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Living the Abundant Life

Living the Abundant Life

Did you know that Paul the Apostle lived a significant portion of his Christian life under quarantine? For years, Paul lived under house arrest in Rome. Now, the Empire was not trying to stop the spread of a physical virus, but they were trying to stop the spread of the gospel. They knew it was a threat that needed to be treated seriously. Paul’s missionary travels represented a particularly virulent strain, so they locked him up, too.

The irony is, some of Paul’s most beautiful letters, now a part of our New Testament canon, were written when Paul was not allowed to go to church, go to work, or interact physically with many people at all. In many ways, his influence only grew during this difficult time. 

When I consider that the church, right now, is under very similar circumstances (for very different reasons), Paul’s words in Philippians have new meaning: …I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13). 

I don’t know about you, but I want that abundant life Paul is talking about, even when I’m stuck at home. Maybe you want the same thing but don’t know where to begin. Let us help you! 

We created a video series over the last several years called The Life We Long to Live. It represents our best thinking about the Christian life and how we thrive in any and all circumstances with Christ. We are making all of these videos and study guides, available on our website. Perhaps you want to freshen up on a specific topic. Or maybe you are new to the Christian life and want to continue growing. These are for you! 

Check our website for details. If you would like a hard copy of the study guide and/or a DVD of these videos leave a message and we will contact you. 

The abundant life we all want is always possible, even under house arrest. 

Broken Bones Rejoice

Art from this exhibit at the Four Chapter Gallery was featured in The Beauty of Weakness – Lent Devotional.


Through these paintings [SAMPLE ARTWORK BELOW], I wrestled with the complex reality of pain and suffering. Aesthetically, I was particularly inspired by the Japanese practice of Kintsugi and the philosophy of Wabi-sabi. Kintsugi is a practice whereby a broken piece of pottery is repaired using powdered precious metal and adhesive. The cracks on the piece are entirely visible in their newly gilded form, and the piece actually becomes more valuable than before it was broken. Wabi-sabi is an aesthetic philosophy which values the natural, the temporal, and the ephemeral over the permanent and perfect.

I sought to create personal artifacts of brokenness, and the only thing that could make me brave enough to do so was to filter it through my understanding of why pain exists. I have come to realize that, personally, suffering only becomes unbearable to face if I feel that there can be no deeper meaning beyond it.

Talking about suffering is difficult because it is at once intimate and universal. No matter what you say about it, it lacks some facet or depth of human experience, because it is an individual soul that suffers. As Nicholas Wolterstorff says in his profoundly moving Lament for a Son, “The dynamics of each person’s sorrow must be allowed to work themselves out without judgement. I may find it strange that you should be tearful today but dry-eyed yesterday when my tears were yesterday. But my sorrow is not your sorrow.” I have felt that profound loneliness in my own suffering. In those moments, it feels like no one else could possibly understand what I am going through, and there is some truth to that. No human being can possibly understand another soul’s suffering completely.

I come to the Passion of Jesus Christ here because in Christ my loneliness in my suffering is diminished. Christ’s suffering through the passion corresponds in some aspect to practically any kind of human suffering imaginable. The cross acts as a prism in this way, through which all suffering is split into its many facets. I find that there is no facet he cannot enter, not just because he knows me completely but also because of the life he lived and the death he died. Christ endured a kind of suffering that is the worst I can imagine: he was fully alone, he had no consolation, and God was silent. There was no one to defend him; he could not save himself without compromising those he loved most. He endured agonizing physical pain. And worse than that, many theologians describe the spiritual agony into which Christ descended as one that felt infinite and unending.

More important to me than the eradication of loneliness is the eradication of all suffering itself, which is the whole point of the horrific death of Jesus. Because of Christ’s work on the cross, my journey through the valley of death has an end. The painful process has context and meaning that it didn’t have before. I have often found myself wanting to escape from or ignore my pain in an attempt to speed up my healing process so I can go back to the way I was before, with no scar to remind me of the pain, in an imagined state of perfection. This project has helped me to begin to understand suffering as a process, and to see scarring as a mark of the healing. It is important to note that Christ, the God-man, whose death reworked the very fabric of the cosmos, forever changing the material of the universe, chose to keep his scars after his resurrection.


