When the Facade Comes Crashing Down

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I feel sick for Anna Duggar and her children.

The disgust, fear, sorrow, confusion and rage she must feel, even if she doesn’t express it. No woman goes into a marriage thinking that her husband will one day be exposed as a complete fraud. No woman expects to find out that her husband cold-heartedly set up accounts on a website catering to those looking for affairs. No woman is “okay” when she finds out that her husband molested his siblings (no matter what she might say).

I hope she has at least one person in her life, in her physical presence, who tells her that it’s perfectly acceptable to cry, scream, throw things and kick this man to the curb. Yes, God can and does work miracles. When repentance is real and raw He can do the impossible in anyone’s life. God also deals in realities. He never says that there aren’t consequences to our actions. He never says that women have to lay down and take such treatment. (Before you even go there with the whole “submission” and “forgiveness” thing, be aware that I will whip Ephesians 5:25 back in your face).

Yes, Anna should forgive. Not for him. Not for anyone else. For herself. To be free of the weight. It won’t happen today. It shouldn’t happen today. There’s a process. Grieving and questioning. Maybe their marriage can be healed and saved. Maybe. Even so, it’s well within the bounds of logic, love and holiness for her to demand a very lengthy separation. For the safety of her children. For her own safety.

Despite this hope of mine for someone to be a champion for and defender of Anna, I have no doubt that there are many voices in her ear, telling her a different story. One of stuffing the problems and keeping sweet. One of “supporting” her husband. One of taking at least a portion of the blame. If she’d only done this, if she’d only been that, he wouldn’t have strayed. Wouldn’t have made another “mistake.”

For that is the only reasonable conclusion to reach within a system that twists and turns Scripture to prop up fragile male egos. That views women as “less than.”

That’s not God.

The public outcry over this – I find it justifiable.

When people pursue the limelight – and what is a reality show if not a very blatant example of such a pursuit? – they invite comment. They invite criticism. They invite an audience. It’s ridiculous for public figures to complain about a lack of privacy. No, I don’t think that anyone should be harassed, but entertainers of all sorts should expect that one day their skeletons will emerge. Emails will be hacked and shared. Embarrassing photos will surface. Far better to be honest and up-front than allow the inevitable blow-up.

So when this family chose to put themselves out there, it was unreasonable for anyone involved to expect that the shiny image would remain intact (if there was a shiny image to begin with; this is debatable).

That said, of course Josh Duggar’s actions are not the actions of his entire family. His siblings didn’t do anything wrong. His wife certainly didn’t do anything wrong. Even though I am of the opinion that the way in which Mr. and Mrs. Duggar choose to operate their family contributed to their son’s problems – more on that in a moment – they didn’t create the Ashley Madison accounts. They didn’t hunt down strippers and porn stars (allegedly).

The fault, and therefore the blame, rests entirely upon the shoulders of Josh Duggar.

It blows my mind that there are those who can’t see this. For every person angered over what he has done to his family, there is one who defends him. For every one who would gladly offer money or shelter to Anna and her children, there is one who supports and echoes the blame-shifting. The hand-wringing in fundamentalist circles is reaching epic levels. See! We told you! Internet bad! TV bad! Music bad! Women working outside home bad! Man has no control over self!  

They fling themselves deeper down the rabbit-hole of legalism.

Here’s the deal: IT DOESN’T WORK.

You can try to follow as many rules as you like. You can have your day scheduled down to the last millisecond. You can listen to ranting “sermons” (translation: screaming fits laced with conspiracy theories and eisegesis) about the state of the world. You can be King James only. You can be a homeschooling, head-covering, skirt-sporting mom of eleventy bajillion kids. You can be a dude who runs his own business because for some reason working for other people is bad.

You can toe every ATI/IBLP/Bill Gothard, Vision Forum/Doug Phillips, Best and Only Church Ever and Everyone Else is Going to Hell/Steven Anderson line out there. It doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter.

Because rule-keeping is not where abundant life is found.

Rule-keeping is not where Christ is found.

Sticking your head in the sand does nothing. Hiding yourself from the evil world does nothing. Because the Internet isn’t bad. TV isn’t bad. Books aren’t bad. Music isn’t bad. Art isn’t bad. If parents do not teach their children how to sensibly approach the world and everything in it – beyond “run away!” – then the kids wind up with no clue how to handle anything. If all they hear is “repress, shun, avoid,” eventually the volcano will erupt.

Because it’s not about the rules.

It’s about us.

