31 Days of Feasting on Theology: Bonus Post

31 Days 2017 Large

Gentle Reader,

All right.

I don’t usually post when I’m angry.

But there’s an emotion we call righteous anger. The kind of fury and frustration that arises from a broken heart. The kind of pain that makes you want to tear your clothes. The flush that splashes your cheeks at the sight of injustice. The sort of chest-constricting, goosebumps causing, I’m going to throw things while I cry if this isn’t made right feeling.

That’s what I felt when this made its way across my Twitter feed:

DL5X2cAVQAE0uJ3

I don’t know who painted this.

I’m not sure it matters.

This painting is the fruit of bad theology. It’s the result of sprinkling a little Jesus on the salad of life. This painting exists because of blind, unthinking nationalism. It is a shining example of everything that’s wrong with believing that America and Americans are special (it isn’t and we aren’t). But first, foremost and glaringly – this is a portrait of idolatry. Trump will make everything right again. Trump is Jesus’ special guy. I’ll put my faith in Trump.

Stop it.

Just stop it.

I’m nearly halfway through this series. My heart hurts. Unbidden tears roll down my cheeks. Come on, people! Come on, church! How can we, who are so privileged, who possess multiple Bibles, who can listen to thousands of sermons at any time, who are the wealthiest and best-educated (comparatively speaking) be this stupid?

In the Old Testament, we read about the Israelites and their fondness for Baal and other ancient Canaanite deities. We think, “Wow, they were so dumb. How could they worship some hunk of stone? I would never do something like that.”

Except we do.

It’s not about Trump. He’s just the latest, loudest example.

The president, whoever he/she is, will never be your savior. He’s not going to make anything great again. She can’t fix you. He can’t provide for you. She doesn’t even have a clue who you are.

Oh, dear reader! Lay down this burden of placing your hope in people who are as frail and flawed as you are. Let go of the desire to “Christianize” the nation through law. If the perfect law of God as handed down at Sinai couldn’t save, then how can imperfect law imperfectly enforced by imperfect people save? Make like Gideon in the good days of his life and topple the statues that lurk in your heart. Prostrate yourself before the Holy King and beg forgiveness. Ask Him for a new perspective, eyes to see and ears to hear.

Please, please, for the sake of your soul, your heart, your mind, your life – read the Bible. Really read it. Study it. Ask questions. Learn things. Get to know the truth so you can spot the lies. Pray for the president, yes. Support him/her within the boundaries of faithful Christian ethics (i.e., follow God and do as He says first and always). Never, ever, idolize the president (or this country).

God doesn’t take kindly to that sort of thing.

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For all entries in the 31 Days of Feasting on Theology series, go here.

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Let’s Talk Darwin, Shall We?

Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poorWill also cry himself and not be heard.

Gentle Reader,

Are you a Social Darwinist?

Of course not, you scoff. Darwin = bad.

Sure about that?

Social Darwinism is:

the theory that human groups and races are subject to the same laws of natural selection as Charles Darwin had perceived in plants and animals in nature. According to the theory, which was popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the weak were diminished and their cultures delimited while the strong grew in power and in cultural influence over the weak. Social Darwinists held that the life of humans in society was a struggle for existence ruled by “survival of the fittest,” a phrase proposed by the British philosopher and scientist Herbert Spencer. (emphasis mine)

Please, reflect on this.

Does any part of you believe this?

Further:

The theory was used to support laissez-faire capitalism and political conservatism. Class stratification was justified on the basis of “natural” inequalities among individuals, for the control of property was said to be a correlate of superior and inherent moral attributes such as industriousness, temperance, and frugality. Attempts to reform society through state intervention or other means would, therefore, interfere with natural processes; unrestricted competition and defense of the status quo were in accord with biological selection. The poor were the “unfit” and should not be aided; in the struggle for existence, wealth was a sign of success. (emphasis mine)

Again, please reflect.

