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

The Theory of Life that Brings Value to our Suffering

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Where in the world but in Christianity?
Where in the world could you find a premise about life that ekes value out of suffering?
Beginning
Beginning
Suffering happens. There is no denying this. But to find value in this suffering that is common to us all?
The ancient Jews had come to understand this.
Isaiah. Jeremiah. Daniel. The Psalms.
This theory of the way life works finds its fulfillment in Jesus, of course.
…He learned obedience through what He suffered. And being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.
To be made perfect.
This is our goal, our telos, or vision of life toward which our whole being is aimed.
To bring glory to God and to be God’s rulers on earth.
How? By being made like Jesus.
And it is our obedience in the middle of our suffering that brings this about.
Whether we are suffering from what others have done to us, whether we are suffering from grief or pain, whether we are simply suffering because our faithful lives are out of step with the people and powers of this world, when we are obedient in this suffering, we are made like Jesus.
Middle of Suffering
Middle of Suffering
Obedience in little things, every day, is practice for the urgent things, the catastrophes.
Obedience daily prepares us, is the only thing that can prepare us, for obedience in suffering
We celebrate in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces patience, patience produces a well-formed character, and a character like that produces hope.
Middle of Suffering
Middle of Suffering
Our hope is for the glory of God.
His glory is both the divine stewardship of this earth entrusted to us and the return of His presence to His people after our long exile.
Our hope is to be made like Jesus.
To be made perfect, as He is perfect.
End as it was created to be
End as it was created to be
This is the value in our suffering.
This is what makes it all worth it in the end.
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.

Art credit: All photographs are mine, copyright Made Sacred 2017

Capturing our Sacred Imagination

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We become what we worship.
Cathedral inside
I’ve written of this before:
When we spend our lives focused on and chasing after power, money, sex, adoration from others, we become like those things. We become shallow, insatiable, discontent. Yet when we, here in this glorious temple of creation, spill our very lives in worship to God, we become like Him. We become joyful, content, full of peace.
We are, in the deepest places of ourselves, lovers. We are not primarily thinkers, we are not essentially believers, we are first of all imaginative, desiring creatures defined by what or who we love.
Trinity Lutheran
All of our thoughts and actions spring from what we desire, from our vision of what we see as the good life.
The secular world has this figured out.
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Shopping Mall
Walk into any mall, step into any sporting arena, and you are immediately drawn into an experience that seeks to change you at your deepest level into someone who wears only Gap clothing or who is a die-hard Cardinals fan.
No one is holding classes on the reasons you should purchase from Gap or handing out pamphlets about the top ten reasons to root for the Cardinals. Rather, an immersive experience is created using all of our senses, an experience that sets in front of us a vision of a good life and then shows us how to pursue that life.
It is incredibly effective.
We in the Church, however, seem to be convinced that humans are primarily thinkers. Brains on a stick, if you will. We seem to think that if we can just teach the correct doctrines, if we can only put forth enough convincing arguments in favor of Christ, people will change their lives, our  children will never leave the Church, and the world will fall to its knees in worship.
Clearly, this is not working.
What if we sought to discern not the essence of Christianity as a system of beliefs (or sumarized in a worldview) but instead sought to discern the shape of Christian faith as a form of life? ~ James K. A. Smith
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We become what we worship.
The things that we do, the practices in which we participate, shape our desires and thus direct our thoughts and actions.
In other words, to become people of the Kingdom, we must practice being people of the Kingdom.
Lived worship is the fount from which a worldview springs, rather than being the expression or application of some cognitive set of beliefs already in place. ~ James K. A. Smith
If we want our children (and our own selves) to fall in love with Jesus, we must put practices into our days, our months, our years, that work to aim their desires toward God’s Kingdom. We must use all of our bodily senses to pursuade our hearts that God’s will done on earth is the best vision of the good life.
There is a reason God commanded the Israelites to celebrate all of those festivals throughout their year.
There is a reason the Church followed a holy calendar.
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Notre Dame rose window inside
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We see this happening some in the liturgies of our churches: the sounds of the music, the colors of the spaces, the feel of the baptism waters, the taste of the Eucharist, the scent of the incense in some faith traditions. These bodily experiences train us to be the humans God created us to be, to be lovers of God and lovers of each other.
Yet once a week for an hour and a half is not enough.
How often during the week do you shop or watch sports events? How many hours do you spend relaxed in front of the television or iPad?
We must put more of these practices into our days. We must weave God and His Kingdom all through our time and space in order to aim our desires, our children’s desires, toward the Kingdom.
1 Dome St Peters
Imagine.
Imagine praying with our families or friends multiple times a day.
Imagine opening our homes to others once a week.
Imagine serving with our families or friends regularly.
Imagine meeting with another family once a week to do life together.
Imagine following the Church holy calendar with your family or with a friend, adding sights, sounds, and tastes to the various feasts and celebrations as you follow the liturgical calendar.
Let the Spirit capture your imagination.
Make no mistake, this is a war. It is a battle for our desires, for our sacred imagination.
You only have to look around at how similarly Christians live compared to those who do not follow Jesus to know who is winning this war.
Let the Holy Spirit give you a vision for what life could look like when we are aware that we are lovers rather than thinkers. Allow Him to give you ideas for capturing your heart and your children’s hearts for Jesus.
Cathedral inside
Ask Him to help you weave practices into your life that aim your desires at their deepest level. Ask Him to help you avoid those secular practices that are currently shaping your desires.
We become what we worship.
We worship what we love.
Shape your life in a way that will aim your love toward God and His Kingdom.