ABOUT THE PROCESS

Each painting is 64” tall, which is within the range of probable heights for an average male in Palestine in the first century; in other words, it is representative of the height of Jesus of Nazareth. Each panel is the same size; and it is my hope that in this work you will sense a sort of unified bodily presence.

The exhibit is broken into three parts. Part one serves as a narrative introduction to the reality of suffering, the second part explores the particular suffering of Christ as seen in his Passion, and the third part imagines result of that Passion.

In the second part, each work was created with an underpainting. This underpainting often felt finished to me in a sense in that it had a unique beauty that satisfied me. Then I inflicted upon the work an act that was like or representative of what Jesus might have experienced. For example, the painting dealing with the scourging of Christ was itself scourged with a cat-o’-nine tails whip. In another example, the painting meant to express a shadow of the moment of agony when Christ screamed his question, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was actually removed from the stretcher bars and torn apart.

In the spirit of kintsugi, I have worked some measure of repair on each of the paintings, though not with the intent that they look the same way they did beforehand. Also in harmony with the philosophy of Wabi-sabi and the messiness of the process of suffering, you will find many imperfections in these paintings.  Though they have been glued, sewn, woven, and gilded, I didn’t make an attempt to hide the wounds, but instead chose to see them as a part of the painting’s history, a reminder of the breaking. I let them keep their scars, and this repetitive act helped to instill in me the idea that it is okay for me to keep my own scars as a reminder of my brokenness and the hands that are healing me.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR / ARTIST

Kelly Kruse uses her work to explore the painful, beautiful experience of human longing and suffering. She developed a visual devotional practice as a response to her battle with depression, through which she wrestles with beauty, longing, and faith. Kruse describes her work as contemporary illumination. Like the medieval monks who perfected the art of illuminated manuscripts, she seeks to awake in the viewer a sense of spiritual contemplation. Her first exposure to the idea of illumination came when she studied Medieval and Renaissance music in Italy. Her background in classical music and opera puts her in a unique position to explore the intersection between scripture, poetry, musical works, and the visual arts. Kelly received her undergraduate degree in voice performance from Iowa State University and her masters in voice performance from Indiana University, where she was a student of Costanza Cuccaro. In addition to her visual art practice, she is a member of the music faculty at Metropolitan Community College-Blue River. She also maintains an active private studio and is a member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing. Kelly is a Daler-Rowney sponsored artist.

kellykrusecreative.com

Instagram: @kellykrusecreative


See better…live better: Jeremiah

“Every human being is involved in a desperate
attempt to narrate himself into a safe place.”

Richard Powers.

I do not know who Richard Powers is or why he wrote this, but he is right about me. If I get to be in charge of things, especially my life, I will most certainly narrate my story away from conflict. Away from risk. Away from pain. Away from suffering. Toward comfort. Toward ease. Toward safety.

This creates a significant problem for me, especially if I want to have anything to do with God. Spend about two seconds reading the Bible or looking at the world, and it is painfully obvious: God is investing very little energy into narrating anyone’s story toward safety.

Think about the implications of this. God wants something for you, for me, other than safety. This means that all of the energy I am spending trying to get somewhere safe is a waste. God is narrating the direction of my life away from safety, away from comfort, and toward somewhere else.

Where? Where is God taking me? Where does God want to take you?

That question is why Jeremiah has become the prophet guiding me in my current life. God forced Jeremiah into a life he didn’t want; a hard life, a life of suffering and persecution. A life where the primary thing Jeremiah had to do was tell his city—including his friends and his family—that one day they were going to be destroyed. They had abandoned God, so God was abandoning them.

Not surprisingly, Jeremiah offers to quit the vision of life God has for him many times. Fortunately for us, God told Jeremiah to write down these moments, to record his life and his prayers so that we could listen in on what happens between Jeremiah and God when Jeremiah tries to grab control of his life and narrate his story into a place of safety.

My favorite moment is in Jeremiah 12:5. Jeremiah is ready to quit the hard, painful, difficult life God has put in front of him. So God asks Jeremiah a question:

So Jeremiah, if you’re worn out in this footrace with men,

What makes you think you can race against horses?

It’s such a God question.

