The Truer Truth

loss
You who are hurting,
suffering,
waiting,
grieving;
You who have experienced
loss after loss after loss;
Grief
You who have wondered about God,
turned away from God,
wept tears of anguish and rage before God;
You are seen.
You are known.
You are loved.
If I could sit with you, listen to you, hold your face gently in my hands and look into your eyes, this is what I would tell you:
There are two truths I want you to know, to grip tightly with both fists, to let sink down into your deepest, most raw and wounded places.
The first truth? Jesus is with you in your darkest places.
There is no hell you walk through that can keep Jesus from being beside you, before you, behind you, in you.
There are no tears you shed that are not shared by Jesus.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that can separate you from Love.
sorrow
The second truth? There is a reality that is deeper and more real than whatever you are going through.
Your hurt, your grief, your pain is very real. It would be foolish to pretend that the brokenness is not true.
And there is something truer. There is a truth that is more real, more lasting than any suffering you may endure.
Revelation is all about showing us the truer things behind the true thing. God draws back the curtain for John so that he can see the truest things.
The true thing for John?
The Church is being persecuted, tortured, killed. Evil appears to be winning the day.
The truer thing?
God shows John the Bride of the Lamb. He says, “Let me show you the beauty, the radiance, the glory of my Church, my Bride, as she reflects the glory and beauty of her Lord. This is what my Church looks like. This is who she really is.”
And this is what is truest for you.
Beneath all the dark and ugly and broken, you are the perfect, radiant Beloved one of God.
You are Beloved.
Regardless of what you see or feel, grip with all your strength to this truest truth ~ you are his Beloved.

suffering

And all of this suffering you are enduring right now? All of this pain and sorrow and loss?
All of it will be redeemed, will be transformed into something beautiful.
It probably won’t happen in the way or in the timing you hope for, and that certainly is a hard truth.
But that hard truth does not take away the truer truth that even if God does not heal anything here on this earth (And he might. Oh, he might!), the moment you look upon the face of Jesus, see his scars suffered for you and see the love streaming out of his eyes, all of this hard will melt away like the morning mist before the rising sun.
truer truth
Because the truest thing of all is that right now Jesus is with you and right now you are his Beloved.
Hold onto that and do not ever let it go.
To hear my blog post read aloud or to hear the music video, 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: Grief by Daniel Kornbau; Grief by Bertram Mackennal; Rabboni by Gutzon Borglum; sunrise by Kirk Sewell; broken Jonquil by Elizabeth Giger

