Abiding in our Daily Lives

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Paul says that Christ is before all things and that in Him all things hold together, yet it is difficult to believe that God could be a part of something as ordinary as cleaning toilets, as tedious as reading yet one more rendition of Goodnight, Moon.
mundane
ordinary
Yet if we are to abide in Christ, as I wrote about last week, these are exactly the kinds of activities in which we are to look for Him. If God is present in the singing of a hymn, He is also present in the folding of a spouse’s shirt.
A.W. Tozer, in The Pursuit of God, directs our eyes to Jesus, pointing out that if Christ’s claim to only do the things that please the Father is true, then this would also include such prosaic activities as eating, sleeping, and being with friends.
all to the glory
Tozer writes that Paul anticipated an objection to his command to “do all to the glory of God”. The objection is that there are sacred and secular separations in our lives, and Paul fully negated that objection by specifically including eating and drinking in his command. Every act of our lives should be done to God’s glory.
Of such a one it may be said that every act of his life is or can be as truly sacred as prayer or baptism or the Lord’s Supper. To say this is not to bring all acts down to one dead level; it is rather to lift every act up into a living kingdom and turn the whole life into a sacrament. ~ Tozer
Turn the whole life into a sacrament.
It is a beautiful idea and one that fits perfectly with Scripture. God clearly cares about the menial details of our lives.
God cares
all is sacred
If any doubts this, he only must read the book of Leviticus.  
In Leviticus, God gives minute instructions to the Israelites concerning how to go about daily life, from how to care for articles of clothing to how to work in a vineyard.  He tells them how to clean cooking pots that have come into contact with an insect and what to do when their tent gets moldy.  He tells those who work the land not to harvest the fields too thoroughly but to leave a little for the poor.  
It turns out that He does indeed care about every moment; He cares about even our everyday routine.  He cares so much about us that He wants to be present to us in everything we do.  
There is, it turns out, no separation between sacred and secular. All is made sacred and all is in Christ.
So how do we become awake to His presence in our daily lives? How do we learn to abide in Jesus so that there is no place of our lives in which He does not dwell, no place in which we walk without dwelling in Him?
After all, as Evelyn Underhill says, “The spiritual life is simply the life in which all we do comes from the centre, where we are anchored in God.” How do we live anchored to God?
prayer
Scripture intake
Largely, though not entirely, through the Spiritual Disciplines.
As we practice the Holy Habits, we learn to become aware of God’s presence in every area of our lives. We wake up to God’s presence and His purposes in our lives and our world. Rather than going through our days mindful only of the world we can see, as we weave in the Holy Habits we become more fully conscious of how completely intertwined are the physical and spiritual worlds.
A.W. Tozer speaks of this intertwining in The Pursuit of God. He says that the spiritual world is real in the same sense that the visible world is real.
We must break the evil habit of ignoring the spiritual. We must shift our interest from the seen to the unseen.
Tozer tells us that the Kingdom of God is not some distant future promise, but a present reality, a parallel to the seen world. The Spiritual Disciplines help the eyes of our soul to see this kingdom everywhere we turn.
I’ll give an example of using the Spiritual Disciplines to help us see God in our every day lives, as well as expand this idea a little more next week. To be continued…

Art credits: All photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2017

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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

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Election and Free Will in Scripture

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Scripture can be difficult to understand.
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When taken as a whole, when read as one, consistent story, it is easy to get confused by various passages that seem to state different realities.
One such difficulty is how we are able to accept God’s salvation.
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Some passages in Scripture (Ephesians 1 and Romans 9, as only two examples) seem to say that God decrees (or elects) some to be saved and some to be damned.
Other passages in Scripture (Romans 8 and I Peter 1, for example) seem to say that we are given free will in the matter and can accept or reject God’s salvation (having first been given by God the grace to accept). The election comes from God’s foreknowledge, not His decree.
This is, admittedly, a very simplistic version of these complex issues, but it is enough to get us started in our pondering and discussing.
How do we reconcile these? As much as we would wish to sometimes, we cannot ignore the sides of Scripture that are uncomfortable or distressing.
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We in our American culture and modern time cringe at the idea of not having complete free will. It goes against everything in us to think that we have no choice in the matter of salvation or that God would create beings in order to damn them.
Yet we cannot throw out Ephesians and Romans.
So where does that leave us?

