A couple of days ago, I was talking to my Sweet Mama and told her I needed a fresh view of God. I was tired of my old view. I needed to see Him differently and see myself in relationship with Him differently. I’m totally annoyed with my current physical state (not life-threatening, just quality-of-life- threatening!), and the Lord is, well, distant. I do my Bible study and I love the “study,” but I’m missing my Lord. I need a fresh view. The Sweet Mama understood and (knowing my “bibliophilia”) recommended a book and promised her prayers. And she always prays.
*Just a note: Some folks have Beth Moore or Kay Arthur or Priscilla Shirer–I have “Sweet Mama.” She’s my spiritual hero.
So Wednesday morning–after showering and taking care of some work stuff, I put the work down and said, “OK, God. Let’s have this out.” And you know what He said? Nothing. But I did keep feeling the phrase “my grace is sufficient” rolling through my soul.
My. Grace. Is. Sufficient. Not was or will be, but “is” sufficient. Right now. The “is” matters.
And just like that, Grace Notes popped into my noggin. It’s purely self-serving, but necessary. I need to be reminded that His Grace is–and continues to be–sufficient regardless of my physical pain and weakness. To recognize His grace requires a recognition of His character. The Bible is our source for knowing God. Everything we need to know about God waits for us in Scripture. And no book of the Bible lays out God’s character so clearly (for me) as does the Psalms.
So, I turned to Psalm 1 and started gleaning. I wanted to find all the descriptions of God I could locate within the Psalms and compile a list. I love lists, but lists don’t equal grace. They do provide words though–words that might fit those tiny grace notes I experience throughout my day. It might only be one a day, but I’m going to write that one grace note down. For me. I want to see God with fresh eyes.
Obvious question: How will I recognize a “grace note” when I experience it?
I’ll start with what grace notes are not: momentary joys or pleasures. If they were, I would be writing down red lipstick, coffee, peanut butter, and dark chocolate for every grace note.
Nor are they feelings. Lord knows I’m an emotional beast prone to zip from one tumultuous forest to the other in a matter of minutes. My feelings aren’t grace. Sure, I might respond to grace in an emotional way, but it’s not what I’m after.
Grace notes are those momentary glimpses of “life done right” that remind me of God’s sovereignty. His imagination. His sense of humor. All those characteristics of God’s personality revealed to us in the Psalms.
Grace Note 1:
Yesterday I was on my way to my surgeon. I have one. Or two. Soon to be three. They remind me of how fragile our earthly bodies are–they start deteriorating the day we are born. Some deteriorate faster than others.
I needed a Grace Note, something to remind me of the character of God. Of Christ. Of the Holy Spirit.
It’s a beautiful day for mid-December in Northern Colorado. A day of aching sunshine that confuses the hibernating trees. My mind is racing back and forth planning what I need to do after the appointment. I slow it down and just stare at the mountains. I drive west, and they’re right there–straggling the horizon.
Christmas is only a few days away. We’re heading south and east towards my family and grandchildren. I don’t want to feel cranky or whiney. Bring on the grace note, God!
And He does. My Christmas playlist shifts to Christy Nockels’ song, “Wrap This One Up.” It’s haunting and balladic. It tells a story of sacrificial lambs. And of Christ. When the last verse played, I cried and lifted my hands (well, just one–since I was driving). And suddenly a Grace Note was there–right in alignment with His character.
When I got home, I looked at my list and there in Psalm 4 I found the truth of my first grace note. Psalm 4 reminds me that my Lord is righteous, He hears, and He fills my heart with joy! Christy’s song was a vessel for God’s grace to touch me yesterday.
Hallelujah to the King.
His Grace is sufficient for today. And that is enough, until tomorrow. Sigh. “What fragile creatures we mortals be!” (A little Ted Hughes…)
Since I love to cook, I spend a great deal of time looking out my kitchen window observing the small universe that comprises my space. I wake up early—but not too early. 6:30ish. A luxury after teaching school. I get to linger over coffee and stare out the patio door at my garden. The pond gurgles away and the birds tweet loudly–fighting over their morning meals at the bird feeders. A small breeze lifts the bells of the chimes hanging from the gazebo. Coffee cup in hand, I wander towards the garden boxes filled with strawberry plants, rosemary, lettuce, peppers, tomatoes. I never saw myself as a gardener, but I like the feel of the dirt and the challenge of making seeds grow.
It feels sacred—gardening. It feels sacred to care for the beauty around me. It feels sacred when I cut a head of lettuce or pull off an apple-red tomato for my lunch. The scent of fresh rosemary and cilantro is better than any candle from Target. Growing and tending feels like a sacred duty—after all, it was man’s first job. God asked Adam and Eve to tend the garden and take care of the animals. I’m thinking they were the first environmentalists.
