Frankly Alarming

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

Recently I came across a t-shirt emblazoned with the words, “1984 was not supposed to be an instruction manual.”

Written in 1949 by George Orwell, 1984 is a novel about:

Winston Smith…a low-ranking member of the ruling Party in London, in the nation of Oceania. Everywhere Winston goes, even his own home, the Party watches him through telescreens; everywhere he looks he sees the face of the Party’s seemingly omniscient leader, a figure known only as Big Brother. The Party controls everything in Oceania, even the people’s history and language. Currently, the Party is forcing the implementation of an invented language called Newspeak, which attempts to prevent political rebellion by eliminating all words related to it. Even thinking rebellious thoughts is illegal. Such thoughtcrime is, in fact, the worst of all crimes.

SparkNotes Plot Summary

Republicans accuse Democrats of Newspeak. Democrats accuse Republicans of Newspeak. From cries of “fake news” to the redefinition of words as part of growing moral relativism, the blame rests equally on the shoulders of members of both major parties. Subtly, sneakily, by raising the temperature of the pot ever-so-slowly so that we aren’t alarmed when the water begins to boil, we have been ushered into an new age of propaganda.

Don’t believe me? Go and check out President Trump’s “real news.” State sponsored/controlled media. That’s a thing we have now. #Icanteven.

 

Irritated as I am over this, I’m not surprised. Both parties have been effective in undermining the work and position of the media. Both parties have gone into overdrive in painting the other as the most evil entity to have ever existed. Both parties have ingeniously and deviously played on the fear, ignorance and arrogance of the American people. I hope that my fellow countrypeople wake up. I hope they reject this insanity.

But this article isn’t even about that.

What gets under my skin even more, what pushes my temper to the hot zone, is the proliferation of evangelical propaganda. Consider:

Texas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, one of President Trump’s evangelical advisers who preached the morning of his inauguration, has released a statement saying the president has the moral authority to “take out” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“When it comes to how we should deal with evildoers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil,” Jeffress said. “In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un.”

Jeffress said in a phone interview that he was prompted to make the statement after Trump said that if North Korea’s threats to the United States continue, Pyongyang will be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

The biblical passage Romans 13 gives the government authority to deal with evildoers, Jeffress said. “That gives the government … the authority to do whatever, whether it’s assassination, capital punishment or evil punishment to quell the actions of evildoers like Kim Jong Un,” he said.

He said that many pacifist Christians will cite Romans 12, which says, “Do not repay evil for evil,” but Jeffress says that the passage is referring to Christians, not to the government.

“A Christian writer asked me, ‘Don’t you want the president to embody the Sermon on the Mount?’ ” he said, referring to Jesus’s sermon. “I said absolutely not.”

Washington Post; August 9, 2017

This is easily summarized: God is okay with evil actions if they stop other evil actions, especially if the United States (and, more specifically, the President/party we like) takes the action.

Last I checked, assassination is murder. Where does God say He’s cool with that?

Now, consider this:

“I can’t help but admire Jared and Ivanka. The two of them have put their lives entirely on hold in order to pursue the good of their nation, and I have found them to be particularly interested in our concerns as evangelical Christians. It’s just like God to use a young Jewish couple to help Christians in the United States defend their rights, and secure their religious freedom for now, and for subsequent generations.”

“I have found every interaction with Jared Kushner to be exemplary. He is clearly an extraordinary individual, with obvious integrity, and he has been a great gift to the evangelical community. We have always found him to be ‘an ever-present help in time of need.’ There are few things I’m sure of in the world we are living in today, but one of thing I am sure of is that Jared Kushner is a good man, and I’m honored to know him.”

Pastors David Jerimiah and Samuel Rodriguez

An allusion to Mary and Joseph. Really?

Quoting Psalm 46:1 – the opening line of a song of praise to God – in lauding a mere mortal. Where’s the bolt of lightning?

