A Hungry Sheep

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I met this sheep buddy in Taos, New Mexico.

Today I need good pasture for my soul. It’s been a hard six weeks—harder than I expected. I’ve been recovering from a two-level lumbar fusion and it’s been slow and painful and boring and lonely. I need good pasture for my soul because I’m tired. It’s been three years of surgeries and infections and I’m losing heart. My soul is weary. And I’m a pretty pathetic sheep.

I’ve spent a full week in John 10, so the sheep metaphor is resonating hard with me. First, I love sheep. I love the woolyness of them. I like how fat and fluffy they get while their legs stay spindly. How in the world do they support themselves on those spindly legs? I live near sheep. There’s a large sheep ranch about three or four miles from my home. It’s pretty stinky because they are all crowded together—hundreds of them. But occasionally the shepherds take them out to graze in fields nearby. It’s so awesome to be driving back from the grocery store and see a cluster of sheep—heads down—grazing comfortably 33901055142_dec4aaf539and securely under the eye of a four-wheel-riding shepherd. Sometimes the shepherd is walking around the sheep with his dog—it looks like a Border collie—and sometimes he’s riding his four-wheeler herding them towards fresh fields. He takes them to good pasture. “…the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice.” (John 10:4)

Of course, I romanticize the sheep like I do most things I know nothing about whatsoever. Like being a detective in Yorkshire, England (I watch a lot of BBC). Or snowshoeing effortlessly across six feet of snow in the San Juan Mountains (it is really, really hard!). In the real shepherding world, sheep are considered helpless, defenseless, animals that need constant oversight and protection. They flock together for protection, but don’t have a lot of sense when it comes to following the leader—if one sheep tries to leap over a 50 ft. ravine, the others will follow (it happened in Turkey, 2006, and 400 sheep died). They trust their shepherd to18958344301_dba98130af guide them. They also have a great sense of hearing and recognize their shepherd’s voice and are very in-tune to the tone of his/her voice. The shepherding site, Sheep 201—my new favorite website—suggests the shepherd use a quiet, calm voice. I think I need to read Jesus’ words in John 10 with a quiet, calm voice…let them soothe my soul. Psalm 23 works really well, too.

Still, I crave good pasture. I have a tendency to get depressed easily—a sad movie, a heart-wrenching news story, too many rainy days in a row, or even just being alone day after day after day. I’ve been this way all my life. Another DNA sequence. At times, it wreaks havoc, but most of the time I work through it. I am training myself to head to the Word and not accept the lies my mind keeps telling me. I am a weak, easily-led, vulnerable sheep, yet Jesus willingly laid down His life for me. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11, NASB emphasis mine)

Jesus says to the Jews and Pharisees who are questioning Him and listening to Him closely in both John 9 and John 10 (please read them without a break because there isn’t a time break here) that He—as the good shepherd—unlike the Pharisees (who are the thieves and robbers)—comes to give His sheep abundant life. Abundant. Perissōs. The Greek word for “abundant” means “over and above”; “exceeding”; “beyond measure.” What is this abundant/over and above/exceeding/beyond measure pasture Jesus promises us? How do I receive it? If you hear Christ’s calling and you listen and believe and follow, you are receiving it. It’s an on-going “receiving.” But sometimes it’s hard to see the pasture because of all the life clutter that hangs on and around us…around me.

Sometimes I am a discouraged sheep who expects more from her Shepherd than she is finding. I’m not resting in good pasture right now, and that’s a hard thing to admit. I feel positively ashamed and bamboozled by my discouragement.

So how do I rejoin the fold? (Staying with the sheep metaphor here.) What does “good pasture” even look like?

I’m seriously asking God for revelation right now. At this moment. Aha! A partial revelation! I have pasture blockers! I have stuff in my life that I keep re-dredging and re-examining, and that stuff keeps me in dry, brown pasture.

Some of my pasture blockers:

  • Two years of tests, steroid shots, MRI’s, X-rays, chronic pain, small surgeries, infection, PICC line, big surgery.
  • Confined to my house for weeks at a time due to recoveries and infection.
  • No family close to help me through these lonely, despairing moments.
  • Grandchildren too far away to see regularly—there is nothing like a grandchild to make you forget yourself!