Ev. Gesellschaft in Wuppertal Jahresversammlung März 1956 Karl Barth

A man named Karl Barth went the farthest in harmonizing the two varieties of passages. He noticed that in the passages that speak of election, the election is spoken of as in Christ.
We are chosen in Him (Christ) before the creation of the world…God predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.
Barth’s idea is that both the election and the rejection spoken of by Scripture was applied to Christ.
Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man. Two separate natures fully united in one person. Jesus Christ is, then, both the electing God and the elected man, both the subject and the object of election.
God’s welcome and His rejection are both fulfilled in Christ, who was rejected by God for our sake.
Barth writes that “God has given to man the former: election, salvation, and life; for Himself, however, He has chosen the second: rejection, damnation, and death.”
Rembrandt_The_Three_Crosses_1653
God’s no falls on Christ so that God’s yes can fall on the rest of us.
Is Karl Barth correct?
I have no idea.
I apologize if you were hoping for a definitive answer.
If the greatest theological minds over the centuries have not come to agreement on this, far be it from me to speak otherwise.
Yet Barth’s ideas make sense to me as I study and pray.
What do you think?

Thanks to Todd Daly for introducing me to many of these idea.

Art Credits: photograph of Karl Barth from the German Federal Archive; Three Crosses sketch by Rembrandt

Swimming with the Spirit

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We are told that the Holy Spirit is in us.
Holy Spirit
We are told that He is transforming us into Christ’s likeness, into who we were created to be from the beginning.
If we cannot do this work, then how does this renewal come about?
If we are saved by the blood of Jesus, before the metamorphosis takes place, how do we become like Christ once we have accepted God’s saving grace?
become like Christ
Do we sit back and let the Holy Spirit do all the work in us? Do we have to take it all upon ourselves and make our own selves into someone worthy of God?
A bit of both, actually. The first alone makes a mockery of the cross. The second alone makes an idol of our own selves.
Christianity is hard and requires constant work and watchfulness, but we do not have to walk this path on our own.
walk with Jesus
walk with the Spirit
Paul tells the Colossians, May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.
The word for ‘according to’ in the original Greek is the word we would use for something going down stream – according to the current of the river. The current carries the swimmer along with it. He or she has to swim too, of course, but with the help of the current the swimmer can go further and faster, and with less effort, than by his or her own power. And so it is when our weakness swims in the stream of God’s almighty power. ~ N.T. Wright in Small Faith-Great God
swimming
God's current
This is well-illustrated by a story that John tells in his gospel. After the resurrection, the disciples (not knowing what in the world else to do) went fishing. Keep in mind that John uses light and dark, night and day as a way to express truth.
John says that the disciples went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach…
fishing with the Spirit
Jesus tells the disciples to put their nets out on the other side of the boat and immediately their nets are filled to the breaking point.
Do you see it?
that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach…
…and we can feel instantly, behind those simple words, the whole weight of the knowledge that the church in the person of Jesus, has come through the night of condemnation and impossibility into a spring morning of joy and hope. Then, of course, the whole scene comes to life. What the disciples had been unable to do without Jesus they can do easily and highly effectively at his bidding. ~ N.T. Wright Small Faith-Great God
And so it is with us. We must obey, but what we are unable to do without Jesus we can do easily and effectively at His bidding. We must go through the motions, but with the Spirit inside of us we can progress further and faster, and with less effort than by our own power.
So swim with the Spirit. Swim in the current of God’s almighty power.

Holy Spirit

God's grace

See what beautiful things He makes of your life.
See how wonderfully He transforms you into His likeness.

Art credits: photo of Holy Spirit dove and photos of the rivers by Kirk Sewell; Road to Emmaus by Robert Zund; Risen Christ by David Teniers the Younger

links to N.T. Wright’s book, Small Faith-Great God, are Amazon affiliate links. Purchases through these links allows you to help support this blog through no added cost to you. Thank you.