Once again I think about all the professors I had, the ones who would have not hesitated to fail me or anyone else who dared to present such shoddy, sloppy interpretation. These church leaders, who have influence over so many, are engaging in Newspeak. They attempt to eliminate opposition by removing any understanding of doctrine and Scripture that would testify against the activities of the current administration. Are they calculated or malicious in doing so? I can’t guess at the motives. God alone knows. All I can do is point to the rotten fruit and tell you not to eat it.

Whatever your politics, this abuse of Scripture is wrong. Blatantly so. Crossed over into disturbing. This is not what we’re to be about, folks. We don’t use the Bible to prop up politicians and we don’t twist it to fit our agendas. We don’t snip it and pick it and fold it and ignore the stuff that doesn’t fit within our existing worldviews. We either take the whole Bible as it is and allow the words of truth to shape us via the loving, convicting, guiding activity of the Holy Spirit, or we inevitably destroy it and thus destroy our ability to witness, to speak truth.

Consider a churchman who understands this:

[Moore] actually been warning about someone like him for years. Writing prophetically in his 2014 book, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel, Moore warned that Christians “ought to be the last people to fall for hucksters and demagogues.” He argued against the coziness that old-guard evangelical Christians had nurtured within the Republican Party in the last few decades and chastised believers who celebrated politicians in exchange for access and power.

“Some sectors of religious activism are willing to receive, as Christians, heretics and demagogues, so long as they are with us politically,” Moore wrote. “When that happens, we are demonstrating what we believe to be truly important, and we are embracing then a different gospel from the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

He also rejected the notion that the United States was a nation in covenant with God.
“Our end goal is not a Christian America,” he wrote. “That illusion is over, and happily so.”

– The Survival of a Southern Baptist who Dared to Oppose Trump

I realize that my position on these matters and increasing willingness to share that position with others is abhorrent to some. Know this: It’s not a Trump thing. If Clinton had won, I would be just as appalled at the evangelical community, for no doubt, instead of slavish devotion, many would have opposed anything her administration attempted out of sheer spite.

Slavish devotion or sheer spite.

Surely these are not our only options.

Surely we are called to something better, something higher.

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Photo credit: Christin Hume

Thoughts After Charlottesville 

Gentle Reader,

You know I’m a pacifist, but I wonder how we got from Captain America punching Hitler to, “well, Nazis aren’t that big a deal” and, “it’s probably all a conspiracy because Soros and Antifa.”

How did we come to idolize Robert E. Lee, a slave owner who fought against his own country?

Why do we still doubt that the Civil War was about slavery?

Why are people who call themselves Christians saying, “we will not be silenced?” Chanting, “blood and soil?” (That’s a Nazi slogan, if you don’t know).

A woman died and dozens more are injured. All for a statue that shouldn’t have been erected in the first place.

And, yeah, I know. Free speech is a thing we have here. People can assemble and say stupid, ugly things. I support that. Doesn’t mean that I will shy away from labeling that speech “stupid” and “ugly.” 

After sitting with and mourning this for 2 days, I wonder: Could we Christians lead the way here by no longer screaming about our rights? By refusing to see the government – local, state or federal – as an entity meant to protect us? What if we truly rested in the promises of Christ, knowing in our bones that He will see us through whatever happens? What if we decided to esteem others and consider their needs before our own, as Paul admonishes in Philippians 2? What if we recognised that this world is not our home and that the spread of the Gospel is more important than politics? What if we looked to our brothers and sisters in hostile countries and emulated their example? Those of us who are white, what if we took the time to really listen to and empathize with people of color – not to take on false guilt, but so we can understand what they deal with?

I wonder what would happen. I wonder if we’d become agents of healing and shine brightly in dark places.

Meditate on these passages:

2 Corinthans 5:20; 6:4a, 6b

2 Corinthains 5:9

Philippians 2:3-4

Philippians 2:14-15

Philippians 4:5

Colossians 3:8

1 Thessalonians 5:5

James 2:8-9a

Matthew 28:18-20

Romans 12:17-18

Galatians 5:24

1 John 4:9

Revelation 7:9-10

Racism has no place in Christianity. May we be courageous enough to examine our own hearts and repent if needed. May we be brave enough to vocally condemn this evil. May we be loving enough to reach out to those who are different.