The history books lining my shelves tell me that Social Darwinism died out during the 20th century as a result of advances in biology and sociology.

But did it?

I have doubts.

I watch as people – friends of mine, conservative and liberal – debate the issues of the day. Of particular note is the Affordable Care Act and the GOP efforts to demolish it. Does the ACA have problems? It does. Under my husband’s insurance plan (an HSA), I’ve been denied medications and treatments. That’s still legal. The ACA wasn’t real reform. There’s plenty of blame to pass around.

There is a far greater problem than the ACA, however: Hard hearts.

It’s entirely possible to be a compassionate person and believe that the government has no role in providing healthcare. I believe that. I wish this kind of person would speak a little louder. I wish they would tell those who say things like, “They should just get jobs,” “Healthcare isn’t a right,” “I shouldn’t have to pay for other people to go to the doctor,” and “People who need Obamacare are lazy” how appalled they are over that lack of compassion. I wish this kind of person would find others who are able to come together and create a brilliant plan, one that makes healthcare accessible and affordable for all.

Because Social Darwinism is alive and well, you see.

It’s not about money.

The Senate just passed a $700 billion defense policy bill.

Can’t find too many ACA opponents, who claim to want to cut spending, who say they want a smaller government, too upset about that. (Note: If you understand me to be saying that soldiers shouldn’t be paid, then you are practicing eisegesis. Go sit in a corner). Such people more than likely do exist; I’m just not seeing anything from them.

Behind that lack of compassion is, though perhaps subconscious, a smug sense of superiority. I’m not sick. I’m better than you. I’m stronger than you. Go take care of yourself. I’m busy.

This would be a bad enough attitude amongst the pagans (really, no offense meant, pagans), but I’m seeing this crop up more and more among people who call themselves Christians. People who are supposed to be loving. Compassionate. Kind. The ones who take care of and stand up for the little guy. The ones who are supposed to be humble, giving, sacrificial.

Again, it’s possible and, I’d say, even completely fine to disagree about the role of government in healthcare. (Although, I do find it odd that some of the strongest voices raised against the ACA and all socialized medicine belong to recipients of Medicare. If you did not know or did not realize, Medicare is socialized medicine). But tell me: What will we do if and when the ACA is dismantled? Millions of people will be without coverage. There’s talk of going back to the days of pre-existing conditions, which basically means someone like me can just go ahead and die, thank you very much. Big cuts to Mediacaid – you know, the thing that allows poor children to go to the doctor. And why would we need maternity coverage? The stork brings babies.

Yes, yes – supposedly the people in the suits want to give block grants to the states.

But you know that each state is going to get different amounts, right?

And that the state government gets to decide how to use and spend those grants, right?

That there’s no guarantee here?

But that’s okay, because you’ve never been sick. You’ve never needed surgery. You’re a “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” sort. Jesus said that He’d help those who help themselves, after all. (No, He didn’t). I mean, it doesn’t matter that your state might not have enough money to help you – you’re never going to need that help. You’re not some lazy, disgusting, weak person.

In the church, we don’t call it Social Darwinism. Instead, we tell people to just pray harder. Under the guise of sharing concern, we wonder with others what this sick person has done to bring this on themselves. Boy, it’s a good thing that we’re right with the Lord. We’d never do something so bad as to make Him give us cancer. We’ll tut-tut and flap our hands over that church member who does have cancer, maybe even bring a meal or two, but we are certainly not going to help pay the bills. That’s not our job. Oh, and hey, Government? You will not use our tax money that way!

We need to examine ourselves. Disagree over models and plans and roles, but never forget that there are real, human lives in the balance here. Never forget that you are, in fact, commanded:

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one anothernot lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.

By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?

My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

– Philippians 2:1-4; Romans 12:9-13; 1 John 3:16-18; Colossians 3:12-17 (NKJV, emphasis mine)

There is no place for smug, arrogant, Social Darwinism in our faith. None at all.