Jeremiah is just trying to keep it together. His life is hard—people want to kill him. The people he lives with hate him. His hometown is embarrassed by him. And on top of all this, he knows the city he loves—Jerusalem—will be destroyed one day. War and violence are coming. Jeremiah is limping along, struggling to walk, to stay on his feet. And so God asks Jeremiah another simple question—one question that is simple, but which we rarely ask ourselves:

Jeremiah…what do you want? Do you want it easy? Do you want it safe? Do you just want to limp along in life, like everybody else? Do you want to embrace mediocrity?

Or do you want salvation? Do you want to run with horses?

Again, I come back to Richard Powers’ statement: “Every human being is involved in a desperate attempt to narrate himself into a safe place.” And all the human beings said, “Amen.”

That is my problem. Because salvation, in the Christian sense, is not about becoming a moderately improved human being. It is not about sinning slightly less than I used to sin. God calls us to something impossible. Not to struggle along, limping in life. Rather, He calls us to a life that runs with horses.

Most days, I don’t want that. When I think about the life ahead of me, a life filled with challenges I never asked for and don’t want, I want to quit. I want out.

Then I hear God’s question to Jeremiah turn to me. Tim, if you are ready to give up in this footrace with men, how are you ever going to live the life I have for you? How are you going to become the person I am going to make you intoa person who will run with horses?  

Don’t you want to be someone who can run with horses? I really hope your life’s ambition is not to be like everybody else, to find a safe and easy life and never put anything on the line. I hope you want to grow and become the kind of person only God could make you.

The place to start is to understand where God is taking us, and it is not to safety. God is not creating in us a slightly improved human being. He is not making us slightly less judgmental or prideful. No, God has a far more significant vision in mind for us. C.S. Lewis laid out God’s vision for who we are to become:

God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man. It is not like teaching a horse to jump better and better but like turning a horse into a winged creature…

And apparently, a way God produces that in us—in me, in you, in Jeremiah—is by narrating our lives into danger. Into suffering. Into pain. It is in the places where we would never narrate our stories that we get our wings. It is in those places God teaches us to not just run a little faster but to begin to run with the speed of horses.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Praying the Blues: In the Depths (Part 2)

[SERIES: Part 2 of 3]

When the shrapnel of a broken world knocks the wind out of us, and we feel like we can barely breathe—let alone pray—how do we keep praying? When life transitions to a minor key, we take a note from the Psalms once again. We need to pray the blues.

And there is one lament that spans two psalms—Psalm 42 and 43—that is just the one to help us figure it out. Previously we learned how to pray our longing in the drought. Now we learn how to pray the blues in the depths.

THE DEPTHS

Returning to the Psalms, we discover that as the psalmist pours out his prayers, he fights to remind himself of God even though he can’t feel Him, and it’s anything but a walk in the park. Look at verses 6 & 7:

 My soul is cast down within me;
                therefore I remember You
        from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
                from Mount Mizar.
        Deep calls to deep
                at the roar of your waterfalls;
        all your breakers and your waves
                have gone over me. (Psalm 42:6-7 ESV)

The irony is that his thirsty soul panting for the flowing streams of God’s presence is now an image of him surrounded by waterfalls and raging waves that threaten to drown him in the depths. What happened? Here’s what happened: the rush of memories of who God is made the pain of God’s absence all the more acute.

It would be like a child remembering how her father used to take her out to a coffee shop every Saturday morning, and then suddenly he stopped showing up. In one sense, the memories are sweet, but it makes the pain of no longer being together all the more intense.

And before his thoughts can go any further, the psalmist stops himself in verse 8. “Yes. God you are my life. My rock!” And then he returns to lamenting again in verses 9-10, “but why have you forgotten me?! Where are you?!” He’s trying with everything he can muster to hold on, and the result is this back and forth tug of lament on his heart. Don’t miss this. It’s so rare we get a window into the authentic wrestling of the soul.

What’s he wrestling with?

The psalmist believes something radical. He believes God is actually present in His world. If God burns bushes and they aren’t consumed, parts waters, rains bread from heaven, crumbles walls, and on and on, then God will fulfill His promises to His people – even to the psalmist himself. He believes it down to his bones. But then he also feels the real oppression of the enemy. He hears the taunts and mocking of his adversaries, the success of the unjust, and he’s trying to reconcile the two.

