Keeping Up with What?

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.vom

Gentle Reader,

I have a confession.

You should probably sit down.

Here goes.

I got sucked into the world of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

It’s okay if you judge me. I judge myself.

Don’t even know how it happened. Some random, black, internet hole pulled me in without warning.

The family is weirdly entertaining. Sure, they’re materialistic, out-of-touch with the real world, are publicly naked far too often (once is far too often) and have zero sense of style or fashion. Kris Jenner probably pushed her children into the limelight. Certainly she gave her youngest daughters far too much freedom. At the same time, the petty fights and bizarre conversations they have – it’s like any other family. They’re in each other’s business, push each other to do better (their version of better, anyway) and come to each other’s defense if anyone on the outside dares to attack. Though I doubt they reveal their true selves on television or social media, one thing shines through the layers of make-up and spray tanner: They genuinely love each other.

Elements of horribleness and elements of absolute normalcy.

And humor. There were some genuinely funny moments in the episodes I watched.

I know. I write about theology, history, logic, chronic illness. How can I also be so low-brow?

I’m a complicated person. What can I say?

What truly fascinates me about this family is how easily, casually even, they throw around references to God, church and Christianity. In one episode, the oldest daughter, Kourtney, tells her friends that they will be going to church that evening – after they’ve spent time getting drunk and playing pinball at a Korean barbecue joint.

What?

How do those things possibly go together?

As I sit here, knowing I need brain bleach and some time meditating on Philippians 4:8, I am reminded of this article that Karen Swallow Prior shared on Twitter over the weekend. I quote:

Instead of an intellectual tradition, it is a church built on emotion. Every sermon is a revival stump speech about the evils of the world and the need for salvation. Every sermon ends in a sentimental pop song/worship chorus to accompany an altar call in which the same handful of members weeps at the altar (these people are subsequently held up as the most exemplary Christians. I had a friend in junior high who could cry on cue; she cleaned up on attention in this system). …

…you have membership with no theological or doctrinal depth that you have neglected to equip with the tools to wrestle with hard issues.

And there’s the answer.

We have such a hard time getting church right, don’t we? Across this country, there are thousands of churches that are built on either legalism or cheap grace. Both ends of the spectrum appeal to the emotions; oddly, it’s the same emotion – pride – that they tap into. “Do these 375.32 things and God will be happy with you” or, “Do whatever you want and God will still be happy with you because love.” Either way, it’s not really about God being happy. It’s not about walking in close relationship with Him, learning to wholly submit to His will each day. No, instead, it’s about pouring the infinite Lord into some ridiculous, man-made box. “He will behave this way, because I want Him to.”

How interesting, to realize that legalism and libertinism are two sides of the same coin.

Oh, idolatry. You’re just lurking around every corner, aren’t you?

The Kardashians aren’t the problem. They’re the symptom. There are many people who live exactly as they do, just with less money and without television cameras documenting every move. They believe that God must bless whatever it is they do, because…because. It goes no deeper than that. It’s “your best life now” and “God wants you to be happy.”

Sanctification, holiness, righteousness.

What happened to those concepts?

Please, church, stop trying to be relevant. Stop trying to be cool. Stop trying to “fit in” with the people you want to reach. The true Gospel transcends time and culture. Preach that. Give people what’s real. Call them to something higher and better found in humility before God and hiddenness under the shadow of His wings. Show them that true happiness is found in obedience. That God’s law is for our good and protection.

The Kardashians need the truth. At the end of the day, when the make-up slides onto the washcloth and the extensions are removed; when the cameras are off and the silence of night descends, what are they left with? Near as I can tell, only the sorrow of believing that their value lies only in the sexiness of their bodies and the deception of a false faith.

God made these women and He wants so much more for them.

It’s our job to show them – and all the rest – that more.

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Five Minute Friday: Work

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Without preamble, because I slept little last night and it’s difficult to breathe. Kate says: work.

Go.

Smoke fills the air. Ash and dust fill our lungs.

Houston floats. Florida braces for impact.

The Northwest – 1200 fires. We burn.

I am not given to attempting to predict when the Lord will return, but I can’t help but feel that the apocalypse has begun. Natural disasters, wars and rumors of wars. Birth pangs or death knells; hard to decide. A winding down and winding up. My eyes look to the sky above, covered by a layer of yellowish, dirty particulates. I long to see it rend in two, split in half, unable to bear the weight of the Glorious King condescending, once again, to set foot on the earth He holds together.

He declared the work finished. Took His place, seated at the right hand of the Father.

And yet we wait.

Again, the “already” and the “not yet.”

Stop.

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Review: Emerald Isle

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Mike Trainor’s life is mere existence since a terrorist bomb killed his beloved Mary the week before their wedding. Then an overbooked airplane forces him to sit by a beautiful young Irishwoman who is the spitting image of his dead fiancé….

Sometimes I write lengthy reviews.

Other times I simply tell you, “Read this book.”

This is one of those times.

Andrew Budek-Schmeisser is a beloved friend, one of the few brave men who actively participate in the Five Minute Friday writing community. His humor, intelligence and faith reach across the miles through his words, drawing the reader into reflection. He is unfailingly generous in his encouragement, always finding ways to cheer on anyone with whom he crosses paths. Having developed a real camaraderie with him over the last couple of years, I was in no way surprised that his fiction is as deep and surprise-filled as his blog posts.

Emerald Isle tells the story of Mike, Annie and Mary. From the rolling green hills of Ireland to the heat of Austin to the concrete jungle that is Chicago, with many stops between, this is a story of secrets, vengeance, love lost, hopes shattered and faith tested. It is a tale of a man caught between two women – but not in the way you expect.