But then came weeds—friends with the serpent of old just waiting to creep into a perfect world. Something to wreak havoc with the beauty the Creator intended. Why oh why did God ever allow Satan to enter the serpent and tempt those first gardeners? I ask God and myself that question periodically. An intense study of Genesis reaffirms that yes, everything that God created was good, which means the serpent was originally beautiful and good. And Lucifer was, too. He was a glorious angel. Beautiful beyond our imagination, and yet…he falls. (Side note—the name Lucifer only appears once in the Bible—in Isaiah 14:12. In Hebrew the name is “heylel” and means “light-bearer; morning star; shining one.” Thereafter he is Satan–Hebrew for adversary–or Satanas– Greek meaning adversary as well as prince of evil spirits and one who opposes God).
I call him “Bindweed.”
In the morning as I walk my garden, I’m on the lookout for weeds—specifically bindweed. Bindweed is an insidious weed that looks a little like ivy, but it grows and spreads so rapidly it’s almost impossible to keep out! Unfortunately, bindweed is sometimes hard to see; it wraps itself around the good plants tightly almost like it wants to strangle both their beauty and their purpose in order to replace them with its own counterfeit beauty—a pale pink flower.
I see it growing everywhere—in the lawns, on the fences, around the plants in the park. And along the trails it spreads out like it owns the wild areas, sprouting little pink flowers everywhere I look.
I think bindweed is seeking world domination.
I also think it’s a tool of Satan that I must destroy! I’m bindweed’s adversary. Each morning I search my tomatoes for even a tiny hint of it and yank it out with anger, using my ninja gardening skills to dig out the root in order to deter its advancement into my pepper plant! My fingernails are now peeling and extra short because I’m so determined to pull that weed out, I neglect my gardening gloves and little weed puller thing. Something about that weed gets my goat. I’ve even been known to pull it out of other people’s yards or in the park areas. The hubster has to physically restrain me.
That stinkin’ weed is my nemesis.
Small Kitchen Theology Moment
One day as I was knee-deep in my butterfly bush yanking out bindweed and untwisting it from my irises, I realized that bindweed is like sin, and the more I pulled the more I saw the similarities.
Weeds weren’t in Eden. Weeds came after the Fall. (So hey, I’m accurate in calling them “tools of Satan.”) We see it in Genesis when the Lord said, “…cursed is the ground because of you [Adam]; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread…” (Genesis 3: 17-19, ESV). Ouch! So not only will man now die, but he will also fight with the earth itself in order to grow food.
It sounds dismal, right? A cursed earth? Struggles and pain? Don’t get me wrong here: I strongly believe that humans were created to work from the very beginning; they were to take care of Eden and its animals. Men and women were to procreate and fill the earth. They were to take care of each other and their families. But,they weren’t to live self-oriented lives devoid of purpose.
The Fall made life a lot harder (Read Genesis 1-4 closely).
Just this morning I was out in my garden—garden gloves on and weed puller in hand. (How did so many appear overnight?) Digging my fingers deep into the soil, I kept thinking about the bindweed parable developing in my head. “God, what about this? or how about this?” And then it came to me: Bindweed sin.
How is my sin like the bindweed I was yanking out of my garden? What binds itself to us and transforms the way we look at life? What creates counterfeit life that might appear good on the outside, but is warping our view of God and our position in His Kingdom?
Just like the physical weed, the roots of these bindweed sins grow deep, twisting around our souls like a creepy python. The insidious thing is that they seem ok at first. They seem justified. Take negativity, for example. If you’ve ever been around a negative person, you have seen how their view of life is a bit twisted. I’ll use me for an example.
When my hubster moved me away from Oklahoma to the Ft. Collins, Colorado area, I was negative. I didn’t want to leave my family or my friends or my house or my security (Now there’s my bindweed sin!), but I felt like the Lord was pushing me to go. Hoping to find a house with a view of the mountains and an upgraded kitchen, I was pretty devastated to find that the only homes in our price range were either trashed or east of I-25 with no view of the mountains. And no upgraded kitchens or hardwood floors. (Note: you need about $450K to get a house like we had in Tulsa.) We chose one that had a porch swing and a garden. The garden is what grabbed my soul. A pond with a waterfall splashed appealingly and the mums wore such glorious colorful outfits that I overlooked the dingy, builder grade carpet and ugly linoleum and tried to thank God that we could even afford a home. I attempted gratefulness, but I was homesick and lonely. I spent days and days without any conversation with anyone except the grocery store checkout person, my dog, or my hubster. My phone calls to family were tearful and self-pitying. Depression sat in hard.
Like bindweed, my negativity distorted the life God had graciously given me. I couldn’t see the beauty around me without a tinge of negativity. And I felt so justified! Why did I have to move away from my comfortable life and come to a place where I felt alone, isolated, and unknown?
Escaping bindweed sin is a journey…a rough one!
Slowly, slowly God is shaping me and releasing me from that particular bindweed sin. He showed me that that the true root of my bindweed sin is not negativity but insecurity. I didn’t trust Him. My insecurity was resting in a place and a people instead of in God alone. Sure it was hard.
