Enough with the Hustle (or, a Nerf Herding Life)

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

 

Star Wars: the Last Jedi comes out in a few weeks. The excitement in the Gregg house is reaching maximum levels.

Years ago, I had a retail job that lasted exactly two weeks. Pressure someone to buy a tube of lip gloss? No, thank you. If I hadn’t quit, I don’t doubt that I would have been fired. “Chatty, good salesman” will never be words that describe me.

So color me uncomfortable to know that everyone, it seems, is selling something.

I like to work hard. I don’t mind having to put in some effort. I don’t balk at a little sweat.

What irritates the crud-muffin out of me is having to put myself “out there.”

I get that there’s a business side to writing. I get that it takes time and energy to build up an audience. I get that social media has come to play a huge (and, in my opinion, disproportionate) role in the lives of authors everywhere. I get that link-ups are important, a way to meet other writers and grow your reach. I get that well-crafted titles are vital and attractive images necessary. I get that you have to keep the content flowing. I get that good design matters.

None of that is wrong or sinful.

But.

Did you know that people publish articles telling others how to write viral blog posts? There’s actually a formula. If you follow certain steps, you’re more likely to see your stats explode.

Did you know that you’re supposed to “cycle” your blog images on Pinterest so that your followers see them multiple times? Same goes for sharing links on Facebook and Twitter. Better overload that feed.

Did you know that you have to spend some good money attending writer’s conferences in order to get a literary agent to give your book proposal more than a passing glance? Most of these conferences are, as we say where I’m from, “back East,” making the cost simply out of the question for many.

Did you know that most Christian books are exactly alike because publishers are terribly risk-averse? Imagine how many voices you’ve never heard because they don’t harmonize with the established choir.

Did you know that if every blogger did everything that we are “supposed” to do in order to be successful (as the world defines it), we’d never see the sun because we’d be trapped behind our screens all day long? That’s no life at all.

Again, I like to work. I have to write. I believe that each one of us who taps the keys is required to take the calling seriously and do our best. I wouldn’t be coming up on my tenth blogging anniversary if I didn’t. There’s nothing wrong with sharing things on Pinterest, Facebook or Twitter. There’s nothing wrong with writers conferences. There’s nothing wrong with having a plan and dedicating time to this thing that is so important. As usual, the tools are benign.

And as usual, there is something wrong with the way we use them.

A Christian writer (or a writer who is a Christian, same difference), shouldn’t be selling herself. He shouldn’t be stressed out at 2:00 a.m. because he “only” has 500 followers. Nobody should feel bad when the stats aren’t that great. (After all, every last one of us writes a clunker from time to time). She shouldn’t be striving to squeeze herself into an “acceptable” box. He shouldn’t try to be like anyone else. Nobody needs to find identity and value in how “successful” they are.

Did you hear that?

Nobody needs to find identity and value in how “successful” they are.

Believe me, I struggle mightily with this. I am never going to be Miss Popular. I have considered throwing in the towel more than once. My voice does not sing the song that mainstream Christian culture wants to hear. I have more often than not wondered if I’m having any impact at all. Who really cares what I have to say? Who even knows that I”m here?

But what’s the goal: That anyone knows my name, or that they know His?

Our job isn’t to be “successful.” It’s not to go viral, gather a magical number of followers, brand ourselves to death, sign a multi-book deal or alter the message to make it more palatable. Our job is to preach the Gospel. It is to make much of Jesus. It is to decrease, while He increases (John 3:30).

Our words will fade.

His will not.

We are but a breath.

He is eternity.

So, enough with the hustle. It’s okay if you don’t have something to share every single day. It’s okay if you don’t follow the formula. It’s okay if you faithfully labor in the hidden places. It’s okay if you have no idea just who it is you are reaching. Your value and legacy have nothing to do with what you achieve. These things are wrapped up in Christ, whose child you are, in whose arms you are hidden.

The only thing that matters is if you used your ability to scatter words across the screen to give Him honor. The only thing that matters is if you point people to Him. At the culmination of time, when the clouds roll back and this world as we know it is no more, nobody is going to care how entertaining your Facebook page was. We’re going to be far too busy exulting in His presence.

Why not exult now? Why not believe, fully and deep in your bones, that He smiles upon you, no matter how great or little your reach may be?

So yes, fellow writer, work. Steward the gift well.

But, every once in awhile, step away from the computer and the page. Look around and look up. Throw caution and the “supposed to” into the wind and go for a walk. Pet a dog. Call a friend (or, really, text a friend, let’s be real). Do whatever it is that will shake you back into reality. Because there’s things more important, more vital, than stats and shares.

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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.

Faith, Not Fear

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I know what it is to be tormented by fear.

I may be what some term a “high functioning” anxious person, but there’s a reason I take medication every night and have done two rounds of therapy. My own brain is the enemy. If I did not choose to engage in battle with it each day, I could easily succumb to agoraphobia. (In no way am I belittling people who do suffer with this condition). There are days, more than I’d care to count or admit to, when I have to speak thusly to myself:

Okay, it’s time to get out of bed. You can do that.

