The Day We Were Separated From God

Holy Saturday.
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The day God the Son is dead.
Don’t miss this.  Don’t rush through it.
On the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, God-with-us is dead.
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Only one part of the Trinity, yes, but God nonetheless.
The Word of God is gone.  We can no longer hear Him.
Linger in this day.  Does the earth feel different?  Somehow vacant?
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There is, for this day, no possible way to reach God.
And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.
No Most Holy Place where the high priest could meet with God.
It is finished.
He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.
No Word of God in whom we can see the Father.
No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
Garden Tomb Side
Remain in this day as long as you can.  I don’t understand how, but somehow this day exists on which we are completely isolated from God.
Breathe in the horror of this day.  God is dead.  He is, for this day, unattainable.  Can you catch even a glimpse?
The disciples did.  They lived it for what must have felt like an eternity.
We’d rather skip past this day, this Saturday that contains Christ’s body in the tomb.  Yet we must linger if we are to grasp the power of Easter Sunday.  We must dwell here awhile if we are to be allowed to hold the joy of Easter Sunday.
When the Son, the Word of the Father is dead, then no one can see God, hear of Him or attain Him.  And this day exists, when the Son is dead, and the Father, accordingly, inaccessible. ~ Hans Urs Von Balthasar (theologian and author)
Can you feel the terror of it?  Do you sense the incomprehensible void that stretches before us on this day?  What does it even mean?
Do not rush too quickly past this Holy Saturday on your way to the miracle.  You may miss the deepest part of the gratitude and joy that are to come.
Garden Tomb
The deepest gratitude and joy that come only when you understand what was absent, and understand that it was only for a day.

Art credits: Preparation of Christ’s Tomb by Vittore Carpaccio; Tomb of knight Philip Keerman in Flanders, Belgium; 1912 photograph of Jerusalem Garden Tomb by Dwight Lathrop Elmendorf; Side view of Garden Tomb by Deror Avi; Jerusalem Garden Tomb by Berthold Werner

How to Be a Friend of God

I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal about making and sustaining friendships in middle age.
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Girls copy
The article included advice such as just ask, create a routine, schedule time, and even try a friendship matchmaking site.
It made me think of my own friendships, the new ones and the old ones, the ones were good for a season but then faded away and the ones that have lasted over many seasons of life.
Jesus called us friends. Did you know that? I had been a Jesus follower for an embarrassingly long time before I knew that.
No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
Friendship with God, however, does not mean comfort and ease. True friendship, even earthly friendship, does not mean that you indulge your friend or always give him or her what they want. A true friend will sometimes tell you things you don’t want to hear, will do things that seem painful to you because they want to help you be the best you you can be.
When I look in Scripture at those who have been called a friend of God, this is the kind of friendship I see.
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friend of God
Who in Scripture has been called a friend of God?
Abraham and Moses.
What do we see when we look at the lives of both Abraham and Moses?
Definitely not comfort and ease.
I see uncertainty, hardship, loss, sacrifice …
God didn’t call Abraham to go lie in a hammock under a palm tree but to leave his home on an uncertain, dangerous journey towards an already occupied land.
God didn’t call Moses to continue living a life of ease in the palace, secure in his position of power, but to challenge that power and then leave on an uncertain, dangerous journey (while leading a gaggle of cranky, complaining people) towards an already occupied land.
God demands a lot of his friends.
In the verse before the one where Jesus calls us friends instead of servants, he says that we are his friends if we do what he commands us.
Expectations color our experience, and we need to know what to expect as friends of God.
Jesus warned us to expect trouble in this world, and we need to be careful not to expect things of God that he has not promised.
Scripture is so important. We must know what God means when he says that we are his friend.
It is a dangerous thing to be a friend of God.
And at the same time, even while God demands everything of us, he also has given us everything.
The verse before Jesus instructs us to obey his commands?
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
Before he demanded anything of us, before we were friends of God, while we were still set against him,
Christ died for us.
What do I see when I look at the lives of Abraham and Moses?
I see intimacy, companionship, purpose, hope, …
And that is what the friendship of God and Abraham is all about. Abraham was in touch with the God who was in touch with him. He accepted God’s concern for him as the reality of his life, and he returned it by making God the center of his life. (maybe end quote there or maybe this bit too:) He obeyed, he journeyed, he prayed, he believed, and he built altars. He did none of this perfectly. But perfect is not a word we use to describe friendship relationships. Perfect is a word that refers to inanimate things – a perfect circle, say, or a perfectly straight line. With persons we talk of response, growth, listening, and acting. Abraham did all of that in relation with God, whom he was convinced was determined to be a good friend to him.”~ Eugene Peterson in As Kingfishers Catch Fire
It is a glorious and beautiful thing to be a friend of God.