When a bindweed sin digs in next to an already weak area of your soil/soul, it takes root and flourishes. The more you feed it, the tighter it twists itself around you until you are miserable and don’t even know why. You can’t see God at work around you and instead only see unfairness.
Bindweed sins come in all shapes and sizes—tailor made for each of us. Anger, for example. Once that weed takes hold of us, a giant chip erupts on our shoulders. It’s us against the world and God plays an increasingly small role in our lives.
Arrogance and pride? Those get deep-rooted very quickly in our lives. They start with good dose of self-sufficiency manure. We did this, that, or the other…we made it happen…we are too cool for school…look at all we have accomplished…we know everything…we are always right…(and even) we love God and His Word more than anyone else! Self-righteousness gets tangled up in this bindweed sin, too.
The list of bindweed sins is as limitless as human nature. The thing is–once they get rooted in us, they disguise themselves as something good and justifiable and even worthy—and that’s when they get dangerous. Soon those seemingly ordinary weeds wrap tightly and efficiently around us, even blooming right alongside the blossoms that are part of our God-image design.
What the Holy Spirit is raising up in us is slowly counterfeited into something else—something much less. Something not Holy Spirit made, but “other” made.
Tools of Satan, indeed.
Digging out the root…
I hate easy answers to issues like bindweed sin. When I spoke earlier about my particular bindweed sin of insecurity, I didn’t say how God revealed it to me. I’m going to go a tad personal here, but it’s truth and I want folks to see that this process of digging out roots can be hard and painful.
Insecurity seems to be coded in my DNA. I was an insecure child, scared of everyone and pretty much everything. I became a people pleaser thinking I could find security in making others happy with me. I was scared of losing someone’s love or friendship, including that of my parents. I started gaining some confidence in 9th grade after attending a church camp in Siloam Springs, Ark. We had some amazing teachers during that week and I believe that the Holy Spirit “woke me up” to His presence and the essentiality of God’s Word at that age. My insecurity was still there, but I could—with the Lord’s help—stay confident about most areas of my life.
My insecurity came back full throttle in college. I discovered I wasn’t that smart, or that pretty, or that talented. I had been “made much of” back in my church in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, but that didn’t translate to a state university. I couldn’t for the life of me discover my purpose, and I married too young. The marriage was a disaster EXCEPT for my children. They were my life. Seriously. My unstable marriage fed my growing insecurity, which fed my need to find purpose.
My purpose: to be perfect and independent. To be the best. If I could get perfect scores in college (I went back at 32) and be the best teacher, maybe I could feel purposeful. Maybe someone would love me and I’d feel secure.
It never happened. I got almost perfect grades in college, but I didn’t feel more secure. Same with teaching. I was good, but I wasn’t anything special. Sometimes I felt a glimmer of security, then wham! Something or someone reminded me that I was just an ordinary person who can study and plan and communicate pretty well. But I wasn’t exceptional. Just good.
The insecurity stayed. And stayed. And rooted itself so deeply that I didn’t even see it coming. The “it”? Psoriatic arthritis and osteoarthritis. They’ve been a great team attacking my spine for the last four years. The swiftness surprised me. Within a year and a half, I’d retired from teaching, had my first fusion surgery, and moved to Colorado.
I was helpless to control my circumstances. I was isolated from family and their love and support. My husbster of 15 years had to deal with a very depressed wife whose bindweed sin was distorting her view of everything.
The root digging…
We’ve been in Colorado almost three years now, and I’ve had nothing but time. My disease limited me for most of these three years, but thankfully this last fusion in March 2017 is helping tremendously!
So how did God work in my heart to help me dig out the roots of insecurity? His Word and a great deal of prayer–plus some suffering thrown in the mix to remind me that my security rests in Him alone.
Here’s the truth: Without reading and contemplating God’s Word regularly, you cannot dig out the roots of sin.
I had plenty of time to study the Bible, so I did. I took the skills I had from teaching literature and applied them to the Bible. But the Bible isn’t fiction; it’s truth. The Truth, and when we study it, the Holy Spirit impresses us with the Truth we need for the day.
Contemplation requires prayer. More prayer than just the casual toss up to Heaven. Sure, those are part of my prayer repertoire, but I can’t let them be my only prayer practice. I’m still learning to rest and stop fidgeting in my spirit so much. It’s a constant battle.
And that’s the magic formula to digging out bindweed sins: reading the Bible and praying with urgency and fervency. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal any tiny re-rooting that starts to take place—and it will try to re-root. We are creatures of habit, and bindweed sins count on the rich, manure-filled soil of our human nature to help them take root again.
After the last four years of “spiritual training,” I can usually tell when a bindweed sin is rooting because I get snippy and agitated. My poor hubster is usually the first to see the sin since I snip at him over something as ridiculous as weed killer.