Make the bed. You’ll feel better if the bedroom is tidy.

What kind of exercise can you handle today? A nice walk?

Make sure to drink your protein shake.

It would be so easy to stay hidden under a pile of blankets. But that’s no kind of life. Though I am a peace-loving person, I have learned that I am a fighter. I’m not going to let a broken brain and negative thinking destroy me. That’s not who God made me to be. By the power of His Spirit living within, I get up. I keep going.

Yesterday nearly half the congregation at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas was murdered. The youngest victim was just 18 months old. The people had gathered together, as they have every week, to worship and learn. It was an ordinary Sunday. I doubt that any of the imagined that their time on this earth had come to an end. The 20 wounded, 10 of whom remain in critical condition, are left to grapple with forever life-altering trauma.

Because an angry man with some guns decided to take vengeance.

There are no words for this, but people speak anyway. The loudest voices say that things like this wouldn’t happen if everyone knew that everyone was “packing heat.”

Bringing a gun to church is like hiding under a pile of blankets.

Fear is of the Devil. He delights when we are suspicious. He laughs when we shy away from strangers and cast them as “the other.” He gets a whole lot of mileage out of us believing that we have any control over the hour and manner of our death. He wants us to build walls of self-protection that keep us from engaging the wider world.

He wants us to be spiritually agoraphobic.

We mustn’t give in.

Men and women of God all around the world sit in jail cells, submitted to tortures we cannot even begin to dream up. Their families shun them. Merchants won’t sell to them. Still, they keep going. They preach the Gospel to their persecutors. They risk everything just to own one page of the Scriptures we dismiss as boring and irrelevant. They gather together in war-torn towns and sing praises to His Name. Some pay the ultimate price for their faith.

They must be our example.

Buildings where the church comes together don’t need to be surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by big men with rifles. Nor should members of the Body give way to fear and bring weapons into houses of worship. Our mission is not to counter violence with violence. It’s not to believe the lie that we’re safe only if certain conditions are met. Our mission is to share the Gospel. That means leaving the doors unlocked and opening our arms to whoever comes inside.

That means faith, not fear.

…the fruit of the Spirit is…peace…

…blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…

Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord…

For we walk by faith, not by sight.

– Galatians 5:22; Philippians 2:15; Hebrews 12:14; 2 Corinthians 5:7 (NKJV)

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Photo Credit: Daniel Tseng

Thoughts After Charlottesville 

Gentle Reader,

You know I’m a pacifist, but I wonder how we got from Captain America punching Hitler to, “well, Nazis aren’t that big a deal” and, “it’s probably all a conspiracy because Soros and Antifa.”

How did we come to idolize Robert E. Lee, a slave owner who fought against his own country?

Why do we still doubt that the Civil War was about slavery?

Why are people who call themselves Christians saying, “we will not be silenced?” Chanting, “blood and soil?” (That’s a Nazi slogan, if you don’t know).

A woman died and dozens more are injured. All for a statue that shouldn’t have been erected in the first place.

And, yeah, I know. Free speech is a thing we have here. People can assemble and say stupid, ugly things. I support that. Doesn’t mean that I will shy away from labeling that speech “stupid” and “ugly.” 

After sitting with and mourning this for 2 days, I wonder: Could we Christians lead the way here by no longer screaming about our rights? By refusing to see the government – local, state or federal – as an entity meant to protect us? What if we truly rested in the promises of Christ, knowing in our bones that He will see us through whatever happens? What if we decided to esteem others and consider their needs before our own, as Paul admonishes in Philippians 2? What if we recognised that this world is not our home and that the spread of the Gospel is more important than politics? What if we looked to our brothers and sisters in hostile countries and emulated their example? Those of us who are white, what if we took the time to really listen to and empathize with people of color – not to take on false guilt, but so we can understand what they deal with?

I wonder what would happen. I wonder if we’d become agents of healing and shine brightly in dark places.

Meditate on these passages:

2 Corinthans 5:20; 6:4a, 6b

2 Corinthains 5:9

Philippians 2:3-4

Philippians 2:14-15

Philippians 4:5

Colossians 3:8

1 Thessalonians 5:5

James 2:8-9a

Matthew 28:18-20

Romans 12:17-18

Galatians 5:24

1 John 4:9

Revelation 7:9-10

Racism has no place in Christianity. May we be courageous enough to examine our own hearts and repent if needed. May we be brave enough to vocally condemn this evil. May we be loving enough to reach out to those who are different.

Skin is skin.

It doesn’t matter.

Lord, teach us to love as You love. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear. Expose what needs exposing. Help us to prioritize preaching the Gospel over and above all else. Kill the selfish ambitions and vain conceits that strangle our hearts.

Break us and remake us.

Forgive us, Jesus. 

Red, brown, yellow, black and white – all are precious in Your sight.