When the psalmist laments, it’s not just because there is injustice in the world, but rather, he’s terrified that God is nowhere to be found, that God has forgotten about him. And that is like a deadly wound down to his bones. The injustice around him emphasizes the gap between the just God he loves and whom he believes is engaged in his life everyday, and the pain and despair the psalmist is wading through. Where are you, God?! Are you going to stand by and watch me drown?

You know what’s astounding though? When the psalmist wrestles with his doubts and fears, when he feels like God has abandoned him, he brings it all to God, even his harshest accusations.

And so we discover another reason in this psalm why we need to learn to pray the blues: not only do our souls need to be poured out, they need to specifically be poured out to God, which has two amazing implications.

First, this means praying the blues has room for strugglers. You can be wrestling with God and still pray to Him. Did you know that when you compare the laments in the psalms to all other discovered Ancient Near Eastern literature of the time period, it is the most brash language from a human being to their deity. No other literature is this intense. In God’s orchestration of His holy word, we find an invitation for all who are wrestling with God to bring it up with Him. Lament has room for strugglers. I know I’ve been there, and maybe you’re there today.

But this also means praying the blues has no room for complainers. Ok. What’s the difference? One commentator helps show the distinction between lament and complaining when he writes:

“It is crucial to comprehend a lament is as far from complaining or grumbling as a search is from aimless wandering. A grumbler has already reached a conclusion, shut down all desire and postures with questions that are barely concealed accusations…A person who laments may sound like a grumbler – both vocalize anguish, anger, and confusion. But a lament involves even deeper emotion because a lament is truly asking, seeking, and knocking to comprehend the heart of God. A lament involves the energy to search, not to shut down the quest for truth. It is passion to ask, rather than to rant and rave with already reached conclusions. A lament uses the language of pain, anger, and confusion and moves toward God” (Dan Allender, Mars Hill Review).

I’ve heard it once said that complaining is whining to someone else about God whereas lament is bringing our case to God. Do you see how that’s a sign of faith? The psalmist goes from drought to drowning, and he keeps talking to a God that feels absent.

Do you know who is an unlikely story of lament? Mother Teresa. No, let me say it this way: The Mother Teresa. That’s how we think of her, right? But, did you know that she had a deep crisis of faith that lasted for 40 years? As they were perusing her letters after her death, they found a series of correspondence that began nearly around the time she arrived to start her work in Calcutta. In one of those letters, this is how she expressed her lament:

“Lord, my God, you have thrown [me] away as unwanted – unloved. I call, I cling, I want, and there is no one to answer, no, no one. Alone. Where is my faith? even deep down right in there is nothing. I have no faith. I dare not utter the words and thoughts that crowd in my heart. I am told God loves me, and yet the reality of the darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.”

Mother Teresa knew how to pray the blues. While she fought to never complain, her life was wrought with struggle, and if this is you, I think it’s safe to say you’re in good company.

Praying the Blues

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[SERIES: Part 1 of 3]

At some off-the-map place, on September 16, 1925, in a plantation down around the Mississippi Delta, Riley B. King was born. We know him by his legendary stage name: B.B. King. This man—the man behind Lucille, his black Gibson guitar—was shaped by the care of his mother, Nora Ella King, who made sure King was refined by Elkhorn Primitive Baptist Church and the preaching of Luther Henson. He was taught the church songbook full of gospels and spirituals.

And like every black man in Mississippi, B.B. King grew up knowing another king in the south: King Cotton, a slogan thrown around by pre-civil war politicians to highlight the importance of the cotton trade in the south’s economy. Even though more than 50 years had passed since the end of the Civil War, B.B. King was mentored in the blues first and foremost by the voices of African American men and women singing those church songs with large sacks hung over their shoulders, going through rows and rows of cotton.

It was heat, cotton, family, racial injustice, and, lest we forget, the church that formed this man. Beauty and chaos that formed his songs. And though, on May 14, 2015, at 89 years of age, he passed away, he keeps on teaching us to sing songs and to pray prayers that we have far too often forgotten.

Like most blues songs, King’s music forces the pain and brokenness we know all too well into the light. They bring a realism to how the past impacts the present. Old relationships leave scars. Social injustices still prevail. And while King was brilliant in bringing this pain to bear, he wasn’t all that original. What King and others have called the blues, Scripture has always called lament.

