Five Minute Friday: Accept

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Our FMF brother Andrew referenced Crispin’s Feast in the chat tonight. My appreciation for the Bard came late in life (as a matter of fact, just in the last few months, after watching the BBC series Hollow Crown: Wars of the Roses). Up until now my response has has been, in the words of Joey Tribbiani, “Hey, Shakespeare? How about a chase scene?”

Ah, but does it really get any better than this?

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

– Shakespeare, Henry V; Act 4, Scene 3

Kate says: accept.

Go.

It’s hot beverages, scarves, sweatshirts season.

Oh, and boots. Can’t forget boots.

Christmas may be my favorite holiday, but Autumn is my jam.

Pumpkins glow a fiery orange against the muddy backdrop of a near-empty garden plot, their vines fading from the bright green of new foliage to the duller shade of maturity. They are all that remains of summer’s growth. Beans, carrots, cucumbers, onions, peppers and tomatoes all harvested a couple of weeks ago, as the sun began to hint at its diminishing, giving way to cooler temperatures and the barest, cheek-brushing kiss of frost upon the ground.

A pumpkin is nothing more and nothing less than a pumpkin. A seed responds to the rain and the sun and the soil. A process mostly unseen. Held together by the word of God. It sprouts, it grows, it delights, it dies. All as designed by its Creator. It is, of course, not sentient. There is no wrestling with the great questions of life. Without a brain, it cannot worry that it is not as good as a spaghetti squash. It cannot wish to be slim like a cucumber. It cannot throw its weight around to intimidate a carrot.

A pumpkin simply…is.

I have been wondering about God’s love. Truth be told, I’ve not often felt it. Some speak of their hearts being overwhelmed, their souls swimming in Divine affection. Being at least half-Vulcan, I am at home in the mind. I have emotions. I cry (though few have seen it). I have compassion for people who are hurting. But I just don’t speak in the language of “feels.” That part of me is underdeveloped.

It is true that we cannot base our faith on feelings. There are far more mundane days than dances on mountaintops. More opportunities to grit our teeth and choose obedience than bask in the glowy fizz of spiritual hugs. This is right and good. We have to be tough. We have to have grit.

And yet…

God is love, right?

The mind and the heart have to be devoted to Him.

It’s not that I don’t love God. I do. There’s simply a desire for…more. I don’t know what this means. I have asked Him to allow me to experience His love in a way I haven’t before. In a way that will make sense to me. (In a way that will keep me from yelling at the kids loudly playing basketball across the street, kids who should be inside having dinner or doing homework). In a way that will reach beyond the walls and the cherished sins, the dark places we all possess and seek to keep hidden.

I want to live fully in the reality of these words:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.

– Ephesians 1:3-6 (NKJV)

Beloved. Dearly loved. Much loved.

Christ, the much loved. Christ, the dearly loved. Christ, the beloved.

I want to feel that love. It is, by right of adoption, mine to have. Mine to experience.

Mine to accept as a gift beyond pricing, for He has accepted me by His love, in His grace, through my faith.

I want to simply be in Him, confident of His pleasure, secure in His affection, at rest, with no fear.

Just as the pumpkin simply is.

Stop.

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Five Minute Friday: Haven

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I learned a valuable lesson yesterday: For a writer, rejection is a badge of honor.

Of course rejection stings. It strikes right at the core, right in that tender spot. To read, “your work has merit, but it’s just not quite the right fit for us” is crushing. I felt the blood rush to my face. I immediately began to question just who in the world I think I am, sending book proposals to literary agents.

Then I looked up the word merit.

And found that it means, “the quality of being particularly good or worthy, especially so as to deserve praise or reward.”

I’m choosing to focus on that. My work has value. It may have been rejected. I may come through this process bloody and bruised. At least I’m stepping into the arena. My prayer is that God would give me a spine of steel so that my head will never bow in shame. For rejection comes. It comes to everyone who must write.

I realize, in this feeling of being sucker-punched, that I am a writer. No matter if my name never appears on a spine. No matter if no book of mine ever gets a MARC record. (Sorry, library talk). I am a writer.

Speaking this truth to myself now as a sense of smallness washes over me again and tears blur the screen. Don’t pity me. They are the tears of a fighter.

Kate asks to write about our: haven(s).

Go.

The wind brushes against the rosebushes, moving pink blossoms, green leaves and honey-colored trellises in a waltz whose tune only nature knows. Rhythmically the heavy flowers bob and weave, flashing their bright yellow pistils here and there. In and out, up and down. The trees join in with a joyous rustle.

We never see the wind and yet we know it’s there.

So, too, the Holy Spirit. In the middle of the busy and bluster, He fills me with a knowing. A belonging.A deep and abiding feeling that cannot be categorized. I am stilled in the chaos at the sound of His whisper. I strain, longing to hear more. He speaks life and truth. Never aloud. Never contradictory to the words on the thin pages of my Bible. He tells me that I am safe when the adrenaline rushes. That I am beloved when I wish the floor would open and swallow me whole. That I do not have to lash out in anger. That it will turn out all right.

I cannot stay home all day, every day, much as I often wish I could. And so He is my Haven, my Rock, my Fortress. He pulls me close. If I lean in, I can hear His heart, filled with holiness and love. The beat drums into me the sweetest kind of peace.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)

Photo Credit: Michael Fertig

Immanuel

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1).jpg

Gentle Reader,

Immanuel.

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

– Isaiah 9:6-7 (NKJV)

I feel tingly inside when I think about Christmas.