This I Still Declare To Be True

We recently passed the anniversary of the death of my sister-in-law. Nine years. I wrote this essay when she died, yet in the middle of a pandemic, of political and racial unrest, of an election season, of economic downturns, in the middle of friends and family who are suffering, these words still ring true. It’s been a couple of years since I posted this. May these words bless you deeply.
The Word of Life
God’s Words tell us clearly that there is pain, there is heartbreak in this world.  We should not be surprised.
More often than not, God chooses not to save His people, chooses not to spare them sorrow and hardship.  Hebrews 11 gives a long list of those who were killed or lost ones they loved, Jesus’ closest friends died martyr’s deaths, even His earthly father died without His intervention.
I have pondered long and hard this question of what I believe about God in the midst of it wasn’t supposed to be like this.  Here is my conclusion.
Ocean Waves
I know my God, His character, well enough to trust Him when I don’t understand, when I cannot see in the darkness.  I know, from what He has said about Himself and from what I have seen, that He is always good and always love.  I know that, if we only knew the reasons, we would adore Him for what He does.
God promises that we will have trouble in this world.  He also promises that if we are grateful to Him He will give us peace.  He doesn’t promise that He will take the pain away but that we will be at peace, that we will have joy.
Isn’t that a much bigger promise?
No matter what, God is still God.
Will I only praise and thank Him when He does what I like?  Will I only accept from Him what I deem to be good?
When I deeply think through the idea of declaring my circumstance to be bad, it seems incredibly arrogant.
How can I think that I know better than God what is good?  How am I more capable of naming something to be good than the One who is good?
Will I trust that God has a beautiful, amazing plan only when I can see the beauty of it?  Either God is God, and capable of having plans and reasons that I cannot comprehend, or He isn’t God, and I am silly for blaming a myth. There is not really any in-between place for the things with which I do not agree.
…if I go to Jesus, he’s not under my control either.  He lets things happen that I don’t understand. He doesn’t do things according to my plan, or in a way that makes sense to me.  But if Jesus is God, then he’s got to be great enough to have some reasons to let you go through things you can’t understand.  His power is unbounded, but so are his wisdom and love…He can love somebody and still let bad things happen to them, because he is God–because he knows better than they do.  If you have a God great enough and powerful enough to be mad at because he doesn’t stop your suffering, you also have a God who’s great enough and powerful enough to have reasons that you can’t understand.
King’s Cross by Timothy Keller
 God is God, and since he is God, he is worthy of my worship and my service.  I will find rest nowhere else but in his will, and that will is necessarily infinitely, immeasurable, unspeakable beyond my largest notions of what he is up to. ~ Elisabeth Elliot
Aslan
can trust God, trust in His nature.
Of course he’s not safe.  Who said anything about being safe?  But he’s good.  He’s the king. ~ Mr. Beaver as told to C.S. Lewis in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
 Fiery Furnace
When faced with the fiery furnace, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego told King Nebuchadnezzar that
If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. ~ Daniel 3
When Job lost all of his children and all that he owned and was himself in great physical pain, he declared
Though he slay me, yet will I hope in Him. ~ Job 13.15
No matter what, I will praise God and offer Him my gratitude, my sacrifice of praise.
God tells us over and over in His word that He has a beautiful purpose for humanity and creation as a whole.
And that he has a beautiful purpose for each of our lives.
Sometimes I doubt this promise, this truth.
And then I look at Jesus, at His cross.
Bearing the Cross
I’ve been clinging to Romans 8.32 through all of this:
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
If God ever had to prove Himself, prove His love for us, prove that He is taking care of us, He has more than proved it all through the cross.
I can trust God, trust in His love.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about Hezekiah.
In II Kings 20, he pleaded with God to “change his story”, to give him more life when God had told him (through Isaiah) that he was going to die.  God did change His mind that time, gave him fifteen more years of life.
And in that fifteen extra years, Hezekiah’s son Manasseh was born.  This son who wouldn’t have been born if Hezekiah hadn’t asked God to change the ending of his story ended up as king and “lead (Israel) astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites”. ~ II Kings 21.9
Our desired story ending versus God’s desired story ending.
Perhaps, just perhaps, God really does know best.  Perhaps He does know which story will bring about a beautiful, redeemed, transfigured people.
Light Shines Through
When through the deep waters I call you to go,
The rivers of woe shall not overflow;
For I will be with you, your troubles to bless,
And sanctify to you your deepest distress.
The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.
~ How Firm a Foundation, att. John Keith, 1787 (modernized)
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 for images: Lion photo, painting by Simeon SolomonCross photo

Hungry for the Wrong Thing

This world, this created world, is gift. It is given.
gift
It is given to make God known to man, to make man’s life a communion with God.
We depend on the world to live. We take the world into our bodies and transform it into life.
“It is divine love made food, made life for man. God blesses everything he creates, and, in biblical language, this means that he makes all creation the sign and means of his presence and wisdom, love and revelation: ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good.'” ~ Alexander Schmemann
We were intended to take the world into ourselves and transform it into life, offering that life back to God in praise and gratitude. We were intended to be priests, offering the gift of the world back to God as a eucharist, a communion.
hungry for God
Then man fell and communion was broken. Man ceased to be hungry for God and began to be hungry for creation itself. Man stopped being the priest of the world and became, instead, its slave.
This, then, is the original sin. Not that man disobeyed God but that we no longer hunger for him alone.
Christ hungers
Then Christ came and took this world into his perfect body, transforming it into perfect life, and offered that life back to God as a eucharistic offering.
Christ restored our communion with God, our priesthood of the world.
“…in Christ, life – life in all its totality – was returned to man, given again as sacrament and communion, made Eucharist.” ~ Alexander Schmemann
Christ is our bread
Now we, the Church, come together and take the bread and the wine. We offer to God the food we must eat in order to live as a way of offering our whole selves, our life, our world.
We enter into the kingdom of God as we partake of the Eucharist. We enter, however briefly, into the world to come, our world perfected. Our very world is right now perfected in Christ, even as we are still waiting.
The bread and wine, therefore, that is given to be transformed into life, that is given to be offered back to God, that is given to bring us into communion with him,
this very food of the new heavens and the new earth is Christ himself.
Christ is our life
“He is our bread – because from the very beginning all our hunger was a hunger for him and all our bread was but a symbol of him, a symbol that had to become reality.” ~ Alexander Schmemann
Christ came and lived a perfect life, taking the world into himself as food and transforming it into his life, his life as perfect communion with God.
Now he shares his glorified and perfected life with us, saying, “Take, eat.”
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.

