Merry Christmas

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

The snow falls gently, pushed here and there in the slight breeze. The street is quiet. The tree continues in its long, silent vigil.

In my heart, anticipation builds.

Advent winds down. The day is coming. Our minds draw back to that night so long ago, when the cries of a newborn pierced the air. The Word, whose voice called all of creation into being. Whose hands hold the atoms in place. He set aside His rightful glory, His awesome majesty, to save His people from their sins.

To save us from our sins.

I wish you a Merry Christmas. I hope that you allow yourself time and space in order to reflect on the amazing mystery of the Incarnation. I pray that you are blessed with a renewed sense of His lovingkindness and intimate presence. May you be surrounded by loved ones. May your days be filled with joy and peace.

My journey to faith. (15)

A Spiritual Snit

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

The preschoolers, man. The preschoolers.

They can’t sit still. I don’t know if it’s nature or nurture, but something in their little bodies makes it impossible for them to cease all motion. They don’t pay attention. Their brains just can’t focus on anything for longer than a minute. They ask the most random, non-lesson related questions I have ever heard. They’re obsessed with their shoes and whether or not they want to even be wearing them. All the really want to do is dump the bucket of legos on the Sunday school room floor and go to town.

I want to shake them all.

And then one of them prays and thanks God for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And the pretty flowers. And dogs. Another offers to share his toy with the new kid. They scribble wildly-colored designs and dream up fantastic stories. They get excited to make little presents for people and pour equal amounts of affection and snot into the projects. They are supremely confident that Jesus loves them. It’s just a fact like breathing.

I want to hug them all.

Then someone yells or there’s a disturbance in the force and we’re back to the shaking.

Teaching preschoolers is not my gift. It’s not the thing I would naturally choose to do every third Sunday. But I think sometimes God asks us to do the thing that sets our teeth most on edge.

Because it reveals something about us and about Him.

I’m a whole lot more like those preschoolers than I’d like to admit.

The insomnia began on July 31. (How sad that I can name the day). When I don’t sleep well, my anxiety worsens. My temper gets shorter. A haze clouds my vision, so to speak, and it all seems horrible. An, “I hate everything and pants” sort of moment.

I sink into a snit. Sulking in the corner. Glaring.

I just want to dump the bucket of legos on the floor and to heck with the rest of it, thank you very much.

I don’t want to pay attention. I don’t want to do the things I’m supposed to be doing. I don’t want to put forth the effort.

A spiritual toddler, for reals.

God sure does put up with a lot from me. (From us. We can be honest). He patiently, so patiently, keeps on leading, keeps on teaching. He waits when I get distracted by the shiny. He lets me play with it for a minute and then shows me that it’s not what I really want. When I sit down in the middle the road and pout, He doesn’t kick me. He doesn’t heap condemnation on my head. His Spirit speaks to my soul with a gentle, “I told you so. But we can chill here for now.”

He knows when I get heart-weary. He knows that my mind plays tricks on me. He knows that Satan’s game is to throw temptations my way and then call me names when I give in.

He defends me.

Think about that. We’re these stumbling, bumbling people trying to run with our wobbly knees and shaky ankles when we can barely walk. We don’t have very good balance. We suffer from deep spiritual ADHD. We fall and get bruised. Sometimes on accident. Sometimes on purpose and with full knowledge of the pain to come.

We cry and scream and throw things and kick up dust. We stomp our feet and say, “I don’t care! This is too hard! I don’t want to!”

Satan laughs and says, “See, God? See how much she sucks? You should shake her!”

Christ just holds up a nail-scarred hand before the Father and says, “She’s Mine. Snit and all, she’s Mine.”

The beautiful holiness of His advocacy makes me uncomfortable in the best possible way. That One so perfect and true and good would take up for me… That He would choose to embrace me when He has every right to shake the life out of me.. That He would condescend to wipe the tears and snot from my face and, say, with a smile, “Let’s try again, shall we?”

I’m not ashamed to tell you that I’m crying right now.

As they say, the struggle is real. The war between the old woman and the new woman rages inside of me.

“For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.” – Romans 7:15 (NKJV)

And so I bow my head, indebted forever,

“…to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” – Ephesians 1:6 (NKJV)

My journey to faith. (15)

Blood, Sweat and Tears

If you still look cute at the end of your

Gentle Reader,

Now that you’ve read the above quote, please resist the urge to slam your laptop shut and walk away.

I’m not throwing stones here. I’m not even talking about exercise. So chill.

On Saturday I tuned into the Living Proof Live 2015 Simulcast. I’m all about a conference that I can attend while wearing my pajamas. I’m also of the opinion that Beth Moore is a very gifted teacher. (We can disagree on this. I will still love you). Her teaching this year zeroed in on the concept of audacity.

