Glory and Small Graces

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

 

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

The Weightiness of Glory and Discipleship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Does This Metamorphosis  Entail? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

unblocked for His glory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two verses that have “set me on fire”:

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

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

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

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

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

Grace and peace,

Amen