Sometimes I start worrying (another bindweed sin of mine) and I hear the old tapes playing, “You’re not good enough. Who do you think you are?” And sometimes those tapes seem like truth and I start hiding my emotions by reading book after book or binge watching BBC detective shows. Those are my “Holy Spirit alerts.” No visions. No voice from God. No dreams. Just prayerful surrender and a grace-filled sovereign God of the universe who is patient in His teaching.
God is faithful and just. He cleanses us from all of our unrighteousness. He makes each day fresh and full of beauty. A garden reminds me of that truth. During the summer I can see the bees taking a buzzing stroll through my wildflower garden, scraping their feet on the pollen sacs and carrying them off in their little bee backpack. I watch the lettuce seeds emerge in hair-like green rows after only two weeks. I peer under heavy-laden tomato branches to catch a glimpse of the ripening fruit.
Glimpses of Eden. Reminders of the beauty God imagined.
A few nights ago, I had one of my insomnia spells. They typically last a couple of nights, and then I go back to a normal pattern. I have a couple of ways to deal with them:
Stay downstairs and watch BBC detective shows on Hulu until I fall asleep and can go upstairs to bed without twisting and wiggling.
Go to bed and use earbuds to listen to podcasts until I fall asleep. For some reason listening to pastors teach via podcasts will lull my brain and body into rest. Sometimes I hear something great that catches my attention just as I start to drift…and then I’m awake and pondering for a while. That’s what happened a couple of nights ago: it was a three-sermon night. I started with John MacArthur and then moved to John Piper’s teaching on Acts 1. I had just started to drift off, when Pastor John started praying…”I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord.
I woke up the next morning with that prayer still resonating, so I did a search and found it: Psalm 27:13-14.
I love the Psalms for precisely this reason: They comfort me whatever my circumstance. They also remind me of God’s character and make me wonder what my life would look like if I truly believed in the God represented in the Psalms.
Of course, I believe in God—but I when I dig deep, it seems like I’m living shallowly without recognizing the full scope of who God is. This Psalm reminded me again, so I decided to take some time with it.
Personally, I study a Psalm like I used to study and teach poetry. A clean first read—no markings and no pausing. And then I take a look at the structure. Finally—what is David (as inspired by Holy Spirit–see 2 Sam.23 for confirmation) saying to me? How is it relevant to where I am in my 21st century life as retired teacher, wife, empty nester, and grandmother?
In this case, it starts with light.
Psalm 27:1: “The Lord is my light and my salvation/whom shall I fear?” Here in the Old Testament, the word “light” is “owr” in Hebrew, the same word used in Genesis when God separated the light from the darkness. It’s used 122 times in the Old Testament, and almost always it’s used as literal light, not metaphorical. It’s interesting that David says that God is his literal light, as in Psalm 119:105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light (owr) to my path.”
If I relate the Psalm to me, I must trust that the Lord is my light and so is His Word. His Word made flesh is Jesus. Jesus is God revealed—the Word of God sent to illuminate a dark world. Wow. The connections in my little brain go crazy. (This led me down a rabbit trail—or squirrel crusade, as I call my hop-scotchy mental gymnastics! I started looking at John 1 and 1 John. John plays with words so beautifully and he uses the metaphor of light regularly. Go look for yourself! I use www.blueletterbible.org as my go-to source!)
I love the light metaphor—second only to the sheep metaphor. These connective metaphors make sense to me, and help me understand spiritual connotations better.
Artistically, light is everything in photography! A qualifier: I’m not a great photographer, but I do understand the way light plays in a photo. I’m terrible with artificial light—I just can’t make the photos look right even with a good camera and a decent flash. I don’t have the skill, so I try to use natural light and shadows in order to capture a picture. I particularly love taking pictures in the morning—the light is still soft and the colors seem more vibrant.
Light provides contrast—it differentiates objects in the world around me. It helps me see texture and color. It also helps me recognize shadows so I get perspective. But the deep darkness makes it hard to see shapes and colors and textures. Things blur together and can become distorted. It can also make things scary.
A true story about nightlights and night terrors:
When I was little and not so little, I was terrified of the darkness. I wasn’t scared of monsters—oh no—I was scared of bad people. I read a lot of books (and still do) that involved mystery and murder, so I think I may have had a warped perspective on actually how many bad, evil, wicked people were on Sherwood Lane in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma at any given time.
So, I needed a light at night (A Dr. Seuss book in the making!). I’m sure I drove my parents, brother, and sister crazy. I HAD to have the hall light on in order to go to sleep. And here I shudder in shame a bit–I even needed it as an adolescent.
The story: My parents worked with the youth at our church, so dad decided to turn our garage into a sort of Jesus hangout. My family and I first painted black the walls black, and then added neon words scattered randomly. I wish I could remember what we painted on those walls…I know they were Jesus-based words. In neon orange. It was the early 70’s, after all. It was cool.