The ideas in this post come from Desiring the Kingdom by James K. A. Smith (affiliate link)

Art credits: Busch Stadium photo by Rick Dikeman; shopping mall photo by Jakub Zasina; all cathedral photos by Kirk Sewell

Echoes of Creation

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He is risen!
He is risen
He is risen from the grave and He is alive!
He is alive
We rejoice in knowing that our debt is paid, that we will one day be with the God we love.
Yet perhaps you sometimes wonder. Is Easter only for our someday? Is there no piece of Easter that gives purpose for our today?
In the beginning…
In the beginning
John the Apostle begins his gospel with echoes back to Genesis.
In the beginning…
As he tells his gospel story, you can hear the reverberations of creation all throughout.
On that first day of creation, God spoke and there was light.
In the beginning was the Word…and the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
Skipping ahead, on the sixth day of creation, God created man.
Michelangelo
On Friday, the sixth day of the week, Pilate brings Jesus out before the people and declares, Ecce homo!
Behold, the man!
The new man. The new Adam. The man who was as we were created to be, who shows us what it means to be human and then offers himself as a sacrifice, thus making it possible for us to become like him.
On day seven, God rested.
On Saturday, the seventh day, God is in the tomb.
And then.
Listen to the way John tells what happened next.
Early on the first day of the week…
Early in the morning
Do you hear it?
John is so deliberate with his words.
The first day of the week.
This is what Easter brings to our today.
The first day of the week. The first day of new creation.
On the first day of the week
Christ, his death and resurrection, has made a way for us to begin again. The old is gone away, the new has come. God’s kingdom is come to earth bringing restoration and healing in its wake.
As we obey Jesus’ instructions to love each other, to feed his sheep, we are allowed to help bring God’s kingdom to earth.
This is what Easter gives.
A chance to be a part of the new creation as it happens.
new creation
Rejoice!
He is risen!
He is risen indeed.

Art credits: Space photo by NASA; Creation of Adam by Michelangelo; light photos by Kirk Sewell; all other photos by Elizabeth Giger, copyright 2017.