The ideas contained within this post come primarily from For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann

Art credits: Prayer by László Mednyánszky; Communion by John Snyder; Last Supper by Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret

We Need Heaven and Earth People

Someday heaven and earth will be joined together as one.
The veil between will be torn away and there will be no more separation.
No more tears, no more pain, no more loneliness, no more separation.
God will fully dwell with us and we will fully be his people.
heaven and earth joined
We long for this day and yet God has given us a preview, a foretaste of this joining together of heaven and earth.
After the resurrection, Jesus returned to heaven in his newly resurrected body, his earthly body that was able to be at home in heaven just as it was on earth.
heaven and earth people
At Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit entered into the disciples, they were transformed into earthly people who contained a heavenly person within them. They were transformed into people who stood in both heaven and earth at the same time.
We are people who stand in both heaven and earth at the same time.
standing in heaven and earth
We who are Jesus-followers, we who have the heavenly Spirit of God inside of us, are people who stand at the intersection of heaven and earth and work for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.
This is never more true than when we pray.
When we are solidly on earth and speaking to or listening to God in heaven, we are joining God’s kingdom to earth in a way that gives us a slight taste of what it will be like when heaven and earth are wholly one.
It whets our appetite and stirs us up to work all the harder to bring God’s kingdom to earth.
We desperately need heaven and earth people right now.
we must be heaven and earth people
Our world needs people who will stand at the intersection between heaven and earth and pray for that joining to be complete.
Our world needs people who are at home in both realities.
Our world needs people who will bring earthly concerns into heaven through prayer and who will bring heaven’s rule to earth through their work.
We are heaven and earth people, and we must not become so troubled by these earthly concerns that we forget who is really going to restore our world, yet we must not become so enamored with the heavenly reality that we forget the work that is ours to do to bring God’s kingdom rule to earth.
We are given the gift, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, of being the ones to stand at the overlap of heaven and earth and work to make them fully one as they once were. It is an astonishing gift.
So let us be heaven and earth people who are working for the restoration of earth toward its rightful end of becoming one again with heaven.
Do not miss this adventure!
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: Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Jan Vermeer; Pentecost stained glass in St. Andrew chapel of St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague; Children at Prayer by Antoine Édouard Joseph Moulinet; Christ Washing the Disciples’ Feet by Francesco Vanni