Skin is skin.

It doesn’t matter.

Lord, teach us to love as You love. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear. Expose what needs exposing. Help us to prioritize preaching the Gospel over and above all else. Kill the selfish ambitions and vain conceits that strangle our hearts.

Break us and remake us.

Forgive us, Jesus. 

Red, brown, yellow, black and white – all are precious in Your sight.

Five Minute Friday: Place

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

“…you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.”

– Matthew 24:6-8 (NKJV)

See that you are not troubled.

How, Jesus? How do we erase the feeling of trepidation as leaders in Pyongyang and Washington, D.C., continue to breathe fire at each other, uncaring who is singed in the process? We pray, but the fear remains.

God, forgive us in our frail, simple humanity.

As usual, linking up with Kate and all. We seek: place.

Go.

I can’t remember a time without war.

Operation Desert Storm happened when I was in Kindergarten and first grade. Clinton authorized the bombing of Kosovo during middle school. The planes crashed and the towers fell at the start of my senior year of high school. Now I watch the news with an anxious knot in my chest, wondering if we’re really about to go along with Kim Jong-un and reignite the Korean War, a war that never really ended, a war that accomplished nothing. A war that will inevitably escalate until the nations gather once again to slaughter each other across continents.

One set of human beings seeking to strip the other of their humanity.

Will the government reinstate the draft? My husband only has two-and-a-half more years before he is free of being enlisted against his will.

Why should more people die? People caught in the crossfire, people who will suffer because of inflated egos and short tempers.

Gaily, recklessly, arrogantly marching off to war. Just as so many before.

Mothers and fathers, widows and widowers, sons and daughters – left to mourn.

To what end?

No end. Evil is never satiated. Violence is a great, gaping, black mouth, ever-hungry for more victims. It is the mouth of the Devil, that ancient father of lies.

I don’t understand this place, this world. I preach the grace of the Gospel, the solidness of God’s presence. I seek to be a minister of peace. Of reconciliation. My quiet voice – can it, does it make a difference in this place of noise and chaos and boiling blood?

God promises that He will finish what He started. The words He speaks fall to the ground, taking root in the fertile soil of hearts responsive to mercy. A great harvest will result. Nothing returns to Him void. His plans are not thwarted by missiles, His purposes not wrecked by tirades.

That – I must hold to in this place. Though fear pounds in my chest and frustration runs through my mind. He is good and pure and true.

So I, and you with me, must speak the words of truth in this place until we arrive at the other Place, where war and sin are no more.

Stop.

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Photo credit: Thomas Tucker

Just a Soupcon, It’s Okay

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

In recent days I’ve been told that I am, perhaps, just a bit too intense about this whole Christianity thing. I’m just a little too serious about obeying Jesus. I make people uncomfortable. Maybe I should just back off a little.

Makes me think of Jeremiah:

Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him,

Nor speak anymore in His name.”

But His word was in my heart like a burning fire

Shut up in my bones;

I was weary of holding it back,

And I could not.

– Jeremiah 20:9 (NKJV)

No, I’m not claiming to be a prophet. Calm down.

I am claiming to understand the temptation to hold back. To bite my tongue. To keep silent. To please people and strive for popularity instead of speaking (writing, really) the truth. I know that my words are often strong. You know it, too. What you may not know, however, is that they come from a cracked heart. You do not know about the hours I spend in prayer, begging God to stir up the fires of repentance and revival in our hearts. I believe He hears. I believe He moves.

We don’t hear. We don’t move.

I look around at my fellow believers and I wonder just what it is that we think we’re doing. In other parts of the world, people die for their faith, while we complain if someone prays for too long.

So let’s just go ahead and talk about idolatry, shall we?

Might as well keep the “you write things that I don’t like” streak alive.

Because I really don’t know how we, the Western Church in general, are escaping the lightning bolts that should justifiably incinerate us.