October may be my favorite month, but this is my favorite season.

The weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year are filled with light and life. The scent of pine and sugar cookies dance in the air. Dogs are decked out in ridiculous Santa outfits. (Not mine. They have respectable red-and-black plaid vests with faux shearling collars). Kids belt out tunes from the church Christmas play at the top of their lungs, never quite getting the lyrics correct. People walk around with little smiles on their faces, thinking of secret goodies for loved ones tucked beneath sparking trees (real and fake). Snoopy and the Red Baron agree to a truce on the front lines.

I love it.

One of my earliest memories centers around Christmas. My dad took my brother and I out to the back steps on a cold, clear night. We could see the marks of our playtime in the thick snow. Petey the black-and-white mutt stood with us, watching. Dad pointed to the brightest star in the sky (probably the North Star, but I’m not sure) and told us how a star just like that guided the Wise Men to a town called Bethlehem, to a baby named Jesus. He told us about the gifts they gave to the baby, because He was the King.

Then, on Christmas Eve, my mom pulled a yellow cake from the oven. She pushed white rainbow-chip frosting back and forth across the top without tearing the cake (something I have yet to master) and then, gently, pierced the layers with candles. Dad lit the match. We sang, “Happy birthday, dear Jesus.”

The simplicity of those moment never fail to stir my heart. Sure, I know all about John 1 and how Jesus is part of the Trinity and has always existed, and so on the deeper level He never had a birthday. I know that the Wise Men probably arrived in Bethlehem (by way of Jerusalem) a couple of years after Jesus was born. I understand terms like hypostatic union and kenosis.

All the systematic theology in the world cannot capture the holy mystery of the Incarnation.

The prophecies and the 400 years of silence. The teenage girl and the announcement. The man who would divorce the girl and is stopped. The census. The trek to Bethlehem. The donkey. No room in the inn. Mary longing for her mother. Joseph freaking out as he’s turned into a midwife. A barn. A hush settling over the animals tucked within as the One who created them all bursts onto the scene with the wailing cries of a newborn. The lowly shepherds. The angelic choir.

The infinite Lord of creation, bound neither by space nor time, chose to lay aside His glory and come to earth in the form of a fragile baby.

I can’t get over that. I can’t explain that. The terms and the thick books don’t do it justice.

God, in flesh and blood.

The stars and the birthday cake somehow make the most sense. Tiny human beings looking to the sky, waiting for the Lord to come. Offering up what little we have, like the little drummer boy. Wanting to show, to say, how much He means to us and failing to fully express the sentiment.

God with us.

God actually with us.

Mind-blowing and heart-rending. He didn’t have to. He’s God. He could have left us to our own devices. We would have deserved that. Instead He gave us what we can never, ever even come close to deserving.

Immanuel.

My journey to faith. (15)

They Can’t All Be Correct

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

My home group has been journeying through the book of Acts for almost three months. Tonight we’ll be discussing Paul’s final recorded journey to Jerusalem and his subsequent arrest. Soon the narrative will draw to a close. I never fail to feel sad when I reach the end of a study. Even though Paul died many centuries ago, I’ll miss him.

Paul gets a hard time. People like to take what he wrote and what he was recorded as saying completely out of context. They spin his words for their own agendas. It frustrates me to no end to see the Bible abused this way. It is so, so important to take the time, to put in the effort, to consider and understand the context of a passage within the chapter, the book or letter or poem as a whole, the overarching salvation narrative and the historical timeline. This is the only way, guided by the Holy Spirit, to rightly handle the text.

Consider one of my favorite scenes from Acts:

Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there. Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, “What does this babbler want to say?”

Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,” because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.

And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean.” For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.

Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:

TO THE UNKNOWN GOD

Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

– Acts 17:16-31 (NKJV)

Yes, Paul had a temper. He was an intense guy. He was a very flawed human being, something he declared over and over again. He made mistakes. He knew exactly what sort of person he was and exactly from what God had saved him.

Yet there is nothing offensive in his sermon. He is respectful, learned and passionate. He speaks to his audience in terms they will readily understand. He seeks out whatever common ground he can find and builds on it. I imagine him as the sort of guy that would be willing to sit down with anyone who wanted to talk about faith and God, probably over a good kosher burger.

But he never says that their way is right.

He never says that the road they are on will lead them to salvation.

We would do well to emulate Paul in this way. He never compromised the message. He was not wishy-washy. He did not go into pagan temples and participate in idolatrous rights in order to “connect” with people. He did not preach some mushy, gushy, “all you need is love,” fake, flimsy gospel. He spoke and wrote the truth. It got him run out of towns, separated from friends, whipped, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked and eventually (according to tradition) beheaded.

I have no doubt that he stands today among that great and unseen cloud of witnesses and shouts, “It was worth it! The Lord is worth it!”

They can’t all be correct. We do the unbelieving world great disservice when we refuse to reveal the Unknown God to them. When we spout the political correctness of relativism. When we refuse to face reality. When we fall prey to inconsistencies of logic and cognitive dissonance.

There is One way, One truth and One life. Period.

Let us be moved. Not to disdain, superiority or prejudice. Not to unkindness or brutality. Let us be moved, as Paul was moved, to take the Light of Christ boldly into the dark. Let us allow the Lord to break our hearts for the lost, for those who grope about wildly for what He freely and openly offers. Let us be strong and committed. Let us declare truth.

For that is real love.

My journey to faith. (15)