If you go the route of self-righteousness, you’ll find you’ve got only yourself to rely on. And that’s truly frightening. How very easy it is, for a time at least, to maintain the perfect surface. How simple to go through the motions. Again, for a time. Eventually the facade comes crashing down.

Legalism doesn’t work. It will never work. Attempting to follow a long list of rules and regulations will not keep us from sin. Inevitably such a life ends in deep frustration and despair. We need a transforming encounter with Christ, one that reverberates throughout our remaining days. An encounter that inspires obedience flowing from joy in knowing the rich love of God.

Perhaps surprisingly, this obedience has very little to do with the style of clothes we wear or the movies we watch. Yes, our choices in these and other areas will be impacted and reshaped the longer we travel the road. It is right that the Holy Spirit should become our primary influence. But I have been wrestling out this thing called faith for a long time now, and I have yet to read anything in the Bible or receive any impression upon my heart that pants are bad or music is bad or books are bad or the Internet is bad or being a woman with a job is bad.

God is far more interested in my motivations for choosing the pants and the music and the books and the Internet and the job than the objects themselves.

Were the Duggars ever a perfect family? No. Never. Have they done themselves a disservice by falling into the trap made by rigid rules (and staying there)? Yes. Have they done harm to Christianity? In a way, yes. There are undoubtedly people who have watched their show and read their books and come away with the impression that this is how all Christians are. That this is the Gospel message.

It’s not.

My journey to faith. (15)

Planned Parenthood and Me

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I have kept this under wraps. I can count on one had the number of people who know.

But here goes.

I am one of the many. One of the women who anxiously hoped that if “Penny” ever called, her parents wouldn’t be the ones to pick up the phone.

I make no secret of the fact that Chris and I had sex before we were married. I’m not proud of it. It was wrong. But I am free of condemnation because of the cleansing blood of Christ. God has forgiven us both, and it was in the midst of this sin that He clearly drew both of us to Himself. Though we had both made commitments to Him as children, it was during this time that we both began to understand the reprehensible nature of sin. We both began to understand our depravity and our need for a Savior.

Of course, we didn’t discuss it in that kind of language. Just after our engagement in July 2005, we began attending church together. As we drove back to my parent’s house one afternoon, I commented, “You know, we probably shouldn’t have sex on Saturday night and go to church on Sunday morning.”

Hashtag duh.

Thus began the process of breaking old habits and learning to obey Him. It didn’t happen overnight, but by the time we were baptized together just before Christmas that year, we were committed to remaining sexually pure until our wedding day.

But there were stumbles along the way.

And so a trip to Planned Parenthood.

The chances that I was actually pregnant then are extremely low as the chances of me getting pregnant now are extremely low. We’re talking less than 1%. I didn’t know that then, however. I didn’t know that I was infertile. All I knew was that I was scared out of my mind. I wasn’t on any form of contraception at the time and we hadn’t made use of a condom. What was I going to do? How would I take care of a baby? What would people think? I didn’t want this.

Nervously, I made the appointment. We drove to the plain gray building in silence. It was a beautiful fall day, bright and sunny. I wore my favorite tan corduroy jacket.

I remember feeling like this was an out-of-body experience. Less than a decade prior I was so certain that I would never have sex before I was married and that I would never darken the doors of Planned Parenthood. I even signed the “True Love Waits” card and placed it proudly in my high school scrapbook.

I had no problem with the use of birth control under a doctor’s orders and supervision (and still don’t). I had been on a couple of contraceptive pills in my teens to try and regulate my unpredictable cycle, but didn’t stick with either one as they both made me feel sick. But Planned Parenthood is more than birth control. I knew about Margaret Sanger and her complex relationship with eugenics, racism, and classism, a relationship that cannot be separated from the organization she founded. I understood that the main service Planned Parenthood provides is not low-cost health care for women (of which I am an advocate), but abortion.

Yet there I was.

The lobby was ugly and uninviting. Plain gray walls. Gray carpet. Orange plastic chairs. I scribbled my name on the sign-in sheet. Chris and I sat down together. We did not look at each other. We did not hold hands. There was a young couple sitting to my left, a pair of teenagers. She had been crying. He looked afraid, bewildered.

The room was still and quiet. The receptionist worked busily behind her bullet-proof glass window.

My name was called. I don’t remember if Chris came back to the examine room with me, but he probably did. I don’t remember what the nurse looked like. The doctor was a woman. She had brown hair styled in a bob and glasses.

