Stumbling Servants

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

It is a privilege and a pleasure to serve, even in the chaotic and frustrating moments, because it is a privilege and a pleasure to do as Jesus did. It is an honor to be a vessel for His truth, grace and love.

Took an unplanned break last week. I joined my church family in a large community service project and just ran out of time and energy to sit and let the words flow.

There were some tough spots. I butted heads with people I love. It’s a rough-and-tumble and often dysfunctional family, this one that Christ has bought and created by the shedding of His blood. We’ve got sharp edges and soft spots and somehow always manage to ram our sharpness into another’s softness. Our ideas and ways of doing things don’t always align. Sometimes we get derailed in disagreement, forgetting what the goal really is.

That goal? To serve God by serving others. No strings attached.

This little family of faith to which I belong has had a bumpy year. We could have easily imploded over this event. Instead, as I reflect on the last month, I see a quiet, gentle work of God. We are in no way, shape or form perfect people. Far, far from it. But He used us. He prodded here and pushed there to move us beyond the sticking place. We learned some much-needed lessons. We pressed into some difficult conversations. In the end, we worked as a team – maybe a team that doesn’t always win the game, but a team that makes the plays.

Truth is: The people with whom I worship with week after week can frustrate me like no other. But isn’t that how it is with family? They drive you up the wall, but you love them. You don’t always understand the choices they make. You give them side-eye sometimes. But that love is never in question.

We know that God says we are His children. So I wonder if He looked upon us – sweaty and stumbling and maybe a little crabby – with the kind of expression that crosses a father’s face as he watches his toddler learn a new skill. It’s messy. It’s hard. But when that toddler finally makes progress, hair flying every which way and hands covered with peanut butter – the father beams.

There’s always those little spots in our minds, those unevangelized places, that don’t grasp and rest in the kind of love God has for us. We can recite the verses and say the right things. But there’s a part of us that remains scared. What if I don’t do this right? Holiness, sanctification, submission, obedience – all commanded, all Christ-enabled. Perfectionism? Not so much.

Meditate on this verse with me –

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

– Romans 5:8 (NKJV)

While we were still sinners.

The people with whom we, church folk, interacted at that event did not speak, behave or dress the ways we thought they should. They haven’t always made wise choices. They may have had addictions or come from chaotic, broken backgrounds.

Guess what?

They’re just like us.

Jesus didn’t require us to clean up our acts before He offered help.

Again, holiness gets a big “yes and thumbs up” from God. He doesn’t save us so that we can keep on doing whatever we want. We don’t get to bend the definition of sin or remove certain cherished activities from the category. That’s cheap grace. What Christ did for us certainly wasn’t cheap. It cost Him everything. Nor does He save us so that we can spend the rest of our lives under the tyranny of perfectionism. The Bible is full of stories of regular people who loved God but messed up – and God remained steady in His love for them.

Just like us.

We cannot hoard this treasure. The homeless, the addicted, the mentally ill, the sick, the broken – God loves them, just as He loves us. We don’t need to fear them. We need to listen to them, then tell them. Tell them of the God who made the stars, of the atom-splitting choice in a garden, of sin and struggle, of grace and resurrection.

Then we need to turn around and remind ourselves of these things.

Onward, stumbling servants. Get back up when you skin your knees. Resist the urge to retaliate with someone slaps your face. Seek forgiveness when you need and grant it when asked. Beg God for wisdom. Beg Him to make you gentle. Lace up your boots, gird your loins, roll up your sleeves.

We may not do it perfectly, but the work awaits.

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Five Minute Friday: Collect

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Oh, my.

What a headache.

An evening stroll a some forbidden ibuprofen later, I feel close to being a human again. Not quite. I probably need to sleep for about fourteen hours for that to happen.

Kate wants to know what we: collect.

Go.

Usually when people ask me what it is that I collect, I respond with, “Nothing.” On the surface, that’s true. I do have six abdominal scars, but it’s not like I chose to have those. Aside from my beloved books, I feel passion for no material objects. Albums filled with stamps make no sense to me. Tchotchkes just gather dust. I tried collecting antique gloves at one point because I think they’re cool; I got as far as three pairs, but I had no idea how to display them, so into the giveaway bag they went. I even joke with my husband on a regular basis that we can probably throw away our marriage licence, since we never look at it.

