All the Titles I Came up With for This Looked Like Click-Bait

Priority

Gentle Reader,

I ache for the Church. My heart pounds within my chest, bouncing off my ribs in a thudding rhythm that fills my ears. I am distraught over the mess that she has gotten herself into. The Bride of Christ is dressed in dingy clothes. She is distracted. She hasn’t brought along enough oil to light her lamp through the long, dark night (Matthew 25:1-13). She does not watch. She sleeps, complacent.

The Church is my people. Much as I’d like to shake free at times, I can’t. I know that. You want Jesus, you get the Church. That’s how it works. I own my part in this. I admit to my flaws, imperfections, and straight up rebelliousness. But I believe that the time for shrugging shoulders and saying, “What can you do?” is over. It never should have been in the first place. The Holy Spirit’s hand of conviction is heavy upon His people everywhere you turn.

I wonder if we will respond.

“Where is this coming from and where is it going?,” you ask.

On June 29, I posted this paragraph on my personal Facebook page:

I often get into trouble for saying this, but patriotic displays have no place in worship. None. Zero. When we gather corporately, or when we engage privately in the spiritual disciplines, the focus is to be God and God alone. There are plenty of other times and places to talk or sing about our appreciation for whatever country we live in.

Most of what I post receives little attention (often none), so I was not expecting the controversy that followed. Because the above is not a controversial statement. I did not say that a patriotic person cannot be a Christian. I did not say that a Christian can’t be patriotic. I did not say that I hate anyone and everyone in the military. I did not say that I hate anyone and everyone on the police force. All I said was…well, what I said.

I have gotten into trouble for sharing this thought (or a variation thereof) before, which I guess should have given me some clue, but, again, I really expected this to go unnoticed. It didn’t.

Before you join those I angered and unsubscribe, let me give you just the newest in a long list of a reasons why I hold fast to this opinion, unpopular as it is: Robert Jeffress, the “pastor” of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, hosted a “Freedom Sunday” campaign rally (definitely not a church service) on June 24. This is the second year he has done so. Last year, the choir sang a brand-new composition: “Make America Great Again.” The “sanctuary” was draped in red, white and blue. The audience waved little flags in the air. Jeffress talked about how amazing America is and how wonderful President Trump is. I refuse to provide you links to the church or the song because you have Google and I won’t funnel traffic to either.

Because it’s disgusting.

I am the LORD, that is My name;
And My glory I will not give to another,
Nor My praise to carved images.

– Isaiah 42:8 (NKJV)

…I will not give My glory to another.

– Isaiah 48:11c (NKJV)

Do you suppose that God was joking around? Do you think His views have changed?

That rally was nothing less than an exercise in foul idolatry. On a Sunday, in a church, instead of preaching the Gospel, instead of digging into Scripture, instead of singing praise to God, this man led the people in the singing of praises to the country and the president. That is wrong. At least it was all very blatant and in-your-face, though. Have to give Jeffress credit for that. Congregations around the country routinely mix politics and patriotism with faith, engaging in the syncretism, largely out of ignorance, that ancient Israel was destroyed by. Many drape the Cross in the flag, literally and figuratively, assuming, perhaps unconsciously, that they belong together.

Do you think that God is pleased by this?

I wish that you could hear me speaking this aloud. I wish that you could hear the passion in my voice. This isn’t about anger or making people feel bad. I don’t think I’m better than you. What I am is desperate for Christians to understand this: The United States of America is not special. This is a country, like any other a country. A geographic location. A piece of earth. No American citizen is amazing or wonderful or exceptional by virtue of being an American citizen. Those of us who live here are the same as everyone else on the planet. Our history is just as checkered.

Additionally, Republican does not equal Christian nor is Donald Trump the second coming of Christ. So many behave as if both those things are true. They are willing to defend and justify anything this party or this man does because…I genuinely have no idea at this point. No Supreme Court justice appointment is worth the wrangling and compromise (nor should the court be politicized the way it has been, but honestly that’s always been an issue, to greater and lesser extents depending on who was president at the time, from the beginning). I guess people think they can get something out of it? That the GOP will make them rich through the not-miracle of trickle down economics? It’s a mystery to me.

Please, don’t object via soundbites such as “What about the Democrats?!” or “Her emails!” That’s not good argumentation. Believe me, I clearly see the corruption in politics as a whole (which has existed since the Continental Congress), and I am aware of the issues within the Democratic Party, but, objectively, neither the party nor Hillary Clinton is (or would have been) any worse than what we have now. If the Democrats were in power, there would be problems, no doubt, albeit different ones. (And I’d be writing about that if the Church had shackled herself to those leaders). But stubbornly folding your arms and declaring, “They did it, too,” wasn’t a good excuse for your parents and it’s not a good excuse now. Evil on one side does not give anyone license to promote or protect evil on the other side. I don’t know why this is difficult for anyone to grasp. Wrong is wrong no matter who does it.