BUT there was a storage section of the garage left in tact—a walled off area, so dad could house the lawn mower, the pogo sticks we never used, and one of those strange exercise machines that had a large sanding belt like thing on it that supposedly jiggled your belly fat off. We all thought it was a hoot! It was also back there—in that storage thing. Unfortunately for my imaginative brain, there was only a flimsy, wooden door that separated me and my family from the dangerous outside world.
Dah dah DAH! (Cue scary music.)
At night, with the hall light on, my brain inevitably drifted towards burglars and murderers that wanted to steal my daddy’s collection of Tennessee Ernie Ford records, and I’d remember that flimsy, often unlocked door in the scary black room that was formerly a garage. I’d lay in bed under my furry white bedspread (it was the 70’s—it was cool) and think about the danger until finally, I’d climb out of bed, meander cautiously—and I think somewhat bravely—through the living room, kitchen, dining room, utility room and then ultimately into the black Jesus room painted with neon words. First thing I’d do was turn on the light. I wanted illumination in the darkness. I wanted to see around all the corners straight back to the flimsy door—one any decent burglar/murderer could kick in with his boots.
My heart rate increased and my spidey senses were on high alert as I eased towards that far back wall. Once I’d made it to the door, I’d already accepted my fate. It was quite possible I would be killed. It was quite possible a murderer was hiding behind the pogo sticks. It was quite possible that he just wanted bizarre exercise equipment.
Taking a deep breath, I’d jiggle the doorknob. If it was locked and there was no sign of broken glass or forced entry, I could breathe a sigh of relief and safety. (Again—I read lots of crime books. And Helter-Skelter came out during that time and totally destroyed me…as did Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth.)
BUT if I found it unlocked, I was undone! Trembling, I’d lock it and then flee back through the Jesus room/former garage into the supposed safety of my home. Convinced that the killer/burglar was hiding in the house by now, I turned on every light and examined closets and behind sofas until I made it back to my bedroom. I’d usually leave all the house lights on, so my parents probably knew about my nighttime adventures, but I needed the light to alleviate my fears. Light represented safety for me as a young human.
I still like a nightlight–not because of fear, but because I fall easily and I prefer making it to the bathroom at 2 a.m. without spraining something.
End of story and a return to Psalm 27.
We humans need light both physically and metaphysically. Light affects our moods lifting us up or diminishing us. I get really depressed if it rains or stays cloudy for a cluster of days. I think I’m part plant—probably salvia because I like the sun and bright purple.
Light also affects us in a spiritual or metaphysical manner. We say our souls are light-hearted. Or “she has a sunny disposition.” A sort of Tigger vs. Eeyore sort of analogy comes to mind.
Maybe Eeyore is continually experiencing a “dark night of the soul.” An Eeyorian profundity: “When you come across Eeyore in the Forest and he seems even gloomier than usual, check to see if he has his tail. It may be missing.” A.A. Milne
Sorry for the squirrel crusade. If I can use a A.A. Milne reference, I will use it. Pooh philosophy is quite profound.
A REDIRECT BACK TO STUDY OF PSALM 27 “The Lord is my light and my salvation/whom shall I fear?” Psalm 27:1
Light plays an important role in explaining Jesus to the world. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5.
In this verse, the Son of God is the light. Note the verb tenses. Jesus—the light—continues to shine. He always shines. He is the light of the world. If we “dwell” in Him, we will not walk in darkness. John 8:12.
John didn’t just decide to use the light metaphor to describe Jesus, it was also used in the Old Testament. The prophet Isaiah wrote: “The people who walked in darkness/have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,/ on them has light shined.” Isaiah 9:2. (ESV)
Just a few verses later, Isaiah prophetically reveals the light as Jesus! “For to us a child is born; to us a son is given;/and the government shall be upon his shoulder,/and his name shall be called/ Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 (ESV)
Most importantly, Jesus uses the “light” metaphor in describing us–His followers. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16.
Here’s my Small Kitchen Theology moment:
I have dark places in my soul that I don’t want anyone to know about except God. He shines His light into those places and makes them less…everything. He lights them up with His mercy. He shines His grace on me and helps me move into forgiveness. As His light, I must consciously shine (regardless how little my light may seem) to the world. I must shine to my hubster, my children, my parents, my siblings, my friends, my church, and my community. Not for my glory–but so others can recognize Christ in me and glorify the Father who sent Him and offered us salvation through Him.
I’m still working on Psalm 27. I’m looking at the word “tent” and exploring its use throughout the Old Testament. I’m finding interesting and relevant connections to the role of God’s Word as my 21st century tent. It–the Word–must be my dwelling place.
So many metaphors run all the way through the Bible—both Old and New Testaments. Do a word search on www.blueletterbible.org It’s fun and will have you heading on your own squirrel crusade in no time.
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 and 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 to 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!
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.
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> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>
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> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>
*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
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.
I 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.
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…”
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.
That’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.
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> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>
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> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>
“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?
I 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
But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;
1 Corinthians 1:27 KJV
We didn’t “do” Advent growing up. It was an alien concept—suspiciously Catholic. Definitely not Southern Baptist. And yet even as a child, I felt a sense of preparation when December came around. It wasn’t just the presents or the tree or the lights; it was Jesus.