I won’t demonize this woman. I have no idea if she performed abortions then or if she performs them now. I’m not saying that she was right or that the organization she chose to work for is right. But she was kind to me. I told her what had happened, what I was there for. She did not pressure me to do anything. She listened to me and gave me my options: Emergency contraception (the “morning after” pill, not the abortion pill) or wait and see.

She told me that the “morning after” pill wouldn’t stop the process if a fertilized egg had already implanted into my uterus, but it would prevent fertilization and implantation from happening if it hadn’t yet occurred. She told me that I should probably go to the store and get some motion sickness medicine as the high-dose hormone pill might make me nauseated. She instructed me how to take the pill, showed me some information about it and put everything in a brown paper bag. It was my choice whether or not to take the pill (I didn’t have to take it in the exam room, in front of her), but I did need to make my decision within a couple of hours.

We went back to the car, still in silence.

I took the pill.

We stopped at Wal-Mart for motion sickness medicine, which I also took.

I will never forget that October day. It is a moment that I have long wrestled with.

When I was in therapy, my counselor and I discussed this at length. In addition to being a very wise and godly woman, she was also a registered nurse. She knew the reproductive system backward and forward. She explained to me that, since I did not ultimately go through a pregnancy, that the “morning after” pill did its job. It functioned just like taking a birth control pill on a daily basis does. I did not have an abortion, because there was no baby.

I understand that. I accept that.

Nevertheless, I also know what my motivation was. I know the intentions of my heart. I did not want to be pregnant. I did not want a baby to “mess with” my plans. I was afraid of being judged by my family, my friends, my church. Chris and I were dealing with some other very difficult and heavy things, and I did not want to have a baby on top of that.

It was a completely selfish decision.

As I said above, I am not one who believes that using birth control is wrong. While I would much rather see people, especially young people, embrace the safe and beautiful sexual ethic laid out by God, I know that everyone is free to make their own choices. If people are going to engage in sex outside of marriage, I would rather they use contraception than have abortions or abandon more children to a broken foster care and adoption system. Within marriage, family size and the spacing of children, or choosing to not have children, is between the couple and God. Scripture says that children are a blessing, but there’s nothing there that says they are a requirement.  So the “morning after” pill itself is not the problem, and I unequivocally support its use in cases of rape or incest.

The problem arises when a woman like me uses it out of fear and selfishness.

I also have a great deal of compassion for that woman, and won’t throw stones.

I don’t have that right.

Nor do I have the right to condemn a woman who has had an abortion, because that was the intention of my heart. I determined to end the life of the baby that we might have conceived. That’s the cold, stark truth of it.

It was fear that motivated me to go to Planned Parenthood, and fear that has kept me silent. I’ve seen the reactions when women share their stories. I’ve read the comments, heard the words. I know just how nasty people can be. And there’s no need for it. No excuse.

In this highly polarizing arena, the Church needs to get better at extending grace to women like me. We need to explain and live out the fact that there is nothing that God won’t forgive if we but ask in humility and repentance. When we talk about abortion, we need to remember that there are people in the room who walk through their days with this burden on their shoulders. Yes, let’s be truthful. But let’s not forget love. Let’s not forget that we, too, are sinners, even if this not our sin.

A “pro-life” culture cannot focus on birth alone. A “pro-life” culture must be one whose members come alongside single parents. Who adamantly refuse to be nasty. Who offer rides to doctor’s appointments, provide job references, give money, throw baby showers, offer to babysit and just, you know, practice that whole kindness thing. Be the support system so desperately needed.

I am so grateful to God. More and more I understand how wretched I am. More and more I am amazed at the marvelous gift of salvation. He justifies and sanctifies me. I can do neither of my own volition.

Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”

“I [Jesus] say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”

Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” – Luke 7:36-39, 47-48 (NKJV)

The grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. – 1 Timothy 1:14-15 (NKJV)

My journey to faith. (15)

Get Low

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

I originally wrote this post for the Far East Broadcasting Company Gospel Blog, where it was scheduled to appear on June 29, 2015. Unfortunately, there appears to be some sort of problem with the blog; the last published article is dated June 25, 2015. At this point I have no idea what is happening, though I pray that whatever issues have arisen will be resolved quickly.

Gentle Reader,

A few weeks ago the Holy Spirit drew me to the Book of Ezra. (I knew it was the Spirit because, well, it’s Ezra. I’m honest enough to say that this Old Testament book hasn’t been on the top of my “must read” list). As I continue to live with chronic health problems, I’m learning more and more that when God places a Scripture on my heart, it’s a time to drop everything and get alone with Him and my Bible. He never fails to bring me the exact word of encouragement or conviction that I need for that moment.

