Found in the Dark

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Dark.
There is darkness outside at three in the morning and there is darkness inside of ourselves from which we cannot escape.
Dark.
There is darkness in the middle of a storm and there is darkness in the destructive aftermath when the sun is shining.
Dark.
Darkness
There is danger in the dark and there is fear, but is it the darkness that we fear or is it whatever lies within the darkness that we cannot see?
We light candles and we plug in nightlights and we busy ourselves to do whatever is necessary to hold the darkness at bay.
Lighting Candles
What are we really afraid of? Are we afraid that God is not there in the dark? Are we afraid that God is only in the light and if we enter into the darkness, whether it be the darkness of loss or of sin or of depression or even of death, we will lose the glory of His presence?
Yet in the darkness was where the glory of His presence was found, within the dark cloud over Mt Sinai when He made His covenant with His people Israel.
Yes, there is death in darkness.
And
There is new life in the dark.
New life
In fact, life can only begin in the dark. A seed sprouts underground and a baby grows in the womb and even Jesus was raised into His new life in the dark.
In the darkness of a cave.
We see the afterwards of the resurrection, the earthquake and the angel and the glorious, blinding light.
But the resurrection itself?
It happened in the dark.
It happened in the dark, in the silence, with the smell of damp earth and the roughness of rock all around.
And if new life can only happen in the dark, well then,
instead of doing all we can to avoid it, perhaps we should lean in to the darkness, lean in to our fear.
Perhaps if we do, we will discover a new life that could not have been found otherwise.

Art Credit: all photographs by Made Sacred copyright 2018

edited from the archives

The Tension in Which We Live

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God promised to give Abram the land.
Abram
God promised Moses the same.
He brought Moses right up to the edge and promised the land to Israel.
Moses
God promised Joshua the land
and asked Joshua to fight.
Joshua
His promise was to give Israel the land
and He also asked Israel to fight the battles for the land.
Joshua led Israel in battle
and Israel fought for the land.
And yet God gave it to them.
Joshua's fight
As Israel fought, God caused the enemy to flee.
As Israel wielded their swords, God sent hailstones that killed more than the swords.
As Israel ran and sweat and grew bloody and bruised, God made the sun stand still.
God gave them the land
and Israel had to fight.
It is a tension within which we, too, are required to live.
God has promised to make us like Him
and He has asked us to work.
Our fight
God has promised to transform our lives
and He has given us disciplines to practice.
God's battle
It is by grace you have been saved, and not by works, so that no man may boast
and
Faith without works is dead
God, who saved us and called us…not because of our works, but because of His own purpose and grace
and
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
We live in this tension.
This tension
As we sit in silence and solitude, God transforms our hearts.
As we meditate on God’s Words, God changes us into the hands and feet of the Word.
As we whisper faltering prayers, God grows fruit and works miracles.
God gives us our inheritance
and we are asked to fight. Our beautiful tension
It is beautiful, this tension in which we live.

Art credits: God’s covenant with Abraham, Bible primer; Moses Viewing the Promised Land by Frederick Edwin Church; Crossing the Jordan, Bible primer; Joshua at Gibeon, 5th century mosaic; all other photographs by Made Sacred, copyright 2018

Never Outside of God

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In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
beginning
created
earth
Yet God’s creative work did not stop there.
He did not create the universe, set it into motion, then step back and let things take their course.
For by Him all things were created…and in Him all things hold together.
in Him
never outside of Him
hold together
All creation was brought forth out of Himself and all creation is sustained by Him.
His presence is here, all around us, intimately close to us and yet also other than us. Other than creation.
He is still creating, still sustaining. He is constantly “bringing forth”.
creating
sustaining
bringing forth
This is not pantheism. God is not His creation.
Sustaining does not equal being.
Sustaining also does not equal controlling.
We still make our choices, live our lives, do what we were created to do.
live
art
science
Yet on a deeper level, God is sustaining us while we do what we were created to do.
We work on different levels. God has His work and has given us work to do. He has given all of creation work to do.
Perhaps we are the only ones who can refuse that work.
For God is other than His creation.
Too often we make Him the same, just bigger.
He is not the same, and we do well to remember it.
He has given us work to do, and while we are to obey and do that work He has given us to do, we are deceived if we believe we do that work on our own.
caring
praising
tending
providing
For while we work, doing what we were created to do, God is also at work, sustaining all things , holding all things together within Himself.
May that truth give you rest, for you are never outside of the sustenance of God.
You are never outside of God Himself.

