Review, For the Love, Part 1

Watch your life and doctrine closely.

Gentle Reader,

The toughest position I ever held during my time on a college newspaper was that of a reviewer. It is difficult for me to put into practice the instruction of my professor – observe and dissect – knowing how intensely artists labor over their work. They practically bleed onto the page or the canvas. Nevertheless, it is important to strive to be as even-handed and objective as possible. That is my goal in this piece, and the one that follows.

SETTING THE STAGE

When a friend of mine mentioned in early spring that Jen Hatmaker was taking applications for her book launch team, my interest was piqued. I’d never done anything like that. I knew a little about Hatmaker, having heard her speak at different venues a couple of times and through some of her writing, mostly online stuff. Nothing of hers that I’d been exposed to was “out there.”

Mostly, she was funny – and I always appreciate good, clean humor. So I thought, “Why not? I’ll apply.” I didn’t really expect to be chosen. (I also never expected that my brief endorsement would appear in the front of the published book).

Color me surprised when the email arrived in my inbox. Given a link to a pdf download, I began to read.

On my smartphone.

I know.

I betrayed my own non-ebook supporting principles.

THE GOOD

Jen Hatmaker is a warm and witty woman, and that comes through loud and clear in her writing. The Jimmy Fallon-esque “Thank You Notes” sprinkled throughout the book had me laughing out loud. Chapter Four, “Fashion Concerns,” left me tears. Leggings are not pants, tights are not leggings, and tights are DEFINITELY not pants! She hits on female awkwardness and worry in a way that allows us to laugh at ourselves, which all women need.

Chapter 10, “Surviving School,” is one that I would love to photocopy and send to all the parents I know:

They don’t need every advantage skewed their way and every discomfort fluffed with pillows. I bet they don’t even need sandwiches [shaped like] dolphins… Kiddos, make your own lunches, do your own laundry, buy your own replacement ID after you left yours on the bus. Write your teacher an apology for doing the worm across her classroom, even though Dad and I laughed our heads off. You want more clothes than we bought? Save your money. Make your own case to the teacher for a higher score. Relinquish your phone for running that mouth. Endure that class. Work for that grade. Try harder never time. Take your licks and learn from them. Put your plate in the dishwasher, for the love of Palmolive. (p. 62-63)

Chapter 21, “Poverty Tourism,” was a sobering look at the way many American Christians treat short-term missions work. The sincerity of those who take such trips is never in doubt, but it is true that we need to reconsider how we approach the work. Hatmaker writes that we need to,

…look seriously at systemic issues in that community. We [need to] learn about root causes, broken structures and societal breakdowns, such as violence and lack of subsequent justice, poverty orphans, the abuse of women and children, economic disempowerment, environmental degradation, educational disparity, maternal health, and nutrition and healthcare. We [need to] listen to local leaders on long-term sustainable solutions… (p. 145-146)

In essence, when we take the Gospel message anywhere, we need to have an understanding of the situation into which we walk. The Gospel is timeless and never needs to altered, but the way in which it is delivered and the tangible work projects that go along with it – building homes, repairing schools, putting in wells for clean water – should be determined by the particular needs of that community, not our preconceived ideas of how things should be.

THE MIDDLING

Chapter 22, “Dear Church,” and Chapter 25, “Dear Christians, Please Stop Being Crappy,” stand as yet more shots fired from within the Body, at the Body. As with all such essays, there are some valid points. No doubt we have problems. No doubt we have done ourselves no favors by entwining the Gospel with the “American Dream” and structuring our congregations as businesses.

While acknowledging the value in these chapters, I am weary of people within the Church complaining about the Church. That only contributes to its breakdown. Yes, we have issues. Absolutely. No denying it. But let’s not forget that we are the redeemed of the Lord. Let’s not forget that the Church is a good thing. If we have complaints, then we must be willing to do the work of prayer and struggle in order to come to a solution. If we are unhealthy, then we must seek the remedy.

Further, I am equally weary of seeing statistics about people leaving the Church – because I know who’s leaving. It’s my generation. It’s the fickle, entitled, selfish, self-absorbed, immature Millennials. (Yep, I said it). When we were in high school, we whined about relevance. We wanted church to be “cool.” We wanted church to “meet us.” We pushed the “seeker-friendly,” rock-show experience. Now that church leaders have bent over backwards to accommodate our whiny-ness, we leave. We say we want something “more substantial.”

Except that we don’t. We don’t study our Bibles, we don’t spend time discussing doctrine and we won’t unplug from our smartphones if our lives depended on it.

That’s not a Church problem, folks.

That’s our problem.

INITIAL CONCLUSIONS

My first impression of For the Love: A relatively light, funny book that offers women permission to be themselves. Jen Hatmaker invites her fellow females to take our places in Body life while simultaneously inviting us to step off of the hamster wheel of perfectionism. This is a message that should be oft-repeated, and loudly.

