Five Minute Friday: Only

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

The day was bright and clear, yet three layers were required for a mid-morning walk around the neighborhood. There were no birds or squirrels about. The one dog that crossed my path didn’t look particularly happy to be out for a jaunt with its owner. I imagine the ice-cold pavement wouldn’t feel good on even the most calloused of paws.

Kate says: only.

Go.

Only seven more days until Star Wars: the Last Jedi hits theaters.

Not that anyone in my house is counting.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. … For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

– Proverbs 14:12; Galatians 5:13 (NKJV)

We like to think the proverb applies to non-Christians. If that were true, Paul wouldn’t have written that sentences in his letter. Salvation doesn’t equal an immediate abundance of wisdom. We’re still human. We still get caught up on our own wants and ways.

Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers uses the phrase “enlightened common sense” when examining 1 Thessalonians 5:21. These three words are broadly applicable to our lives. We must use the common sense that God gave us, enlightened and reshaped by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, to determine whether an on-the-surface right action really is right. Does it make sense? Is this the way we should go?

All too often we rush into things that seem good – the way that seems right to us – only to find that the goodness wasn’t so good after all. Instead of seeking His will and doing it, we assume that what we already want must be His will. To be fair, sometimes it is. Usually, it isn’t.

We must practice the pause. When an idea, thought, plan or vision pops into our heads, it’s best to stop. Examine. Think it through. Lay it out before God. Rushing and pushing and forcing will only cause heartache and trouble. We must learn to use the liberty we have in Christ – our freedom from sin, our freedom to serve – in ways that please Him. To please Him, we must seek Him. That means getting still and being quiet.

If the idea, thought, plan or vision is part of the work He has for us to do, He’ll confirm that. If there is no confirmation, then let it go. Just let it go.

Stop.

Now for something completely different.

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Photo Credit: Jens Lelie
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Five Minute Friday: Near

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

It’s that time of year when I slather my hands in the heaviest lotions and ointments I can find and walk around wearing gloves with the fingertips cut off. The time of year when I rub coconut oil all over my face. You’d think I was a participant in some Antarctic expedition given the way my skin cracks, itches and flakes. (You’re welcome for that visual).

Ah, well. The gloves just add to the starving artist mystique, right?

Kate says: near.

Go.

Near…far…wherever you are…

You read that in Celine Dion’s breathy voice, didn’t you?

The movie Titanic came out in 1997, the year I was 13. My mom took me to see it, but unlike others in the audience who were enraptured by the (completely implausible) love story, I was focused on whether or not James Cameron would get the historical details right. Were the clothes correct? Did the on-screen ship actually sink in “real time?” Was the door able to hold two people?

Accuracy matters. If something is going to be promoted as truthful, then it should be just that.

We all make mistakes. We all suffer from “foot in mouth” disease at one time or another. Really, nobody is perfect. Sometimes we have to go back and clarify what we’ve said or written. Sometimes we have to apologize. Sometimes we learn and change our minds. There is room for human frailty. Anyone who expects perfection from others will be disappointed, over and over again.

What there is no room for – what should not be tolerated – is blatant hypocrisy, manipulation, abuse.

How easily we forget this truth:

You are near, O Lord,
And all Your commandments are truth.

– Psalm 119:151 (NKJV)

God sees. God knows. Nothing is hidden.

The light always pierces and reveals.

We would do well to remember.

Stop.

Complete change of subject: In 2018, I will be opening up this space for the Wednesday Writers. Each Wednesday, I will have the privilege of showcasing another’s work. I’ve already announced this opportunity in the writers groups that I belong to, but I don’t want you to be left out!

The guidelines are simple:

  1. Read my statement of beliefs. If you can get on board with where I’m at (reasonable disagreement of course allowed, because we’re all different), then do pass “go.”
  2. You can write about anything you want and use as many words as you want. I will edit for grammar and spelling.
  3. If you are interested in participating, drop me a line via the contact page.

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Photo Credit: Ethan Hoover

Five Minute (Monday): Familiar

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (3)

Gentle Reader,

Writing on Thanksgiving just wasn’t going to happen, thanks to a visit from the ugly Migraine Fairy. She decided to knock me about the head for a few days. She’s still hanging around, the tip of her icy wand just touching the back of my neck. I try to punch her, but she’s too quick. Or I’m too slow after two rounds of major pain pills. Either way, she sucks and I hate her.

Four days ago, Kate said: familiar.

Go.

Familiar things hurt sometimes. Instead of the warm fuzzies that flutter about your stomach when you smell your mom’s spaghetti or the smile that spreads across your face when a certain song plays, you feel a little sick. That word, that place, that person, that sound reminds you of something unpleasant. Something that came before that was perhaps never fully resolved. The blood rushes to your face. You get hot and prickly and you want to shout.

How do you do handle that feeling?

What do you do when you can see something not-great coming, but you don’t know how to stop it?

