father.
Christ with us
We also have each other. This was the other piece around which Bonhoeffer’s theology revolved. The way we are able to follow the commands in the Sermon on the Mount, the way we successfully practice discipleship when everything seems conspired against this kind of life, is by living it together.
We are the body of Christ, and together we are stronger than each individual. Together all the parts of Christ are joined and are unified in one heart and mind. Together we are united with Christ in the bringing of his Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
We are to speak God’s truth to each other, encouraging each other to continue the incredibly difficult practice of dying to ourselves and living for Christ. No matter our circumstances.
In Christ, we are together even when physically apart.
We are one in Christ, and in Christ we can do this.
So encourage each other as you continue to live out your discipleship in the middle of your enemies by loving them well.
discipleship
God will take care of the rest.
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.

 

Art credits: photograph of Bonhoeffer from The New York Times; The Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch; The Sermon on the Mount by Gustave Doré; The Road to Emmaus by Robert Zünd; Christ Washing the Disciples’ Feet by Francesco Vanni

How to Know God – Part Two

Last week we began to explore the way that we can know God. If you haven’t read that post, you may want to click here and read that one first.
How do we know God?
know God
By obeying.
By doing what we see Him do, and this best by watching Jesus, by imitating Him.
This does not mean that we should spring immediately into action.
This is not the way that Jesus obeyed.
Be still
First, it means to be still.
Be still and know that I am God.
It means to go to the wilderness, to the lonely places, to get away and be alone with God.
in the wilderness
A lot.
Jesus spent much time alone with God before He did anything of importance.
Before beginning His ministry.
Before choosing the apostles.
Before the crucifixion.
alone with God
Don’t worry. Action will come.
Obedience does not only mean being still. There is much to be done to bring God’s kingdom to rule here on earth as it does in heaven.
But obedience first means to be still and know.
be still
Once you know what to do, then you begin the work of obeying.
You begin the practice of obeying. It, like anything, feels awkward at first. You continually go back to Jesus to figure out how to obey. You have to return again and again for specific instruction.
Yet slowly, over time, it feels more natural. You know more quickly what to do or what not to do. When to act and when to go back to being still.
Obedience becomes instinct.
I have used the image of a jazz musician before, but I will bring it back here again because it gives such a beautiful and concrete example of why this practice of obedience is so important.
obey like jazz
It shows us why obeying is what brings us to know God.
A jazz pianist, a really good one, knows his art intimately. It is a part of his spirit.
When he plays with a band, he knows what exists in the music. He knows the nature of the musical form, he knows the structure of the harmonics well enough to think quickly and compose something that fits in with the reality of the music.
It is so seamless it appears effortless.
This kind of perfection, however, is far from effortless. This kind of intimacy with the music does not come easily or quickly. It takes hours and days and months and years of practice.
This, too, is how we know God. By practicing the discipline of obeying for hours and days and months and years.
This is how we learn to know God. This is how we learn to know the way He created the nature of this life and this world well enough to know how to respond no matter what is happening around us.
This way of obedience leads to knowing God which leads to better obedience which leads to…
a beautiful circle.
A circle wherein we abide with our Father in peace and blessing.
abide
How do we know God?
By obeying Him.
There is no other way.
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.

Art credits: Children at Prayer byAntoine Édouard Joseph Moulinet; Prayer by Mednyánszky László; Gethsemane by Carl Heinrich Bloch; Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Johannes Vermeer

How to Know God – Part One

We all, every one of us, want to know God.
We want to know God
Whether we acknowledge or even realize it, knowing God is one of the deepest desires placed immovably into the heart of humanity.
It has been so since the beginning of time.
It is the reason behind the Fall.
We want to know God without having to obey
To know.
The tragedy behind Eve’s choice of disobedience is that God had already given her the way to know Him. He had already given her the way both to know Him and to stay with Him.
It is the same tragedy that lies behind every act of our own disobedience, when we believe that our way is better, that our shortcut is easier than God’s (admittedly, often longer and harder) way for us to know Him.
What is this way? This way both to know God and to remain with Him?
By obeying Him.
To obey him is the only way to be one with him. ~ George MacDonald
If you want to know the mind of God, do what He says.
Jesus' way of knowing God is through obedience
Jesus, who was the very image of God, knew the Father absolutely. He also obeyed the Father absolutely.
Jesus told the Jews that He can only do what He sees the Father doing.
Why? Because the Father loves the Son and shows Him all that He Himself is doing.
The Father loves the Son. He wants Jesus to know Him and to know what He is doing.
The beautiful, astounding piece of this?
He loves all of His children in the same way.
Jesus affirms this when He prays that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
He wants us to know Him because He loves us.
He is not hiding from us. He is not playing games with us. He wants us to know Him.
How do we know Him?
By obeying.
By doing what we see Him do, and this best by watching Jesus, by imitating Him.
This does not mean, however, that we should spring immediately into action.
Will you join me next week as I ponder this idea a little more? I would love to explore with you about the way Jesus obeyed so that we can obey and know the Father in the same way.
I am grateful for 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.