I sometimes drop into self-pity. It’s a killer and it’s not from God. I’ve said this before, and I wish I didn’t keep falling into this “besetting sin.” “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15, ESV)

I have to put these things away. It sounds so—ephemeral. How do I put away something that is internally driven and derived? Lord, help me understand how to do this!

Persevere. Trust.

 These are momentary afflictions, and Christ has defeated them via the cross. I have His promises. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. His sheep hear His voice and recognize it. Sin blocks me from hearing my Shepherd’s voice. I have to repent. Down on my knees, clutching His Word, offering up my sin to His redemptive blood. I’m covered. I don’t have to stay in this brown pasture.

I’m asking the Holy Spirit for a good punch to the gut. Keep me in the fold. Don’t let me drift back into self-pity, envy, and greed (but I really think quartz countertops would make me happier! HGTV—I blame you!)

I realize now the only way to find good pasture is to seek my Shepherd on my knees and in His Word. I drift too easily. It’s time to depend on my Shepherd and not on my own ability to find pasture myself. Amazon.com is not a healthy pasture and doesn’t provide the abundant life Jesus gives. Neither does Target—the 8th deadly sin.

The promised pasture isn’t built around things; it’s built around relationship. It’s my relationship with Jesus that keeps me at peace, relaxing in joy and security, finding true rest.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28, ESV)

Do you have pasture blocks, too? Besetting or habitual sins that keep defeating you and keeping you in brown pasture? I challenge you to write them down—really ask the Holy Spirit to reveal them to you in depth. I was driving last week—heading towards Ft. Collins—and I just started praying aloud and confessing. I let God reveal all the dirty little secrets I keep hidden from view, and when I got home, I typed up that list and stuck it in my journal—after I confessed and repented.

That was merely a week ago—and…I’m back in brown pasture again! But now I know how to return to the abundantly lush pasture Jesus promises. I open my Bible to John 10 and continue. I stop and pray when the Holy Spirit nudges or gut punches. I repent of my bad attitude, my weak sheepishness. And then I do it again, everyday for the rest of my life.

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Here are some scriptures utilizing the “Shepherd” metaphor. Some from Old Testament—God gets pretty fed up with the “false/bad shepherds” that are not taking care of His flock—Israel. Jesus continues berating them in John 10, calling them thieves and robbers. The OT prophets, declare the coming Good Shepherd, Christ. In the New Testament, Jesus is the shepherd. We are His flock–grafted into the promise of Abraham (see John 10:16) 

Jeremiah 12:10; Ezekiel 34: 2-10, 23; Micah 5:4; Matthew 2:6; 1 Peter 2:25, 5:4; Hebrews 13:20-21; Revelation 7:17.

 

 

Shepherd and sheep: photo credit: Dyn Photo <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/72876267@N07/33901055142″>Modern Shepherding</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

Sheep & Border collie photo credit: RayMorris1 <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/16599764@N05/18958344301″>SHEEPDOG TRIALS A</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

Green pasture photo credit: Son of Groucho <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/23401669@N00/14053424689″>What? The Flock 2</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

Glory and Small Graces

*In the last few days, there has been an increasingly volatile debate over a “spiritual blogger’s” theological accountability—specifically their accountability to a larger “theological tradition.” Well-known voices in this arena are angry, believing that this article demeans their contributions to the blogosphere and to their messages, largely ignored by mainstream denominations. I can understand both sides of the debate. On one hand, women have been largely dismissed as leaders within church culture—particularly when it involves teaching men. As much as I bristle at times over my local church’s stance on women and leadership, I understand it. Paul is very clear in his writings, but I also note that Paul is quick to praise women who work with him in a variety of capacities—all for the glory of the gospel. As to accountability—I trust that readers of female spiritual bloggers making a dent in the Christian culture are examining the blogs as to biblical correctness—using the discernment the Holy Spirit gives to all believers. As for me, I believe in the inerrancy of scripture. I believe the Bible—Old and New Testaments—tell one predominant story—the story of Christ. From Genesis to Revelation, God’s plan for redemption is unveiled. When I read the Bible in that way, I understand that God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent—as the creator of everything and the one who holds everything together, He is perfectly able to keep His Word in tact. If you’d like to read the Christianity Today article, here is the link: http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2017/april/whos-in-charge-of-christian-blogosphere.html

 

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This view is a few blocks from my house. I loved the clouds and the view of the mountains in the distance. God’s glory and majesty reflected in nature.