I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t conversing with Him regularly. What can a seven-year-old girl really know or grasp about Jesus? I don’t know. I certainly didn’t grasp the theology of incarnation, and I had no understanding of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. Even the concept of the Trinity was just an accepted truth. I didn’t question it. It just was. And Jesus just was. And the Nativity just was. Truth.
I was a rather…odd child. I don’t mean “odd” in a negative sense; I like that I was a bit romantic and dreamy. I lived in my head much of the time, more likely to identify with characters in books than actual people. I’m sure that contributed to my ability to accept Jesus as real and living in my heart. No cynicism or painful realities to wrestle with ever clouded my imagination. Instead I fully embraced Jesus and the Nativity.
Typically on Christmas Eve, my family and I would head to Pryor, Oklahoma and “The Farm” where my Grandpa Homer and Grandma Helen lived. One Christmas Eve as we drove through the night, I imagined all the homes we passed and all of the people living in those homes, and I realized that their lives were just as important to them as mine was to me. I also realized that somehow God knew what was going on under each roof, in each heart. I had a childlike epiphany. God let me peer through His eyes for a moment. My elementary-school brain couldn’t grasp it, but I knew it was true. It just was.
My young heart was preparing for Messiah.
Later on Christmas Eve night after we had returned from Pryor and were all fidgety with the excitement and anticipation of opening presents the next morning, one memory pops out. I remember the window in my bedroom and the dark sky. I willed a star to shine brighter than the others—and in my imagination, it did. I imagined Mary on a donkey riding into Bethlehem with Joseph at her side. I imagined her tired and sleepy. And having no concept of labor or the realities of delivering a child in a less than sterile environment, I also imagined her laying on a soft bed of clean hay on a blue cloak, falling asleep, and then waking up with a baby: Jesus! Just like that! And the shepherds saw angels and the angels sang gloriously underneath a shimmering star.
Even though I had never heard of the word “advent,” my soft Jesus heart was preparing me for the celebration of His birth.
Fifty years later I imagine a blue earth spinning and God embracing the galaxy and in love sending His Son who’d been with Him from the beginning in order to declare salvation in the form of a baby. Human. Divine. Sacrificial.
It’s foolishness—a fiction! It doesn’t make sense! We live in a world where we set ourselves up as gods able to better interpret the universe than the Creator, able to understand fairness and justice better than a righteous Judge, able to decipher subtleties of scientific discourse better than the eternal, omniscient I Am, able to determine truth better than the Word, able to see more clearly than the Light of the World.
However, God chose the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. Advent—adventus—come. Oh come, Lord Jesus. Come into this brokenness. Come into this sickness and decay. Come into this war-torn world. Come into the poor, struggling heart longing to find peace.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.
“To everything…(turn, turn, turn)…there is a season…(turn, turn, turn)…and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” Thank you King Solomon via Pete Seeger via The Byrds.
Every culture develops certain idiosyncratic “diddies” that meander their way into conversation like “being self-aware” or “being fully present.” Let’s “dialogue.” I want to just “sit in this” for awhile. In an effort to be “transparent…” One diddy that continues to be part of our metaphorical vocabulary is “season.” Christian metaphorical folks often use the term in relation to what “season” God has placed us in. For example…
A typical conversation:
Person 1: “I can’t figure it out. I keep praying and there’s no answer. Why isn’t God moving in my life right now? I feel dead inside.”
Person 2: “Looks like God is keeping you in a season of quietness. It’s just a bump in your journey. A small chapter in your life book.” (Ok, so I threw in the journey and life book metaphors).
I can appreciate a good metaphor. Really, I can. I taught poetry for 20 years—I totally dig a great, winding metaphor (or conceit, as my literary friends would call it). Metaphors take our concrete reality and move it towards an abstraction—and strangely, the abstraction is more relatable.
Welcome to the “seasonal” metaphor
According to this metaphor, I’m in my autumnal years. It’s harvest time for those of us “Baby Boomers” still left on the planet. Yes, I came in at the tail end of that classification, but those of us in our late 50’s still belong to the Baby Boomer club. I should be “harvesting” and “reaping” right now. All my accumulated life experience should lead to wisdom and maturity. I’m not sure it has, and I’m not sure God thinks I’m “harvest ready” yet, either.
Thus my tussle with my Creator, the Elohim, the “I AM”, YHWH, the name of whom I’m not worthy to say aloud, yet He invites me to call Him Abba, Father. I tussle in fear and awe of who He is. Maybe He invites the “tussle.”
In January, a friend shared her New Year’s resolution: to develop her prayer life. I felt a giant Holy Spirit prod—the prods are usually a bit more gentle—to pursue prayer. I wrote about it back in May and suggested I might want to write Prayer: Part Two; so this is it.