The First Step to Take Toward Justice

Justice.
justice
There are so many different voices crying out for justice right now.
There are so many different ways in which people are responding to those cries.
searching for justice
How should we, as Jesus followers, think Christianly about justice? How should we respond to individual as well as systemic injustice?
One thing is certain: We serve a God who concerns himself with justice.
God tells Israel through the prophet Isaiah to Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, and plead the widow’s cause, and through the prophet Micah, He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
In the New Testament, Jesus heals the leper, cares for the woman caught in adultery, and laments that the religious leaders tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.
We, then, as followers of this God of justice and mercy, must also concern ourselves with justice.
However.
It does not necessarily follow that we should submit to the path of the loudest and most popular voices.
There are many loud voices right now proclaiming the right way to think, to act, to pursue justice in our country.
Maybe they are right. Maybe this is the way God wants his followers to seek justice for the oppressed.
Maybe. Although it is rare that the path the world urges us to follow is the right path.
It also does not necessarily follow that every disciple of Jesus should walk the same path of fighting for the same justice for the same group of people.
We are the body of Christ. We are his hands and his feet and his eyes and his arms and his legs and…
We have different abilities and gifts. We have different passions and loves.
There are so many different kinds of people in need of justice in our world, in our country, in our town. People of color. People who are enslaved. People who are abused. People who are homeless, starving, mentally ill, without hope.
So how do we know? How can we find the right way? How in the world, how in this broken, grieving, noisy world can I know how God wants me to pursue justice?
be still
We stop.
We wait.
We must wait for God to fill us up with Himself so that it is His love and His compassion that flow out of us, rather than our own ideas about what ought to be done.
Springing into action is not our first step.
It is when we simply are still, keeping our gaze fixed on Christ through such habits as silence and solitude and lectio divina, that the Holy Spirit changes us and stirs us to His work.
Andrew Murray writes, It is when the soul becomes utterly passive, looking and resting on what Christ is to do, that its energies are stirred to their highest activity, and that we work most effectually because we know that He works in us.
As the Spirit of God dwells in us, we are more and more able to be led by the Spirit to do the work He has for us.
We cannot charge ahead and try to take the lead, but rather must wait on the Spirit to change us, to instruct us, to show us the way in which we should go. It is the Spirit’s role within the trinity to produce fruit, to bring every work to completion.
We see this in a beautiful way through the early Church.
God of justice
As you read the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit leads the Church in her various missions, sending people out as they are waiting on Him in prayer. He gives direction and the words to say, He produces the fruit that results, and the only thing the people do is to follow. The Spirit is the One who gives joy and spreads the Word.
The Holy Spirit does His work as He moves us to do our work. As we are still before God, we learn to understand how the apart from me you can do nothing is only the beginning of the I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
The Church is not a way to escape from this world. We follow the way of Christ, and he gave himself wholly for the life of the world.
God cares deeply about justice, and we should care deeply about what breaks the heart of God.
How do we know how best to pursue justice in our land?
Wait for justice
Not by listening to the loud, clamoring voices of the world, but by first listening to the still, small voice of God.
Only then can we work and fight for God’s kingdom rule to be done here on earth as it is in heaven.
I end with a quote from Father Alexander Schmemann. He is speaking of the Eucharist as communion with God –
It is the very communion with the Holy Spirit that enables us to love the world with the love of Christ. The Eucharist is the sacrament of unity and the moment of truth: here we see the world in Christ, as it really is, and not from our particular and therefore limited and partial points of view.
Intercession begins here, in the glory of the messianic banquet, and this is the only true beginning for the Church’s mission. It is when we ‘lay aside all earthly cares,’ when we seem to have left this world, that we, in fact, recover it in all its reality.
God has made us competent to be his witnesses, to fulfill what he has done and is ever doing. This is the meaning of the Eucharist; this is why the mission of the Church begins in the liturgy of ascension, for it alone makes possible the liturgy of mission.
Don’t flail blindly at the foe. Go and be still before God. Wait for him to send you out on his mission.
Our world needs 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 credit: Dove of the Holy Spirit by Gian Lorenzo Bernini; all other photographs copyright 2020 Made Sacred

What I Learn When We Are Apart

There is an old heresy that has circled around again and again since the beginning of Christianity.
the physical
It is the lie that creation, the physical world, is bad or, at best, unimportant. The spiritual alone is what truly matters.
the spiritual
I have seen this creeping into the Church in recent years (The Western Church, that is. I will not presume to speak about the global Church).
What we do with our bodies during worship is not important.
Being physically together is nice, but it doesn’t matter in the larger scope of things.
Watching church online is just as good as being in a building.
I confess that as an introvert, I find the draw of church online to be alluring. It is a lot less messy when you don’t have to face so many people.
I do know, however, that the Church is a sacrament, a place where the spiritual reality of God becomes embodied in the physical world.
embodied world
The whole of creation was originally intended to fulfill this role, created to bring man into relationship with God. The physical world would make the spiritual reality of God known to man; man would take the physical world into his body and live out the life of God to the world.
All that exists is God’s gift to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, to make man’s life communion with God. ~ Alexander Schmemann
But then man chose to hunger for the world instead of God, to live the life of the world rather than the life of God, and the circle was broken.
Jesus embodied
The circle remained broken until Jesus came and once again offered up the embodied life of God for man.
Now the Church has become the means through which the spiritual reality of God enters the material reality of the world. There is no longer any need for temples or sacred places, for Christ’s Body, the Church, embodies the life of God to the world.
The Church now finds herself in the middle of a pandemic. We are sheltering in place and are unable to be together physically. Ever.
When you are not allowed to have physical contact with anyone, suddenly being together seems much more important.
It makes me wonder whether one way in which God will bless this time for our good, as he promised he would, might be to show us how essential it is to meet together in an embodied way.
Technology is a good and helpful tool, but that is all it is or should ever be. A tool. A substitute. We are embodied creatures and as such need embodied interactions.