The Weightiness of Glory and Discipleship

Sometimes I make things far too complicated. Just ask my husband, or my kids, or my former teaching colleagues. If I can make extra work for myself, I do it. Why? I blame my wiring—you know—my DNA coding. Something in me strives to do more and be more and make more…perfectionism, thy name is Cindy.

Take the word, “glory,” for example. I was doing fine with it—singing it in hymns, reading it without pausing in the Psalms, overlooking it entirely in the New Testament since it’s always linked with “the glory of God” or “the glory of Christ.” I read it as one word: “thegloryofGod” or “thegloryofChrist.” I didn’t ask myself what the word meant. Obviously God wanted it there or so many different authors wouldn’t have used it. Time for some research–and yes, I’m a research junkie!

The Greek, dóxa, as referenced in my Greek Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament (Zodhiates) occupies 3 1/2 pages of connotative and denotative meanings. The following definition seems to fit best with the text I’m studying:

“Glory, therefore, is the true apprehension of God or things. The glory of God must mean His unchanging essence. Giving glory to God is ascribing to Him His full recognition. The true glory of man, on the other hand, is the ideal condition in which God created man. This condition was lost in the fall and is recovered through Christ and exists as a real fact in the divine mind. The believer waits for this complete restoration. The glory of God is what he is essentially; the glory of created things including man is what they are meant by God to be, though not yet perfectly attained.”

The text I’ve been looking at is 2 Corinthians 3, particularly verse 18.

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, ESV)           

It’s not a complicated verse IF you read the entire chapter. Paul uses the word, “glory,” 13 times (ESV) in that one chapter, contrasting the glory of God Moses saw through a veil, (Ex. 34:34) with the glory of Christ we behold with “unveiled faces.” The Law kept God behind a veil until the time when the Abrahamic covenant would be fulfilled through Christ. The veil separating the Holy of Holies—where God met with the high priests—was torn upon Christ’s completed crucifixion. Believers have no need for a veil or a high priest because Christ himself is our perfect high priest. (See Hebrews 5 & 7)

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:12, that for now “…we see in a mirror dimly, but then fact to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” I go to the NASB translation for another “view” on this verse—one more closely aligned with the original Greek: “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” There is the word “unveiled” again. But, even though we are “unveiled” (not constrained by the Mosaic covenant), we still behold “as in a mirror”—only a reflection of Christ’s glory—not a face-to-face beholding. So we aren’t there yet. Someday, we will see perfectly—we will see Christ’s glory perfectly.

I think—remember now: this is “small kitchen theology”—I think the verb “beholding” is key. The verb tense is interesting. The Greek is katoptrizō—a present tense verb that denotes reflecting as in a mirror. We are always beholding as in a mirror the glory of Christ as revealed in the gospel. Those who only follow the Old Testament law, still live behind the veil. The full glory of Christ is hidden to them because of their disbelief in the Messiah. Those of us who believe and stake our lives on Christ as Savior, continually behold a reflection of His glory through the gospel. And we are being constantly transformed by the Holy Spirit, “…from one degree of holiness to another.” We are being transformed – metamorphoō—into the image of Christ by way of the Holy Spirit.

That’s it then. I think it is, anyway. I’m not sure, so check it out for yourselves and read commentaries on it. I’m sure I’ve over-simplified it—but that’s me. I want to understand, so I keep chewing on it until it starts to make sense to me.

So—what is my take away? In order to reflect Christ’s glory to the world, I have to allow the Holy Spirit to shape this fragile jar of clay into a vessel that is useful to God. And that means that I have to let go of my contrived human purposes and empty myself of self-determination in order to be God-determined.