Art credits: Abraham Visited by Three Angels by Jacques Gamelin; Moses with the Ten Commandments by Rembrandt

Showing the World the Sacrificial Love of Jesus

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
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I’ve been thinking and praying quite a bit lately about love.
About deep, sacrificial love.
About the sort of love that shows Jesus to the world all around.
We have a rare opportunity right now, as we continue to live through this global pandemic, to show love in a way that makes Jesus irresistible.
This appears to me the kind of situation Jesus might have been talking about when he told his disciples that the world would know they follow Jesus by the way they love.
A situation in which the rest of the world is closing in, protecting itself, shutting others out.
A situation in which it is physically dangerous to open up, help those around us, welcome others in.
Jesus gave this command very near the day he would give up his physical life because of love.
We, the Church, could be showing the world how different the love of Jesus is.
Most of us are, instead, behaving exactly the same way as the world.
Sometimes worse.
Quarreling rather than submitting. Fighting rather than helping. Becoming the problem rather than acting as the peacemakers.
We are losing a tremendous opportunity to show the world the sacrificial love of Christ.
My friends, I am going to take a risk and use, as an example of this, a topic that I have stayed away from before now.
What is the outward sign of caring for those around us that the non-Christian world most clings to?
love our world
Masks.
But do masks even work?
It doesn’t matter. Most people outside the church think they do.
But I should be free to choose for myself.
We are free. And our freedom should always choose love that puts the other first.
Of course there are valid reasons for not wearing masks; I don’t mean to imply that all contexts and all circumstances are the same. I only mean for us all, myself included, to ask the Holy Spirit to help us examine our hearts behind the choices that we make.
The sacrificial love of Jesus puts caring for the needs of others, even if it is only the perception of caring for others, before the physical comfort and safety of ourselves.
Dear friends, these words of mine may not do any good. They may only stir up anger. But before you lash out at me or anyone else, consider what it means to call yourself by the name of Jesus.
We, the Church, are the body of Christ. Whether or not masks or vaccines or anything else works is really beside the point.
What do people outside of Jesus perceive to be the main way to care for others throughout a pandemic?
What do they see us doing?

love like Jesus

Art credit: Jesus Washing the Feet of His Disciples by Albert Edelfelt

Why I Wrote the Book I Wrote

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Have you ever wondered about my writing process or how I published my first book? Want to read more about why I wrote Beyond the Front Door?
I was recently the subject of an author feature on the Inkling Creative Strategies blog. (I’ve never done that before … It was fun!)
Curious? Follow the link to read more!
Inkling Creative Strategies

When You Feel as Though Nothing Is Happening

The book I recently published, Beyond the Front Door: Cultivating Rhythms of Abiding in Jesus, says a lot about being still before God, about the practice of silence and solitude.
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One of the cautions I give in the book is to understand that you will not always feel something during your times of stillness. The work of God is slow and subtle, and an emotional experience of God is a rare gift. A welcome gift, to be sure, but rare.
St. John of the Cross
I recently read Dark Night of the Soul by 16th century Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross. I wish I had read it earlier. There was so much in his writings that I wanted to add to my book! It is too late for that, but I want, nevertheless, to share with you some of what he is teaching me.
St. John writes much about the beginners on this spiritual journey of knowing God and becoming like Him, and one of the points he continues to come back to is that beginners strain toward feelings of pleasure. They become so attached to the idea of experiencing God through their senses that when no feelings come they believe they have failed.
St. John admonishes us:
Don’t they realize that the sensory benefits are the least of the gifts offered by the divine? God often withdraws sensual sweetness just so that they might turn the eyes of faith upon him.
He notes that anyone who searches for “sensory sweetness” ends up turning their face away from the bitterness of self-denial. Rather than seeking after feelings, we are to simply offer humble praise and reverence to God within ourselves.
silence
I am certainly guilty of feeling as though my time with God was a failure because I did not feel anything. Because nothing seemed to happen. Yet St. John calls this a “negative judgement against God.”
It is a lack of trust that God will accomplish His promised work inside of us regardless of whether we see Him working.
The idea that there is great benefit to God removing any sense of His presence is another idea St. John returns to again and again. When we feel satisfied, we tend to move toward practicing our own inclinations and weaknesses rather than leaning wholly on God. When we lose the feeling of God being with us, we wake up to our deepest desire for Him.
Without the turnings away, they would never learn to reach for him.
I hope this encourages you as it does me.
solitude
When we feel as though nothing is happening in our time with God, it is most likely that we are receiving even greater gifts than pure sensory benefit.
When we cannot sense the presence of God, let His seeming absence force us to trust more deeply in His promises and rouse us to reach out for Him.
He is, after all, always there.
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: John of the Cross by Francisco de Zurbarán; all other photos are mine, Made Sacred copyright 2021

