Being for the Benefit of Madam G

Get Back

Gentle Reader,

Thank you, John Lennon. (If you don’t get the reference, please leave this site and go listen to all of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band right now).

Whenever I don’t stick to my self-imposed writing schedule, I have a sense of needing to apologize to you. As if I’ve failed. And I did fail the last two weeks, physically. An out-of-nowhere cold knocked me flat. Then the smoke of annual fires rolled in. The world is a haze of sepia and ash. My garden, vegetables and flowers alike, looks awful, as if it, too, is struggling to breathe.

As I’ve coughed and sniffed and worked to keep my lungs inside my body, I’ve thought a great deal about this blog. Something about this being its tenth year of existence is extremely bothersome to me. Instead of feeling grateful, I am discontented. I think I finally know why, or at least a bit of the why.

For so long I have kept to regular posting. I’ve worked hard to have at least two articles a week appear here, rain or shine. I like routine. I like discipline. I understand the value of both.

But I can’t do it anymore.

Authors always debate how much inspiration really matters. Many, far smarter than I, believe that it’s the grit that counts. You sit down at the same time, every day, and crack on. That has generally been my attitude. No big thing can be achieved without the small, plodding steps.

I am beginning to see, however, that there is value in looseness. Maybe it doesn’t always have to be about schedules and SEOs and striving. Maybe there is wisdom in publishing only when you truly have something to say.

I have a novel that I haven’t touched since February and an idea for another rolling around my head. It’s time to give space and energy to those pursuits.

And so Madam G, for the foreseeable future, will post only when she wants to. It is to her benefit to retreat a little. (That’s a creepy third-person thing there, but I had to reference the title somehow). Participation in Five Minute Friday will continue, because that community means a lot to me and the prompts manage to meld discipline and inspiration in a way that never seems to run to dryness. Newsletters will continue, but in a more sporadic fashion.

I continue to be thankful for and honored by your presence. The fact that more than a handful of you choose to read these words never ceases to amaze. We’ll still see each other. The journey is far from over.

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Sketches: Spiritual Maturity

Mature

Gentle Reader,

I’ve needed to bump up my weights (for exercise) for awhile. Finally did so. Heavier dumbbells. The tortures of a new resistance band. I’m sure it’s good for me, but I can barely feel my arms right now.

So, let’s talk: spiritual maturity. (Prompt submitted by longtime reader and encourager Jodi. Thank you, Jodi).

I’ve sat and pondered this for awhile, for what, exactly, is spiritual maturity? Ultimately, I believe that it is the process of becoming more like Christ, also known as sanctification. In simple terms, this means to be set apart. To be different. To have all the distractions removed and rough edges smoothed so we can be the people that God wants us to be.

We cannot naturally achieve sanctification. While every human has the capacity to do good things, our nature is warped at a fundamental level. When, through the beauty of God’s prevenient grace (the grace that “goes before,” the action of God drawing all people to Himself) we come to the crisis of repentance and cry out to Christ for forgiveness, the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us. He begins to “unwarp” our nature. In both a moment and across a lifetime, which is a mystery and I am nowhere near smart enough to explain to you, He purifies and completes us. I suppose we could think of it as a prisoner being set free, but taking a really long time to figure out that he has been freed. He needs help in learning to drop old patterns and habits, to learn to live as a new person, in a new way.

John Wesley loved the topic of sanctification. Really loooooooooved it. ‘Twas his jam. In the opening paragraph of the sermon Circumcision of the Heart, he wrote:

…he is only preaching to them “Jesus and the resurrection,” with the necessary consequence of it, — If Christ be risen, ye ought then to die unto the world, and to live wholly unto God.

He went on:

 That “circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter;” — that the distinguishing mark of a true follower of Christ, of one who is in a state of acceptance with God, is not either outward circumcision, or baptism, or any other outward form, but a right state of soul, a mind and spirit renewed after the image of Him that created it…

And so one does not have to be in vocational ministry or in possession of a theological degree in order to be spiritually mature. Growth in grace and Christlikeness is a natural consequence of right relationship with God. We don’t always get it right. We stumble. We fall. It can take a long time for us to let go of wrong beliefs and cherished sins. In the end, though, God will have His way in us. Through the gentle yet at the same time head-walloping conviction of the Spirit, He will enable us to pry our white-knuckled hands off of those things He wants us to release (that is, if we aren’t consistently refusing to listen to Him and hardening our hearts, which is always a danger).

When talking to His disciples about false teachers, Jesus said:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

– Matthew 7:15-20 (NKJV, emphasis mine)

God, the Master Gardener, is in the business of resurrecting bad trees. He waters, feeds and prunes. If we submit to the process – because we always have choices – we will produce the good fruit of:

…love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

– Galatians 5:22b (NKJV)

These traits are ours in an instant, yet they take a lifetime to develop. The Spirit has to train our minds to think differently and teach our hearts to feel differently. We start off as cranky little babies, focused only on ourselves. In time, with His patience and mercy, we move toward becoming the light-bearing, Gospel-breathing people He wants us to be.

Spiritual maturity has nothing to do with age and everything to do with attitude. It all boils down to a simple question: Do I want to submit to God in this thing or not? Sometimes it’s a “two steps forward, one step back” dance. I freely confess to you that there are days when my answer is “no.” Then I get to learn things the hard way. I get a rough lesson in the necessity of not responding to people and life like a squawking toddler. Thankfully, there is grace.

In short, spiritual maturity means that we grow up.

And boy, do we ever need to grow up.