Art credits: Children at Prayer by Antoine Edouard Joseph Moulinet; Adam and Eve by Foster; Christ Washing the Disciples’ Feet by Francesco Vanni

 

A Dry and Weary Land Where There Is no Water

We are living in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
dry and weary land
All around us are people who are dying of thirst.
In our neighborhoods.
In our workplaces.
In our schools.
We are in desperate need of springs of living water.
living water
One of the beautiful things about our God is the way He allows us to be the ones to bring His kingdom into being on this earth.
Perhaps allows is not a strong enough word.
Part of our calling, our mission, as Jesus followers is to proclaim God’s kingdom rule in every corner of the piece of earth in which He has placed us.
For me, this begins in my home.
I want every person who enters my home to experience the love and peace of Christ. I want the love and peace of Jesus to radiate out from our home. I want our home to be a sacred place that draws others to Him.
Space matters, whether that space is a sprawling farmhouse in the country or a tiny apartment in the city, and what we do with the space we are given matters.
Let Thy kingdom come, let Thy will be done, in my home as it is in heaven.
We are called to fill our spaces with truth, goodness, and beauty.
We are called to fill our spaces with water.
We who have chosen this God-life have been promised that the living water given to us will become springs of living water.
A spring is an opening in the surface of the ground where water from deep under the ground comes bubbling out.
This is what we are given and this is what we are called to.
We who will never be thirsty again, we who have been satisfied in our deepest places, we who have been filled up with Him,
we are not to hoard this gift.
We are to be springs, not stagnant ponds.
Our land is a desert land.
Our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our schools are all parched and dusty places.
We are surrounded by people who are in desperate search for a true water that can quench their thirst once and for all.
They need springs that are not stopped up but are flowing freely.
We do not need to fear running out, do not need to fear not having enough. Our spring will never run dry because it comes from a place that is deeper than ourselves.
We only must ourselves continue to drink from the source. We must continue to fill ourselves up so that we can continue to overflow.
We live in a dry and weary land, and God has asked us to water the desert.
watering the desert
He has made us into springs of water for this very purpose.
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.
Art credits: photograph of Cleopatra spring of water in Siwa by Sara Nabih; photograph of mountain spring by Kirk Sewell; photograph of sand by Made Sacred

I Need His Silence

Sometimes the silence is daunting.
silence
I sit and I sit and I sit and I wonder where God is.
I want the Voice, the delight, the spiritual moment, and when it is not there I wonder what went wrong.
Yet if I only experienced bliss, I might only trust in bliss. If I only experienced delight, I might only trust in delight.
I might never trust in the infallible character of God.
silence
It is easier to make a lot of noise.
It is easier to keep up a steady stream of words and song.
By filling my space with words it is easier to convince myself that all in my world is as it should be.
By making a lot of religious din we assure our faltering hearts that everything is well. ~ A. W. Tozer
The silence, therefore, however daunting, is necessary.
silence
I must be taught to rely on the Everlasting Father rather than on His comfort.
I must be taught to put my faith in the promise of His presence rather than on my experience of that presence.
I must be taught to trust in Christ the Rock regardless of any corroboration.
silence
I need to sit in the silence.
God often withdraws His inward comforts. Sometimes for long periods.
I need to sit in His silence. And be okay with it.
The silence is still daunting.
I sit and I sit and I sit and I know that He is here.
He is here
I will put my trust in Him.
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.

Art credits: all photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2020

Deep Love in the Darkness

Deep love.
deep love
Deep love turning scumbag into son, derelict into daughter.
Deep love transforming stone into flesh, filth into snow.
It is beyond my comprehension, this love, a love that covers a thousand sins and yet refuses to leave me sinful.
It is a promise of restoration, this love, a hope of lasting joy, a covenant of the very Presence Himself.
deep love in the dark
What of the times I am fumbling through the dark? The times the pain engulfs my heart, the sorrow blinds my soul, the ugliness of this world threatens to destroy all that I hold dear?
What of the times when I, seemingly alone, cannot catch even the faintest whiff of Him?
It has happened before and it will happen again that I feel deserted.
Alone.
Forsaken.
My God, my God!
It brings to mind another cry. Another forsaking. Another time of searing loss as the Father turns His face away.
Yet this time it was not only a feeling but a truth. A forsaking for a time in order for me, for you, for us to never be truly forsaken.
deep love proven
Deep love that took Him to the cross.
Deep love that took my filth upon Himself, that felt the greatest of all absences so that the Father would never turn away from me.
Those times when I am fallen in the dark?
Deep love is still surrounding me, still transforming me, still giving me Himself.
I can trust in His deep love.
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.

