Private Woman, Public Walk

Gentle Reader,

The tree just outside my window transformed seemingly overnight. Sad gray branches suddenly full of green leaves and delicate pink blossoms. Winter has finally passed. Spring, with all it’s bluster and showiness, is here to stay.

When through the woods
And forest glades I wander
I hear the birds
Sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down
From lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook
And feel the gentle breeze…

I’ve sung these words more times than I know, and yet, somehow, they remain fresh to me in ways that other words do not. Something in the poetry captures my mind. Perhaps this is because I am inclined to solitude. I don’t mind listening as the wind rustles the new leaves. I like stopping to listen to birdsong. If there’s an opportunity to watch the sun set in real time, I’ll take it. There is such complexity and wonder in nature, such a mark of God’s presence. Others can have the noise of cities and constant movement. I will sit and observe as the clouds change shape.

And yet…

My walk is a public one. My business is in the world, and I must mix in the assemblies of men or quit the post which Providence seems to have assigned me.

– William Wilberforce

God really does choose the foolish and powerless things of this world (1 Corinthians 1:27) through which to pour His light.

…the logic of the Gospel defies human wisdom and conventional expectations.

Asbury Bible Commentary

I don’t know what God is doing right now, what exactly He is calling me to. I do know that I am most wholly myself when engaged in ministry, whether that be through writing, teaching or preaching. Oh, yes. This shy and often tongue-tied woman has been behind the pulpit (well, music stand) before. It’s exhausting, but I like it. I like it a whole lot.

What I like even more?

Serving.

I want to be of good use in this world. I want to be helpful. I want others to see the hope and love of God when they’re in my presence. Perfect, that’s not a word to describe me, ever, and a state for which I no longer seek to strive. But consistent, constant? Those I like.

What I like even more?

Humble.

The greatest saints I know do the dirtiest jobs, and they often go without recognition. Yet their faces shine with a light that must be akin to that of Moses after he spent time with God (Exodus 34:29-35). They are full of joy, because they serve the King, who sees all. Perfect, they are not either, but definitely consistent and constant. Their wisdom impresses me. Their soft hearts convict my own that is so often hard and impatient. Their complete willingness to do as God leads stirs up a longing inside me.

A longing to be that immediately obedient.

I stood at the front of the sanctuary on Maundy Thursday, loaf of bread in my trembling hands. Thank goodness the pastor thought to wrap the base in a napkin, otherwise my clammy palms would have soaked the crust.

“The Body of Christ, broken for you,” I whispered, seeking to look every person in the eye, even as my vision blurred with tears. Blue eyes, brown eyes. Young eyes, old eyes. Eyes full of life, eyes full of pain.

Hands tore as much off of the loaf as they wanted. Smooth hands, wrinkled hands. Hands of office workers, hands accustomed to manual labor. Chipped nails, glossy nails.

Feet, in sneakers, in heels, in sandals, shuffled over to the cup. “The blood of Christ, spilled for you,” the pastor whispered. Her face, it was shining, a tender smile extended to all.

At once the fear left me and I focused simply on the holy moment. People of disparate backgrounds and experiences drawn together by the sacrament. The remembrance of Christ. The beginning of three days’ somber contemplation before the celebration. The noise of chairs, coughing, the clang of rings against the cup no longer registered in my ears. All I could hear, see, or feel was Christ and His love.

What an incredible privilege!

How wondrous it is, to be part of something logic-defying. How strange, to walk against convention. How utterly impossible, if not for Jesus.

So I will continue, one step at a time. I do not know where this bend in the road will end up, but my business is in the world. My task is among the people. And I think that, because He is a very good God and He knows that I need time and quiet, that there will be space for walking in the woods. There will be moments to feel the breeze. Somehow, solitude and service will join together in the beautiful and mysterious way that bears His mark.

I can’t wait to see what that looks like.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE NEWSLETTER, REST STOPS ALONG THE WAY
PONDERINGS DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX EACH SATURDAY(ISH).

Advertisements

Five Minute Friday: Collect

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Oh, my.

What a headache.

An evening stroll a some forbidden ibuprofen later, I feel close to being a human again. Not quite. I probably need to sleep for about fourteen hours for that to happen.

Kate wants to know what we: collect.

Go.