After journeying through this prayer adventure since January, it’s time to look at what God is teaching me. Or not teaching me. In fact, what am I learning through these months of God’s silence? I’m learning to tussle—to wrestle with God’s Word, the essence of Him. As Christy Nockels sings, God is inviting me into the glorious…
But it doesn’t feel like it; it feels like I’m disappearing and becoming invisible.
In May I wrote:Prayer is more complex than all my whining. It isn’t a “fix,” but nor is it empty and fruitless. It is an essential component—even “THE” central component for a Christian. But be forewarned! Diligent—and sometimes urgent—prayer requires concentrated time and effort, and will reveal your true self while also revealing a fearsome glimpse of the God who created all.
I smile at that a bit.Ihad no idea how much my “true self” would emerge. None. I couldn’t see what was coming. But God did. He had to. He allows “crucible time.” Frankly, I’m still tired of character shaping moments. I want out of the crucible, but it’s not up to me. So in June, I was plunged into the crucible again. No—it wasn’t life threatening, but it was life altering.
The life-altering experience began innocently enough. Like millions of people, I have a ornery back that refuses to be tamed. I had a cervical disc fusion three years ago and had to give up teaching for awhile. (It’s actually become permanent since then.) Then in June my hubster and I decided to go ahead with a laminectomy to help my disintegrating lumbar. He’d had a reverse shoulder replacement in February, and now it was my turn to get better and get the pesky discs off of my sciatic nerve. I’d gone through a series of steroid shots in my bum area and a few MRI’s and X-rays, but my sciatic pain just kept going and going. So, a laminectomy. And then an infection. And then six days in the hospital with IV antibiotics. And then re-opening the incision and cleaning it out. And then a PICC line (central line to heart) and five weeks of antibiotics at home. And then, just when I thought it was over, a gallbladder flare, which led to gallbladder surgery. The night before the surgery, I broke down and bawled like a hungry calf who’d lost it’s mother—or a sheep that felt abandoned by her shepherd. My sweet nurse just held me and let me cry.
Finally, Labor Day. No more antibiotics. No more PICC line. Life could resume as before, but disc fusion in my lumbar still looms; I refuse to think about it. I just want to get strong and postpone the surgery as long as possible. The pain is a constant friend that I try not to acknowledge—until it knocks me around a bit.
During the Summer from Hell, I didn’t have enough strength to tussle with God. I was knocked flat, isolated and weak. God was teaching me through a study of Jeremiah. I was overwhelmed by God’s Word. Enveloped by it. My prayers continued. My prayer wall in tact. But then another metaphor took hold.
The crucible experience might be over, but still I remained in a valley.
“God gives us a vision, and then He takes us down to the valley to batter us into the shape of that vision.” Oswald Chambers
I have no idea what God’s vision for me is now.I’m broken and spilled out. I talk to myself a lot. I’m a teacher without a classroom. Lord, why do you place such hunger in my soul and then deny me a place and purpose? Why?
I continue to dwell in the valley. Praying. Studying His Word. Waiting to “hear” from Him. Yes, I’ve been faithful to Him. And still silence reverberates. Is it unconfessed sin? I don’t think so; I have to believe and trust that He is true to His Word: He washes me as white as snow. He throws my sin as far away as the east is from the west.
Because of this valley, I haven’t written. I haven’t had anything to say. My creativity dried up. Was God present during this time? Certainly. His Word says He is. Was I praying and listening to scripture speak Truth into my life? Absolutely. Did I experience God in a mighty way? Not in a mighty way, but in a quiet, loving way. He brought friends around me. Friends I didn’t know I had. Friends that were a blessing. So God moved through His people.
Yet, I remain in a valley.
“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
One of my favorite books about prayer is *Pete Greig’s, God on Mute. He writes deeply and personally about God’s silence during his wife’s struggle with a brain tumor. Despite the constant prayers of God’s people surrounding her and Greig during this time, there was no healing. Despite an operation, Greig’s wife still suffers with epilepsy, an after-effect of the tumor. Despite God’s silence, Pete and Samie (his wife) persevere carrying with them truth and insight only the Holy Spirit can provide.
Working with God during this valley time has been a battle of perseverance vs. despair. Somedays I waver between both. My poor hubster watches and has no idea how to help. But he stands with me and prays for me.
The truth is I don’t know what to do with myself. My identity was so tied to teaching that now I feel lost. I’m a mother whose children are adults and live far away. I’m a Nana to two precious grandchildren, and one on the way, but I’m too far away to be a constant in their lives. I’m a wife to my hubster who loves my cooking and appreciates what I do around the house.
I have no more students. I’m invisible.
Most days I’m alone. I begin the day with Bible study and prayer. Then lunch. Then I take my pup for a walk (trying to get strong enough to have the fusion surgery in my lower back). I read a little. Work on some crafty stuff. Then fix dinner and spend the evening with Steve.
Yes, I try to schedule lunch dates with friends, and I get out and enjoy the beauty that is NOCO. On weekends (now that I’m 6 weeks out of the infection/surgery mess), the hubster and I take our Jeep out on mini-adventures in the mountains.