Maybe it’s the OCD.

Maybe it’s that I can’t think in a cluttered space.

If I stop and really consider this question, though, there is something that I do indeed collect: regret.

The past haunts me. Past sin, past mistakes, past hurts, past left turns instead of right. It doesn’t help that I’m a history nut. Looking back is fun for me. But all too often, I get stuck there. On comes the self-condemnation. I need no one to stone me, for I stone myself.

Of this habit, Jen Wilkin writes:

Regret…causes us to dwell on past mistakes or hurts, robbing us of joy in our present circumstance and often dragging us back into old sin patterns. As a child I learned to sing the words of Charles Wesley: “He breaks the power of canceled sin, He sets the prisoner free.” How often have I needed those words as a reminder that the power of my past sins (or the past sins of others against me) is broken in Jesus’ name. He replaces my historical liturgy of sin with one of holiness. When I become discouraged about giving in once again to a past sin, the “lifter of my head” remind me that though I am not yet who I will be, I am not who I was. He draws me from the past back to the present with an assurance that sanctification is slowly doing its work today. He keeps me from rehearsing my past hurts by reminding me to forgive as I have been forgiven. We can combat the “bad news” of the past by remembering and trusting the good news of the gospel.

None Like Him, p. 75

There’s always something new to be find in the Good News.

This kind of collection weighs us down in a way that Christ never intended. The “sin that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1) doesn’t have to be today’s sin. It can be the sin of the past, the stuff that makes us feel bad and heavy and stupid and so very worm-like. Dwelling in regret can keep us from running the race with perseverance – because our eyes are on the starting blocks instead of the finish line.

If we’re going to look back, then let’s see the red. The beautiful, amazing, life-giving, soul-saving blood of Jesus, splashed across every bad deed, every unkind word, every nasty thought, every pain-filled moment. The red that replaces the collection of regret and sorrow with a collection of grace and hope.

From that renewed viewpoint, let’s go forward and collect the joy that is ours by right of redemption.

Stop.

Yeah, this was longer than five minutes. Now enjoy this hymn.

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Photo credit: Ryan Moreno

Also linking up with (for the first time): Suzanne Eller and Holley Gerth.

Five Minute Friday: Five

along-the-way-mlsgregg-com

Gentle Reader,

Tonight for the five lead by Kate, we write on: five.

Go.

Sometimes the crap hits the fan, and there’s no disguising the mess. Or smell.

Car.

Dishwasher.

Dog.

My faithful buddy, the fat and neurotic Benny, has congestive heart failure. He’s somewhere around 12-13 years old, so it’s not entirely surprising. But so hard. So very hard. The kind emergency vet lady gave him lasix pills, which seem to be helping, yet I know that the end of his life is nearer than the beginning. I can’t even start to think about what it will be like without him pressed up against my hip as I sit, curled up in the couch corner, tapping away at the keys.

Blessed are those who mourn,
    For they shall be comforted.

– Matthew 5:4 (NKJV)

This stage of existence is one of steady trouble punctuated by moments, tastes, glimpses of glory. Not one of us has an “easy life,” despite appearances. There is always something. Always tears lurking just beneath the surface, no matter how wide the smile. All it takes is one event or well-timed word to bring them crashing, rolling, down our cheeks.

Christ extends His hands, the ones still bearing the holes. Five fingers on each, wrapping around the back of our heads and pulling us to His chest. His heart and our sobs come together in an silent symphony, a song heard only by the orchestra of two. The lyrics are meaningless to outsiders. The clash of sacred and profane strikes a disturbingly dissonant chord.

Somehow, it is right.

Somehow, there is peace.