Art Credits: Photograph of space by NASA; all other photographs copyright 2018 Made Sacred

When We Enter the Darkness

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Sometimes it happens this way.
Sometimes when you are closest to God, you feel as though you are farthest away.
It seems to happen that when you are a new Christian, God speaks clearly, you feel His presence solidly, light is all around you.
New
Fresh
As you progress in your faith, God’s voice gets fainter, His presence is harder to grasp, the clouds begin to form around you.Old
Dry
This is how it was for Mother Theresa who began her life full of fire and certainty and spent the last fifty years of her life full of darkness and silence. She continued to obey, even when the dry times outnumbered the rich times.
As a baby, you need God to discernibly carry you. When you become more mature, you need to trust that God is still carrying you.
When God first showed Himself to Moses, it was in the light.
Light
In a miracle of a fiery bush that did not become ash, He revealed Himself to a man who did not yet know Him.
Later, God showed Himself to Moses in a cloud.
Cloud
In the middle of the cloudy dimness of a pillar of cloud, God spoke to a man who was learning to trust Him.
Once Moses became more perfected, he saw God in the darkness.
Dark
In the darkness on the top of a mountain, God gave His Word to a man who knew Him.
We should not think that this is unusual. We should not despair when we must enter the darkness. We should not give up on God when we can no longer see Him.
Rather, we should continue to obey, continue to trust, continue to speak and to listen.
What you discovered about God in the fiery light does not disappear once He cloaks Himself in darkness.
He is still there, He still loves you, and He is still working to perfect you.
Perfect
Especially in the darkness.

Ideas in this post come from St. Gregory of Nissa (335-395 AD)

Art Credits: God Appears to Moses from Saint Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg; Pillar of Cloud is a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company; Promulgation of the Law by Gerard Hoet; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2018

I have three papers to write this week for my Master’s course, so this post is edited from the archives. I hope you enjoyed it!

The Otherness of God

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Our God is astounding.
He is vast, but not in a way that is simply a larger version of ourselves.
He is not the giant at the top of the beanstalk.
He is other.
Other
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Yet He did not create in the way that we as artists create, taking what is already there and crafting it into something new.
God’s creating was closer to the way we give birth. Out of Himself, He brought forth a completely new, unique, original thing.
Creator
Yet even that is not exactly what God did.
We do not craft our children.
God, using only Himself, bringing forth out of nothing but Himself, crafted precisely and perfectly an entire universe.
Universe
Otherness
Creator
Creation
Original
Sit with that for a moment.
The Lord is a God of knowledge.
Other
God knows everything.
Yet He does not know in the same way that we know.
The most intelligent and well-educated people in this world must learn in order to know. They must study what is outside of themselves in order to know.
Most of the time, we must learn even to know what is inside of ourselves.
Knowledge
Knowing
Understanding
Other
God knows because there is nothing that is outside of Himself. All that exists came out of God Himself, and thus He knows all things in a much different way than we can ever know anything. His knowledge comes from a much different place.
Sit with that for a moment.
Sit with the otherness of God,
then praise Him for who He is.

Art Credits: space photos from NASA; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2018

How Love Wins

 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.

 

This Jesus life is hard.
Hard
Suffering
Struggle
Difficulty
Anything that demands that you surrender your entire self is going to be just that. Hard.
It is sometimes tempting to give up and take the easy way.
It would be much easier to just sink into the flow of our world, to follow the crowd,
to do what I want to do instead of fighting against my natural desires.
I have to keep reminding myself that I didn’t ever think that becoming a disciple of Jesus would be easy.
Quite the opposite, in fact. Jesus promises through His words and by His example that His way is the way of struggle, of self-denial, of suffering.
Example
Of the cross.
When Jesus died on the cross, when He rose from the dead, He demonstrated that love wins against the Enemy.
Against Sin.
Against Death.
Love wins.
But love wins not over suffering but through suffering.
Cross
If Jesus’ love wins through suffering, we can guess what that means for us.
The victory that we win through Jesus will also have to be won in the same way, by the slow course of love rather than the swift course of battle.
I often become frustrated that at the age of forty I am still unable to conquer so much of myself.
I become frustrated that this God life is so hard.
N.T. Wright reminds me that if Jesus’ victory was won through the slow road of love, then my own victory will have to “be implemented step by step, not all at one single sweep, (and that) those steps have to be, every one of them, steps of the same generous love that took Jesus to the cross. Love will always suffer.”
I don’t like this.
I still want to give up sometimes.