I would have liked it if Hatmaker had maintained this focus in the book and avoided making what I would term “bandwagon” comments about the state of the Church. As outlined above, it is popular at the moment to criticize the problems of the Church without recognizing the very real good of the Church. These essays felt out-of-step with the overall tone of the work.

UNSETTLED

I have battled for weeks over whether or not to type these next words. I would prefer to end this review here, as it is. I would prefer to say that I stand one-hundred percent behind my endorsement. I would prefer to tell you that you can read this book without any problems.

Yet I am unsettled, and for what I believe is good reason.

For the Love: Part 2

My journey to faith. (15)

Five Minute Friday (I’m Late…Again): Hope

Jesus at the center of it allJesus at (2)

Gentle Reader,

I don’t know what it is about Thursday evenings all of sudden, but I can’t seem to get in on the Twitter action.

It might be because I can tell that I’m heading into another season of hating the internet and all things technological.

The Luddite in me struggles.

Linking up (very late) with Kate and the crew. We: hope.

Go.

I’m feeling cantankerous.

And weary.

I’m so tired of all this pseudo-intellectual, pretentious nonsense that passes itself off as wisdom and knowledge these days. Tired of bad doctrine like open theism being so casually embraced by the Church. Tired of this bill calling for the removal of the words “husband” and “wife” from federal documents. (‘Cause we’re all just so stupid and discriminatory and people are special snowflakes and that’s SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT than addressing things like unemployment, poverty, domestic violence, systemic racism, human trafficking, education, soaring federal deficit, equal pay for women, the lack of proper support and care for veterans….) Tired of people who just absolutely refuse to think through to the logical conclusion of anything. Tired of living in a post-modern word that rejects metanarrative and concrete word meaning – until that doesn’t work and then suddenly language matters, but only in the way deemed appropriate and necessary by those who would seek to redefine words.

It all makes me very cranky.

In the midst of the crank, what fascinates me is how so much of this, both within the Church and without, is emotion-driven. “I don’t like the way you/that makes me feel, so you/that are/is the enemy and must be destroyed.” There is no rational reasoning. There is no agreeing to disagree and live in peace. There must be total acquiescence and silencing.

Furthermore, the louder the screams, the more defensive and hot-headed a person gets, the more insecure they are. If you really believe what you believe about something, anything, another person disagreeing with you or having a different viewpoint isn’t going to send you into a tailspin. Confidence in a position means that you don’t have to have everyone on your side. The squashing of dissent is a sign of fear and a desire to control.

And that is why I am so glad that my hope is in Christ. He never says to sue the government or scream at your neighbor or redefine/censor language or pitch a big, fat, stinking fit when someone disagrees. He says, “Look to Me. Follow Me.” Whether anyone else does or not is irrelevant. Because it’s not about forcing an agenda on anyone. It’s not about feelings.

It’s all about Him.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)

Five Minute Friday: Favorite

Gentle Reader,

Seems like I’m not very good at keeping up with the party on the Twitters these days. I miss something special when I’m not able to participate. And it is special. Who but God would use social media to draw His daughters (and a few sons!) from all over the place into one unique writing community? We have many differences. We don’t always agree. Yet we cheer each other on.

Kate and my buddies.

We write about: favorite.

Go.

I am often shocked at the insanity that crosses my path. I shouldn’t be. People are crazy, whether in an official, clinical sense or not. The world makes less and less sense as the days go by. No logical standards seem to apply. Do what you want. Chase your feelings.

Pseudo-intellectual elitism. Arrogance run amok.

People like me are accused of being close-minded. Accused of “being afraid” of “searching.” Afraid of “wrestling” through the “deeper” questions.

It couldn’t possibly be that people like me think that some of the answers presented are wrong. Or just stupid.

The world seems to tilt further on its axis. The spin increases. My head whirls. And so I try to focus on this:

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; (4)

No matter what anyone says or does, God will never be knocked off of His throne.

That is my favorite truth.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)

Extolling the Desolate

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

The following words are going to lose me some readers, so know my heart before you proceed. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. I don’t desire complete homogeny in my life. Never, ever will I advocate being a jerk. Neither do I believe that we are to be anything other than loving.

But that love? It is to have a backbone. It is to be rooted in what is true. 

Gentle Reader,

Why do we praise that which is not praiseworthy?

Those who call themselves Christians baffle me in their responses to current events. I choke on the saccharine, sticky, feel-good buzzwords. Acceptance. Tolerance. Love. Forgiveness. Courage.

Nobody defines those words correctly.