The Sharp Edges of Christ

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We all prefer the softer side of Christ.
The Jesus who blessed the children rather than the Jesus who bade us pick up our cross.
Christ Cross
We often desire to blur the sharp edges of Jesus, to make Him a more comfortable sort of person.
A softer Jesus is easier to live with, easier to fold into our busy lives.
Yet we are called to be God’s image bearers to and for our world and Christ shows us that in a world that is broken and full of violence, “the shape of such image-bearing will be cruciform”. (James A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom)
cross
Jesus comes as the new Adam, the God-man who perfectly bears God’s image not by a “triumphant conquering of the world but submissive suffering for the world”. (Smith)
Following Jesus means following the crucified Messiah.
Rembrandt The Three Crosses
(We) are summoned to follow a leader whose eventual goal is indeed a world of blessing beyond bounds, but whose immediate goal, the only possible route to that eventual one, is a horrible and shameful death. N.T. Wright
The reality is that Jesus demands all of us. Not pieces of us, not most of us, but all of us.
And what does He want with our selves? He doesn’t only want to trim off the bad bits, He wants to kill the entire self. He wants us to die to ourselves completely.
Jesus doesn’t say that we must deny and cut out those pieces of us that are sinful. He said, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself.”
Even the good pieces. Often it is the parts that are right and good from the world’s viewpoint that are the hardest to surrender. Yet it is that very good that stands in the way of God’s best.
deny self
And while it is true that God, in return, gives us Himself, places His own self into us and makes us into the self we were created to be, the surrender must be for the sake of Christ, not for our own benefit.
Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Many love Jesus while they are satisfied with life or as long as they receive comfort from Him in the middle of hardship, yet when Jesus hides Himself for a time, they (and, let me be transparent, I) begin to complain or even to turn their face from Him.
Would that we could love Jesus for His own sake rather than for what comfort He can give us! We would, I think, find power in that kind of love, a love that can praise Him in anguish of heart as well as in the satisfaction of abundance.
The ability to love Christ for the holy, beautiful, God of love that He is would contain within it the power to die to our natural selves. The power to take up our cross and follow Jesus and, in return, be allowed to share in His triumphal resurrection.
pick up cross
If you willingly carry the cross, it will carry you. It will take you to where suffering comes to an end, a place other than here. Thomas à Kempis
The whole life of Jesus was a cross, and what in this world filled with crosses gave us the idea that we could escape what God Himself took on?
Realize that to know Christ you must lead a dying life. The more you die to yourself, the more you will live unto God. Thomas à Kempis
We cannot be a person who has the capacity to enjoy heavenly things unless we have surrendered to God and allowed Him to kill off our natural self completely, giving us a new self in its place, a self that looks strangely like Jesus Himself.
follow Me
You will never enjoy heavenly things unless you are ready to suffer hardship for Christ. Nothing is more acceptable to God, nothing more helpful for you on this earth. When there is a choice to be made, take the narrow way. This alone will make you more like Christ. Thomas à Kempis
May God give us the courage to take the narrow way and to be made more like Christ.

Art credits: photographs of Christ statues by asta kr; The Three Crosses sketch by Rembrandt

How can Jesus be with us while also in Heaven?

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He says I am with you always and then disappears from sight.
Ascension
He promises never to leave us, yet we cannot touch His hands and feet.
It can seem like a painful hoax sometimes, this promise of Jesus to remain, especially in those times when we would give up everything just to have Him hold us in His arms.
Yet if we trust that He is not a liar, not given to cruel jokes, there must be some way in which this is true.
If God is three-in-one, if three are God and God is three, then when the Holy Spirit comes to take up residence within, it is, in some mysterious way, also Jesus Himself living in our hearts.
God in us
Jesus speaks interchangeably about Himself and the Spirit in John.
You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you.
Jesus is God and the Spirit is God and God abides in us for eternity.
Yet I think there are more layers to this.
heaven and earth
The Bible seems to teach that heaven is right here, separated from earth only by a veil just as the Garden of Eden was separated from the temple of the universe, just as the Holy of Holies was separated from the rest of Solomon’s temple.
Jesus is in heaven and Jesus is right here with us. It is just that we cannot see Him until that day, that beautiful, glorious day, when heaven and earth will be one again, when the veil will be lifted and He who is our very life will appear.
And we shall be made like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
May it be so. May we trust that it is so. Amen and Amen.

Art credit: All photographs this week are by Kirk Sewell

Is God Truly in Control?