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Five Minute Friday: Support

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

First, apologies to my writing buddies. I have neglected to interact with your comments and visit your sites for the last two weeks. Life just gets in the way sometimes.

Second, we are slowly but surely sliding into Autumn. I can hardly contain my glee. Cooler temperatures, overcast skies, sweaters, boots, warm socks. I love it all.

Not chat party for me tonight. I put off exercising until late in the day due to yet another smoke invasion. (How I hope and pray that these fires die down soon). While the gang was tapping at the keys, I was yelling at my television, telling the lady leading the program that she’s a sadist and that no, I would not do another set of push-ups.

Kate asks us to: support.

Go.

Antéchomai: to hold before or against, hold back, withstand, endure; to keep one’s self directly opposite to any one, hold to him firmly, cleave to, paying heed to him

StudyLight

Remember, the New Testament wasn’t written in English, not even that of King James I of England (VI of Scotland; it’s complicated). It can be helpful to study the original language – Greek – in order to gain a deeper understanding of the text. One needn’t be a scholar; being able to read or pronounce the words in the ancient tongue is definite bonus points territory, but all that is required is access to the internet, the ability to use a search engine and a desire to learn.

So, an-tekh’-om-ahee.

We find this word in 1 Thessalonians 5:14,

Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.

– NKJV

Uphold the weak.

What does that look like? What does it mean to support the weak? And why is this a command given to us?

Maybe it has something to do with these verses, quoted in this space before, quoted so often in Christian culture,

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

– NKJV

Jesus is our example. Through the process of sanctification, the Holy Spirit makes us more like Him. As our Lord was humble, patient, kind, loving, all the things we think of as good, so, by grace, must we be. It’s a “go and do likewise” thing. We throw ourselves onto His lap and beg Him to carry us when we just can’t take another step. So we, receiving strength and grace from the Source of life itself, are then able to support our brothers and sisters who can’t take another step. We help them come to the feast table, the mercy seat. Then, when we ourselves are weak, our brothers and sisters help us. On and on it goes.

Sometimes this looks like dropping off a warm meal. Sometimes it’s listening while resisting the temptation to offer advice. Scrubbing floors, rubbing backs, babysitting, discussing Scripture, praying together, weeping with those who weep.

For we are all weak, are we not? In our frailty and the incompleteness of our sanctification, strength lasts but a short while. We are constantly, consistently having to return to the Lord, crying out for Him to breathe life into us once more.

It is our privilege to help each other do so.

Stop.

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Get Off Your Butt

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (2)

Gentle Reader,

Context before we begin:

Many thoughts swirling in my head.

I’m a teacher. No, I don’t rule a classroom. I don’t have a degree in education. I simply love to learn and can’t help but share what I’ve learned with others. I have been told more than once that I have the ability to distill complex subjects down to their basic parts, something for which God gets all the credit. I love digging into Scripture and my brother told me just last night that, if I ever tried to preach, I’d probably start by saying, “Okay, so we’re going to go over the entire Bible.” (I laughed. It’s true. And it would be so fun).

For better or worse, this is how God has chosen to gift me.

So let’s talk discipleship. Let’s talk learning.

A disciple is a follower. One who submits to the authority of another (in the Christian context, God), learns his ways and passes that knowledge onto others. As we hear so often, a disciple makes disciples. Basically, it’s, “Hey, Jesus saved me and I love Him and you should join me in this because it’s awesome.” Really, there’s no neat formula in this disciple-making. No, “Do x, y and z – then you will have arrived.” It’s messy. There are steps forward and steps back. There isn’t a single person who gets it right all the time. Never, ever, should it be about one human being looking to another as the be-all, end-all, but rather the one who’s a little farther down the path pointing the newbie to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord. It’s every believer everywhere becoming more and more enraptured with His presence, rather than seeking only what He provides. (There is a difference).

As Paul wrote:

Copy me, my brothers, as I copy Christ himself.

