And Now, The Fish Slapping Dance

Giggles

Gentle Reader,

My house is a disaster. Really. We’re down to the last room in the Grand Epic of Replacing the Floor, which means everything in my bedroom has been shoved into the guest room and everything in the guest room has been shoved into what passes for an office (that nobody ever uses) and there is detritus everywhere. The dogs can’t figure out what’s happening to their environment; in protest of the disruption, they knock over bathroom wastebaskets and generally behave badly.

I don’t know whether to laugh, cry or decamp to the nearest cheap motel.

Attempting to see the humor seems the best choice.

Did you know that Christians aren’t supposed to have a sense of humor, though? I didn’t until recently. Again, belatedly I learn that I have been doing my life all wrong. Must have lost the instruction manual. Apparently we are supposed to be deeply serious people, always and ever concerned with ruining everybody’s good time.

How sad.

Jesus went to parties, you know. As in, He was invited to parties all the time and saw no need to avoid them. Heaven certainly sounds like it’s going to be a gigantic, forever-long party, full of light, laughter and good food. For what is being in the presence of God if not happiness? If not constant smiling?

Is life serious? Of course it is. It’s also absurd. A friend texted me a couple of hours ago, relaying a story she’d seen on the news of a man who broke into a house and began doing laundry. Not his laundry. The laundry that belongs to the people whose house he broke into. Yes, theft is a sin, but that’s funny. What sort of burglar thinks, “You know, I’ll just do some washing up for these fine folks that I’m robbing?”

There are two sides to my personality; one is very serious, dark and afraid, the other ever-amused and struggling to hold back giggles at inappropriate moments. This particular blend is what it is. At nearly 34, I’ve about given up on attempting to reconcile how I can, at the same time, be both numbingly anxious and laughing so hard tears spring to my eyes. That is, I suppose, humanity.

I believe in learning, study, contemplation. I also believe in a good pie to the face. I don’t think God minds a good joke. In fact, I think He laughs. Give yourself permission to do the same. Allow yourself to see the funny, the farcical. Perhaps, in so doing, the proverbial silver lining is found.

William Makepeace Thackeray (one of the best names ever) wrote in his novel Vanity Fair,

The world is a looking-glass, and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face. Frown at it, and it will in turn look sourly upon you; laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly kind companion.

When I frown at the world, when I dwell on all that makes me sad and scared, I find more things to be sad and scared about. When I do the work of looking up and smiling (for it is work, as all choices are), I find more things to smile about. That’s not pop psychology or self-help babble, nor is that a substitute for medication or therapy, if needed. (Real talk: I am beginning to become annoyed at having to place this disclaimer in my writing so often. I wish that anyone who ever reads here would simply, somehow, know what my position is and that I’d never have to state it again). It’s taking ownership of our thoughts an attitudes, something we are advised to do throughout Scripture.

And now, The Fish Slapping Dance. Not because it means anything. Not because it must be analyzed. Because it’s 17 seconds of sheer, unbridled silliness. It’s okay to giggle over this and promptly replay.

Bonus content: The Spanish Inquisition compilation. (Yes, I love Monty Python and yes, Michael Palin is my favorite. Some of my fondest memories involve acting out absurd, stupid sketches with old friends, both original and ones that we blatantly stole from this British comedy troupe. Please don’t sue us, gents. We have no money).

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The LORD Your God in Your Midst: Alive & Active

The Lord your God in your midst,The Mighty One, will save;He will rejoice over you with gladness,He will quiet you with His love,He will rejoice over you with singing.” (1)

Gentle Reader,

Next week we will begin digesting Zephaniah’s book bite by bite. I’m so excited I can hardly stand it! This journey with you has already been so rewarding. I can’t wait to learn more!

Today we pause between ending the background work and beginning the detail work. In this space, this breath, we settle on the awesome, holy nature of the Bible.

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

– Hebrews 4:12 (NKJV)

These words, nestled between a commentary on the need to submit to God in order to enter into rest and a beautiful exposition on how the work of Christ in His identification with and salvation of humanity enables that rest, grab our attention. God’s word is alive? God’s word is a sword? What does this mean?

…a sharp word of discernment, which penetrates the darkest corners of human existence.

The author describes God’s word first of all as “living and active.” The former adjective stands at the head of the verse, perhaps for emphasis, and asserts that that word, rather than being outdated, a “dead” speech-act of a bygone era, still exists as a dynamic force with which one must reckon. “Active” proclaims the word as effective in carrying out God’s intentions. The same word that at creation set the elements of the cosmos to their appointed tasks and still governs the universe toward God’s desired intentions (1:2–3), has the ability to effect change in people. It is not static and passive but dynamic, interactive, and transforming as it interfaces with the people of God.