When did we become blind to the fact that there is no sin that should be celebrated? Why has our understanding of grace become so disgustingly cheap? The community of faith seems to, in general, buy into the lie that “as long as you’re not hurting anyone, do whatever you want.” Such an idea is antithetical to the Gospel.

No, we Christians should not praise Bruce Jenner. Neither should we call him names or use the anonymity of the internet to share vile thoughts about him. We should be sad. Our love for God and our love for people who struggle with issues like transgenderism should compel us to speak truth. Gentle truth. Respectful truth. But truth nonetheless.

We do not have a God who tells us to surrender to every desire. He does not tell us that salvation came at little cost. He does not tell us that obedience does not matter. He tells us through His word and through the consequences of our experiences that sin and struggle are real because of the pernicious growth of evil in our hearts due to the Fall and our own inwardly warped natures – and He can and will save us from that. Praise Him forever because He loves us as we are but that love means that He cannot allow us to stay as we are.

He is the God who tells us that our hearts are desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). We are not to “follow” them so we can be “happy.” We are to follow Him. He is the God who tells us to take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5). We are not to dwell on every little thing that comes into our heads. Our minds cannot be trusted unless they are renewed and transformed in Him (Romans 12:2). That same verse tells us that we are not to be conformed to the pattern of this world. We are not to shape our lives based on the ever-changing whims of society. We are to base them on God’s truth.

No, we Christians should not engage in the doctrinal gymnastics and outright denial of Scripture that is required to “support” any kind of marriage that is not made up of one man and one woman. Neither should we call any person names or use the anonymity of the internet to share vile thoughts about them. We should be sad. Our love for God and our love for people who struggle with issues like homosexuality should compel us to speak truth. Gentle truth. Respectful truth. But truth nonetheless.

We do not have a God who says it’s fine to ignore Him. He is the God who tells us that He formed us within the secret place of the womb. He knows us at a level beyond minute intimacy (Psalm 139). He says that we were made for His glory (Isaiah 43:7). He arranged creation in such a way that it screams of His continual presence (Romans 1:21). We do not get to shape Him to fit us.

No, we Christians should not swallow the bubble-gum, fortune-cookie, cotton candy garbage continually hawked by men like Joel Osteen. Have we forgotten warnings about deception and itching ears (2 Timothy 4:3)?

If I had been coddled in my sin and praised for my bad decisions, I would be dead today. If I fed on a steady diet of fluff, I would be dead today. It’s that stark and that simple. I know precisely where I would go if left to my own devices. I know exactly what God has saved me from. I am dependent on Him for every breath, awash in His good graces that I can never, ever deserve or repay. I am intolerant of anything less than the radical, transformative, powerful Gospel and the holy, majestic, entirely-other God behind the message.

Yes, intolerant. It breaks my heart. I can’t stand it. There is a physical pain that presses against my chest when I consider all those who blithely march to hell in the name of “progress” and “openness” and “acceptance” and the people who call themselves children of God let the parade go by without so much as a word. No, I don’t believe in being nasty. I do believe in truth. I do believe that Christ’s death and resurrection were for naught without sin. If we remove that ugliness, that separation, from the equation; if we twist words and decide that God did not mean that _________ is wrong, then what would be the point of the Atonement? If there really isn’t such a thing as sin, and this is what we communicate when we support and give pride of place to it, then why did Christ come?

It is not bigotry to say that something is wrong. It’s not. It is not anything-phobic to say that such and such action or stance does not hold up in the light of God’s word. It is actually loving. It is loving to look someone in the eyes and say, “I know that you are hurting. I know that you have this struggle. I know that you have questions. But please, I beg you, do not go your own way. I can’t stand by and let you, a person I care about, tear your life apart. There is something – Someone – so much better.”

Isn’t this what we say to drug addicts? To alcoholics? To women who keep diving in to bad relationship after bad relationship? To the depressed and anxious? Don’t we try to surround them with love that says, “you are safe and I’m with you” and truth that says, “let’s work through this together?”

So why are sexual sins treated differently?

Don’t we look at liars and say, “You are false. You are fake. I cannot trust anything you say and I will not listen to you.”

So why are we silent in the face of false teachers?

I do not expect the world at large to act if they are saved. I do not expect them to care about anything God has to say. I do not expect my national, state or local governments to suddenly shift course and made decisions based on Scripture.

I do expect this of anyone who calls himself a Christian. I expect us to stop extolling the desolate. I expect us to stop giving people enough rope with which to hang themselves. I expect us to expose liars for who they are.

I expect us to follow Christ.

His refrain when interacting with sinners (i.e. everyone)? “Go and sin no more. Repent and be saved. Take up your cross.”

There are also some words about whitewashed tombs and broods of vipers that would apply nicely to the Osteen’s and Hinn’s of the world.

My journey to faith. (15)