– 1 Corinthians 11:1 (Phillips)

Discipleship, then, is the process of growing in Christ. It’s mature believers putting their arms around the spiritual babies, helping them learn to walk God’s path. Those babies grow and strengthen, eventually putting their arms around those who nurtured them in a display of mutual love and support, then going on to repeat the process with new babies. It’s the Body doing what the Body does, in all its stumbling and variety. It’s deep, rich Bible study and doctrinally correct songs springing from tone-deaf but joyous congregations and hard conversations and liturgy and people not always getting along because we’re human and we suck sometimes but figuring out how to not get along in a Christ-honoring way (it can be done). It starts with God, centers on God and ends with God.

At least, it’s supposed to.

I am heartbroken over the state of discipleship in churches across the United States. (Really, I’m heartbroken over the church in general. When evangelicalism is known for its support of, at best, a deeply and troublingly flawed president, rather than for the spread of the Gospel, then it’s time for some sackcloth and ashes). It bothers me greatly that men and women abandon their Bibles as “boring” or “too hard” (or, perhaps worse yet, “irrelevant”). It sickens me that so few seem interested in doing the work of spiritual motherhood and fatherhood, picking those babies up when they fall and raising their down-turned faces to look upon the ultimate Father who smiles upon them. I roll my eyes at “rah-rah” women’s events aimed at inflating the self for a few days instead of teaching women to get in there, roll up their sleeves and finally get beyond the surface, a surface that infantilizes us more and more each day. I sigh when men lament the “feminization” of the church because nobody can really explain what that means and if a man doesn’t go to church, it’s because he doesn’t want to. My mouth drops when I hear someone dismiss a certain Scriptural tenet or command, for he fails to see how that dismissal logically leads to other dismissals and the entire thing falls apart. My lungs drain when I hear of some Christian leader not having the sense to recognize that praising a Mormon “prophet” isn’t good. I loathe how services are timed just so because we’ll be damned if anything goes past noon and interferes with lunch, no matter how the Holy Spirit might be moving. I hate that people can manage to make time for favorite television shows, movies or hobbies but are “too busy” for Bible study. I think it’s stupid that few are willing to lead Bible studies, or even to serve in any way at all, because they’re “not knowledgeable” enough or “there’s just too much else going on.” It disgusts me that much of what passes for Bible study is just pop-psychology laden, relationally focused, fuzzy-wuzzy gobbledy-gook. Or straight-up gossip time. I’m dismayed at how the sick, infertile and unmarried are often cut out of church life by default, because they don’t fit into “what works.”

There are thousands of think-pieces on why the church stinks. I can summarize them all in one sentence:

The problem is us.

I know that spiritual abuse is real; I’ve experienced it. I know that there are many unhealthy, unsound churches; I’ve been in more than one. I would never tell anyone that she should stay in a church just because. I definitely don’t think that church attendance is a factor in entering Heaven. There are real issues of misogyny and racism and false teaching.

All of those problems continue to exist because we aren’t engaged in discipleship.

That is, of course, a very broad statement. There are many thoughtful Christians, men and women who take the faith seriously, love the Lord deeply and do their best to serve Him daily. These people are, I suspect, quiet. Hidden. Behind the scenes just doing the thing. Not seeking glory or applause. But…overall…

We aren’t knowledgeable.

We aren’t teachable.

We aren’t imitating Christ.

This is our problem. Our issue. Together, the bad and the good. The pain and the beauty. We no longer have time to pursue “feel good” things. We don’t need to “have a political voice.” (Oh, Lord above, please let the Johnson Amendment be preserved). We have got to put on our big kid undies and deal. Stop whining. Get on with it. Study the Bible, raise our voices in worship, invite others to ask us hard questions, submit ourselves to the authority of the Holy Spirit each day.

We aren’t supposed to stay babies forever.

The “too long, didn’t read” conclusion for all you ADHD folks: Christian, get off your butt and grow up.

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Photo credit: Aaron Burden