Usually when people ask me what it is that I collect, I respond with, “Nothing.” On the surface, that’s true. I do have six abdominal scars, but it’s not like I chose to have those. Aside from my beloved books, I feel passion for no material objects. Albums filled with stamps make no sense to me. Tchotchkes just gather dust. I tried collecting antique gloves at one point because I think they’re cool; I got as far as three pairs, but I had no idea how to display them, so into the giveaway bag they went. I even joke with my husband on a regular basis that we can probably throw away our marriage licence, since we never look at it.

Maybe it’s the OCD.

Maybe it’s that I can’t think in a cluttered space.

If I stop and really consider this question, though, there is something that I do indeed collect: regret.

The past haunts me. Past sin, past mistakes, past hurts, past left turns instead of right. It doesn’t help that I’m a history nut. Looking back is fun for me. But all too often, I get stuck there. On comes the self-condemnation. I need no one to stone me, for I stone myself.

Of this habit, Jen Wilkin writes:

Regret…causes us to dwell on past mistakes or hurts, robbing us of joy in our present circumstance and often dragging us back into old sin patterns. As a child I learned to sing the words of Charles Wesley: “He breaks the power of canceled sin, He sets the prisoner free.” How often have I needed those words as a reminder that the power of my past sins (or the past sins of others against me) is broken in Jesus’ name. He replaces my historical liturgy of sin with one of holiness. When I become discouraged about giving in once again to a past sin, the “lifter of my head” remind me that though I am not yet who I will be, I am not who I was. He draws me from the past back to the present with an assurance that sanctification is slowly doing its work today. He keeps me from rehearsing my past hurts by reminding me to forgive as I have been forgiven. We can combat the “bad news” of the past by remembering and trusting the good news of the gospel.

None Like Him, p. 75

There’s always something new to be find in the Good News.

This kind of collection weighs us down in a way that Christ never intended. The “sin that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1) doesn’t have to be today’s sin. It can be the sin of the past, the stuff that makes us feel bad and heavy and stupid and so very worm-like. Dwelling in regret can keep us from running the race with perseverance – because our eyes are on the starting blocks instead of the finish line.

If we’re going to look back, then let’s see the red. The beautiful, amazing, life-giving, soul-saving blood of Jesus, splashed across every bad deed, every unkind word, every nasty thought, every pain-filled moment. The red that replaces the collection of regret and sorrow with a collection of grace and hope.

From that renewed viewpoint, let’s go forward and collect the joy that is ours by right of redemption.

Stop.

Yeah, this was longer than five minutes. Now enjoy this hymn.

Signature

Photo credit: Ryan Moreno

Also linking up with (for the first time): Suzanne Eller and Holley Gerth.

Get Off Your Butt

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (2)

Gentle Reader,

Context before we begin:

Many thoughts swirling in my head.

I’m a teacher. No, I don’t rule a classroom. I don’t have a degree in education. I simply love to learn and can’t help but share what I’ve learned with others. I have been told more than once that I have the ability to distill complex subjects down to their basic parts, something for which God gets all the credit. I love digging into Scripture and my brother told me just last night that, if I ever tried to preach, I’d probably start by saying, “Okay, so we’re going to go over the entire Bible.” (I laughed. It’s true. And it would be so fun).

For better or worse, this is how God has chosen to gift me.

So let’s talk discipleship. Let’s talk learning.

A disciple is a follower. One who submits to the authority of another (in the Christian context, God), learns his ways and passes that knowledge onto others. As we hear so often, a disciple makes disciples. Basically, it’s, “Hey, Jesus saved me and I love Him and you should join me in this because it’s awesome.” Really, there’s no neat formula in this disciple-making. No, “Do x, y and z – then you will have arrived.” It’s messy. There are steps forward and steps back. There isn’t a single person who gets it right all the time. Never, ever, should it be about one human being looking to another as the be-all, end-all, but rather the one who’s a little farther down the path pointing the newbie to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord. It’s every believer everywhere becoming more and more enraptured with His presence, rather than seeking only what He provides. (There is a difference).

As Paul wrote:

Copy me, my brothers, as I copy Christ himself.

– 1 Corinthians 11:1 (Phillips)

Discipleship, then, is the process of growing in Christ. It’s mature believers putting their arms around the spiritual babies, helping them learn to walk God’s path. Those babies grow and strengthen, eventually putting their arms around those who nurtured them in a display of mutual love and support, then going on to repeat the process with new babies. It’s the Body doing what the Body does, in all its stumbling and variety. It’s deep, rich Bible study and doctrinally correct songs springing from tone-deaf but joyous congregations and hard conversations and liturgy and people not always getting along because we’re human and we suck sometimes but figuring out how to not get along in a Christ-honoring way (it can be done). It starts with God, centers on God and ends with God.