We are made for his glory—created to glorify Him. When we feel resentful or uncomfortable with this concept, it’s because we don’t truly know how glorious God is. We have a tendency to make Him small, shaping Him into a being that makes sense to us via our own reasoning. We make ourselves smarter than Him. We make Him an impotent God rather than an omnipotent God.

The psalmist—David in this case—reminds us to “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.” (Psalm 29:2, ESV)

Reducing God to a manageable, culturally palatable god is blasphemous. And reducing His Word to a culturally-centered book of myths and stories is also blasphemous. I’m being hard here, but if we don’t “ascribe” to God the glory He requires of us as His creation, we pervert our purpose for living.

In my last blog, I spoke of discipleship and becoming a mature disciple of Christ. The only way to become that disciple is to be fully reliant on the Word of God. To know the very Words of God—not some haphazard collection of writings that span centuries—but the inspired Word, inerrant and holy. Peter doesn’t mince words:

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitness of his majesty…And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 16-21, ESV, emphasis mine)

These words come from the fisherman Jesus called early in his ministry. A man full of passion for the Lord, but who retreated in fear for his own life when Jesus was arrested and crucified. A man who then saw the risen Lord and received forgiveness for his frailty. A man who was himself crucified (though upside down because he considered himself unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord) for preaching and teaching the gospel of Christ. In fact all of the disciples were martyred except John, who was imprisoned on the small island of Patmos for life.

They walked with Christ and died for him. They didn’t kill for him. They didn’t persecute others for him. They loved for him and died for him, as did Paul.

What Does This Metamorphosis  Entail? 

When I read the scriptures—both Old and New Testaments—I recognize their weightiness—their glory. And if I want to be a mature disciple, I must learn from them. And I must empty myself of myself. That’s hard. How do I wrestle with the concept that my purpose on earth is not to achieve my particular goals and dreams–my purpose is to glorify God and honor Him.

Often times our goals coincide with our giftedness, but sometimes they clash and must be put away.

Even when I was a child, I wanted to be a writer. I think most obsessive readers do! I used to make up stories and draw pictures, even into high school. In college, I left that so-called fluffy, unrealistic dream behind and pursued first nursing (scared of organic chemistry so switched majors), then music education (recognized my serious lack of talent and left after two semesters), and then elementary education. Second grade to be precise. Unfortunately, marriage and divorce postponed that goal. I eventually wound up back where I started–sort of–with books. Literature and education–secondary style. That’s what I did finally. I taught high school English for 21 years, and during that time I wrote and wrote. Short stories. Eighty plus pages of novels that went nowhere. Children’s stories for my grandkids that were just so-so. None of them were very good. I had to put that dream aside because I’m just not a good fiction writer. Reality stinks.

My other dream was to teach college literature–not college writing–but poetry and literature. My master’s is in education though. You can’t even teach community college English without a master’s in English or preferably, a PhD. I’m too old to pursue this now, and honestly, that dream has vanished. Poof.

My goals and dreams are muddy now, for a variety of reasons. I’m less sure what I should do with the last 20 years of my life, if God gives me that much time. I am sure that I’m supposed to keep plugging away at life, honoring Him in whatever small ways I can. Like Peter says in 1 Peter 4:10-11:

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies–in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”

Now I’m going to glorify God by making the bed, doing some laundry, and studying His Word. A good steward of God’s varied grace.

 

 

 

 

unblocked for His glory

IMG_4174I was listening to a podcast the other day (many of my friends know this addiction I have…) called “The Calling” featuring Rebekah Lyons this week. Stop—download this podcast from iTunes like—now. It’s put out by Christianity Today and hosted by Richard Clark. I only found it about a month ago, and I’ve pretty much devoured all of its archived episodes. Love it. And now love Rebekah Lyons.

First, I have a confession to make: I have a tendency to discount all these 30-early 40-something female Christian writers as too young to have anything to tell me about life. I’m 59. And I’ve lived a very broken and yet redeemed life, which makes me skeptical about learning anything from a youngster that God has not already taught me. Talking about vanity! Oy!