Emile_Claus_-_Orchard_in_Flanders

C. S. Lewis used the metaphor of eating tinned fruit when writing about mistaking something necessary for what is best. Tinned fruit will feed and sustain you when there is a famine, when you cannot visit the orchard, yet the fruit loses much of its flavor and goodness in the process of being tinned.
In this season of shelter-in-place, we are being fed and sustained by our online communications, and our souls are grateful for it, but deep down we hunger for incarnate communion.
There is, of course, the opposite danger in being sustained only by virtual fellowship, and that is that we might acquire a taste for it. This we must absolutely guard against.
But do not let us mistake necessary evils for good. The mistake is easily made. Fruit has to be tinned if it is to be transported and has to lose thereby some of its good qualities. But one meets people who have actually learned to prefer the tinned fruit to the fresh. ~ C. S. Lewis
May we, the Church, in this time of being bodily separated, begin to understand and truly believe in the goodness of creation and the importance of our physical bodies.
May we continue to hunger for the fresh fruit of embodied fellowship rather than being satiated with tinned communication in the virtual world.
When this is over, may we recognize our incarnate communion for what it is – undeserved gift.
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 credit: The Last Supper from So-called Hours of Philip the Fair; Orchard in Flanders by Emile Claus

We Are Slicing Off Ears Again

I made a mistake on Facebook the other day.
A friend of a friend posted something harsh about those who believe differently than she does about face masks, and I had had enough.
I responded.
I shouldn’t have, but I responded.
When she escalated, making comparisons to people in concentration camps, I realized my mistake. I am not going to change anyone’s mind on Facebook. I cannot not argue someone into a different viewpoint.
I can, however, love people on Facebook. I can show the unity and love of Jesus in the way that I interact with others. My comment, while not harsh or ugly, did not show unity or love.
I deleted my responses.
I expect harsh words and vitriol from the world. Christians, however, should never engage in that kind of vicious attack and nasty rhetoric.
As emotions become more volatile in this season of uncertainty, as choices about what to do next vary wildly, as words become our weapon of choice, I offer a word of warning, a plea, to myself as well as to you.
Satan wants this. This is a perfect opportunity for him to divide the church over this issue of shelter-in-place vs reopening the economy, over enforced face masks vs the freedom to choose.
I’ve already written of how important it is for us, the Church, to be unified.
DSC_0033a (21)
Not for us to agree on everything, but to love each other. To love each other no matter what.
This is so important that it was one of the last things Jesus asked of God before He was crucified.
Why is this particularly important right now, in this season?
As more and more people get sick with COVID-19 and die, as more and more people lose their jobs because of prevention measures, we become more and more afraid.
And fear causes us to do crazy things, both to each other and to those around us who are outside of the Church.
We are living in uncertain times. Our lives and our livelihoods are threatened. The illusion that we are in control has been stripped away.
We find ourselves fighting back against this invisible enemy by fighting with the people we can see.
We as a Church are good at fighting.
crusades
We have a tendency, when we are afraid, to lash out at anyone who disagrees with what we believe to be true. Rather than following Jesus’ way of loving those who hurt us, of being at peace with those around us, we strike out blindly at anyone near us in an attempt to fight the enemy we cannot reach.
This is what Peter did. He was terrified of losing Jesus, terrified of losing his own life, uncertain of what would happen next, and he reacted by pulling out his sword to start slicing off ears.
st-_peter_cut_slaves_ear_by_duccio
Jesus, however, picked up that ear, calmly placed it back onto its owner’s head, and walked quietly off to meet His death.
We have a perfect opportunity in this season to react out of love rather than out of fear. To treat those who disagree with gentleness, bringing peace rather than war. To show that we are Jesus’ disciples by the way we love each other.
Jesus speaks over and over again about His kingdom coming through the humble, the weak, the foolish. He is adamant that the kingdom of God is not about force or hatred.
When Jesus gets down on his knees to wash the filthy feet of the apostles, he washes Judas’ feet as well.
IMG_4362
Everything we do to live out God’s kingdom here on earth must be done under the shadow of the cross.
Perhaps we should stop fighting to convince other believers that we are right and start figuring out how to work together to show God’s love to the sick and the jobless. Perhaps we should begin by humbly admitting that we don’t have all the answers and we might be wrong. Perhaps we should remember that God’s kingdom grows best one soul at a time through lives lived in quiet love and service, not through arguing angrily on social media.
Perhaps we should stop slicing off ears and instead begin the work of healing by dying to ourselves as we live as Jesus did. We can start by loving each other.
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 credit: Photograph of cathedral by Kirk SewellImage of the Croisés from 1922; St. Peter Cuts the Slave’s Ear by Duccio di Buoninsegna