See, the thing about asking God for discernment and wisdom is that He gives it to you. Every time. In liberal quantities. Overflowing measures. Then you have to grapple with the burden of having that discernment and wisdom. Yes, the Lord is ever-near and bears the weight, but you still have your role to play. Your job to do. And it’s hard.

Harder still when you don’t know if anyone else sees it. Or when you know for sure that they don’t.

Getting close to God and becoming familiar with His ways means that patterns within yourself and others begin to emerge. Your eyes can’t unsee what they’ve seen before and what they’re seeing again. Your mind can’t ignore it and your heart can’t stop its anxious thudding. Blessedly, that same familiarity creates a deep and abiding knowing that God remains the same even as humanity remains fickle and reckless.

So, when the familiar thing comes and the pain begins again, you handle it by clinging to Him.

Stop.

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Photo Credit: Marina Khrapova

Five Minute Friday: Excuse

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Most of the time, I eat healthy.

Sometimes, I get very anxious and eat an unspecified number of Cheez Its.

Ah, humanness.

No wonder that an element of Spirit Fruit is self-control. We just can’t muster that stuff up on our own. Oh, we might do well for awhile. But the urge to run wild is always there, simmering just beneath the surface.

Kate says: excuse.

Go.

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…

– Romans 1:20 (NKJV)

Some Bible verses make us deeply uncomfortable. This has to be one of them. Even though we who believe know, down in the core of ourselves, that God alone can save us and set us free, and even though we want everyone we love to possess that same knowing, the idea that those who turn away from God are without excuse is…striking, to say the least.

Anapológētos: without defense or excuse; that which cannot be defended; inexcusable.

I really don’t have any desire to look at people who don’t believe and say, “Your position is indefensible. At the end of the day, no matter what you come up with, the plain fact, the unavoidable truth, is that God is real and His made His presence known in every sunset, in the first snow of the year, in the scent of hibiscus blooms.”

…because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

– 1:21 (NKJV)

Paul bluntly tells his readers that those who shun God have to actively suppress the truth within themselves. It is a choice. They already have ginṓskō (to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of perceive, feel) but instead of diving deeper into wisdom, they become mataióō (to make empty, vain, foolish) and asýnetos (unintelligent, without understanding, stupid).

Professing to be wise, they became fools…

– 1:22 (NKJV)

Paul’s really good at twisting the knife, isn’t he?

We all know that things often get worse before they get better. So it is with reading the Bible. We can’t get to the good stuff – how God loves us, how we’re made with care, how we have a unique mission – until we look at the bad stuff. We have to acknowledge just how willfully stupid we and the world systems around us are.

Which means acknowledging that anyone who says “there is no God” is willfully stupid.

Ugh.

I don’t want to approach anyone from that standpoint. I doubt you do, either. We’d all like to believe in the basic goodness of humanity, no matter how many Sunday School lessons we’ve heard about our utter wretchedness. We’d really, really like universalism to be true. But we don’t have a leg to stand on with that. Scripture just doesn’t give us permission to sugarcoat, water down, or beat around any bushes. We have to speak plainly. We have to speak boldly.

We have to because we don’t want anyone to walk around in darkness. We don’t want them to make the wrong choice. We don’t want them to think they have lots of good reasons and excuses.

We want them up in the lifeboat, next to us.

So why is this so hard? Why is it so incredibly difficult, for me at least, to open up and say the words? Why do we care more about people liking us and not offending anyone than doing all that we can to help them to bend their knees and cry out to Jesus?

Why do we – I – so often let fear rule the day?

Is God really our – my – God? Have we – I – exchanged

…the glory of the incorruptible God (for an) image made like corruptible man…

– 1:23 (NKJV)

Stop.

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Addendum, 11/20/17: We FMF people are not really supposed to go back and edit these things. However, I do feel the need to say that “stupid” wasn’t the best choice of words, nor does it precisely convey what I was attempting to wrestle with in this post. Honestly, I can’t find the right word. That happens sometimes. I know what I want to get across to you, but I can’t quite express it.

The inescapable fact is that the passage I pondered here does make the claim that those who shun God do so out of a willful suppression of the truth. I realize that some (or even many) find this deeply and personally offensive. This is “line in the sand” sort of talk. If I am going to stake my life on the claims of Scripture, then I have to figure out how this uncomfortable passage fits into my worldview.

And it is uncomfortable. I know you can’t see me or hear my tone of voice (if I were speaking this aloud) but I genuinely do want everyone I know in the boat next to me. I truly do get frustrated and upset when people I love choose to keep their backs turned – not because I want to prove that I’m right or feel superior, but because I want them to have what’s best. I believe that best is Jesus.

In our world, relativism and pluralism are the norms. To make exclusive truth claims is to immediately set yourself against the tide. It’s to put a mark on your back. Well, I can’t not make exclusive truth claims and remain faithful to Christ. Yet I also do not wish to be deliberately or obtusely offensive. So, please, forgive me for not finding the right words in this moment.