We’re trying to set aside just a little more money before we go car shopping, but that’s probably about to fly out the window and into the greedy mouth of a noisy new dishwasher. I can’t stop time’s ravaging effect on the soft, warm little body I see just out of the corner of my eye. I lay my hand on his soft fur, feel the rise and fall of his somewhat-labored breathing that continues only for now. My face is wet. I lean back and imagine myself the Beloved Disciple, reclining on the Savior’s chest that night, in that pause during the dinner, before the horror. He must have known, in that place buried deep in the back of each person’s mind, that the clock was set to shift to a new hour. An unsure hour.

As I know now.

And yet the promise stands,

I will not leave you orphans…

– John 14:18a (NKJV)

I have no solution for this problem, this thing called Pain, that has puzzled the wise down through the ages. I don’t know why things happen when and as they do.

I know only that He has not left me.

Nor has He left you.

Stop.

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A Spiritual Snit

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

The preschoolers, man. The preschoolers.

They can’t sit still. I don’t know if it’s nature or nurture, but something in their little bodies makes it impossible for them to cease all motion. They don’t pay attention. Their brains just can’t focus on anything for longer than a minute. They ask the most random, non-lesson related questions I have ever heard. They’re obsessed with their shoes and whether or not they want to even be wearing them. All the really want to do is dump the bucket of legos on the Sunday school room floor and go to town.

I want to shake them all.

And then one of them prays and thanks God for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And the pretty flowers. And dogs. Another offers to share his toy with the new kid. They scribble wildly-colored designs and dream up fantastic stories. They get excited to make little presents for people and pour equal amounts of affection and snot into the projects. They are supremely confident that Jesus loves them. It’s just a fact like breathing.

I want to hug them all.

Then someone yells or there’s a disturbance in the force and we’re back to the shaking.

Teaching preschoolers is not my gift. It’s not the thing I would naturally choose to do every third Sunday. But I think sometimes God asks us to do the thing that sets our teeth most on edge.

Because it reveals something about us and about Him.

I’m a whole lot more like those preschoolers than I’d like to admit.

The insomnia began on July 31. (How sad that I can name the day). When I don’t sleep well, my anxiety worsens. My temper gets shorter. A haze clouds my vision, so to speak, and it all seems horrible. An, “I hate everything and pants” sort of moment.

I sink into a snit. Sulking in the corner. Glaring.

I just want to dump the bucket of legos on the floor and to heck with the rest of it, thank you very much.

I don’t want to pay attention. I don’t want to do the things I’m supposed to be doing. I don’t want to put forth the effort.

A spiritual toddler, for reals.

God sure does put up with a lot from me. (From us. We can be honest). He patiently, so patiently, keeps on leading, keeps on teaching. He waits when I get distracted by the shiny. He lets me play with it for a minute and then shows me that it’s not what I really want. When I sit down in the middle the road and pout, He doesn’t kick me. He doesn’t heap condemnation on my head. His Spirit speaks to my soul with a gentle, “I told you so. But we can chill here for now.”

He knows when I get heart-weary. He knows that my mind plays tricks on me. He knows that Satan’s game is to throw temptations my way and then call me names when I give in.

He defends me.

Think about that. We’re these stumbling, bumbling people trying to run with our wobbly knees and shaky ankles when we can barely walk. We don’t have very good balance. We suffer from deep spiritual ADHD. We fall and get bruised. Sometimes on accident. Sometimes on purpose and with full knowledge of the pain to come.

We cry and scream and throw things and kick up dust. We stomp our feet and say, “I don’t care! This is too hard! I don’t want to!”

Satan laughs and says, “See, God? See how much she sucks? You should shake her!”

Christ just holds up a nail-scarred hand before the Father and says, “She’s Mine. Snit and all, she’s Mine.”

The beautiful holiness of His advocacy makes me uncomfortable in the best possible way. That One so perfect and true and good would take up for me… That He would choose to embrace me when He has every right to shake the life out of me.. That He would condescend to wipe the tears and snot from my face and, say, with a smile, “Let’s try again, shall we?”

I’m not ashamed to tell you that I’m crying right now.

As they say, the struggle is real. The war between the old woman and the new woman rages inside of me.

“For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.” – Romans 7:15 (NKJV)

And so I bow my head, indebted forever,

“…to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” – Ephesians 1:6 (NKJV)

My journey to faith. (15)