Steady

Perservere

Yet what is my alternative?
If suffering is the cost of discipleship, what is the cost of non-discipleship?
Dallas Willard writes that when we are tempted to quit, when we feel that this Jesus life is too hard, we should count the cost of non-discipleship.
Nondiscipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil. In short, it costs exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring.
Suddenly, this God life doesn’t seem so hard anymore.
Or, rather, it still seems hard, but it also seems worth it.
Abundantly worth it.

Art credits: Gethsemane by Carl Bloch; Jesus Scourged by Marillier; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2018

Your Kingdom Come

I’ve been working my way through a new book by N. T. Wright called The Day the Revolution Began, and I have a lot to tell you. This is the final post containing some of what I have learned. You can read the first post here, the second post here, and the third post here. I hope you gain as much as I have.

 

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.

 

If what we need is a new Exodus, as I wrote last week, if we need a forgiveness of Sin (the worship of anything other than the Creator God) to return us from exile, to return us to our true purpose of being a royal priesthood, and if God accomplished this through the cross, how did He do this?
What happened on that Friday afternoon?
The Cross
The power of Sin was centered within the person of Jesus.
Throughout history, God had been focusing the powers of Sin and darkness, drawing all of Sin’s power towards one place, one person.
He did this in Israel through the law. This is partly what Paul means when he writes to the Galatians of the law being added because of transgressions, of the law bringing the curse to the people.
Then Jesus came. Israel’s Messiah. The true Adam. The true Israel.
God in the person of Israel’s Messiah came at a specific moment to a specific place, drawing all the powers of Sin and darkness to Himself.
drawing the power of Sin
The power of the political authorities, the power of the religious authorities, all power was focused on one man on a cross. The King of the Jews.
And all earthly powers were killed.
But the man? The King?
For Him, Sunday was a new day.
Sunday is a new day
Yet when we look at what Jesus Himself said about His purpose, we see a lot of talk about the coming of the Kingdom of God.
The coming of the Kingdom of God. What would that have meant to first century Israel?
According to N.T. Wright, it would have meant three main things:
~ The restoration of true worship, God’s Presence coming to dwell with His people, enabling them to worship Him fully.
~ The worldwide rule of Israel’s God (perhaps, from Old Testament prophecies, through the agency of the Messiah), bringing a new reign of justice and peace.
~ The hope of Israel to be rescued from pagan rule, set free from the dominion of pagan overlords.
restoration of worship
The Kingdom of God, the place where God rules, coming to earth. God’s space coming into our space.
This is, after all, what Jesus taught us to pray: Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
God's kingdom come
What happens after the crucifixion, after the resurrection? We see the coming together of heaven and earth in the person of Jesus.
Jesus, the risen man, is taken up into heaven, “thereby joining together in his own person the two spheres of God’s good creation.” Earth in the human body of Jesus is now fully and completely at home in heaven.
We also see the coming together of heaven and earth in the opposite direction within every follower of Jesus in Acts 2 when the Spirit comes upon the disciples.
“This is one of the New Testament equivalents of the filling of the tabernacle with the cloud and fire or of Solomon’s Temple with the glorious divine Presence…Jesus himself and his Spirit-filled people constitute the new Temple, the start of the new world.”
This is exactly what we see in the book of Acts, the story of the beginning of the new creation, the coming of God’s kingdom fulfilling just what Israel could have expected:
new creation
~ We see a new people living in a new pattern of life and worship, the restoration of true worship in the presence of God.
~ We see the forgiveness of sins as a real event and the whole world being called to order in the name of Jesus, the worldwide rule of God. For example, in Acts 12, Herod attacks the church and arrests Peter, but Peter is miraculously released by angels, At the end of the chapter, Herod dies “but God’s word grew and multiplied”.
~ We see Israel and, through Israel-in-person, the nations set free from death and therefore set free from the ultimate weapon of every tyrant, the hope of Israel to be rescued from pagan rule. When Christ was raised from the dead, all of His people were “set free from the ultimate exile imposed by every Babylon.”
We see the Kingdom of God beginning a kingdom rule here on earth, just as it is in heaven.
This is what happened on the cross.
killing off death
Heaven and earth becoming one. God’s people reclaiming their vocation as a royal priesthood, reflecting the worship of creation to the Creator and reflecting the wise rule of the Creator into the world. God’s creation being restored through the work of His redeemed people.
God’s covenant faithfulness is proved true.
God's rescue
He has returned and has rescued His people.
The new Exodus is here.
All glory and honor and power and praise be to our God who did not give up or prove unfaithful even when we did.