He also never fails to surprise me.

Ezra comes onto the ancient timeline at a critical point. The Jewish exiles in Babylon have been released to return to Jerusalem by the decree of Cyrus the Great (Ezra 1:1-4). The king commands the people to give those who choose to travel home whatever they need, whether it’s gold or silver or livestock. He also returns all the precious articles of the Temple, the ones that Nebuchadnezzar had stolen (1:7-11).

Under the leadership of Sheshbazzar (probably another name for Zerubbabel), they set out.

Utter destruction and chaos await them.

The saga is told across Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai and Zechariah. We get an intimate peek into this part of history though letters to kings, narratives about opposition and bravery (Ezra 3:3 is a great example of this), descriptions of construction, and encouragement from God through His prophets. The colors splash across the four books to form a beautiful and unique portrait of a humbled people, a people who strive to work together and restore their city.

There are many things that could easily grab my attention in the story of Ezra, but my soul is arrested by a single word.

Nethinim.

Beginning in Ezra 2:43, the names of the Nethinim, the “given ones,” are listed. They were a distinct group of men whose lives were given over to service in the Temple. Their focus was on the behind-the-scenes, often laborious tasks that kept the Temple functioning and enabled the priests to perform their duties. This term and office first applied to the Levites who were not of the line of Aaron, but eventually non-Jewish captives, taken in conquest and given to the Levites, came to fill this role.

Okay, did you catch that?

“Non-Jewish.”

This grips me. God specifically chose the people of Israel to be His nation, and part of their task was to be a light to the world (the origins of this are found all the way back in Genesis 12:1-3). They were not to bar anyone who sought God from joining their company (Exodus 12:48-49). These captives, these non-Jewish men, got an up-close-and-personal view of what it meant to worship the Lord. They knew how the Temple worked. No doubt they asked questions and learned about what it all meant. Along the way, they came to embrace the true God (Nehemiah 10:28).

Centuries before Christ and long before Paul’s mission to the Gentiles, we see God reaching out to gather to Himself all who would follow Him. We see the truth that “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (2 Chronicles 16:9a). No caveats about ethnicity, class, gender or any other kind of background.

Yet this is not all that causes me to dwell on this single word.

The Nethinim were not the superstars. They weren’t the ones leading worship. They didn’t get to bless the people. They were the support team. In our terms, they were the ones who cleaned the toilets and kept the chairs in good repair. They mopped floors, fixed windows, repaired broken doors. They unclogged stinking toilets and made runs to the trash heap. They had the dirty jobs.

They lived out the words of the psalmist, “For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psalm 84:10). 

Does this encourage you? I hope it does! The Temple system would not have worked without the Nethinim. Neither can our churches, the Body of Christ around the world, work without those who do the thankless tasks. There really isn’t any such thing as a non-vital role.

Ah, but there’s more!

In learning about the Nethinim, it occurred to me that these men understood what it meant to be humble. You can’t exactly be scrubbing floors all day and have your nose in the air. They never knew what it was to receive the applause. Yet I doubt that they were self-loathing. We tend to assume that humility means just that, hating oneself, but it doesn’t. Humility is acknowledging and accepting reality. It is to have a correct estimation of self and abilities. For a Christian, humility extends to accepting the relation of self to God and knowing that He is King.

One of the Greek New Testament words for humility is tapeinos, a terms that carries within its definition the phrase “not rising far from the ground.” This is what the Nethinim experienced on a daily basis both in a literal and a figurative sense. Their jobs brought them low. They spent time cleaning and scrubbing and serving, all for the Lord.

Tapienos is a term used in descriptions of Christ.

Let that settle on you.

Christ got low.

All of this comes together in one simple sentence: I must get low. We see this in Scripture time and time again; God is always higher, always the ruler. “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30). We must serve as the Nethinim served, content to do whatever job is placed before us, seeing it as a way of worshiping and serving the Lord. We can know that He honors whatever is done in wholehearted obedience to His command.

If you are like me, a modern-day Nethinim who doesn’t have the spotlight, I encourage you to revel in your status. You have been chosen for the tough jobs, the jobs that God alone sees – and that is special. That is honorable. Whatever your hand finds to do in service to Him and others, do it with joy. Know that He smiles upon your efforts.

Do it with a heart of worship. Do it out of a desire to praise the King.

Do it because you are a “given one,” consecrated and set apart to His service.

For this is not about our glory or gain. It’s all about Him.

My journey to faith. (15)