Five Minute Friday: Try

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I had hoped this post would be funny, or at least snarky, because that’s the kind of mood I’m in, but it took an introspective turn. Such is the nature of writing I suppose. The words express something beyond the surface.

Kate asks us to: try.

Go.

If at first you don’t succeed, throw something.

That’s always been my motto.

When I was five and my parents were trying to teach me how to tie my shoes, they had this little wood block threaded through with laces. Over and over again they would show me how to knot and loop and twist. Over and over again, I would fail. It wasn’t until my mom told me that I’d always have to live close her to so that she could come over and tie my shoes every morning and I flew into a rage that I accomplished the awful task. (Funnily enough, I live just around the corner from my parents).

A lot of things come easy to me. The stuff that doesn’t makes me angry. If I can’t catch on to a concept quickly, I usually abandon it. (Hence my family referring to me as “barely domesticated”).

I’m not much of a try-er.

Gliding ever-more deeply into the third decade of life, I wonder: What have I missed?

Pride and fear lock arms and keep me hemmed into a comfortable space. Oh, it’s wide. The view is nice. But there’s a lot out there, beyond the fence, that I’ve never experienced. Like ice skating. Who gets to be in her 30s without having ice skated? Yeah, yeah, those pesky health problems play a part, too. But still. There’s a lot I keep myself back from. So many…pieces, longings, kept shut tight.

Maybe it’s time to try.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)

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Not the Fundamentals: Signs, Wonders, Tongues of Angels

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Gentle Reader,

Two-for-one today! I’m slightly behind in my posting schedule, and this piece goes well with the one just before.

I am not a cessasionist. I believe that miracles happen today, because God is involved in our world and answers the prayers of His people. In fact, I believe that we in the West see few miracles because a) we do not recognize them as such and b) we rely on ourselves and our resources often to the exclusion of seeking God’s intervention.

That said, I am also not a “signs and wonders” person, and that is also because I believe that God is involved in our world. He graced His people with the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. While there are many instances when a burning bush would be awesome, such a thing is usually not necessary. The quiet voice of the Lord is enough.

I see a divide between how God chose to operate before Christ and how He has chosen to operate after. In the Old Testament, great signs and wonders were a means of drawing people to examine their inner selves and repent. In the New (and into today), the great sign and wonder is found in the changed life, set free by the power of the Cross. And so believers today walk within the mightily supernatural – rain at the right moment, a mysteriously disappearing tumor and demons put to flight at the name of Jesus – and within the daily supernatural – a word fitly spoken, a sense of peace, the ability to turn from an addiction.

A congregation’s stance on signs and wonders and, specifically, speaking in tongues, makes for some of the greatest argument within the Body of Christ.

There is a constant battle within each of us between hunger for God and hunger for what He can do.

I do not question, in any way, the salvation of those who adhere to the charismatic end of the spectrum, but I do wonder at the chaos found in many such circles. Every miracle, every sign recorded in Scripture reveals not only that the Lord is powerful, but that He is orderly. Everything that He does serves a purpose. The point is never the miracle, but the Source of the miracle. Jesus refused to behave like a performing monkey and dole out miracles willy-nilly (John 6:26b – “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled”). Having been exposed to several charismatic streams throughout my teen years at the private school I attended, the lack of order and purpose bothers me. We should not walk this life of faith in expectation of a constant “high.” We should not be looking for God to put on a “show.”

At this point we hone in on the example of speaking in tongues. I do believe that the ability to miraculously speak in a real foreign language, as happened in Acts 2, is legitimate and continues to happen today in the mission field.  It would not make sense in my context, so I have never this experience. As for the “tongues of angels,” what I have been exposed to has…well, it has freaked me out. I can only characterize it as screaming, high-pitched giggling, spittle-filled gibberish. Again, I’m not at all saying that those who do such things are not saved. I am simply uncomfortable with what I have seen. I have found this “speaking” to be distracting and focused on the speaker, rather than the Lord.

Most bothersome is that each time I have been exposed to this, the participants have, without exception, completely ignored these directives:

How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.  For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. – 1 Corinthians 14:26-33 (NKJV)

The last sentence says it all for me, especially because I deal with anxiety. God is not the author of confusion, but of peace. 