Art credits: The Three Crosses by Rembrandt; Jesus Scourged by Marillier; The Pillar of Fire by Paul Hardy; all other photographs copyright 2018 by Made Sacred

All quotes are from The Day the Revolution Began by N. T. Wright

Links are Amazon affiliate links which allows purchases made by you to help support this blog at no extra cost to you.

A New Exodus

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I’ve been working my way through a new book by N. T. Wright called The Day the Revolution Began, and I have a lot to tell you. This is the third post containing some of what I have learned. You can read the first post here and the second post here. I hope you gain as much as I have.
I wrote last week about exile being the natural consequence of Sin (which is the worship of idols rather than of the true God).
Sacrifice
According to the Old Testament, Israel had been in a continual exile ever since the Babylonian destruction.
Even when the remnant returned from Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem, they remained in exile from the presence of God.
The prophets all said the exile was because of the sins of Israel. The prophets all longed for Israel to receive forgiveness of sins so that  Israel could receive a new Exodus.
the_last_supper_-_so-called_hours_of_philip_the_fair_c-1495_f-96v_-_bl_add_ms_17280
There was a reason Jesus chose Passover out of all the Jewish holidays during which He would enact His final drama.
Nothing He did was by accident.
One of the main ideas in Paul’s Letter to the Romans is that God remained faithful to His covenant with Abraham, even when Israel did not hold up their end of things.
God had promised Abraham a worldwide family, a family that would be cleansed and pure.
IMG_7580
God meant for Israel to be the light of the world, the way in which God dealt with idolatry, yet faced with Israel’s own idolatry, God’s covenantal faithfulness required Him to allow Israel to face her consequences, yet that same faithfulness meant a restoration, a new Exodus, a liberation from oppressive powers.
This Exodus required a forgiveness of sins in order to restore not only Israel, not only all the nations, but all of creation as well.
There must be a return to the worship of the true God in order for us humans to return to our vocation of being a royal priesthood, reflecting the worship of creation to the Creator and reflecting the wise rule of the Creator into the world.
Yet how could this new Exodus happen?
Through the cross.
The_pillar_of_fire,_by_Paul_Hardy
The overwhelming historical impression from the gospels as a whole is of a human being doing what Israel’s God had said he would do…The new Passover happened because the pillar of cloud and fire – though now in a strange and haunting form, the likeness of a battered and crushed human being – had come back to deliver the people.

Art credits: Bible primer by Adolf Hult; The Last Supper from So-called Hours of Philip the Fair; candle photo copyright 2018 by Made Sacred; The Pillar of Fire by Paul Hardy

All quotes are from The Day the Revolution Began by N. T. Wright

Links are Amazon affiliate links which allows purchases made by you to help support this blog at no extra cost to you.

Our Rescue is from Sin not from an Angry God

I’ve been working my way through a new book by N. T. Wright called The Day the Revolution Began, and I have a lot to tell you. This is the second post containing some of what I have learned. You can read the first post here. I hope you gain as much as I have.
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.