At least, it’s supposed to.

I am heartbroken over the state of discipleship in churches across the United States. (Really, I’m heartbroken over the church in general. When evangelicalism is known for its support of, at best, a deeply and troublingly flawed president, rather than for the spread of the Gospel, then it’s time for some sackcloth and ashes). It bothers me greatly that men and women abandon their Bibles as “boring” or “too hard” (or, perhaps worse yet, “irrelevant”). It sickens me that so few seem interested in doing the work of spiritual motherhood and fatherhood, picking those babies up when they fall and raising their down-turned faces to look upon the ultimate Father who smiles upon them. I roll my eyes at “rah-rah” women’s events aimed at inflating the self for a few days instead of teaching women to get in there, roll up their sleeves and finally get beyond the surface, a surface that infantilizes us more and more each day. I sigh when men lament the “feminization” of the church because nobody can really explain what that means and if a man doesn’t go to church, it’s because he doesn’t want to. My mouth drops when I hear someone dismiss a certain Scriptural tenet or command, for he fails to see how that dismissal logically leads to other dismissals and the entire thing falls apart. My lungs drain when I hear of some Christian leader not having the sense to recognize that praising a Mormon “prophet” isn’t good. I loathe how services are timed just so because we’ll be damned if anything goes past noon and interferes with lunch, no matter how the Holy Spirit might be moving. I hate that people can manage to make time for favorite television shows, movies or hobbies but are “too busy” for Bible study. I think it’s stupid that few are willing to lead Bible studies, or even to serve in any way at all, because they’re “not knowledgeable” enough or “there’s just too much else going on.” It disgusts me that much of what passes for Bible study is just pop-psychology laden, relationally focused, fuzzy-wuzzy gobbledy-gook. Or straight-up gossip time. I’m dismayed at how the sick, infertile and unmarried are often cut out of church life by default, because they don’t fit into “what works.”

There are thousands of think-pieces on why the church stinks. I can summarize them all in one sentence:

The problem is us.

I know that spiritual abuse is real; I’ve experienced it. I know that there are many unhealthy, unsound churches; I’ve been in more than one. I would never tell anyone that she should stay in a church just because. I definitely don’t think that church attendance is a factor in entering Heaven. There are real issues of misogyny and racism and false teaching.

All of those problems continue to exist because we aren’t engaged in discipleship.

That is, of course, a very broad statement. There are many thoughtful Christians, men and women who take the faith seriously, love the Lord deeply and do their best to serve Him daily. These people are, I suspect, quiet. Hidden. Behind the scenes just doing the thing. Not seeking glory or applause. But…overall…

We aren’t knowledgeable.

We aren’t teachable.

We aren’t imitating Christ.

This is our problem. Our issue. Together, the bad and the good. The pain and the beauty. We no longer have time to pursue “feel good” things. We don’t need to “have a political voice.” (Oh, Lord above, please let the Johnson Amendment be preserved). We have got to put on our big kid undies and deal. Stop whining. Get on with it. Study the Bible, raise our voices in worship, invite others to ask us hard questions, submit ourselves to the authority of the Holy Spirit each day.

We aren’t supposed to stay babies forever.

The “too long, didn’t read” conclusion for all you ADHD folks: Christian, get off your butt and grow up.

Signature

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

It’s Not About Us

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

My second post after the hiatus.

Might as well get controversial.

This article is making the rounds. I’ve read it. More than once. Pondered the words. Considered the meaning behind and in the words. I’m doing that stereotypical INTJ thing of staring off into space, a blank expression (or an intense one, depending on your interpretation) on my face. Seeking to fit the piece into the larger, often confounding pattern that is Western Christianity.

Jen Hatmaker and I parted ways a long time ago. (You can read all about it in my review of her book For the Love, here and here). When she announced her affirmation of homosexual relationships as holy, I shrugged. Saw that one coming a mile away.

This here post today isn’t even about that, though, and that’s not even the primary or only reason why I generally choose to avoid partaking of her work. More important for me is her view and usage of Scripture and all that means in terms of theology and doctrine. For the record, I agree with Hatmaker when she points out that the Church has done an incredibly poor job of reaching out to LGBTQIA people. I am weary of the vilification and done with the idea that “their” sins are somehow “worse” than “ours.” I have friends within the LGBTQIA community (I know, people often say that, but it’s true) and I know how deeply alienating the nastiness is for them.