While much Christian fiction is saccharine and formulaic, Emerald Isle is refreshingly different. There’s enough action to keep the plot rolling and enough character development to keep the reader attached. In some places, I laughed out loud. Others, my heart ached. If this book were made into a movie, Liam Neeson would easily have a role (I won’t tell you who he’d play). He’d kick butt and take names.

But not as a lone wolf. What I really appreciated about the action elements is that Andrew knows what he’s talking about. He’s been in battle. There are no superheroes in this novel. Results are achieved only through teamwork. Andrew carries this principle beyond the comrades in arms and, in a fascinating exploration of culture, family ties are forged through means other than blood and marriage.

Most importantly, Mike, Annie and Mary’s story prompts the reader to contemplate both the large and small ways in which God is present and working. From Chapter 105:

See, and You can correct me if I’m wrong, I think You’re just too big to understand, starting cold. All that Old Testament stuff, it put me on overload. I bet a lot of people went on overload from that. Started making rules and stuff, making so if we did everything just right you’d like us.

Only, that wasn’t it at all, was it? The answer was always so simple. You loved us from the beginning to way past the end. All we had to do was turn around, see those open arms waiting for us.

Finally You couldn’t stand it anymore, and You came to prove it by dying for us. Dying, and taking all the shame and guilt and general crap we should have felt for the way we lived, ESPECIALLY the way we lived when we thought we were doing good. We protected our hearts from You by building walls of laws and rules and stupid little rituals, while You wore your heart on Your sleeve. And on the cross You bled out, that heart pumped all your blood overboard, until only water came out when the centurion stuck You with the spear.

And that blood went down to join other blood from other victims on that hill, but You made it something different. You made red robes, red for kingship, red for blood, red for love.

My soul sings, reading that.

There’s more to be said, but I won’t say it. I’d give too much away if I did. Just head on over to Amazon. You know what to do.

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I received a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Stumbling Servants

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

It is a privilege and a pleasure to serve, even in the chaotic and frustrating moments, because it is a privilege and a pleasure to do as Jesus did. It is an honor to be a vessel for His truth, grace and love.

Took an unplanned break last week. I joined my church family in a large community service project and just ran out of time and energy to sit and let the words flow.

There were some tough spots. I butted heads with people I love. It’s a rough-and-tumble and often dysfunctional family, this one that Christ has bought and created by the shedding of His blood. We’ve got sharp edges and soft spots and somehow always manage to ram our sharpness into another’s softness. Our ideas and ways of doing things don’t always align. Sometimes we get derailed in disagreement, forgetting what the goal really is.

That goal? To serve God by serving others. No strings attached.

This little family of faith to which I belong has had a bumpy year. We could have easily imploded over this event. Instead, as I reflect on the last month, I see a quiet, gentle work of God. We are in no way, shape or form perfect people. Far, far from it. But He used us. He prodded here and pushed there to move us beyond the sticking place. We learned some much-needed lessons. We pressed into some difficult conversations. In the end, we worked as a team – maybe a team that doesn’t always win the game, but a team that makes the plays.

Truth is: The people with whom I worship with week after week can frustrate me like no other. But isn’t that how it is with family? They drive you up the wall, but you love them. You don’t always understand the choices they make. You give them side-eye sometimes. But that love is never in question.

We know that God says we are His children. So I wonder if He looked upon us – sweaty and stumbling and maybe a little crabby – with the kind of expression that crosses a father’s face as he watches his toddler learn a new skill. It’s messy. It’s hard. But when that toddler finally makes progress, hair flying every which way and hands covered with peanut butter – the father beams.

There’s always those little spots in our minds, those unevangelized places, that don’t grasp and rest in the kind of love God has for us. We can recite the verses and say the right things. But there’s a part of us that remains scared. What if I don’t do this right? Holiness, sanctification, submission, obedience – all commanded, all Christ-enabled. Perfectionism? Not so much.

Meditate on this verse with me –

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

– Romans 5:8 (NKJV)

While we were still sinners.

The people with whom we, church folk, interacted at that event did not speak, behave or dress the ways we thought they should. They haven’t always made wise choices. They may have had addictions or come from chaotic, broken backgrounds.

Guess what?

They’re just like us.

Jesus didn’t require us to clean up our acts before He offered help.

Again, holiness gets a big “yes and thumbs up” from God. He doesn’t save us so that we can keep on doing whatever we want. We don’t get to bend the definition of sin or remove certain cherished activities from the category. That’s cheap grace. What Christ did for us certainly wasn’t cheap. It cost Him everything. Nor does He save us so that we can spend the rest of our lives under the tyranny of perfectionism. The Bible is full of stories of regular people who loved God but messed up – and God remained steady in His love for them.

Just like us.

We cannot hoard this treasure. The homeless, the addicted, the mentally ill, the sick, the broken – God loves them, just as He loves us. We don’t need to fear them. We need to listen to them, then tell them. Tell them of the God who made the stars, of the atom-splitting choice in a garden, of sin and struggle, of grace and resurrection.

Then we need to turn around and remind ourselves of these things.

Onward, stumbling servants. Get back up when you skin your knees. Resist the urge to retaliate with someone slaps your face. Seek forgiveness when you need and grant it when asked. Beg God for wisdom. Beg Him to make you gentle. Lace up your boots, gird your loins, roll up your sleeves.

We may not do it perfectly, but the work awaits.

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