Yet, I’ve read or skimmed Shauna Niequist, Jen Hatmaker, Sarah Bessey, Rachel Held-Evans, and have just started reading Ann Voskamp. Sometimes I disagree with their theology, but I love the way they write and speak to a younger generation of women. *One caveat: I trust totally in the inerrancy of scripture, so as soon as any writer—male or female–starts to interpret scripture in light of cultural differences, I scurry away. Once we start debating the truth of God’s Word, then we move into muddy waters that make everything about God questionable—including the divinity of Christ. That said, I find some of these women’s works lovely, but few of them are relatable only because my kids are adults and I’m a grandmother and I’ve experienced a great deal of life—most of it encased in suffering. However, I’m enjoying Ann Voskamp’s writing because of the sheer beauty of her writing, and because of the suffering she has experienced through which she teaches.

“I just know that—old scars can break open like fresh wounds and your unspoken broken can start to rip you wide open and maybe the essence of all the questions is: how in the holy name of God do you live with your one broken heart?” (Ann Voskamp from The Broken Way: A Daring Path Into the Abundant Life)

Ah, the old ripping open scars experience. I’m pretty sure I’m covered in scars from head to toe. I think Christ recognizes me because of my scars. My scars cry out to Him and He responds by reminding me that my scars—just like His–are signs of redemption.

Back to Rebekah Lyons. I loved her discussion on this podcast and immediately checked out one of her books from the library to peruse. She is young, but has experienced grief and fear and anxiety and inadequacy. And she is honest about it in a raw and sincere way. She has a son with Down Syndrome—made just as God intended him to be, but that extra chromosome brings with it particular challenges. She also suffered from panic attacks. And she’s been fearful about relocating. I know all of these challenges—to a certain extent. But one thing she said—I immediately had to run to my yellow legal pad where I jot down things I hear that I believe are profound and God inspired—that one thing she said that seared my heart a bit and pulled me back to a truth I try to ignore—that one thing that put me back to writing again was simple: “Public affection will never heal private rejection.”

Isn’t that so true? So on target and exact? Here I sit—a 59-year-old grandmother of three—reeling with memories –memories that have been keeping me from writing. Memories of criticism and neglect and discouragement revealed in private that keep me from using my very small and insignificant gift in order to glorify and reveal my Lord.

Words break me easily—too easily. I need to toughen up and be determined. I need to remember that I’m writing to glorify God—He is my audience and He’s always an encouraging one. But that’s not true, is it? Anyone that writes wants to be read. It’s communication—unless it’s a private journal—those stay filed away “to be destroyed before I die!”

Everyday I get confronted by my unwillingness to write. There’s a huge wall in my brain keeping me from imaginative and creative thought. Instead I study, study, study—to show myself approved. If I know more of God’s Word, then I will have something to say. But instead I’m stymied.

Here’s a truth: we have a tendency to remember the hard words more than the encouraging ones. That one negative statement can haunt us for a long time. However, some folks are strong and courageous. They push through the criticism and improve. They grow and show fortitude. Me? I curl up in a ball like a roly-poly and make excuses for my creative stagnation.

Then Jesus speaks to me through His Word. He is the Word, after all—the Word made flesh who—as Eugene Peterson says in The Message translation—“…became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” His Word uncurls me and stretches me out again. He reminds me that, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30) He says that he is gentle and lowly in heart, and in him I will find rest for my soul. I can trust Jesus. He knows how I feel. He knew rejection.

So I’m taking little baby steps with His help. I’m letting little things creep in to remind me of why I love to write. John Piper—a favorite teacher of mine—reminds me of the importance of staying in the Word—in Jesus. “I need to stay in the Word everyday, so that the Holy Spirit has something to set on fire when He touches it!” Right now, the Holy Spirit is teaching me about God’s glory and what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

Two verses that have “set me on fire”:

2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Because I believe in Christ, the veil blocking me from seeing the glory of God has been removed. I see Him for who He is, and the Spirit is the one allowing me to understand that glory. To recognize it. But more than that—the Spirit is transforming me bit by bit—making me more like Jesus. Shaping me. And ultimately that shaping is for God’s glory. It’s very circular. I have pages and pages of writings on how God shapes me for His glory. That’s for another time. I’m still learning.