While we may not all sing with King Everyday I Have the Blues, we all know the feeling when King sings The Thrill Is Gone. We’ve felt a righteous dissatisfaction with the way things are in the valleys of the shadow of death. A holy discontent. But is it ok to sing the blues just because we chalk the word “holy” onto the uncomfortable word “discontent”? Because it kind of feels like complaining at times, and who wants to be a whiner?

What do we do? When the shrapnel of a broken world knocks the wind out of us, and we feel like we can barely breathe—let alone pray—how do we keep praying? When life transitions to a minor key, we take a note from the Psalms once again. We need to pray the blues. But how?

There is one lament—which spans two psalms, Psalm 42 and 43—that is just the one to help us figure it out. The psalmist is going to guide us a little further in the landscape of prayer: what it looks like to pray our longing in the drought, in the depths, and in the dwelling.

THE DROUGHT

The psalmist begins his prayer in verse 1 with the image of a deer in the midst of drought, searching for water. The word used to describe the deer is “panting.” A sort of shortness of breath that comes as a result of frantically running from this place to that. In desperation, its tongue is sticking to the roof of its mouth, hoping water is just around the corner.

But he’s not looking for literal water. Listen again to Psalm 42:1-3:

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”

The psalmist’s whole life is unraveling, and he’s desperately looking for God. Yet it’s as if God is nowhere to be found. Feeling alone in the mess, the psalmist isn’t sleeping, and he isn’t eating. Disillusioned  and broken tears are the only thing he’s eating, and to top it off, with every new sunrise, instead of the rooster crowing, he hears from those around him: “God still hasn’t showed up yet, huh?”

Have you ever been there?

It’s in these moments that if our only authentic option is to pray the blues, we’d rather just stay quiet and keep to ourselves. Why? Because we convince ourselves that it’s all our fault. We believe the blues could have been avoided if we would have just done the right things.

But that’s not what we find here. Instead, at the heart of being a child of God comes the freedom to lament. We are free to admit that there are certain things broken in the world that I didn’t break, and there are certain things in life that I can’t do anything to fix. And when you are your most thirsty, that’s when your soul needs to be poured out in prayer. Sounds counter-intuitive, right? But when you are your most thirsty, that’s when your soul needs to be poured out in prayer.

Why? Because keeping quiet makes it worse. There is an article in The Onion, a mockumentary news site, titled, “Study: Pretending Everything’s Okay Works.”

CAMBRIDGE, MA—A study released Thursday by researchers at Harvard University’s Department of Psychology has found that the simple act of pretending one’s life is not in complete shambles threatening to collapse at any moment…works. “Even when everything is coming apart at the seams and disaster is almost certainly imminent, putting up a good front for friends and loved ones makes everything better,” said Professor Christine Wanamaker, who explained that smiling a lot and evasive answers were usually enough to get by. “Tell everyone that things are fine, and they will be fine. Just don’t over-think it.” When asked about her study’s methodology, Wanamaker said the research was rock-solid, had been looked over by a bunch of scientists, and definitely wasn’t anything to worry about.

We can laugh at this, because it sounds ridiculous when you put it that way. But the reality is that many times in our own lives we actually live like that, and sometimes we can even treat church like that too. I’ve heard from folks before how they didn’t want to come to church on a particular Sunday because they couldn’t put on a smile when they walked through the doors. “Everyone else seems to have it together, and I just don’t want to be a burden.”

You can’t live like that. It seems like you’re expected to have it together in our culture. But we all know that no matter how big the smile is on the outside, we don’t have it together. None of us do. There are times we feel miserable. There are times when we just feel far from God. When injustice rocks our world and we can barely stand. There’s a reason that a majority of the 150 psalms in Scripture are prayers of laments, and as the church, we are called to be a lamenting community. A safe place. A people where those who are struggling with depression, loss, death, disease, frustration with injustice—you name it—can come and pour out their souls.

We need to pray the blues. When you are most thirsty, that’s when your soul needs to be poured out in prayer. Let it ring out.

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Continue to read in PARTs 2 & 3 of this series as we talk more about what it looks like to pray our longing in the drought, in the depths, and in the dwelling.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]