It should be peaceful, yet I’m in turmoil. Why? I think it’s because I’m at “harvest time” and I haven’t grown a crop in two years. I’m not rooted, and God is silent and unmoving.
In God on Mute, Greig explores the way God answers and doesn’t answer prayers. There’s nothing formulaic about it. This guy is direct and never boxes God into a particular formula. He is in awe of our Father. He respects and fears our Abba and creator. He looks at God’s Word without bias and brings a fresh pair of spiritual eyes to the complexity—and simplicity—of prayer. I brought my 50 years of walking with Christ into this book and I found nothing that bothered me—no Holy Spirit warning flags that I’ve had when reading many contemporary “Christian” writers. I’m a cynic about popular writers and test them constantly, looking for scriptural mishandling. I’m good with Pete Greig. I find him compelling and honest. Since I’m “tussling” with God right now, I had another look at this book. One reason for unanswered prayer connected to me right away.
Greig writes,: “Is there an opportunity here for going deeper in my relationship with God?”(pp.142-144). Greig directs me to 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. There Paul is tussling with God, too. He has a “thorn in the flesh” and he isn’t too happy about it. Completely understand this. I have a chronic disease—a form of arthritis similar to rheumatoid, but not nearly as debilitating. Yet it is affecting every part of my body and pain is my friend. I have a dear family member who is battling ovarian cancer. Her “thorn” is intense and scary. I believe most of us have something going on that we wish would disappear so we could have a better quality of life. Yet our thorn stays.
And God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” It sounds like God is telling Paul to persevere. The thorn ain’t going away, so just trust me. I’m enough. Whew. That is hard to do. Persevere.
Since I’m a “word nerd,” I looked up the use of “perseverance” in the New Testament (by way of my huge, handy-dandy NASB Exhaustive Concordance and a magnifying glass courtesy of Amazon). Thirty -two times. It’s used 32 times in the New Testament (in the King James translation). It’s used 25 times in the NASB translation (the most literal translation of the Bible). The Greek word is “hypomonë.” A synonym for hypomonë is “proskartérësis.” Both carry similar connotative meanings: “to endure; to continue in something; to remain under, to continue steadfastly; to tarry somewhere.”
What strikes me here is that the word implies a “continuance.” Perseverance is active. My take-away point? Persevere. Tarry in the valley. Continue in My Word, Cindy Lou. Continue praying and seeking me.
My current life verses speak to my need to persevere:
“A disciple is not above her teacher, but everyone when she is fully trained will be like her teacher.” Luke 6:40 (I changed the pronouns to make it more personal.) The “teacher” Luke is referring to is my Rabbi and Messiah, Jesus. Did Jesus ever experience God’s silence? I think He may have experienced a Divine Silence in the Garden of Gethsemane. We only know what the Gospels have provided for us, but we know that Jesus pleaded with His Father to “take this cup from me,” but ultimately He “drank from that cup” and died for us during Passover—the ultimate and final sacrificial Lamb. Conclusion: If Jesus experienced Divine Silence, then why shouldn’t I experience, too? Why should I be spared this tiny, tiny, infinitesimal cup that belongs to me—this wee cup of God’s silence?If I want to be like my Rabbi Jesus, thenI must go through the training. I don’t want to fail in this task, so I persevere.
My next verse comes from Jeremiah 15:16.Here’s some context from 2 Kings 22: Judah had many evil kings who allowed idolatry to creep into the Temple. One such king, Manasseh, was particularly evil (historical tradition has him ordering the prophet Isaiah murdered by being sawn in half) and during his horrific reign, he may have had the “Book of Law” (Deuteronomy) hidden or discarded. However, during the reign of good king Josiah, the Book of Law was rediscovered and the covenant with God renewed. Jeremiah prophesied during Josiah’s reign, and this verse in chapter 15 clung to my heart and mind. “Your words were found and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts!” I love this metaphor of eating God’s holy Word. I want to do that—to eat God’s Word, to digest it, and have it nourish me. I crave that nourishment.
So here I am. Not where I thought I’d be after resolutely committing myself to prayer this year. I don’t know exactly what I expected? A major epiphany? An aura of spirituality that people would take note of and then invite me to teach? A great calling? A recognition that I was somehow not…ordinary?
How completely self-centered. What a sham! And a shame!
Father, forgive me for my selfish desires. Forgive me for not recognizing that Your Word is enough. You are enough. Help me to walk forward and to continue forward into the ordinary…and into the glorious.
Persevere, dear brothers and sisters. Persevere.
*God on Mute, by Pete Greig was published in 2007. Greig is the founder of the 24-7 prayer movement. He leads the Emmaus Rd. church in Guildford, England. Read more about him and the 24-7 prayer movement here: https://www.24-7prayer.com/team/14/greig/
Here is my inspiration for this blog: Christy Nockels performing, “Into the Glorious.”