BTFD Instagram Post Updated

Beyond the Front Door

Useful or True?

I often work through ideas by writing about them. Writing helps me to process what I am learning, consider what I am thinking, understand what I believe.
Sometimes this process shows up in my blog posts. I use my crafting of an essay as a way to work through what I think about an issue. This is one of those times.
I have been thinking through the idea that the way we speak of the world impacts the way we treat it.
Useful
I have heard a lot of language recently, in a number of arenas, that is very machine-like, very utilitarian.
Language of consuming and using, language that speaks of things in terms of how useful they are and how well they serve our needs.
I have heard this language used in regards to the natural world, to communities …
I have even heard it in reference to Christianity.
Useful
The hosts on a recent podcast were discussing the possibility of another Christian Reformation, and the main question they posed was whether Christianity is useful in our modern world. They discussed which elements of Christianity were outdated and which were still useful to us.
Now I do not deny that the Church in every age has blind spots, areas where we get it wrong. Perhaps a Reformation is needed.
But simply by using this mechanical language of what is working and what is useful, we miss the core of Christianity.
Christianity is not useful.
Christianity is true.
The kind of language we need is the language of reality, of being, of what is true, of joining in with what is already happening.
True
We need the language of creation.
When we speak of everything, from the natural world to the people around us to our faith, as being there to be useful to us, we have lost sight of the created nature of things. We are blinded to the truth of the world as Creation rather than material for man to act upon.
When we view everything around us as finding its purpose in satisfying our needs, we have lost something essential in ourselves and in our world and we become impoverished.
The remedy?
Worship.
Divine worship reminds us that we are created beings living among other created beings in the middle of a created world.
True
Worship creates an atmosphere of true wealth even in the middle of the direst material want because the living heart of worship is sacrifice,
a voluntary offering freely given. It … is in fact absolutely antithetic to utility. Thus, the act of worship creates a store of real wealth which cannot be consumed by the workaday world. It sets up an area where calculation is thrown to the winds …, where usefulness is forgotten and generosity reigns. ~ Josef Pieper (German theologian in the early to mid-20th century) in Leisure: The Basis of Culture
When we view everything around us in terms of use, when we falsely believe ourselves to be the master and owner of creation, we create an atmosphere of grasping for what will satisfy our needs, an atmosphere where we can never be content, an atmosphere of poverty regardless of our material condition.
If our world is a Creation, however, our true wealth consists in “seeing what is and the the whole of what is, in seeing things not as useful or useless, serviceable or not, but simple as being.” ~ Pieper
True
Language matters. I plan to spend time thinking this through more deeply, and as I do so I will attempt to use more words of joining, of generosity, of creation and what is rather than words of usefulness and ownership. Perhaps you will join me in paying more attention to the words we choose?
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: Cogs photo by Marin Walls; Circuit Board photo by Nicolas Raymond; all other photos are my own, copyright 2021 Made Sacred

AbidingInChristCover

A Season of Right Doubt

Christmas is hard when your world is full of doubt.
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When the world’s darkness seems to encircle the pinpricks of real light, your eyes squint tight against the harsh-colored glow;
your ears are cotton-shielded against the dissonant jangle of happiness and cheer.
dissonant
Christmas is jarring when your life is full of darkness.
Elizabeth Jennings, in her poem November Sonnet, writes “This is the season of right doubt/While that elected child waits to be born.”
The season of right doubt.
Do you know that there is such a thing?
season of right doubt
“Right doubt” is, in part, what this season of Advent is about.
There is a rightness about searching and uncertainty. Nature reflects God’s truth, and so this rightness is reflected in the seasonal increasing of the cold and the dark.
We do, after all, see darkly and in a mirror, so we should never feel too certain about every aspect of this mystery who is God.
We can know, of course, that God is Love, but what does Love look like? What does Love do? How does Love act?
a good uncertainty
It can be good to let go of all your certainty and surrender to what is unknown and unsure.
It can be good to let go of your need for knowing and controlling all the answers.
The darkness has been defeated but has not yet been banished.
Death does not get the final word, but it has not yet been muted.
It is good and right to feel the weight of Advent, the weight of not yet,
the weight of our waiting.
There is a doubt that is good and proper. A right doubt.
Yet never forget that the Christ child was born and because he was born, because God fulfilled his first promise, we can be certain that he will fulfill the rest of his promises.
The Light will come again.
Light
“Tall shadows step and strut/Facing the big wind daily coming on/Faster. This is the season of right doubt/While that elected child waits to be born.” ~ Elizabeth Jennings
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: Christmas photos by Kirk Sewell; Nativity by Charles Le Brun; all other photos copyright 2020 Made Sacred

