Not a Troll (Perhaps a Hobbit)

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

We live in the age of trolls. The internet allows us to maintain a certain level of detachment, so we go for it. We noisily air our opinions and blast those who dare to disagree. Through the relative anonymity afforded by the keyboard, we say the words that may never actually vibrate in our vocal chords and exit through our lips. We demand, cajole, proclaim the things that we may never actually have the courage to say out loud.

Am I one of those trolls, those vaunted keyboard warriors?

Why do I write about politics? Theology? Mental and physical illness? Why do I write about the things that make you angry? Why do I fail to adopt a soothing, socially-acceptable voice? Why do I persist in making you uncomfortable?

Because I care.

A lot.

I may not cry often, but I am incredibly passionate. I am tenderhearted. If I write about something that makes you squirm, I don’t do so for the sake of making you squirm. I do it because I can’t stand what’s passing for Christian teaching and living throughout our country. Of course that’s generalized. Of course there are people who are doing their absolute best to love God and others. Still, the overall trends toward prioritizing temporal power over Gospel preaching and fluffy, gunky, crap “doctrine” over thoughtful doctrine and study…ugh! Blergh! Argh!

Cue Darth Vader:

For real. Sometimes I want to tear my hair out.

Sharon Hodde Miller says it best:

The pressure to be nice competes with the calling to be prophetic. … For every article about making money with your blog, or having a better marriage, we need leaders who are leveraging their authority with their particular audience to call people to rugged faithfulness. We need teachers who are targeting the idols of people-pleasing and politics and worldly success, and helping us to be the actual people of God. And we need pastors engaged in the kind of spiritual formation that resists cultural influence, and prepares believers for loving self-sacrifice.

Last year Brueggemann summarized our prophetic failing this way: “I believe the crisis in the U.S. church has almost nothing to do with being liberal or conservative; it has everything to do with giving up on the faith and discipline of our Christian baptism and settling for a common, generic, U.S. identity that is part patriotism, part consumerism, part violence, and part affluence” (A Way Other Than Our Own, p. 3).

…we are witnessing the fruit of inadequate spiritual formation. When our spiritual formation winks at, or embraces, cultural idols, we will produce individuals who are totally unable to resist the culture. That is why we are in dire need of prophetic leaders with the courage and clarity to name our adulterous loves. It’s hard work, and humble work (since ranting should not be confused with prophetic teaching), but we need it now as much as ever.

No, I’m not saying I’m a prophet (and neither is Miller). “Prophetic” here is used in a way that points to challenging the status quo because it needs to be challenged. It’s John the Baptist in his camel-hair dress shouting, “Repent!” in the wilderness. It’s Jesus quietly telling the woman at the well that He is indeed Messiah. It’s Ananias taking his life in his hands and approaching Paul, who’s just been knocked off his donkey and struck blind. It’s thousands of men and women around the world today who dare to praise God in cultures that would see them dead for it.

I love you, dear reader. I do. Again, perhaps not in a way that you would quickly recognize. If we were to meet, I probably wouldn’t give you a big hug. I might ask you some random, weird question about your favorite historical era because I’m awkward like that. But I want so much, so desperately much, for you to know Jesus. I want you to really follow Him, even if it costs you something – and it will. I want you to embrace the cost, knowing that this life is but a breath and far greater things are up ahead.

I’m not perfect. I don’t always get this right. I have, in no way, “arrived.” I’m right there in the middle of this thing with you, tugging your elbow, hoping you’ll tug mine when I get distracted by the shiny stuff. Because we all get distracted. And that’s why we need the gruff voices, the ones that don’t fit into neat boxes, to call us back and keep us moving forward.

There’s a time for gentleness and a time for bluntness. The one is not more loving than the other. James wrote some harsh things in his epistle, but he was not uncaring. He was not mean. He wrote them because he loved his readers. He wanted the very best for them.

If you are challenged by me (or others), if you find yourself clicking away from this site (or others) because you feel anger, pause for a moment. Take a step back. Getting your toes smashed is never fun (I’ve had mine stomped on plenty of times), but it’s often necessary. Let’s learn to accept that discomfort. Let’s learn to sit with things that challenge us. Let’s learn to listen to the hoarse voices.

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Review: Love and Kindness

Love and Kindness

Gentle Reader,

Christine Topijan has launched a series of picture books that explore Christian virtues. The first in this series, Love and Kindness, written in a simple format (the book is only 12 pages long), is one that children will learn from and adults will appreciate. Topijan reminds us to look out for ways that we can help and support others, because that’s what God does for us. He is faithful, true and unceasing in His outpouring of love and, by the power of the Holy Spirit working within us, He wants us to become faithful, true and loving.

My favorite line in this book comes from page 10:

He reminds us of how much He loves us when we feel down and alone.

There is not a child or adult on this planet who doesn’t need to be consistently reminded of this truth.

Nobody has to be taught how to be self-centered. That’s our natural inclination. We all have to be taught how to be observant, compassionate and willing to help others. This little book provides great examples for parents to share with their children as they teach them to be kind to those they meet. I especially appreciated her inclusion of special needs children; the reader is encouraged to reach out to those who are different instead of fearing or shunning them.

Topijan keeps it simple. She doesn’t waste a lot of ink and she doesn’t use the big words. Yet this book will easily stir up big conversations between parents and their children, conversations that should not be avoided. In this, Topijan aids readers everywhere in obeying the command of Deuteronomy 11:19 –

You shall teach them [God’s ways] to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.

–  NKJV

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I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THIS BOOK IN EXCHANGE FOR MY FAIR AND HONEST REVIEW.