We Protestants like to get on the Catholics for elevating Mary to a salvific position (which, for the record, they deny and really depends on the individual Catholic’s grasp of doctrine), but what about our own elevation of country? What about our own beliefs of exceptionalism and superiority? We can be thankful for the good in this country (and others can be thankful for the good in the countries in which they live) but that thankfulness is not blind, uncritical or unquestioning. Even the most casual, cursory reading of history reveals the rot that has always existed in the United States. And that thankfulness most certainly is not to be blended with theology to create some bizarre civic religion. This conflation goes directly against truths revealed in Scripture, truths about idolatry, about the make-up of the Kingdom of God, about the universality of the Gospel.

We have got to let go of this idea that we live in a “Christian nation.” We don’t. We never did. Yes, Christians were involved in the founding of this country, but they didn’t establish a theocracy. (Except the Puritans, who sort of tried that in Massachusetts, but they really aren’t the best example because they liked to burn, hang and otherwise harass people who didn’t agree with them, i.e. Quakers and a bunch of people in Salem). We have no hemeneutical leg to stand on in believing that we have replaced Israel, that we live in the “promised land,” and can therefore apply promises made to that nation to ourselves, here and now. We have no reason to think that we occupy a unique place in God’s plan beyond that of any other nation that He has allowed to rise and fall.

God says He won’t give His glory to another. He’s super blunt about it. Thus patriotic displays and songs don’t belong in our worship services. The “Star-Spangled Banner” and other songs that celebrate the nation should be expunged from hymnals. The flag doesn’t belong in the sanctuary. Pastors should not use the pulpit for anything other than preaching the Word. There are plenty of times and places for us to discuss and celebrate what we appreciate about this country. Corporate gathering for worship is not one of those times or places. How is this controversial? How is this offensive?

We need to check ourselves at all times, though. Beyond Sunday morning. As I said above, idolatry isn’t often so blatant as that at First Baptist. What are our priorities? Upon what are we focusing? Do we find ourselves arrogantly thinking, “Oh, thank God I’m not from an African country”? (Note that I said “arrogantly thinking,” as if we are better than those elsewhere, as if we are entitled to the prosperity and privilege in which we live, because reasons. It’s okay to be thankful that you don’t live in a country decimated by civil war and extreme poverty, though that thankfulness should lead to compassionate action toward those who do suffer in those conditions, including those who are impoverished here). Do we think that we have the right to traipse through the world, demanding special treatment?

Just as Christianity should not be tied to man-made plans or means, so it is not spread through societal dominance or political institutions. The world will not be saved by our allegiance to the temporal. People will not come to Christ by our smearing a thin veneer of ultimately false morality over the culture. The “city on a hill” from which the light shines (Matthew 5:14) is not this specific place, but all places, among all those who know the Lord. Our job is not to force a fake post-millennial utopia that will last approximately one minute until all hell breaks loose. Instead, our job is to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly (Micah 6:8). It is to care for the poor, oppressed and marginalized (1 John 3:17-18). It is to preach the Gospel of grace and restoration, mercifully supplied by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ (John 21:15-17).

That’s the thing about following Jesus, though – it means you’re rarely going to have a cultural army on your side. Jesus Himself was born into a world rocked by culture war, and he never really embraced the cause of the conservatives (Sadducees), or the liberals (Pharisees), or the radicals (Zealots), or even the…Benedict-option-types (Essenes). Instead He called them all to the same thing: “Repent and follow Me.”

The Fake Kidnapping Scandal That Almost Destroyed a Megachurch Pioneer

We can do better. We can be better. I know we can. The Holy Spirit will enable and empower us. It will take humility and repentance from us, which is extremely painful, but that pain is worth it. Because being American ultimately doesn’t matter. National distinctions disappear in the Kingdom, as our adoption by God through Christ makes us one global family. Our thankfulness and celebrations must always be tempered by this greater reality. Our brothers and sisters, our literal brothers and sisters, all of whom we will not meet until the culmination of this state of existence, are beautiful and entirely equal to us.

As for those who do not know and love the Lord: How can we go out into the world and preach the Gospel to them if we are not their servants, as the Savior modeled?

Dear God, help us to choose. Help us to release the white-knuckled grip we have on wrong notions and treasured positions that run contrary to Your will and way for us. We have been stupid and selfish. We have swallowed flattery and falsity because it makes us feel good. We have remained babies, refusing to grow, refusing to cooperate in Your work of sanctification. Help us to bend our stiff knees and necks to You. The hour is late. The harvest is great. It is time for us to get up and do the work that You commissioned us to do. In the glorious, saving, mighty Name of Jesus, Amen.