Art Credits: When the King Came by George Hodges; photograph of wooden statue by Asta Kr

For Which Freedom Are You Fighting?

Freedom is tremendously important to us Americans.
Freedom for Americans
We live for freedom, fight for freedom, die for freedom.
We want the freedom to do what we want, be what we want, have what we want.
Freedom is tremendously important to us Christians as well.
Freedom for Christians
Yet…is this the same sort of freedom? Is the freedom lauded by our culture the same freedom valued by our Christ?
We often seem to tangle them all up together, believing that in fighting for freedom for Americans (or, in our more altruistic moments, for people in other cultures as well) we are also fighting for the kind of freedom we are gifted in Christ.
This is a dangerous entanglement to make. The two are not at all the same, and in the erroneous belief that we are fighting for something valued by God we often do more harm than good.
The freedom that we Americans value is the freedom to choose. More than that, freedom is the expansion of choice.
The freedom granted to us by God, however, is the freedom to choose the good. It is the freedom to flourish as humans, to become the sort of creature we were created to be by a wise, loving, and good Creator.
Freedom is the ability to choose to love God – free from love of the created thing, from being enslaved to the material, from fear of losing. ~ Thomas Merton
The freedom of our culture is the freedom to do whatever we want, whenever we want, regardless of the consequences.
Freedom to become a wreck
It is like a train weary of running along the tracks, longing to be free to speed through open fields of wildflowers. The moment that train leaves its tracks, it is, I suppose, free – free to be a complete wreck.
The freedom of Christ is the freedom to choose discipline and self-control, the ability to be changed by the work of the Spirit in cooperation with our own choices into the image of Jesus.
Take music as an example.
Freedom to become a musician
The world’s freedom tells me that I can be a pianist any time I like. I have the freedom to sit down at a piano, to be free of any kind of training or practice, and press the keys in whatever way I desire. The world would tell me that I am making beautiful music.
True Freedom
Yet no one would sit and listen to my concert for long.
The freedom that God offers, however, gives me the freedom to choose training and discipline, hours and months and years of practice, following the rules of music theory as I learn to play in the way the Master desires. This is the music that brings people to their feet in wild applause.
The truth shall set you free is not the kind of freedom that is valued by our culture. Truth has a way of narrowing, not expanding our choices.
You are certainly free to choose which version of freedom you fight for: the American version that offers ever-increasing choices until we are left with nothing by which to delineate among our options, or the version offered by Christianity that illuminates the path leading to human flourishing and perfection.
Just do not confuse the one with the other.
It could lead to some truly frightful music.
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.

Credit: storybook page taken from the children’s book Tootle

Is There an Objective Good?

Does objective good exist?
objective good
Is there anything that is good in itself, good because of some inherent value rather than for some practical value, or is this only a chimera we pursue in vain?
inherent value
If what is good becomes only what is practical or what pleases me, then freedom becomes only a matter of doing whatever I want. Perhaps with a qualification of “as long as it does not hurt others” tacked on to the end. Freedom becomes a chasing after my own desires.
C. S. Lewis warns against a culture deciding that there is no objective good, that there is no definition of the good that exists outside of ourselves. He writes in Abolition of Man that “when all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains.
Madeleine L’Engle writes in A Circle of Quiet that “Our country in general assumes that ‘the pursuit of happiness’ really means ‘the pursuit of pleasure’ and that therefore pleasure is the greatest good.Here, however, is the lie: We believe that if we decide objective good to be a myth, we are then free to choose. We are free to pursue our own desires.”
The truth, however, is that rather than being free to do what we want, we instead become enslaved to our own passions and desires. If there is no standard of goodness toward which we should aim, we only become bundles of desires, chasing after the next craving with no strength to resist and rest.
If, however, there is a good that is inherent in the fabric of reality, then freedom is the freedom to choose that good. Freedom is the ability to control our passions and desires by aiming them toward what is good.
freedom to choose good
Freedom is the cellist who has the skill and strength to weave her music into the whole, creating a beautiful song with the other instruments around her, pursuing a something that all would agree is intrinsically good.
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.