 

Sin is, as I asserted last week, not simply the breaking of God’s laws, but it is the worship of created things rather than the Creator. Sin is the turning over of our God-given power to those created things.
The cross is the rescue of God’s people, but not from His own wrath. Jesus’s death is not a man throwing Himself between an angry, righteous God and His people.
There is no wrathful God demanding blood.
angry God
Looking back at the Old Testament sacrificial system, the death of the animal was not the point. The actual killing of the animal was not even done on the altar as it was in most pagan religions in that day. The cutting of the animal’s throat was only the way to release the life of the animal, its blood, which was then used to cleanse the worshipers and the sacred place in which God was to meet them.
The coming together of heaven and earth is a dangerous occurrence. This cleansing by blood enabled “the all-holy God to meet with his people without disastrous results.”
Sacrifice is about blood
This meeting happened on the mercy seat.
The same word used to describe Jesus in Romans 3.
The place where God meets with His people who are covered by blood.
Back to the idea of death being a punishment dealt by a just and angry God, the only time a ceremony under the Old Testament system involves an animal having sins confessed over its head, the “scapegoat” is explicitly not killed, but is driven out into the wilderness.
It is exiled.
Which is precisely the result of Sin.
Sin brings exile
From Adam and Eve being exiled from the garden to Israel being exiled to Babylon to the ultimate exile of death, exile from the presence of God is the natural consequence of worshiping the created thing rather than the Creator.
The natural consequence, not the angry punishment.
We need a rescue, yes, but not from the wrath of God. We need a rescue from our own exile.
We need, in short, an Exodus.
In Jesus, on the cross, we find not a wrathful God demanding blood, but a covenantal God taking the force of sin on Himself.

Art credits: Creation of the Sun and Moon by Michelangelo; Bible primer by Adolf Hult; Adam and Eve by Charles Foster

All quotes are from The Day the Revolution Began by N. T. Wright

Links are Amazon affiliate links which allows purchases made by you to help support this blog at no extra cost to you.

What if Sin is Not the Problem?

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.

 

 

I’ve been working my way through a new book by N. T. Wright called The Day the Revolution Began, and I have a lot to tell you. This is just the first post containing some of what I have learned. I hope you gain as much as I have.

 

The word sin gets tossed around a lot these days.

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IMG_6678

IMG_4476

Yelled at by Mommy

Either we don’t put enough emphasis on sin and everyone is heading straight to hell, or we put too much emphasis on sin and everyone needs to offer a lot more grace to everyone else.
What if sin is not really the problem?
Of course there is plenty of moral misconduct happening all around us, ample wrongdoing both surrounding and within us, but what if that is just a symptom rather than the disease itself?

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We were created to be a royal priesthood, to reflect the worship of creation to the Creator and to reflect the wise rule of the Creator into the world.
We were, in short, created to worship God.
“Human beings, worshiping their Creator, were thus the intended key to the proper flourishing of the world.”
Yet we have all failed in this mission, this vocation.
When we worship anything other than the one true God, the trouble is not simply that we do bad things, although this certainly is what also happens, but that we hand over to whatever created thing we are worshiping the power that was given to us.

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We have turned over our ruling power to the very things we were meant to rule. This is the underlying disobedience we have committed: a failure to worship the Creator.
When we worship God, when we gaze “with delight, gratitude, and love at the creator God”, we are formed by our worship into wise stewards through whom God’s beautiful love is sent into the world.
This is how it was meant to be.
The cross, rather than only dealing with our individual sin symptoms (which it certainly also does), deals with the prior disease of our failure to worship.
If we reduce the cross to the divine answer to our problem with doing wrong things, we will miss the deep heart of it all.
If sin is only the breaking of God’s rules and death is only the severe penalty dealt out by a just God, it appears that the cross is Jesus inserting Himself in between God’s wrath and us.

Rembrandt_The_Three_Crosses_1653

If sin is, however, the turning away from God’s intended role for the human race, then it is a choice to worship creation rather than the Creator. And death, then, is the natural consequence of that choice.
“Choosing to worship the creature rather than the Creator is the choice of death over life…deep down there is nothing arbitrary about sin or death. Choose the one and you choose the other…Obey the serpent’s voice, and you will forfeit the right to the Tree of life. You can’t have it both ways.”
Death is not the punishment of an angry God, it is the natural consequence of turning over our God-given power to the created things. It is the natural consequence of Sin.
For mankind to flourish, for creation itself to be as it was created to be, sin (as the choice to worship creation) must be dealt with.
“The purpose of the cross is to take us back, from where we presently are, to that intended goal” of being a royal priesthood.
The redemption and the restoration of the world comes back to a restoration of man’s vocation of being a royal priesthood.
To the restoration of man’s vocation of worship.
It all comes back to worship.

All quotes are from The Day the Revolution Began by N. T. Wright

Links are Amazon affiliate links which allows purchases made by you to help support this blog at no extra cost to you.