How to Seek God’s Will

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I have to give my two year old a lot of specific instructions throughout her day.
Two year old
I have to tell her which arm to put in which arm hole, how to get a blanket pulled over her legs, where each toy should go when cleaning up.
Needs lots of help
And she’s two, so I’m okay with this.
My seven year old, however, I expect to have a general idea of what I want from her.

Seven year old

More independent
I would feel disappointed if I had to give her as many minute directions as I do her younger sister. As my eldest matures and as our own relationship grows, one of my hopes is for her to know me well enough to know what I want from her without me having to detail it out.
Age gap
Help each other
I have spent much of my life wanting to know God’s will for me.
Seeking God's will
I wanted to know what college to attend, which career I should pursue, whom I should date, whom I should marry. Much of my relationship with God was consumed with begging Him to tell me what He wanted me to do.
I told myself that I was seeking God’s will in order to please Him and bring Him glory, but in truth I wanted to know His will in order to protect myself. I wanted to be sure that I would be successful, that I wouldn’t make any mistakes that would cause me lasting pain.
I am learning.
I am learning that God’s relationship with me is much like my relationships with my daughters. The more I know God, the more our relationship grows and the less He has to direct my every move.
Only asking God to tell me about His will does not constitute a growing relationship. That amounts to not much more than a dictatorship.
When I am with my husband, I don’t want either of us to order the other about. I want us to understand each other deeply so that orders are not necessary.
And so it is in our union with God, a person both loving and beloved. He does not delight in having to always explain what His will is; He enjoys it when we understand and act upon His will. Our highest calling and opportunity in life is to love Him with all our being. ~ Dallas Willard in Hearing God
In recent years, rather than seeking God’s will for my life, I’ve spent my time seeking God.
I seek to know Him, to understand Him, to love Him more. In that loving, I trust that He will let me know if there is something specific I need to hear. I trust His Spirit in me to guide me when either I am beginning to head in the wrong direction or there is a specific thing He wants me to do.
And He does. He fulfills that trust.
I have a long way to go. I have not yet grown to the point of having an easy, conversational relationship with God throughout every day. But I want that. Oh, how I long for that kind of relationship with the One I love.
Rather than praying “God, help me to know Your will so that I can do what you want me to do”, my new prayer is “God, help me to know You more so that I can love you more.”
Seeking God
That is a prayer I believe He delights in answering.
And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever. I Chronicles 28.9

edited from the archives: the daughters mentioned in this post are now four and nine. Time, slow down! Just a bit.

The Mystery of Prayer

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So much of this kingdom-living life is mystifying.
We are given a magnificent vision of being made priests and kings. We are told to go out into the world and live in a way that brings God’s rule to earth and creation’s praise to heaven.
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So much of the time we wander around, having no earthly idea what to do.
Yet here we are.
This is our mission whether or not we understand it completely.
This is our goal whether or not we can perceive the next step.
This is our purpose and we may not set it aside every time we fail to discern the way forward.
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Part of the answer to finding our way is in prayer.
Prayer itself is a mystery, however central to our lives as Christ followers. Perhaps it wouldn’t be prayer without also being a mystery.
Yet it is a mystery we can, in our own fumbling way, find the shape of. This mystery of prayer has the shape of heaven and earth joining together in Jesus and our sharing in that joining through the Spirit.
The very act of prayer says that we stand in the space between heaven and earth. Prayer says that, in some mysterious way, we are called to stand for God on earth and to stand for creation in heaven.
But again the very practice of prayer, before we even begin to think about the content, says in and of itself: we are people who live at the interface between God’s world and the life of this present world. We are people who belong in that uncomfortable borderland. We are called to stay at this post even when we have no idea what’s actually going on. ~ N.T. Wright, After You Believe
Remaining at our post even when we have no idea what’s actually going on takes humility and patience. It takes faith and hope. It takes the living out of virtue, as I discussed recently.
Yet doing this, remaining at our post, continuing to pray even when you don’t understand how any of it works or what on earth you are supposed to say, trains our hearts.
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Even if we gain no clarity at all, our hearts are being trained in humility and patience, in faith and hope.
Prayer changes us. It is a piece of what transforms us into the people God created us to be.
Prayer is one of the disciplines which, when practiced regularly both in public and in private, builds our character, habit by habit and virtue by virtue, into the royal priesthood through which God will restore the world.
But it means that we come to prayer knowing that we’re to reinforce the heart habits that make us, by second nature, who we are. And we rise from prayer with the heart formed that bit more securely in its settled second nature of trust and obedience. ~ N.T. Wright, After You Believe