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God is in control.
This phrase seems to float around a lot, especially after events like presidential elections.
At the end of the day, everything will turn out okay because God is still King.
God as King
What do people mean by this?
Do they mean that everything in their lives will be beautiful? Do they mean that crises will never plague them?
Since this is clearly not true, since suffering is common to us all, either God is not in control after all or that is not really what God meant.
Yet God Himself did claim to be in control.
If being in control does not mean that justice reigns, that love wins, that pain vanishes, what does it mean?
beautiful result of labor pain
It means that somehow, in some inexplicable way, all that is hard in this world is only labor pain. The beautiful end is already decided and all that we go through in this world is somehow necessary to bring about that glorious end.
I don’t pretend to understand how this works out. I certainly don’t mean that every evil thing a person chooses to do is required for God’s plan. Yet a world in which free will exists and thus in which a broken mankind and a broken creation is possible is crucial to God’s plan.
In that moment in time when God broke into our broken world, He caused the end of the story to come crashing down into the middle. The end of death, the rescue of man and creation, our glorious new bodies, all of this has already happened in the first century, in little Israel.
this life
storm of life
Just as winter storms can still throw blizzards and hail to destroy the tulips after the calendar has already declared it to be spring, Satan is still casting icy lances to destroy as many as he can after the resurrection has already declared God’s victory.
It is our mission, our part of God’s story, to bring about God’s kingdom here on earth, to plant our tulips in the certain hope that spring is on the way.
God is in control, but that doesn’t mean that everything will happen now the way we may wish.
It does mean that the end is decided and that everything that happens is bringing us swiftly toward that end.
So plant your tulips in hope.
hope is here
Our faith is certain. The warmth of spring is on its way.

Art credits: Woodcut for “Die Bibel in Bildern”, 1860; tulips photograph by Kirk Sewell

Science as Worship

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The heavens declare the glory of God, and science explores His handiwork.
Supernova
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Why are we, the Church, so afraid of science? Are we fearful that our God will turn out to be a sham?
I will always maintain that we have nothing to fear from science. If science is man’s way of figuring out our world, of using our God-given intellect and reason to understand the works of God, than we should be able to enjoy the breakthroughs of science rather than trembling every time a new discovery is made.
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After all, truth is truth. Truth cannot disprove truth. ~ Francis S. Collins, head of the Human Genome Project
When we attack the findings of science without fully understanding the facts, we bring ridicule on Christ’s Church, driving away those who are seeking His truth.
It happened before, between the Church and Galileo. I believe it is happening now, between the Church and Darwin.
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Starry Sky
There is no real conflict between theistic religion and the scientific theory of evolution. What there is, instead, is conflict between theistic religion and a philosophical gloss or add-on to the scientific doctrine of evolution: the claim that evolution is undirected, unguided, or unorchestrated by God (or anyone else).  ~ Peters and Hewlett, Theological and Scientific Commentary on Darwin’s Origin of Species
Why does evolution threaten us so? It doesn’t say anything about what was before the Big Bang, whether anything set things in motion so as to produce our current existence, or of what value is our existence.
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What goodness or beauty is, why we are here, and what happens next are all questions for theologians, not scientists.
Why can we not follow the urging of Copernicus? To know the mighty works of God; to comprehend His wisdom and majesty and power; to appreciate, in degree, the wonderful working of His laws, surely all this must be a pleasing and acceptable mode of worship to the Most High, to whom ignorance cannot be more grateful than knowledge.
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Science can be worship.
Seeking to understand the stars and the oceans, attempting to comprehend the laws that govern our universe, yes, even the study of evolution, all of this can be worship.
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Science is moving forward. New breakthroughs are being made and people are deciding what to do with those discoveries.
The ethics of how to use such new findings will be debated with or without people of faith sitting at the table. We, the Church, have a responsibility to join in the conversation, to learn the facts and not get defensive about where those facts will lead.
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The need to succeed at (figuring out these ethics) is just one more compelling reason why the current battles between the scientific and spiritual worldviews need to be resolved – we desperately need both voices to be at the table, and not to be shouting at each other. ~ Francis S. Collins
So let’s stop shouting and begin talking. Please. For the sake of the Church. For the sake of us all.
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Note: I am not a scientist. I am not qualified to argue the specifics of whether or not evolution is true. Yet like it or not, evolution is now the accepted truth of how life came to be, and we must have a conversation about how to accept evolution within the Biblical worldview of our Christian faith, or to at least accept those Christians who do accept evolution as truth. Why? Two reasons: The first is that so many intelligent people are being driven away from Christ because we, the Church, continue to dismiss evolution out of hand, becoming defensive and angry whenever the topic is broached. The second is one I brought up at the end of this essay, the ethical issues that are here now and those that will be coming in the future. We must be present for both of these kinds of conversations. Our world needs us, as representatives of Christ, to be present, not fearful and defensive, for conversations about evolution. God can handle evolution. Evolution is not something to be feared but something to be thought about deeply, pondering how it could fit within our Biblical framework.
If you are truly interested in reading more about this topic from a Christian and scientific perspective, I highly recommend The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins. Collins is a committed Christian and a brilliant scientist. You may be familiar with his scientific work as the head of the Human Genome Project.
I understand that this can be an inflammatory topic. If you choose to comment, please keep your conversation seasoned with grace and, above all, love. Thank you, dear readers.