Our Cry to the Creator and Covenant God

How long, O God?
This has been our cry from the beginning.
How long until you rescue us? How long until you set things right?
Rescue us
Our world is broken and we are broken and we need you to make all things new.
You created us and you promised us. Save us, O God!
All through Scripture, God reveals himself as Creator God and as Covenant God. He is the one who made us and he is the one who promised to restore us.
Over and over again, Israel cries out for rescue to the Creator God who has an obligation to his creation and to the Covenant God who has an obligation to be faithful to the promises he has made.
creation and covenant
The Psalms are full of the bringing together of these two aspects of God.
Psalm 19 begins by praising God for his power in creation, The heavens declare the glory of God, and ends by praising God for the beauty in his covenant law, The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.
Psalm 74 begins by pleading with God to remember his covenant people, Remember your congregation, which you have purchased of old and ends by reminding him of his power and ownership over creation, Yours is the day, yours also the night.
The covenant was given to solve the problems in creation. God calls Abraham and establishes Israel as his people to hold to the covenant. Through Israel, God will solve the problems of the world, bringing justice and salvation to the nations.
Creation is invoked by the prophets of Israel to solve the problems within the covenant. “When Israel is in trouble, and the covenant promises themselves seem to have come crashing to the ground, the people cry to the covenant God precisely as the creator.”
creation and covenant
It did, indeed, seem that the covenant promises came crashing down.
Israel was supposed to be God’s messenger to the nations, but instead tried to achieve a covenant status for itself alone. What did God do? Abandon the covenant and move to a vastly different Plan B in Jesus?
He most certainly did not. God remains true to his covenant, to his plan, even when man proves false.
“…he will require a representative Israelite who will be faithful…to God’s purpose not only for Israel but through Israel for the world…we see God’s covenant faithfulness operating through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah. Precisely as Messiah, he offers God that representative faithfulness to the plan of salvation through which the plan can go ahead at last, Abraham can have a worldwide family, and the long entail of Adam’s sin and death can be undone through his obedience.”
It is through Jesus that the one who created us and our world is able to fulfill his covenant to restore us and our world.
creation
 covenant
We see this displayed beautifully in Isaiah 40-55, that great passage in which the prophet lays out God’s entire plan for rescue.
In chapter 40, YHWH is beseeched as the sovereign creator in whom Israel can trust completely. In 55, there is celebration of the way in which his Word will have the same effect of restoring Israel that the rain and snow have in making the earth fruitful.
Creation and covenant.
In between, in chapter 51, Creator God is declared to also be the Covenant God whose Word will rescue and deliver his people from the enemy.
The covenant will be renewed and thus creation will be renewed. When God rescues Israel, the nations will share in the blessing. And “the human blessing is the means by which God the creator, who made humans in his image to be his stewards in his world, will renew the whole creation itself.”
And all this, says Isaiah, through the Messiah. This Messiah, we now know, is both the Word of God and the one in whom all things were created. Paul tells us that the image of the invisible God, the true fulfillment of Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, both was the first born of all creation and in him all things were created AND was the first born from the dead and through him God reconciled all things to himself.
Jesus himself is the point where creation and covenant come together.
creation
covenant
Jesus is the means by which God has done what, “as creator, he has the power and right to do, and what, as the covenant God, he has the responsibility to do.” Through Jesus, God has set things right again. He has set in motion the restoration of creation and has killed sin and death on the cross.
Which brings us back to where we began.
How long, O God?
How long until you rescue us? How long until you set things right?
creation and covenant
Praise be to our God! Through the obedience of Messiah and the power of his Spirit, our Creator and Covenant God has already done it.
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.

Credits: These ideas, and all of the quotations, come from N. T. Wright and his book, Paul. I have merely synthesized and condensed them for you. The painting of Peter drowning is an excerpt from a fresco inside the cathedral of Maria Saal in Austria. All photographs are mine.

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