So, perhaps it is not the use of the “tongues of angels” that troubles me, but rather the lack of order. What can anyone gain from the ecstatic utterances of a dozen people, none of whom can rightly explain what they have been saying? If the spiritual gifts are for the equipping of the Body for ministry (Ephesians 4:12), then they had better be exercised to that end.

Ultimately, it is not a fellow believer’s swimming in the charismatic stream and others not that brings trouble. I have no problem with the laying on of hands. I have no problem with praying for miracles. But do not tell me that I must speak in tongues as evidence of my salvation. Do not tell me that I must be able to heal people. There isn’t a thing in Scripture that stands as evidence of belief other than a sincere devotion to Christ. Faith is found in the minute-by-minute decision making. It does not live only in the grandiose gesture.

Unfortunately, we all-too-quickly lose sight of that. At a youth conference I attended at age 16, the speaker asked for each person who had never spoken in tongues to stand a ask God to give them the gift. I remember thinking that such a thing was crazy. The idea of every believer demanding a certain something from God, whether it is tongues or not, is galling. How presumptuous can we get! We would to well to remember that:

If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” – 1 Corinthians 12:15-21 (NKJV)

We’re not all supposed to be the same. We don’t all get the same gifts at the same time for use in the same way. God desires our interdependency on each other and our utter dependency upon Him.

So, if you speak in tongues and that deepens your relationship with God, that’s great. I’m happy for you. I don’t do that. I won’t demand that God give me the ability to do that. And we’re both saved.

My journey to faith. (15)

 For all the posts in the Not the Fundamentals series, go here.

Sock Seams

IMG_20131125_191853Gentle Reader,

I’ve been in a funk.

A multiple-year funk.

The last major work I finished writing was for the Women of Faith contest a couple…actually, possibly three years ago. I forget. And reading? I pick up books only to discard them. The mojo just hasn’t been there, not for anything greater than the hammering out of a post or the quick run-through of a familiarly-plotted novel. Words, lovely black-faced words on fresh white pages or screens, haven’t been as friendly as they used to be.

I was only vaguely aware of this funk until last Monday, when the volunteer coordinator at the shelter I’m volunteering at asked me if I had any life-goals.

Cue panic, stage right.

The truth is, I’ve been focusing on getting through each day. Sometimes on surviving the day. Or the hour. I used to spend so much time berating myself for not having brought about the end of world hunger with a Pulitzer and Nobel winning piece of elegant prose. I used to feel ashamed for not having accomplished more at such-and-such an age. I used to think that it was necessary to have a five-year plan and that if I didn’t check every item off the list, I was a complete and total failure. Then the world caved in. Getting out of bed and taking a shower became the major milestones.

For someone who isn’t wildly expressive, I sure do live on the extremes. Plan out five years or plan out five minutes. No happy middle ground.

This simple question, coming from a place of completely innocent curiosity, settled on me like a thick, smelly blanket. What are my life-goals? Why can’t I think of any?

In the midst of this gloominess, I picked up Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission by Amy Simpson. The hubby had gotten the book for me over the summer, for my birthday. It had been sitting on my nightstand for weeks, untouched. I’m sure I sighed when I picked it up and thumbed through the crisp pages. Why not read? Nothing else to do.

While I’m not the heavy predestination-y sort, I do believe that God orchestrates things for our good (Rom. 8:28). I think there are times when we’ve been wandering around for long enough and He lights a spark under our rears. Where I could barely get through the introduction before, now I couldn’t stop reading. And, gloriously, I came to this sentence:

The problem is, many people can get treated for the rest of their lives and learn to manage an illness, but will never be “over it.” (p. 114)

This screamingly-apparent truth brought new light to the question of life-goals and the answering thereof. While I firmly believe that God can and does bring total healing to people if that is within His plan for them, I also firmly believe that it can be within His plan to withhold total healing. I know that this is true because of sock seams.

I’ve worn socks my whole life. I’ve never had a problem with them. For the last two weeks, I’ve had to turn my socks inside out. I can’t stand the seams. This isn’t just a “oh, seams are annoying” and you carry on kind of thing. No. I have to turn my socks inside out. I’m afraid that the seams will get between my toes and I won’t be able to fix it. If I am in a situation where I can’t fix my socks, then it must be a Very Important Situation. I don’t like Very Important Situations. If I turn my socks inside out, I can avoid the discomfort and, possibly, Very Important Situations.