 

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How We Can Live the Kingdom of God Right Now

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The in-between is hard.
This time and space between our first step towards Jesus and coming face-to-face with Him is difficult and often confusing.
Following Jesus
Do we buckle down and learn to follow all the rules?
Do we throw rule-following to the wind and learn to live authentically?
Following Jesus
How in the world, how in this very world, are we supposed to live out this God life?
Jesus speaks often of the Kingdom of God. It is coming, it is near, it is breaking through.
The Kingdom of God is His rule, His will being done here on earth as it is in heaven.
He taught us to pray for this to happen.
Now.
Praying for the Kingdom of God
Paul speaks 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.
Perhaps it is a little of both the rule-following and the living authentically.
When we try to obey God’s beautiful law, His law which shows us how life works best, 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 you put in, the more natural it becomes.
Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. 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
Living in the Kingdom of God
It is as though we are planning to move to a distant country and are trying to learn the language of that country before we go. It takes work to learn a language, but the more we work at it and the longer we practice, the more that language becomes a part of us.
After awhile, we begin to think in this new language; even, perhaps, to dream in it. If we work steadily on, when we finally move to our new home we may even be mistaken for a native.
Isn’t that our ultimate goal, our telos? To be mistaken for a native of the Kingdom of God?
Suddenly, after years of following the rules, we find that the character of Jesus is becoming authentically our own character. When we do the work, with the power of the Holy Spirit inside of us, we find that love and peace and patience are becoming our natural response.
We also find that as we become more like a native of God’s Kingdom, we are bringing pieces of God’s Kingdom to rest all around us.
We are doing the work that allows God’s Kingdom to break through to our homes, to our workplaces, to our churches, to our relationships.
And so we find that at the same moment we have been praying Christ’s prayer of Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, the Spirit has been working within our very selves to transform us into the answer to that prayer.
God’s ways are as beautiful as they are mysterious.
It is an astounding idea that He would allow a partnership between these frail jars of clay and the Holy Spirit’s death-defeating power.
Yet He does allow it, even command it.
Through us, through our weak and cracked selves, the Kingdom of God is breaking through to heal and restore our broken world.
Let us continue our labor to obey God’s law, to choose His habits, to learn His language,
so that one day we might be mistaken for a native of His kingdom.

The Eighth Day

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It is finished.
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A cry in which is heard echoes from the beginning of time.
The cry of God on the cross is the same cry proclaimed at the end of creation.
The finished work of the old creation pushes toward the finished work of the new.
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John crafts his gospel with great care, word by word putting the story together.
How does he begin? In the beginning. A bold start, echoing the start of all things.
He weaves his signs of God’s glory throughout. Seven signs, of course.
On the sixth day, on a Friday, Pilate declares Behold the man.
The culmination of creation, the culmination of God’s created glory.
On the sixth day, on a Friday, God declared that it was finished.
On the seventh day, on a Saturday, on the Sabbath, God rested.
He rested from His work. He rested in the heavens and He rested in the tomb.
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And then?
What happens after the Sabbath?
On the first day of the week…early, while it was still dark…
The new creation begins.
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Just as new creation followed the original seventh day of rest, so does new creation follow God’s day of rest after the cross.
New creation on this earth, heaven breaking in to the old to bring God’s kingdom here and now.
God’s kingdom come, His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
It is the eighth day once again.
Rejoice and get to work.

Art credits: all photography is copyright Made Sacred 2017