Art Credits: Fairy Tales by Jessie Willcox Smith; The Pieta by Michelangelo; Woman at a Table Near a Cello by Carl Holsøe

We Are Witnesses

We are witnesses.
Witnesses
Jesus declared it, and so it must be.
You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
Not I would like for you to be my witnesses or even I command you to be my witnesses but you will be my witnesses.
We who claim to be Christ-followers, we who carry the very name of Christ, we are His witnesses.
Whether we like or not.
We might be good witnesses.
We might be bad witnesses.
But make no mistake, we are witnesses.
Do you see that verb?
To be
Not you will witness but you will be my witness.
Witnesses
It is a state of being. A way of life. A walking along the Way that communicates the Truth about Life.
You do, of course, have to have witnessed something in order to be a witness.
It is not enough only to have heard about God, we must have experienced Him in order to be a good witness.
‘It is one thing,’ said Henry Suso, ‘to hear for oneself a sweet lute, sweetly played, and quite another thing merely to hear about it.’ And it is one thing, we may add, to hear truth inwardly for one’s very self, and quite another thing merely to hear about it…One word from the lips of the man who has actually heard the lute play will have more effect than a score of sermons by the man who has only heard that it was played. ~ A. W. Tozer
Experience is always better than secondhand.
Witnesses
And what if you have never truly witnessed God, never experienced His Holy Spirit? Or what if it has simply been a very long time?
Go away. Find time, make time to get by yourself. Sit before Him in silence. Wait. Do this over and over, refusing to let go until He lets Himself be known.
It does not have to come in any dramatic way. It mostly, in fact, does not. He was not, after all, in the great wind or the earthquake or the fire.
Most often He comes in the stillness, in the quiet. He comes in the little, in the overlooked. He comes in the still, small voice.
Which is why we must be silent and alone regularly in order to experience Him.
Once you do, however, He will, slow and small change by slow and small change, transform you into the witness He wants you to be.
Whether you even realize it or not.

 

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.

Art credits: The Road to Emmaus by Claes Corneliszoon Moeyaert; Jesus and the Disciples on the Road to Emmaus by Pieter Bruegel the Elder; The Road to Emmaus by Robert Zund

The Way Home to the Father

We are told to follow Jesus, to imitate Him as we live out our God-life here on earth.
We know this, and yet we find it all too easy to skim over the harder parts of His story.
washing feet
Some of the hardest parts to follow, at least for me, are the foot washing and the crucifixion. Yet these are two of the pieces that most embody Emmanuel, God-with-us.
Jesus spent much of His ministry telling the people around Him that His time had not yet come. Now it is the time of Passover and Jesus knew that His time had come. His time had come to leave this world and go to the Father.
What does He do first, now that His time has come? He washes the disciples feet. All of them. Even Judas.
serving
The Word of God, the Word made flesh, the Word who laid aside His glory in order to become a man now lays aside His clothes of fabric in order to wash feet.
He does not wash our feet despite the fact that He is God, but because He is God. This is how He shows us the Father.
This footwashing points us toward the cross, toward the moment when Jesus reveals the depths of the Father’s heart for us. This is who God is: the One who lays down His very life, first in service and then in giving it up completely through death, for His beloved creation.
These events, the footwashing and the crucifixion, are the events that lead Jesus to His time of going to the Father.
They are the events which form the ladder from this world to the Father’s world. They are the acted words the eternal Word must speak. They are the way home that the Son of God must take. ~ N. T. Wright
Why do we think that we can find a different way home to the Father?
deny self
Jesus says, after He has finished washing the feet of the disciples, that He has laid out a pattern for them to follow.
This is so hard. We are so proud and selfish. We proclaim Jesus as Lord and really mean that we have taken up His mantle of lordship within our little piece of the world. We want to rule and to push the serving bit off to the side.
This, however, is not following the pattern Jesus set for us. This is not imitating Him.
Instead, we, too, must lay aside our clothes, our clothes of pride and selfishness, and wash the feet of those given into our care, as the disciples were given into the care of Jesus.
We, too, must lay aside our lives, picking up our cross and dying to ourselves, for those the Father loves.
dying to ourselves
This is our way home to the Father.
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.

Art credits: The Washing of the Feet by James Tissot; Jesus Washing the Feet of Peter by Sudharkarbira; Christ Washing the Disciples’ Feet by Francesco Vanni; Jesus Washing the Feet of His Disciples by Albert Edelfelt