Theology Is Not a Dirty 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.

edited from the archives

all photographs are copyright 2019 Made Sacred

One Another

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There is much suffering in this world.
suffering
There is much pain.
It is one thing that connects us all, a piece of what it means to be human.
Sometimes the sheer force of it all is enough to sink me.
And yet.
one another
Recently I was struck deeply by the idea that we could be a part of someone’s healing simply by being willing to bear their suffering through compassion.
In compassion, one may carry the sin and suffering of others in such a way that they may be restored to wholeness precisely because their sin and suffering are borne. ~ Andrew Purves
Compassion often involves great personal cost as we become involved with another.
Perhaps we could go so far as to say that compassion requires suffering.
Why not?
This kind of suffering, this level of involvement incurring great personal cost, is precisely the kind of suffering that Jesus bore on our behalf.
compassion
If our goal, our telos, is to become like Jesus, to live a life like His, than we should not be surprised that our lives should involve suffering, specifically compassionate suffering.
Jesus’s suffering is the method of our healing.
Jesus suffers with the world in order to heal it.
healing
What is surprising, the truth I want to ponder more, is the idea that our suffering, like His, could be the means by which another could be healed.
Perhaps this should not be startling.
If we are, as Paul writes to the Corinthians, to be the body of Christ, to be His hands and His feet,
if we are to care for one another as we would care for our own body,
perhaps we should instead expect to be able to do what He did.
one another
Perhaps we should be even more willing to take on the suffering of others, as Jesus did for us, because we know that in so doing, we will be given a part in restoring them to wholeness.
One person at a time, as we are lead by the Holy Spirit,
perhaps we can begin to heal the whole world.

Art credits: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise by Benjamin West; The Palsied Man Let Down Through the Roof by James Tissot; The Three Crosses by Rembrandt; Pietà by Michelangelo

Longing to Stand Inside

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Outside
 We stand outside the world.
We dance and dream and die, and through it all we long.
We long for something else, for something more.  We long for something bigger, for something more real.
Some understand what they long for and others do not.  We long for what is true.  We long for a world that is fully real.
We catch breaths of the morning air, fresh and clean and pure.  We catch glimpses of the morning light, startling and bright and glorious.
Yet we stand outside the world and these hints of morning air do not change us.  We do not become pure or glorious.
We stand outside the world and we hear a Word.  We hear a Word that spreads a rumor.
It is a rumor that this shall not always be so.  It is a rumor that one day we will be allowed to walk through the door and stand on the right side.  On the inside.
It is a rumor that one day we will finally be changed by the Morning.  Through the Morning Star we will become pure and clean, bright and glorious.
We will be as we were made.  We will become as we are remade.  Remade into the very image of the Word.
And by moving through the Word we will be allowed to stand.  To stand in desperate gratitude.  To stand covered in another’s glory.
We will dance and we will dream, but we will not die.
We will stand inside the world.

Art credit: photograph by Kirk Sewell

retrieved from the archives as my family is traveling for Thanksgiving

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

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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

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