Does that really make any sense?

No.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions). – Mayo Clinic

I thank God that I have what you might term a “mild” case of OCD. My obsessions and compulsions usually revolve around little things, like sock seams and getting my tape dispensers at work lined up exactly. But I know what it is to feel a physical ache and a great, gnawing worry when things aren’t “just so.”

Life-goals and sock seams. And then this, in my Sunday school lesson:

There are other children of God who are hurting and need to be comforted. – Rob Prince

Amy Simpson put a lot of effort into her book. She surveyed pastors and congregations to get a feel for the prevalence of mental illness within the Christian community. My friend, it’s everywhere. The person you sit next to at church could very well be slogging through mirky depths of sadness. Could have chewed her nails to the quick out of fear. Could think that he’s getting special messages during the sermon. There are people in pain and confusion, from the new guy in the back row to, gasp!, the pulpit itself. And even though we’re learning to talk about it more, we still struggle. We still don’t have ministries that seek to serve the mentally ill; it’s no wonder that this is often referred to as the “no casserole” disease. We stigmatize. We fear. We label.

We think of victory in terms of completion. The Christian lives a victorious life if she is no longer struggling, no longer tempted. I think that’s an incomplete definition. Victory is found in turning your socks inside out and going about your day. It’s acknowledging that, yes, there is pain, but that pain will not defeat.

I don’t know if I will ever write a book that gets published. I don’t know that you’ll ever see me work the talk-show circuit. I’m sure I’ll have more days like today, when I wonder if I should really be adding my feeble voice to the cacophony. I do know what my life-goal is, though: Hope. I want to share hope with people. I want to comfort the hurting children of God.

Especially if they’re irritated by sock seams.

My journey to faith. (15)

Abomination

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Gentle Reader,

I love the New King James translation of the Bible. When I was 7, I got a pink Precious Moments edition, complete with little devotionals geared toward kids scattered throughout. Nearly 22 years later, I still have that Bible, tucked away with some others treasures, and have yet to use another translation regularly. Because, come on. How can you possibly not love a translation that has words like abomination in it?

Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who deal truthfully are His delight. – Proverbs 12:22 (NKJV)

This is the verse that I am currently working on memorizing, and I just love the imagery. Lying lips. So smooth, yet ultimately so deadly. Whatever shade they are, the words that pour forth are black. Deceitful horrors. This is an abomination to the Lord.

Abomination is defined as “a thing that causes disgust or hatred.”  The Hebrew here is to ebah, meaning “a disgusting thing…in [both] the ritual [and the] ethical [senses].” In God’s eyes, lying is like eating rotten, botulism-infested food. It makes Him sick. He detests it. He’ll push it away when it’s offered every single time.

I love how frank God is about this. I love that He’s so serious about sin in our lives. He doesn’t beat around the bush and He doesn’t let us get away with fudging, hemming or hawing.

But He doesn’t stop there.

Delight is defined as “great pleasure.” The Hebrew in 22:b is ratson, meaning “pleasure, delight, favor, goodwill, acceptance.” God feels as strongly about the truth (and the lips that speak it) as He does about lying. He pushes away whatever falsehood is offered to Him, but He accepts anything truthful. He will reject those that try to flatter Him, but He will hold closely those who seek Him in humility.

I want to be as fiery about lies and truth as the Lord is. I want to know what it is that He hates so that I can run away from it. It is no small thing to play with what God spits out. Indeed, it is an ugly thing.

The mind controlled by the Spirit is the mind steeped in truth. In practical terms, neither I nor anyone else will deal victoriously with anxiety if we lack vigilance in our thought-lives. One careless moment, one seemingly-harmless negative, contrary line creates havoc. It is an abomination when I think (and therefore say, for all our thoughts lead to speech eventually) that God won’t take care of me, that He doesn’t notice me, that I have to make everyone happy, that the work left at the end of the day is entirely my responsibility, that I am not good enough/smart enough/pretty enough/whatever enough.  All this is in direct opposition to what He reveals about Himself and what He says about what He has created.

God asks, “Will you trust me?”

If I say “yes,” and then don’t, I’m lying.

Thankfully, He can (and does!), reform the worst of us liars.

My journey to faith. (15)