The sword imagery emphasizes that while God’s word is a word of promise to those who would enter God’s rest, it is also a discerning word of judgment. Verse 12 asserts that like a sword that cuts and thrusts, the word penetrates and divides, being able to reach into the depths of a person’s inner life. In listing the parts of a person on which the word acts—“soul and spirit, joints and marrow”—the preacher simply proclaims the word’s ability to break past a surface religion to an inner, spiritual reality. Rather than dealing with externals such as religious observance, the penetrating word “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Lest one think carelessly about the extent of God’s discernment, the author assures us through verse 13 that “nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” The word translated “uncovered” (gymnos), which normally communicates nakedness or having a lack of adequate clothing, was also used figuratively of being helpless or unprotected. In the context of God’s penetrating word, the concept calls to mind a complete inability to hide anything from God’s gaze. Those who have not responded to God’s word in obedience are spiritually naked, vulnerable before his awesome gaze. A similar imagery is evoked by the participle translated “laid bare,” which means “exposed.” This theme of complete exposure and vulnerability of all creation before God was common in Jewish theology of the era. (1)

God has not ceased speaking. The book you hold in your hands or the words you read on the screen have not lost their importance or meaning or immediacy. What was true for Adam and Eve remains true today.

The world rejects metanarrative, or one overarching “big story.” The Bible stands against this rejection. It declares that God exists. Truth is not relative. Sin is a real condition and a real problem. There is only one way to remedy that condition and problem. Every “little story” fits within that simple yet deeply confrontational declaration of dependence.

Zephaniah’s voice rises with the other Divinely-inspired prophets and authors in praise of the True Lord. He points up, to the One who sits on the throne. He joins in exposing the willful blindness and the depth of darkness found within each and every human being. He pushes the reader toward the light, toward a breaking point. Choose God and live. Anything else is disaster.

This is the message of the Bible.

Reflection

  1. Consider the fact that God sees all and knows all. With that in mind, carve out some time to pray. Is there anything you need to confess to Him right now? Anything you need to deal with? (Prayer doesn’t need to be eloquent or long-winded. Just talk to Him as a child would a loving father).
  2. Think about your approach to the Bible. Do you understand the power in the words you read? Do you understand that you need to cultivate an attitude of worship and reverence?
  3. The point of Bible study is not to gain more head knowledge, but to develop an ever-deepening relationship with the Lord. Where are you at right now? Close to Him? Far away? Confident? Unsure? Where do you want to be? Why?
  4. Many Christians have trouble reading anything in the Old Testament beyond the creation account in Genesis. We assume that it doesn’t really matter for us today. Read 2 Timothy 3:16-17. How much of Scripture is useful? How much is relevant?
  5. Think about everything you’ve learned so far. What do you want to know now? What do you hope to gain from studying Zephaniah?

Until next time.

My journey to faith. (15)

Sources

(1) NIV Application Commentary (under the “Study This” tab)

For all entries in The LORD Your God in Your Midst series, go here.

Joy in the Simple

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Benny the obese PomChi breathes deeply next to me, lost in whatever dreamland dogs enter in sleep. Blue the wiener dog slumbers as well, in the recliner across the room, curled up in what we call the “crabby ball.” Potato soup simmers in the slow cooker, ready to take its place at dinnertime; a nice hot meal on a cold, gray day. Neatly wrapped presents (full disclosure: my husband handled those) nestle next to colorful gift bags topped with delicate tissue paper (my work) beneath the tree. Clear twinkle lights cast warm light, reflecting off of the white glitter snowflakes my parents purchased for their first Christmas tree. I tried having a decorative theme at one point, but its all lost in a jumble of homemade ornaments, obnoxious nutcrackers that Chris collects specifically because they creep me out and, of course, Batman.

Because who wouldn’t want Batman on the tree?

In my denomination, this third week of Advent focuses on joy. We tend to hyper-spiritualize that word. Joy is somehow “better” than happy, because joy transcends circumstance. Happy is an emotion. Joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit.

Except that the word is defined as “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.”

God cares about our happiness. He wants us to experience a feeling of great pleasure. This matters so much to Him that His Holy Spirit actually works to develop this quality, this feeling, inside us. No, He doesn’t give us what we want all the time. As they say, He is not a vending machine. Nor does He function as some fearful, boundary-less parent who has given His children free reign. Instead, He gives us new eyes. He shifts our perspective. We begin to see blessing in each day. We begin to feel joy even in the darkest moments.