From my notes:

Audacity – intrepid boldness, disregard of normal restraints; not held back; resolute fearlessness; the guts to do it anyway; adventurous

The first image that comes to my mind as I continue to ponder those words and phrases is that of a mountain climber. You don’t decide to scale Everest without a healthy dose of grit and guts. You don’t decide to take on Denali without a sense of adventure. Despite the winds and the snow and the hunger and the near-inability to breathe, you do it anyway. You don’t shave. You don’t wear nice clothes. You’re exhausted. But you’re not thinking about anything like that. You’re out there to conquer this massive thing, this huge obstacle.

And you’re doing it because it’s fun.

Because it brings you joy.

This is what we’re missing. Life is hard. Life is serious. Denial is not part of faith. Sticking our heads in the sand is not part of loving Christ. Wars rage, tsunamis rumble, cancer strikes. Women are raped, children are orphaned, men toil in sweatshops. The world groans with longing. The spirits of all people cry out for the True Lord (whether they acknowledge Him or not). We have to face these things. We have to roll up our sleeves, put on our big kid pants and move into the pain. We have to bring light to the darkest corners of the globe. This is our mission as the people of God.

But we don’t have to do it with a sour expression.

We’re getting this wrong. We trudge through life. We wear our faith as this heavy badge of obligation. Many of us are ready to jump into arguments at a moment’s notice. (Often political arguments, which are ultimately meaningless and draw ridiculous dividing lines between people). We’re ready to use the Bible to beat people into submission.

Where is our joy?

Go out with courage and joy. Go out with both.

Yes, we must have the nerve to stay in the Word and stake our lives on its truth. Absolutely. But who is ever going to be drawn in by a bunch of screaming? By dry, lifeless logic?

What are we doing?

Love with everything you’ve got and stand in the truth of God. Don’t fight with people, fight for them.

Let’s be honest: Who wants to hang out with someone who’s got nothing but a disapproving glare on her face all the time? Who wants to spend time with a man who can do nothing but frown?

Never before have I made a connection between courage and joy. I’ve not considered that bravery comes from the fun of the thing. And despite all the hardship of this life, Christ is fun. Do you know that? Do you understand that He made the duck-billed platypus and snow and music? Do you understand that He created you with the ability to laugh, deep down in your belly, so hard that silence descends and the tears roll down your cheeks? Do you see when He splashes the horizon with brilliant bits of color at sunset?

God is fun. Following Him is fun.

We’ve forgotten that. We get so fixated on other things. Easily the adventure He brings to our lives slips from memory. He becomes an afterthought, a tag-along.

When we go out into those dark places in the hopes of bringing life and light, we should do so because knowing, loving and following Him is the best thing that’s ever happened to us. We can smile with delight. We can dance and sing with fervor. We can pray with the full assurance that He hears and will respond in the best way possible.

Faith is not drudge. It is not boredom. It is not obligation.

It is great fun. It is wild adventure.

In that fun and adventure flow the blood, sweat and tears. As we sing, it is with voices strained by loss. As we dance, our steps are halting because of the wounds. As we share the Gospel, it is with a catch in our throats as we remember from what He has saved us.

This isn’t about ivory towers of academia battling with each other using fancy-sounding words. It’s not about political parties. It’s not about protests. It’s not about shunning people. It’s not about feeling superior to anyone.

This Christian life, this walk of faith, is about moving forward with the tattered clothes and the aching muscles and the bruised skin. It’s not about looking cute. It’s not about being acceptable. It is about splitting ourselves wide open and allowing the Lord to shine through. It’s recognizing that a difference of opinion is no reason to end a relationship. It’s knowing that every piece of our lives belongs to and can be used by Him.

It’s about getting down and dirty. It’s about sitting next to someone in the mud as they search and grasp. It’s being willing to embrace the messy. To accept that each one of us is at a different point on the road. It’s about saying, “I get you. I know where you are. I accept you. Please, let me tell you about this extraordinary God who pulled me out of that very same pit.” And then sticking around.

It’s about being winsome, being “attractive in appearance or character.”

It’s about having a ready, genuine smile and real confidence, knowing that, whatever comes, the end is good and glorious.

But stop expecting it to be perfect. Stop thinking that it will go right every time.

We have to get out there. We have to be honest about our ugliness. It contrasts so nicely with the beauty of God. Our authenticity allows others to see how amazing He is. We must share our passion and knowledge from a place of brokenness, pointing everyone we meet to the Holy Glue.

We get out there and do the thing. We run. We fight. We engage. We get beat up, torn up. Our hair won’t stay pretty. The mascara will run, even the best waterproof kind. Our muscles will burn. Our bones will break. It will never, ever be neat or nice-looking.

We go hard. We love hard.

And we do it with a grin.

Because He’s the greatest blast of our lives.

My journey to faith. (15)