Five Minute Friday: Silence

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Jeremiah. I just finished studying the book that bears his name. Now, I’m in the middle of Lamentations. That man walked a long, hard road. He preached destruction and repentance to a people who were in no way interested.

I love him.

Kate says: silence.

Go.

I have a new favorite phrase: “I’m not here for that.” Urban Dictionary (a most reliable source) tells me that this is what you say “when asked a question that is beneath you, or else confronted with a situation that you simply cannot care about.” I like that definition, but I prefer to use the phrase differently. After all, doesn’t postmodernism teach us that words are fluid? (FYI: I don’t actually believe this).

So.

I’m not here for the ongoing defense of sexual predators.

I’m not here for prioritizing power over holiness.

I’m not here for the abuse and twisting of Scripture.

I’m not here for willful ignorance.

I’m not here for speaking softly and kindly to false teachers.

I’m not here for overlooking sin and character flaws because we think that person might give us what we want.

I’m not here for turning a blind eye to injustice.

I’m not here for deceit.

WAKE UP.

American evangelicalism is burning to the ground and we’re the ones who lit the fire. Not some external, vaguely-defined cultural “force.” Not members of other religions. Not atheists. Us. We. You and me. Every time we talk about a Jesus who supports the “American dream.” Every time we preach prosperity over sacrifice. Every time we talk a great game and make no attempt to live it out.

I love the church. She does much good. But she can be better.

We can be better.

It’s not about programs or numbers. It’s not about websites or social media. All that stuff will fade away. It’s about us putting our lives where our mouth is. It’s about us actually doing this thing.

Read your Bible, people. Learn some theology. Ask God for the discernment to be able to recognize false teachers and manipulators before you’re in too deep. Ask Him to examine your heart and expose your idols. Then destroy them. Beat them into dust.

Because you know what?

For all the noise out there, for all our screaming, the silence of cowardice – the profound lack of ability or willingness to rage against the evil that’s all around, but especially the evil that’s within His Body, and weep, pleading for the grace to change – is really deafening.

And telling.

Stop.

Signature

Photo Credit: Ben White
Advertisements

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.

Signature

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

They Call Us “Hypocrites” – They are Not Wrong

along-theway-mlsgregg-com

Gentle Reader,

My people.

Evangelicals.

What does the word even mean anymore?

Today, instead of pointing to those who are given over to the spreading of the Good News, the term appears to equate with jackassesHypocrites. Devastatingly so.

I’ll get to the point: If you are using David’s or Solomon’s adultery to excuse Donald Trump’s words and behavior, then you are wrong. You do not have a hermeneutical leg to stand on.

Does God forgive unreservedly all who ask in sincerity? Yes. Of course. No doubt.

This does NOT mean that there are no consequences.

Let’s look at David and the aftermath of his infamous affair with Bathsheba.

Consider the opening verses of Psalm 51:

Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to Your lovingkindness;
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.

– vs. 1-2 (NKJV)

Contrast them with:

‘Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ Thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun.'”

– 2 Samuel 12:10-12 (NKJV)

God did indeed forgive David.

But he lived out the rest of his days in strife.

Here’s a little Interpretation 101: Just because it’s in the Bible doesn’t mean that God is okay with it. What the honesty of Scripture reveals is the honesty of God. He inspired the authors to present the sweeping story in all of its terribleness. The breadth and depth of human depravity is on full display, showing our inability to self-correct and achieve righteousness. Against this dark backdrop splashes the pure brilliance of the Savior.

Mr. Trump has lived a life devoid of respect for others, particularly women. Edit: My friend Andrew pointed out the danger of generalizations. We do not know every thought Mr. Trump has ever had, every action he’s ever taken. My comment is based only on how Mr. Trump has chosen to present himself to the public. He has at least appeared to take great delight in shocking and demeaning others. Can this be corrected? Can his heart be changed? Can the same Jesus who saved me save Him? Absolutely.

Yet there are consequences. Lifelong ones, even. For as “they” say, whoever “they” are, sins always find us out. Those who cry that Mrs. Clinton should be charged for her crimes would do well to seriously ponder their defense of Mr. Trump. If her actions follow her, then so do his. If her character is attested to in every action and comment, then so is his. There cannot, should not, be a double standard.

Here’s what we’re really getting down to: a lust for power. Church leaders who continue to uncritically back Mr. Trump, sling mud at Mrs. Clinton and engage in fear-mongering over Supreme Court justices have lost sight of what the mission truly is:

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

– Matthew 28:18-20 (NKJV)

Jesus does not say, “Be sure to vote for a candidate who might appoint justices who can possibly get through a Senate hearing so that Roe v. Wade will maybe be overturned.” He does not say, “Make sure that you do all that you can to ensure your political power and influence.”

None of that.

He speaks the above words to men and women who will immediately experience persecution for their obedience:

“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

– John 15:18-19 (NKJV)

Jesus does not say, “Yes, do be afraid. Do worry about what will happen if someone you don’t like is elected to the position of President. Do lament and sigh with great woe. Do wring your hands.”

What is that you want, you who claim the name of Christ? To be the loudest voice in a screaming world? To place a thin veneer of morality over society, expecting those who do not have the Spirit of the Living God within to behave as if they do? If you choose to be a single-issue voter or a person who casts a ballot out of fear, that’s all you can hope to achieve – and that is not an achievement at all.

Or do you want to cast yourself fully upon the sovereignty of God, knowing that you do not belong to this world? Knowing that you are a pilgrim? Knowing that you have a job to do, and that you cannot complete it through natural means? Knowing that you are called to fix your eyes upon Jesus, no matter how the storm rages or how the environment shifts or how hostile people become?

If at the end of the day you wish to vote for Mr. Trump, then do. If you find his proposed policies and philosophies of government sound, then check that box. But please stop believing that he is anymore “moral” a choice than the others. He is not. Stop believing that the GOP is the “party of God.” It is not.

As this incident unfolds, I am appalled by the attitude of those who call themselves evangelical Christians. Again, God can and does forgive. We should hope and pray that Mr. Trump has genuinely repented. At the same time, our response to this should not be the error of eisegesis, to read into the Bible conclusions we have already made, to assume that “because David did it,” all is well. Our response should not be unflinching defense of this or any other candidate. Our response should not be to deflect and say, “But look at what Clinton did!”

And certainly our response should not be, “All men talk like that.”

They categorically do not, and no woman is required to put up with those who do.

Either we care about character or we do not. Either we focus on the Gospel or we focus on clawing and scraping for societal domination. The choice is ours to make. And it is a choice. A binary. This road or that.

We cannot travel both.

We cannot hold onto the world with one hand and hold onto God with the other.

We must do better.

Signature

Addendum: I know that someone is going to cry “foul” because I plan to vote for Gary Johnson and he clearly holds some positions that are contrary to Scripture. I do not pretend that Mr. Johnson is a perfect candidate and I do not pretend to agree with him on every issue. I choose Mr. Johnson because I find him to be the sanest candidate in an insane election cycle, even after the “Aleppo gaffe” and the “tongue thing.” I choose Mr. Johnson because, as a for-the-most-part Libertarian, I do not believe that it is the job of government to do what the Church is meant to do. I choose Mr. Johnson because the two-party system is irrevocably broken. I choose Mr. Johnson because I refuse to “vote strategically,” for that method simply doesn’t work. For more on this topic, please see “Laws & Hearts.”

If you are interested in reading an excellent argument for Evan McMullin, please see this.