Luke 6:40: “A disciple is not above [her] teacher, but everyone when [she] is fully trained will be like her teacher.” Jesus is teaching both the crowd that is following Him, and the Twelve. And us. If we follow after Christ, we are disciples. Jesus is training us through His Word so that we can be like Him. To be a disciple, I need to be in the Word daily. I need to swallow it and digest it and let it sustain me like it did Jesus in the wilderness.

So there it is: Cindy unblocked. Not letting the private rejection keep me from doing something I love. There is a reason why I call my blog, “Small Kitchen Theology”; it’s because I’m small and ordinary (and have a small kitchen), but I am a disciple of Christ in training.

Coming soon: Discipleship training: Dependency, Dedication, and Discernment.

May everything I write always be to the glory of the Father.

Grace and peace,

Amen

A Spring Chicken

 

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Spring comes too slowly to Northern Colorado.

I’m still not used to the lingering brown landscape and blustery winds that buffet our wood fence and wrestle with the American flag struggling to stay secure on our front porch flagpole. Back “home” In Oklahoma, the landscape is greening up. Daffodil and tulips litter yards and gardens as if casually tossed by the Supreme Gardener. My hometown is green and daffodil yellow and tulip red. There is still no color in my new hometown. I keep waiting and watching for the bulbs—so carefully placed by my husband in the fall—to show a little green. Nothing yet, but I’m hopeful.

Spring is a time for beginnings. Much more than the first of a new year—at least to me. I’m one of those visual folks who long to see change—color—shapes—textures. The unending brown unnerves me a bit. My soul is expecting color, but my eyes see bare brown branches.

But I know that inside the trees and inside the bulbs magic is happening. The blue sky resists the clouds’ attempts to hide it. It peeks out—a watercolor azure mixed with pure white.

A Light exists in Spring

Not present on the Year

At any other period —

When March is scarcely here…”

(Emily Dickinson).

This is my 60th spring. Last week my dental hygienist reminded me –gently—that even though I had just turned 59, I was now living in my 60th year. So…my 60th spring.

Flashback to the 1960’s. I remember fresh Toni perms on otherwise straight white-blonde hair. The stink. The burn. The fuzzy white curls my mother loved. An Easter dress in pale green with a white apron. White anklets and white patent shoes. I loved the shoes. I enjoyed the egg hunt at my grandparents’ farm. Unfortunately, what I liked best was taking OFF all the Easter apparel and getting into comfortable, rowdy clothes. My poor mother—she wanted me to look cute all day; I couldn’t give her more than three hours.

If my life runs according to seasons, I guess I’m in late autumn. I’m not the ubiquitous “spring chicken.” My mirror and my body remind me I’m not young anymore. It’s so weird—time is. I feel like I did at 30 and 40, but my body is slower. More awkward. My balance shifts too easily. Words slip away from me, so conversations with my husband become like guessing games:

Me: “You know—it’s that thing… you put on at night…it covers you…”

Husband: “Hmm. A cover? Pajamas? Blanket?”

Me: “Yeah—blanket.” Sigh of relief.

And yet…and yet my mind whirls with ideas and thoughts and plans; it doesn’t remember that I’m living my 60th spring. I’m not a finite creature—I’m an eternal one. The 19th century writer, George MacDonald, said: “We don’t have a soul. We are a soul. We have a body.” I love that. This body may age, but my soul keeps learning. And God keeps moving me and teaching me. His Word still compels me to read and study and learn. I’m not used up yet.

I’ve been studying Genesis since before Christmas. Begin at the beginning. I first thought, “Good grief—I’ve studied this so much—I know the stories. I KNOW the words. What else could the Holy Spirit teach me?”

Of course I was wrong.

I grew up in the church. A Southern Baptist church. The doctrine of that denomination is centered on the truth of the Bible. I love that about it. As denominations go, it is solid. God’s Word is inerrant. Trustworthy. Infallible. Being grounded by that church experience helped me through divorce and disease and disillusionment.

As a part of that Southern church culture, I was baptized when I was seven. It was a natural progression for me. I believed that Jesus was who He said He was. I believed the Bible. I trusted in God’s truth and promises…as much as any seven-year-old little girl could.