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Five Minute Friday: Done

Wait

Gentle Reader,

Kate says: done.

Go.

I feel done with life today. It seems as if there is never a break from the swirling chaos, both on a macro and micro level. Something weird is always going on. It wears on the soul. Enough to make me think that the Desert Fathers and Mothers had it right. Just go hang in a cave somewhere and pray. Put on a camel-hair dress and scream into the wind, “Dishonor! Dishonor on you, dishonor on your cow!”

But then annoying Paul – yes, I call him annoying because he annoys me sometimes – tells me not to grow weary of doing good (Galatians 6:9). And I wish he was here in front of me right now so I could pull his beard and tell him that he doesn’t understand. Because it’s hard. It’s hard to not throw off restrains of civility and kindness. Everyone else is doing it.

Then I read this:

Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will declare what He has done for my soul.

– Psalm 66:16 (NKJV)

I wonder if the second wind I so often need to keep going is found in remembering what God has done for me.

The Thanksgiving Songs constitute the joyful reflex of the Prayer Songs, especially those for Deliverance From Accusation and Persecution, for here those cries have been heard. The terrible plights encountered in those prayers are now history. They surface here only to recount God’s faithful deliverance. Certain death and destruction (18:4-5), enemies and illness (30:1-2), a sense of forsakenness by God (22:1), sin and the terror of God’s anger (30:5; 32:3-4), and the scorn of it all (22:7-8) appear in testimony of the Lord’s saving answer. In every case he has made the day in which gladness appears (118:24). … The grand point of it all, as Psalm 52:9 puts it, is that these marvelous rescues are “what You [Yahweh] have done.”

Asbury Bible Commentary

He rescues me today by not allowing me to throw off the restrains of civility and kindness. I mean, I could. Free will and all. I really, really want to. I’d love to throw some verbal zingers. But it’s not what God wants. I can speak true words, strong words, but not hurtful words. No ad hominem for this lady.

So I sit and wait. It hurts. But He’s here.

Stop.

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Review: Made Like Martha

Martha

Gentle Reader,

Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”

And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

– Luke 10:38-42 (NKJV)

I’ve read this passage more times than I know. I’ve heard this passage exegeted from the pulpit more than once. I’ve written about this passage. Always, always the message is this: Jesus was mad at Martha because she didn’t “get it.” Type-A people need to learn how to chill out. Be more like Mary.

That’s how I’ve understood this exchange. I come away feeling bad about myself. Thinking that Jesus must be disappointed in me. Wishing that I could somehow mold myself into a non-task oriented person. Never succeeding in the attempt.

Thus, Made Like Martha by Katie M. Reid was an incredibly freeing book.

Jesus never asked Martha to be Mary, and He didn’t ask you to be either. He simply pointed out that you do not have to serve from a place of striving and worry, because He is already enough for you. He is not holding out on you. We have added words to what Jesus said and compromised parts of who He created us to be in the process. Enough is enough! Pointing out one behavior to improve on is not the same as criticizing the totality of who you are. Let’s stop agreeing with the serpent and others who echo his slippery sentiments.

– p. 12

Can I get a loud, hearty “amen?!”

Throughout my life I’ve been described as “robotic” and “mannish.” Because apparently only robots and men have a “get it done” mindset. (Fairly, some of those comments have been gentle teasing from people who truly know and love me as I am).  Women have to be…what, exactly? Flighty? Oozing emotion 24/7? I have no idea. What I do know that I’ve often believed that something is wrong with me. That it’s bad to be different from a lot of the ladies I know.

Reid declares that the personality I have – the list-making, job-finishing, hard-working, generally no-nonsense (unless it’s in an organized fashion) personality – is exactly the one that God intended to give me. I’m neither robotic nor mannish. I am a woman who reflects the imago dei, exactly as I am.

The message would be incomplete if ended there, however. We Marthas do have a particular struggle that Jesus works to free us from: worry.

…she was so consumed with cares that she forgot the One who is most careful with her. She was so focused on her works that she missed the Worthy One in her midst; Jesus, the water-to-wine miracle worker, the feed-the-five-thousand supernatural provider, the raise-the-dead anointed healer.

Have I, like Martha, overlooked the One who resides in the home of my heart? Has worrying and being overly responsible crippled my faith? Have the what-ifs distracted me from the I AM?

– p. 18

Ouch. And yes. Worry leads me to over-responsibility all the time. In recent years I’ve been better about stepping back and sorting out what is mine to bear and what belongs to another, but it’s a struggle. I want everyone and everything to be okay. If it’s not, that’s my fault. Because I’m the fourth member of the Trinity. Didn’t you know?