Hope for this Hard Season

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.

 

Sometimes you live in a season of hard.
season of hard
season of gray
Weeks, or months, or sometimes years of walking through a gray kind of life.
Sometimes it is living through a crisis.
Cancer. Grief. Debt.
Sometimes it is simply day by day trudging through a wearying routine.
Loneliness. Parenting. Career.
hard life
You know that you cannot do this life on your own.
At least, that you cannot do it well on your own.
You pray for the Holy Spirit to help.
You plead for God to change your heart and produce fruit in your life.
You confess that you cannot do anything without Him.
Yet you do not become more gentle. You do not become more loving. You do not become more self-controlled.
hard events
You fast in appeal for a transformed heart.
You search the Word for guidance.
You beseech the Spirit for wisdom and discernment.
Yet you gain no understanding. You acquire no flashes of insight. You feel just as lost as before.
hard path
Sometimes you cry out to God in the middle of your season of hard.
Sometimes you cry out at God.
Sometimes you cry and shout in helpless anger.
I know that I cannot do this on my own, but I feel like I have to do it by myself. You promised to help me. You promised that Your Spirit would be in me, giving me the strength and power to do what I cannot do on my own. You are not keeping Your promises. I am trying so hard, and I cannot do it. I pray and I beg and I fast but You are still silent. This is not easy and Your burden is not light. I confess that I need You and You don’t seem to be with me.
hard moment
Sometimes, perhaps not very often, but sometimes God answers your cry.
Perhaps it is a phone call
or a card
or a text.
God brought you to mind and I prayed for you.
I specifically prayed for you in…
I feel prompted to share this verse with you.
God breathes hope
Sometimes God breathes a little hope in your direction.
Nothing changes.
Everything changes.
Perhaps not very often, yet perhaps it should be more often.
Perhaps we should all listen a little more carefully.
Perhaps we should all leave a little more space for promptings.
Sometimes God might want to breathe a little hope through us for someone else’s hard season.

Art credit: all photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2017

The Mystery of Prayer

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.

 

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

 

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Emmanuel on the Cross

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 beauty of Lent is the demonstration of God’s presence in all circumstances.
Lent
The beauty of the cross is the proof that God is with us.
cross
Wherever you are, whatever your cross is today, God is with you.
Emmanuel. God with us.
From Advent to Lent, God stepped into His world and submitted to the same rules we must follow.
Whatever the reason we all suffer, whatever the purpose, we cannot say that God did not play fair by asking us to be subject to something He was not willing to experience.
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Are you broken? Jesus is broken with you.
Are you lonely? Jesus was despised and rejected by men.
Are you betrayed by your closest loved ones? Jesus, too, was betrayed by those He loved.
Does grief seem your closest and most constant companion? Jesus grieved and wept over those who would not accept Him.
In the words of Corrie ten Boom from the hell of a Nazi concentration camp: No matter how deep our darkness, he is deeper still.
deeper
When it feels as though life is beating you into the ground, when the weight of your burden does not allow you to rise from your bed in the morning, when you cannot carry your cross for one more step, you can know that He is here with you, carrying your cross with you, taking your burden on Himself.
Every tear we shed becomes His tear. He may not yet wipe them away, but He makes them His. Would we rather have our own dry eyes, or His tear-filled ones?
He came to us. He is here with us. We can be certain of Emmanuel in all circumstances.
If He does not heal all our broken bones and loves and lives now, He comes into them and is broken, like bread, and we are nourished.
Emmanuel
Be nourished by the bread of life and know that He is with you.
Peace to you.

Final two quotes and many of the thoughts in this post are by Peter Kreeft in Bread and Wine

All photographs are copyrighted by Made Sacred, 2017.