Five Minute (Monday): Familiar

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (3)

Gentle Reader,

Writing on Thanksgiving just wasn’t going to happen, thanks to a visit from the ugly Migraine Fairy. She decided to knock me about the head for a few days. She’s still hanging around, the tip of her icy wand just touching the back of my neck. I try to punch her, but she’s too quick. Or I’m too slow after two rounds of major pain pills. Either way, she sucks and I hate her.

Four days ago, Kate said: familiar.

Go.

Familiar things hurt sometimes. Instead of the warm fuzzies that flutter about your stomach when you smell your mom’s spaghetti or the smile that spreads across your face when a certain song plays, you feel a little sick. That word, that place, that person, that sound reminds you of something unpleasant. Something that came before that was perhaps never fully resolved. The blood rushes to your face. You get hot and prickly and you want to shout.

How do you do handle that feeling?

What do you do when you can see something not-great coming, but you don’t know how to stop it?

See, the thing about asking God for discernment and wisdom is that He gives it to you. Every time. In liberal quantities. Overflowing measures. Then you have to grapple with the burden of having that discernment and wisdom. Yes, the Lord is ever-near and bears the weight, but you still have your role to play. Your job to do. And it’s hard.

Harder still when you don’t know if anyone else sees it. Or when you know for sure that they don’t.

Getting close to God and becoming familiar with His ways means that patterns within yourself and others begin to emerge. Your eyes can’t unsee what they’ve seen before and what they’re seeing again. Your mind can’t ignore it and your heart can’t stop its anxious thudding. Blessedly, that same familiarity creates a deep and abiding knowing that God remains the same even as humanity remains fickle and reckless.

So, when the familiar thing comes and the pain begins again, you handle it by clinging to Him.

Stop.

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Photo Credit: Marina Khrapova

Five Minute Friday: Excuse

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Most of the time, I eat healthy.

Sometimes, I get very anxious and eat an unspecified number of Cheez Its.

Ah, humanness.

No wonder that an element of Spirit Fruit is self-control. We just can’t muster that stuff up on our own. Oh, we might do well for awhile. But the urge to run wild is always there, simmering just beneath the surface.

Kate says: excuse.

Go.

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…

– Romans 1:20 (NKJV)

Some Bible verses make us deeply uncomfortable. This has to be one of them. Even though we who believe know, down in the core of ourselves, that God alone can save us and set us free, and even though we want everyone we love to possess that same knowing, the idea that those who turn away from God are without excuse is…striking, to say the least.

Anapológētos: without defense or excuse; that which cannot be defended; inexcusable.

I really don’t have any desire to look at people who don’t believe and say, “Your position is indefensible. At the end of the day, no matter what you come up with, the plain fact, the unavoidable truth, is that God is real and His made His presence known in every sunset, in the first snow of the year, in the scent of hibiscus blooms.”

…because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

– 1:21 (NKJV)

Paul bluntly tells his readers that those who shun God have to actively suppress the truth within themselves. It is a choice. They already have ginṓskō (to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of perceive, feel) but instead of diving deeper into wisdom, they become mataióō (to make empty, vain, foolish) and asýnetos (unintelligent, without understanding, stupid).

Professing to be wise, they became fools…

– 1:22 (NKJV)

Paul’s really good at twisting the knife, isn’t he?

We all know that things often get worse before they get better. So it is with reading the Bible. We can’t get to the good stuff – how God loves us, how we’re made with care, how we have a unique mission – until we look at the bad stuff. We have to acknowledge just how willfully stupid we and the world systems around us are.

Which means acknowledging that anyone who says “there is no God” is willfully stupid.

Ugh.

I don’t want to approach anyone from that standpoint. I doubt you do, either. We’d all like to believe in the basic goodness of humanity, no matter how many Sunday School lessons we’ve heard about our utter wretchedness. We’d really, really like universalism to be true. But we don’t have a leg to stand on with that. Scripture just doesn’t give us permission to sugarcoat, water down, or beat around any bushes. We have to speak plainly. We have to speak boldly.

We have to because we don’t want anyone to walk around in darkness. We don’t want them to make the wrong choice. We don’t want them to think they have lots of good reasons and excuses.

We want them up in the lifeboat, next to us.

So why is this so hard? Why is it so incredibly difficult, for me at least, to open up and say the words? Why do we care more about people liking us and not offending anyone than doing all that we can to help them to bend their knees and cry out to Jesus?

Why do we – I – so often let fear rule the day?

Is God really our – my – God? Have we – I – exchanged

…the glory of the incorruptible God (for an) image made like corruptible man…

– 1:23 (NKJV)

Stop.

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Addendum, 11/20/17: We FMF people are not really supposed to go back and edit these things. However, I do feel the need to say that “stupid” wasn’t the best choice of words, nor does it precisely convey what I was attempting to wrestle with in this post. Honestly, I can’t find the right word. That happens sometimes. I know what I want to get across to you, but I can’t quite express it.

The inescapable fact is that the passage I pondered here does make the claim that those who shun God do so out of a willful suppression of the truth. I realize that some (or even many) find this deeply and personally offensive. This is “line in the sand” sort of talk. If I am going to stake my life on the claims of Scripture, then I have to figure out how this uncomfortable passage fits into my worldview.

And it is uncomfortable. I know you can’t see me or hear my tone of voice (if I were speaking this aloud) but I genuinely do want everyone I know in the boat next to me. I truly do get frustrated and upset when people I love choose to keep their backs turned – not because I want to prove that I’m right or feel superior, but because I want them to have what’s best. I believe that best is Jesus.

In our world, relativism and pluralism are the norms. To make exclusive truth claims is to immediately set yourself against the tide. It’s to put a mark on your back. Well, I can’t not make exclusive truth claims and remain faithful to Christ. Yet I also do not wish to be deliberately or obtusely offensive. So, please, forgive me for not finding the right words in this moment.