It’s good to be a Martha. The world needs women who can get the job done, women who don’t mind rolling up our sleeves. It’s not good for us to stay wrapped up in fear – fear of rejection, fear of being overlooked, fear of letting someone else try. Our value is not based in what we can accomplish in a day or how many committees we sit on. Who we are, our identity, is found in Christ. He has done it all so that we can work and serve out of love, not fear.

Reid has done an excellent job of steering her fellow Marthas toward the deep breath of release. We can trust God to take care of us. It doesn’t have to be “just so” for Him to love us. The moment we cry out to Him in the faith of repentance, He makes His home within our souls – mess and all. We don’t have to strive or seek to impress Him. All that is required is for us to listen, to allow Him to guide our hard work in the jobs that He uniquely designed for us before the creation of the world.

Excellent news indeed.

Whether you are a Martha or you know a Martha (so, everybody), I recommend you read this book. Marthas will feel the knots in their shoulders unwind and non-Marthas will gain valuable insight into their sisters. You might be surprised at how fearful we are. We need you who are able to sit at His feet to remind us that we are safe – and that we are invited to do the same.

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Sketches: Spiritual Maturity

Mature

Gentle Reader,

I’ve needed to bump up my weights (for exercise) for awhile. Finally did so. Heavier dumbbells. The tortures of a new resistance band. I’m sure it’s good for me, but I can barely feel my arms right now.

So, let’s talk: spiritual maturity. (Prompt submitted by longtime reader and encourager Jodi. Thank you, Jodi).

I’ve sat and pondered this for awhile, for what, exactly, is spiritual maturity? Ultimately, I believe that it is the process of becoming more like Christ, also known as sanctification. In simple terms, this means to be set apart. To be different. To have all the distractions removed and rough edges smoothed so we can be the people that God wants us to be.

We cannot naturally achieve sanctification. While every human has the capacity to do good things, our nature is warped at a fundamental level. When, through the beauty of God’s prevenient grace (the grace that “goes before,” the action of God drawing all people to Himself) we come to the crisis of repentance and cry out to Christ for forgiveness, the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us. He begins to “unwarp” our nature. In both a moment and across a lifetime, which is a mystery and I am nowhere near smart enough to explain to you, He purifies and completes us. I suppose we could think of it as a prisoner being set free, but taking a really long time to figure out that he has been freed. He needs help in learning to drop old patterns and habits, to learn to live as a new person, in a new way.

John Wesley loved the topic of sanctification. Really loooooooooved it. ‘Twas his jam. In the opening paragraph of the sermon Circumcision of the Heart, he wrote:

…he is only preaching to them “Jesus and the resurrection,” with the necessary consequence of it, — If Christ be risen, ye ought then to die unto the world, and to live wholly unto God.

He went on:

 That “circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter;” — that the distinguishing mark of a true follower of Christ, of one who is in a state of acceptance with God, is not either outward circumcision, or baptism, or any other outward form, but a right state of soul, a mind and spirit renewed after the image of Him that created it…

And so one does not have to be in vocational ministry or in possession of a theological degree in order to be spiritually mature. Growth in grace and Christlikeness is a natural consequence of right relationship with God. We don’t always get it right. We stumble. We fall. It can take a long time for us to let go of wrong beliefs and cherished sins. In the end, though, God will have His way in us. Through the gentle yet at the same time head-walloping conviction of the Spirit, He will enable us to pry our white-knuckled hands off of those things He wants us to release (that is, if we aren’t consistently refusing to listen to Him and hardening our hearts, which is always a danger).

When talking to His disciples about false teachers, Jesus said:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

– Matthew 7:15-20 (NKJV, emphasis mine)

God, the Master Gardener, is in the business of resurrecting bad trees. He waters, feeds and prunes. If we submit to the process – because we always have choices – we will produce the good fruit of:

…love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

– Galatians 5:22b (NKJV)

These traits are ours in an instant, yet they take a lifetime to develop. The Spirit has to train our minds to think differently and teach our hearts to feel differently. We start off as cranky little babies, focused only on ourselves. In time, with His patience and mercy, we move toward becoming the light-bearing, Gospel-breathing people He wants us to be.

Spiritual maturity has nothing to do with age and everything to do with attitude. It all boils down to a simple question: Do I want to submit to God in this thing or not? Sometimes it’s a “two steps forward, one step back” dance. I freely confess to you that there are days when my answer is “no.” Then I get to learn things the hard way. I get a rough lesson in the necessity of not responding to people and life like a squawking toddler. Thankfully, there is grace.

In short, spiritual maturity means that we grow up.

And boy, do we ever need to grow up.

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