–How does life get so messy between 7 and 59? How does it get so filled with failures and sinful decisions and endless consequences?

So this time as I read through Genesis, I saw it afresh. I saw it with springtime eyes and 59 years of life. I saw how beautiful and perfect God intended our world to be, and I saw how quickly we fell. I noticed how Satan twisted God’s words into something that tickled Eve’s ears and played with her pride. I noticed that prior to The Fall, even the serpent was “good.” The serpent wasn’t Satan—it was used by Satan, and since it was already in the Garden, Eve wasn’t caught off guard by its presence.

IMG_4129That’s how temptation and sin slips into our lives so easily. It comes to us easily. Comfortably. It twists God’s words just a bit—just enough—that we get caught off guard just like Eve. We start thinking God is petty tyrant keeping us from good things. We start seeing Him as a master manipulator and not a good and loving Father.

Re-reading Genesis and really examining the Hebrew and wrestling with the tension between God’s Truth and what a secular culture sees as foolish mythology grounds me even more in faith while changing my perspective. God shifts the lenses in my glasses and helps me see the world as He sees it—as He saw it. Through my study of Genesis, I don’t see a petty tyrant god—I see the God who warned Cain that “sin was crouching at his door” because of his jealousy towards Abel, his younger brother. In Genesis 4, God notices that Cain countenance—his body language—exhibited anger. He questions Cain as to the reason, though He knows the answer.

He tells Cain to be careful—to master his feelings. But Cain ignores God’s warning and lets his emotions move him to murder.

Like Cain, I sometimes ignore God’s warnings and let my pride and self-righteousness fuel my responses to life. More often though, I let my feelings of purposelessness and loneliness fuel my anger. I miss my family. I miss my grandkids. I miss the feeling of “home.” And if I let these emotions take hold and ignore God’s urgings to rest in Him and trust in Him, I say something I regret. Or I dive into depression and self-pity.

The temptations come insidiously—wrapping truth in half-truths.

When I fall like that, it takes awhile to recover that intimacy with God that I long for more than anything else. It takes repentance. It always takes repentance.

The writer, Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, reminds us that repentance comes before grace (Openness Unhindered). Winter before Spring. The bare branches of my life bowing before an almighty God—El Elyon.

My journey through Genesis continues; I’m up to the life of Joseph. I have a composition book full of notes and charts I’ve drawn trying to get a new perspective on what my Lord was doing as He was building a people group out of Abraham. I have seen the good, the bad, the ugly, and the unspeakable.

But I’ve also seen a covenantal God who bases His promises on who He is and not on who we are.

 Abraham was not perfect. Neither was Isaac. Neither was Jacob (who became Israel). And yet…and yet because of God’s graciousness and steadfast love (that phrase moves through the Old Testament), He forgives and stays true to His promises. The promised perfect seed that would crush the head of Satan (Genesis 3:15) comes from these imperfect men and women. Jesus Christ. The Messiah. The Son of Man. The Son of God. The Lamb.

Today my 60-year-old branches are bare and bowed down before my Father, but the sap is running. Something is budding inside me that may be small and insignificant in the eyes of the world, but it is true and brilliant in the eyes of God: Obedience.

When viewing my soul through the lens of eternity, I’m still a spring chicken.

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What Spring will look like in my backyard…eventually!! God delights in His creation!

 

photo credit: 2-Dog-Farm <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/22473940@N00/496713941″>a bird in the hand</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;
photo credit: sandklef <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/63114905@N06/29772652554″>Lonely tree branches (explored)</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Soul Patch: Contentment

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A very content Nana! Holding my newest grandchild. 

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for 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 4:11-12

During my last back surgery, I came out of anesthesia quoting the last part of this verse. I just kept repeating the phrase, “I can do all things through Jesus…” Every time a wave of pain rushed over me, I just kept speaking the verse like a mantra.