But, again, this post isn’t about that issue at all. (Nor is this post about the insanity that was the 2016 election and the part that Christians played in the circus, which she references and about which we are also in agreement).

This is about Good Friday. Holy Saturday. Easter.

Jesus. The Cross.

What it all means.

Hatmaker writes (emphasis hers),

I get the death part this year, the Good Friday part. All the memes and quips and quotes floating around the internet are falling on a numb heart. This year, I deeply experienced being on the wrong side of religion, and it was soul-crushing. I suffered the rejection, the fury, the distancing, the punishment, and sometimes worst of all, the silence. …

…this year, it all makes sense: the death, the anger, the man who never took his place in the machine. This day was lonely for Jesus. It was excruciating, physically and emotionally and spiritually. His people left him, even turned on him. God Himself hid his eyes. The sky went dark and life was extinguished. It was all so sad, so dead, so not yet resurrected. This was a day of tears and shock and loss and fear. …

…for those of you hunkered down on Good Friday, identifying with the loss of this day in agonizing ways, ways that you did not want to understand the cross, I am your sister this year. When too many things still feel dead and resurrection feels as unlikely and impossible as it must have on this day all those years ago, I can’t help but believe Jesus has his eye on us specifically. Who can better understand the cross than the man who chose it? Who better to hold us close in our loneliness than the man who was left to suffer all alone? Nobody, not one human being on this earth understands a dark Friday more than Jesus, well before anyone thought to put a “Good” in front of it.

Do you see what’s wrong with this picture?

I won’t deny Hatmaker or anyone else her pain and struggles. I don’t know what, exactly, life has been like for her since coming out on the “wrong side of religion.” I’m sure there have been very hard days. I’m sure that people have been incredibly mean, which is never right, no matter how strong the disagreement. I don’t doubt that she’s experienced confusion and heartbreak. (At the same time – and again this is where my INTJness reveals itself – I do wonder at the strength of a person’s convictions if they can be so shaken by negative responses. But that’s me; I don’t operate out of the heart).

But to identify with Jesus on the Cross?

That’s a step too far.

See, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter – it’s not about is.

Obviously our salvation is completely and utterly wrapped up in Jesus Christ and all that He accomplished. His death and resurrection was the plan – is the plan – the only way for us to be reconciled to and with God. Yet the story of those three days, indeed the entire narrative arc of Scripture, isn’t about us. We aren’t the central characters. It’s not a tale of humanity reaching out to God, but rather God reaching out to humanity. He is the mover, the shaker, the narrator, the director, the star. (This coming from an avowed Arminian. May my Calvinist brethren rejoice).

That crown of thorns, that flesh whipped to ribbons, those nails, that cross, the agonizing breaths and sputtered words, the blood-soaked linen perfumed with spices, that still and silent and dark tomb – we can’t identify with that. We cannot say, “Yes, I have experienced something akin to this. I understand.” Whatever pain or sorrow we experience is nothing compared to Christ, the God-Man, choosing to set aside His rightful glory. It is nothing compared to the suffering He experienced. Certainly we cannot even begin to imagine what it meant, how it felt, for Him to literally become sin.

Sin. Not loneliness, not abandonment, not suffering, not being rejected by the cool kids. Loneliness, abandonment and rejection are all results of sin, sure, but they aren’t the reason Jesus hung, suspended by hot, sticky metal pounded through His muscle and out the other side onto rough wood.

In no way am I accusing Hatmaker of equating herself with Jesus, nor am I commenting on her status before God. Not at all. Rather I am stating that Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter – it’s about Jesus. MaryMary sings in Something Big, “Jesus bled, Jesus died, Jesus took the fall – for all your wrong and all my wrong, Jesus paid it all.” As we reflect upon these events, let’s not make the mistake of thinking that they are meant to comfort us in sorrow.

They are meant to confront us with the heinous nature of our sin and drive us to our knees in reverence.

Let’s not cheapen the Atonement.

Signature

Addendum: I realize that many, perhaps even most, will believe that I have read something into the words that aren’t there. I admit that the twist in perspective I find here is subtle, but it is nevertheless present. As always, you, dear reader, are quite free to disagree.

Photo credit: IV Horton