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> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>

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> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/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>

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.