Art credit: all space photos are from NASA; all other photos are my own, copyright Elizabeth Giger, 2017

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Identity-Changing Worship

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Worship is powerful.
Worship
Not the singing-in-church kind of worship, but the kind of worship that you live. The kind of worship in which you adore something so much you give your life over to it. The kind of worship that focuses your whole being toward the single aim of praise.
That kind of worship is powerful. It shapes who you are. It gives you your very identity.
Universe
God created this world, this universe, to be a temple. The building of Moses’ tabernacle and the building of Solomon’s temple mirror the 7 day progression of the creation story, and the Jews reading the Genesis account would have recognized it as such.
Temple
This temple, our universe, contained within it the Garden of Eden as the Holy of Holies. Within that holy space were creatures who were made in God’s image, made to be homo liturgicus or man made for worship.
James Tissot
Man was made to reflect God to the world and to reflect worship back to God. We were created to worship God and, in that worship, become like Him.
What we worship molds our identity. Or to put it another way, we are what we worship.
When we spend our lives focused on and chasing after power, money, sex, adoration from others, we become like those things. We become shallow, insatiable, discontent.
Yet when we, here in this glorious temple of creation, spill our very lives in worship to God, we become like Him. We become joyful, content, full of peace.
Which identity would you prefer?
Power of Worship
God knew how powerful worship was, He knew that what we loved would shape our identity, our very being. This is why He is so fierce in stamping out idolatry. This is why He is so firm on the subject of having no other gods before Him.
We are His children and He wants what is best for us. He wants us to reflect His image, not the image of something shallow and low. He created us for more than that.
You who want to become like Christ, turn your focus toward Him. Adore Him and love Him with all of your life, with everything that you do and say and think.
Worship is a powerful force. So be careful what you worship. Your very identity will reflect your choice.

Art credits: cathedral and nature photos by Kirk Sewell; artist’s rendition of Solomon’s temple; Solomon Dedicates the Temple by James Tissot

 

 

Using the T Word

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There is always a reason behind our actions.
Whether or not we realize it, the way we view God affects what we do and how we do it.
theology
Even if we never explore the beliefs behind our actions, we all believe something about God and the world and it is this belief that comes out in our behavior.
theology
theology
It is precisely because our beliefs dictate what we do that makes it so vital to explore those convictions.
Part of loving God with all of our mind, after all, means being deliberate about what we believe, knowing why we believe it. We all want our actions to be based on truth.
theology
theology
Enter theology.
It is a dirty word in some Christian circles. Some believe that it takes away the joy or emotion of loving God. Others think that theology does nothing but stir up trouble and break up churches. Still others suppose that theology moves away from Scripture, that it creates something that wasn’t there before.
Yet you already have a theology. You have already read Scripture and interpreted it and let what you believe it teaches you about God influence the way you live.
Wouldn’t you rather your theology be one you have prayerfully and thoughtfully considered rather than one that just evolved without conscious decision in your mind over time?
theology
Paul, I believe, was the first theologian. He used his knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures along with his knowledge of Jesus to write some of the first doctrines of the Church. Certainly no one would have accused him of not knowing what he believed or why he believed it.
Theology is what brought us the teaching of the Trinity. The word Trinity is not found anywhere in the Bible, yet by taking such Scriptures as the Shema, Christ’s own claims, and the teachings on the Spirit in the epistles, Church theologians have come up with the doctrine of the Trinity that we all know.
We all want to love God the best we can. We all want our actions to be based on truth. To do this, we all need to evaluate our own beliefs about God with the help of Scripture and what historically the Church has confessed.
Make sure that what comes out in your life, your words and thoughts and actions, is based on well-thought-out theology, not just-what-I-grew-up-thinking theology.
Let’s do our best to know why we do the things we do. Let’s do our best to be sure our actions are based on truth.
Let us love God with all of our mind.

credit: Thanks to Todd Daly for many of the ideas contained in this post.