But it’s not a mantra. And the pain didn’t dissipate (until they shot me with some drugs again). And the surgery didn’t work. That was in June of 2016. What followed was hard. Infection. Daily antibiotic infusions. Then a gall bladder surgery. Everything finally stopped in September 2016. I healed and rested and enjoyed my children and grandchildren. Now, however, In less than two weeks, I’ll undergo a lumbar fusion surgery. I’m not happy. I’m not content. And I’m not sure I can do it. I keep telling God, “Nope. I’m scared. I know what’s coming this time.”

Knowing makes it harder. Knowing it can get worse makes it much harder.

But…whining is NOT a godly attribute. When Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control—“whininess” is not sandwiched in between goodness and faithfulness (although it has a nice ring to it).

So how do I get back to a place of trust and contentment? It’s ultimately between me and God and His Word. No amount of human consolation will help.

Contentment is a battle warred between my natural fears and God’s supernatural plan for my life.

If anyone (other than Jesus) deserved to be whiny, it was Paul: Imprisoned over and over, flogged, stoned and left for dead, shipwrecked, and eventually beheaded in Rome during the reign of Nero. A tentmaker and Pharisee. A Roman citizen. And the man Jesus chose to give the Gospel to the Gentiles.

Why would anyone choose to suffer like that unless he was certain of his purpose and the truth of the Gospel?

I admire Paul, but I’m not that strong. Maybe that is why God is refining me. Maybe that is why God refines all of us. We are the salt and light of this world. If we aren’t purified, His glory is diluted–a weakened solution that has no “bite.”

A little over a year ago, I started a prayer journey. I’ve already written about it, but in hindsight, I can see that through prayer and the desire to be molded into a “woman of God,” I have been brought low—almost to a place of despair.

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this [Paul’s thorn in the flesh], that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:8-10.

There’s that word again: content. Here the word “content” is used as a verb: “eudokeō.” I wish I knew biblical Greek, BUT I do have Zodhiates’ The Complete Word Study Dictionary for a Deeper Understanding of the Word! (Could he have made his title any longer?) I like looking at this book because it provides connotation rather than just denotation—it provides the intention of the writer, who in this case is Paul. The definition is:

“Content:eudokeō.: To be well-pleased, to think it good. It means to think well of something by understanding not only what is right and good, but stressing the willingness and freedom of an intention or resolve regarding what is good” (Zodhiates 2106).

So Paul—like all of us at some point in our lives—had a “thorn in the flesh” that never went away. He never says what it was, but he prayed three times that the Lord would remove it. This was not a small irritation—the Greek word for “thorn” in this case is “skolops”—a pointed piece of wood; a stake; the point of a hook. This was not just a minor irritation, but one that God allowed in order to keep Paul from becoming boastful or conceited (read all of 2 Corinthians 12 to fully grasp what Paul is saying). When Paul is writing this chapter, he is referring to a vision he’d had 14 years earlier—so he’s probably had that “thorn” for the entire 14 years. A God of healing did not heal. Why? For the sake of Christ. Paul recognizes that his suffering is nothing compared to glories of Christ Jesus, His Lord. When Paul is weak, God is strong.

When I am weak, is God strong?

The paradox. Can I accept that my thorn is given for a godly purpose? How do I do that? How can we be “content—well-pleased—think it good” when suffering pours into our daily life drowning our faith and trust in a good Father?

IMG_6280I don’t think there is an easy answer. Contentment is a choice. I’m choosing to look at the blue sky today and recognize the creator God’s gift to His children. I choose to memorize scripture and focus on God’s larger purpose for my life. Only He knows what that is, but I can trust in the character of God. He doesn’t change; He is good and just and righteous. He loves steadfastly. I waver; He doesn’t.

If you’re in a “refining fire” right now, choose contentment. Realize God’s good grace is enough for each moment. Rejoice. Rejoice that we are eternal souls temporarily confined to fallible flesh. George Macdonald (a notable 19th century writer who influenced C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien) said, “We don’t have a soul. We are a soul. We have a body.”

My thorn is temporary. Our thorns are temporary. We have the assurance of living in the presence of our Lord when we pass from this body.

Thus I must say, “It is well with my soul.”

“I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of; for to have been thought about, born in God’s thought, and then made by God, is the dearest, grandest and most precious thing in all thinking.” George Macdonald