We, who are supposed to know better, waste time worshiping “Christian celebrities,” rising to their defense any time someone dares to question them. (Yes, I know that some people are trolls and they can’t figure out how to argue intelligently so they go for the personal attacks. This is not what I’m talking about). We pat their heads and say, “Oh, poor you,” whenever a dissenting comment gets posted on their blogs or another Christian leader has the audacity to point out where their theology has gone wild.

We waste time worshiping power. Though the primary purpose of my writing isn’t to engage in politics, only a blind and deaf person could have escaped noticing how so-called evangelical leaders slavishly praise every move of the current administration. Because we think, maybe, we can force our vision of society on the country through the people who occupy congressional seats and the person who works in the Oval Office. It’s not like the Holy Spirit has to indwell a person in order for her to live as Christ commands.

We waste time worshiping offense. We relish calling people “snowflakes.” We scream “microaggression!” and, instead of just not going to listen to a certain person speak, we drive them off of campuses and out of stadiums. We get all hot under the collar when – gasp! – we discover that there are different viewpoints, different experiences, different ways of thinking. (All of this is far cry from working for justice, which much of this butthurtedness masquerades as).

We waste time worshiping “the way things used to be.” Don’t change the time we meet for Sunday service. Don’t step on out toes in a sermon. Don’t change the small group curriculum. Don’t paint the wall that color. Don’t dress in a way that we don’t like. Don’t bring snacks that we think are gross. Don’t ask us to do anything that’s even remotely outside of our comfort zone.

We waste time worshiping “the way things should be.” This church sucks. These people suck. Let’s complain about it, but not actually do anything to bring about positive change. Let’s not pray or study Scripture or you know, repent.

We waste time worshiping position. We want everyone to see our good works. We want to get ahead, climb the ladder. We want to be, as Leo DiCaprio so famously shouted in that one movie, “King[s] of the world.”

On and on it goes. We waste time worshiping family.  We waste time worshiping stuff. We waste time worshiping money.

But it’s all okay, we unconsciously rationalize, because it’s just a little bit of idolatry. Just a soupcon. A little dollop on top of the Jesus soup. It’ll mix in just fine. Add a little flavor, a little spice. Nobody will notice. It doesn’t matter.

Except it does.

You shall have no other gods before Me. …

…you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God…

“Now see that I, even I, am He,

And there is no God besides Me;

I kill and I make alive;

I wound and I heal;

Nor is there any who can deliver from My hand.” …

“Tell and bring forth your case;
Yes, let them take counsel together.
Who has declared this from ancient time?
Who has told it from that time?
Have not I, the Lord?
And there is no other God besides Me,
A just God and a Savior;
There is none besides Me.
Look to Me, and be saved,
All you ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
I have sworn by Myself;
The word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness,
And shall not return,
That to Me every knee shall bow,
Every tongue shall take an oath.” …

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

– Exodus 20:3; 34:14; Deuteronomy 32:39; Isaiah 45:21-23; 1 Timothy 1:17 (NKJV)

There is no other God and God doesn’t share glory. He’s not okay with some side-worship. He’s not cool with those little idols in our hearts. He ruthlessly digs them out and confronts us with them – for our benefit. For there is no life in idols, only death. Only disconnection from the Lord.

I point no fingers at you, dear reader, that I have not already pointed at myself.

The world is watching. They scrutinize our moves in order to ascertain if we walk what we talk. We cannot sing praises to God for a few hours on Sunday and then live out praise to some other little, gross, vile, vain thing every other moment of our lives. It’s deeply, horrendously hypocritical.

God is watching. He knows the motivations of our hearts. He knows if our worship is pure and true. He will keep picking at the raw place, shining light in the dark corner, pushing us to look at what we don’t want to look at. He will keep whispering words of conviction and tender mercy to our souls.

But we get too choose.

He doesn’t force us to do what’s best, what will set us free and make us healthy.

So what will it be?

Idols or God?

Can’t be both.

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Photo credit: Alexis Brown