It’s not automatic. The indwelling of the Spirit does not render us robots. We have choices. We can reject the beauty and the light. We can decide that we’re just going to be cranky and hate everything and nothing will ever be good again and it all sucks so why even try? I do that more than I like to admit.

But God will not be denied. As we have choices, so does He. We may choose to close our eyes to Him and throw a fit, but He’s still there. He does not leave us. He stands ready to show us something wonderful in every moment. Willing to hold us close. More than capable of whispering precious things into our souls, things that keep us buoyed throughout the tempest.

Chances are very good that an upper gastrointestinal scope is in my near future. I woke up with a slightly sore throat that has worsened throughout the day. It’s difficult not to give in to pessimism and despair.

My eyes linger on the lights. My ears are soothed by the rhythm of canine breathing. My nose is tantalized by the scents coming from the kitchen.

My body is still falling apart.

So it will be this side of Heaven.

But in this moment, I choose the joy. I choose to see what He sees. I am thankful for the warmth of my small, cozy home. I take pleasure in the Christmas tree. I wiggle my toes inside the heavy socks and lined slippers. I’m always cold these days, so I’m glad for the fuzzy blanket and the puffy vest. I appreciate disgusting herbal cough drops.

All very simple.

All very good.

My journey to faith. (15)

Not An Expert

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Gentle Reader,

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around why many discussions are so emotionally charged these days. It just doesn’t compute. I suppose I should blame my parents for raising me to ask questions respectfully and consider differing views rationally. Or maybe I could blame my journalism instructors for pounding into my head the importance of listening.

Or maybe I’m just a Vulcan.

In this desire to understand, I came across an article by Tom Nichols over at the Federalist,The Death of Expertise.” I recommend you go and take a look, for it speaks to our society’s current love-affair with heated argument. It sheds some light on why every issue under the sun is a controversial hotbed these days.

We all have different ways of approaching life. There isn’t a “wrong” or a “right” way to tackle things like housecleaning, keeping up with work emails, exercising, etc. There is, however, a difference between areas that we all participate in at an equal level and areas that require specialized, specific knowledge. We’ve lost sight of that.

Nobody should be blindly trusted, but we as a society seem to think that all points of view on every topic are equally valid, and that’s simply not true. It takes expertise to be a lawyer, a physics professor, a doctor, a true librarian (someone with an Masters of Library Science, which I don’t have), a professional chef, a speech therapist. This doesn’t mean that people without expertise in a certain field are dumb or that their ideas or questions are invalid, but it does mean that the layperson should respect the fact that those who can answer the questions know more. That they have a better understanding.

That we’re not always on that equal level, and that’s okay.

When making decisions that require input from someone with expertise, there are several questions that must be considered: Do I recognize that I need someone with expertise to address this? If not, there’s probably some level of self-delusion. Do I think, despite the disparity in education/experience/training between myself and _______, that I possess expertise? If the answer is yes, there’s probably some arrogance or a problem with authority. If I am angry with the answer, is it because I simply do not like the answer? That’s okay – for a time. A refusal to move beyond that anger is just sheer stubbornness. If I’m talking only to people who agree with me, or only reading things that affirm what I already think, am I truly looking for an answer? This is important, for nothing good can come from surrounding ourselves with “yes men.”

If accepting the fact that there’s a smarter person in the room is an impossibility, then we’re in trouble. This applies especially to Christians. The road of faith is supposed to mean a progression in maturity and humility, and where we are on that journey will show in all areas of life. If we go ballistic when someone dares to correct us, that’s a big ol’ red flag. If we ask a question and then go into a snit when we don’t hear what we want to hear, that’s a humongous stop sign. If we cry “hate speech” when someone disagrees (I’ve seen this one flying around a lot lately), that’s a flashing red light. If we sit around and smugly think that nobody else really knows what they’re talking about, that’s a call for a kick in the pants.

This hits me in a very real way. It is because I believe that this blog is part of God’s call on my life that I also believe that the ideas of expertise, maturity and humility are so important. I do not take to this public platform flippantly. The fact that anyone at all comes here to read is…daunting. A responsibility. I want to remain teachable and open to correction. I want to be able to admit to having limited knowledge and own my mistakes.

That’s something we should all strive for, really. Pride is sneaky. And deadly.

So allow me to declare that I’m not an expert. In anything. There are so many people who are far smarter, wiser, more experienced than I can ever hope to be.

And I’m grateful for that.

My journey to faith. (15)