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For all posts in the Sketches series, go here.

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Elitist Jerkface

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

The mind of the intelligent seeks knowledge, but the mouth of fools feeds on folly.

– Proverbs 15:14 (NASB)

Kesiyl: fool, stupid fellow, dullard, simpleton, arrogant one

Biyn: to discern, understand, consider; to perceive; to understand, know; to observe, mark, give heed to, distinguish, consider; to have discernment, insight, understanding; intelligent

Which do you want to be?

No knee-jerk answers. Really think about it.

I spent 19 years of my life in a single-wide trailer. Just before I turned 22, I moved, with my new husband, into a 450-square foot apartment. (It came with bright orange counter tops and harvest gold appliances. Classy). Eleven years later, there are still times when we celebrate that we get to keep our house for one more month. My father’s roots run deep in the soil, in farming. My mother likes to joke that her family used to be “nothing but horse rustlers and cattle thieves.”

I also had the grades that would have gained me entrance into the Ivy League (had I wanted that much debt and not been completely terrified to live that far away from family). I have debated existentialism. I was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, a national honor society. I’ve written three books. I read encyclopedias for fun.

So who am I?

A woman of the people?

Or an elitist jerkface?

The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the believes in Ephesus, a city on the western coast of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). In that letter he made this profound statement:

For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation…

– 2:14 (NKJV)

In its immediate context, this verse applied to the obliterating divisions between Jew and Gentile:

How could Gentiles ever forget that they stood outside the covenant made with Israel? Only on rare occasions could Gentiles participate in covenant observances. Had they wanted to join with Israel, the barriers were indeed great. In that condition, before the Gospel, they were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise. How desperate the Gentiles’ condition, according to the Jews. Gentiles were aliens, unable to apply for citizenship, excluded, and thus without spiritual rights. They were, therefore, without hope. Even worse, they were without God in the world, alone, bereft, drifting. Without access to the rituals of the Hebrew faith, what prospect for salvation did they have?

Surely the Gentiles needed a miracle if they were to be saved. Who could remove the obstacles to God for them? Who could offer them access to grace and salvation? Was there any possibility that they, too, might assume the throne, or were they always to be without hope?

In God’s plan and in God’s time, provision was made. Through the blood of Christ those who once were far away have been brought near. Access has been provided through Christ, the believer’s peace. The shalom of the ancient covenant finds its fulfillment in God’s designated Messiah, who has broken down the wall that separated them, a wall of hostility greater than the actual barrier in the Jerusalem temple that divided it into gentile and Jewish sections.

Asbury Bible Commentary 

Not only did Christ tear down the barrier between God and humanity (Matthew 27:51), He tore down the barrier between people. Everything about Jesus – His ministry, death and resurrection – was (and remains) centered on reconciliation. We couldn’t save ourselves. We pushed God away. We pushed each other away. And so He came to do the things that we couldn’t and enable us to live in peace with God and others.

Paul goes on:

…having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. 

– 2:15-18 (NKJV)

Every person who believes is part of His family, part of His Body.

If you’ve been in church for awhile, your eyes are probably glazed over. You’ve heard this before.

Why is it, then, if we’ve all heard it before, we persist in creating new barriers?

In doing the opposite of what Christ did?

I watch as churches dig in and become more stubbornly anti-intellectual. “Smart people” are just full of themselves. They’re the “elite.” They probably think that they’re better than everyone else. They’re intimidating. They don’t “get” the “regular people.”

Bizarrely, people who know more than we do, who might be smarter than we are, must be stupid, because they don’t quite fit the mold.

Sit with that for a second.

We would rather keisyl than biyn.

I’m all for blowing up the ivory towers and breaking down the complex words. Theology need not be the pursuit of a special class alone. Anyone and everyone ought to have access and be able to learn.

But to learn, you have to be willing to be taught. And to be taught, you must have a teacher.

We can’t shun the “smart people.” God has them scattered throughout our congregations for a reason. The spiritual gifts of knowledge and teaching are real and necessary to the proper functioning of the church. We have belittled these gifts in a age of sound bites and memes and feel-goodness. We don’t want to be challenged. We don’t want to grow.

But we need to.

We need the “smart people” and the “smart people” need the “regular people.” Everyone needs everyone else. That’s how God designed it. We need the person who can explain the Greek words and we need the person who finds joy in vacuuming the carpet. Nobody is better than anyone else.

It’s time we stop assuming that intelligence and arrogance go hand-in-hand. Time we stop believing that experience is all we need and there’s no value in study. Time to remove the bricks that make the wall between the “them” that sits right next to “us” every Sunday. To be humble enough to ask the “them” to teach “us.”

Because:

Our churches are filled with Christians who are idling in intellectual neutral. As Christians, their minds are going to waste. One result of this is an immature, superficial faith. People who simply ride the roller coaster of emotional experience are cheating themselves out of a deeper and richer Christian faith by neglecting the intellectual side of that faith. …

At root, evangelical anti-intellectualism is both a scandal and a sin. It is a scandal in the sense of being an offense and a stumbling block that needlessly hinders serious people from considering the Christian faith and coming to Christ. It is a sin because it is a refusal, contrary to Jesus’ two great commandments, to love the Lord our God with our minds. Anti-intellectualism is quite simply a sin. Evangelicals must address it as such, beyond all excuses, evasions, or rationalizations of false piety.

5 Theses on Anti-Intellecualism

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For more, please read 8 Ways That Anti-Intellecualism is Harming the Church.

Review: The Life Path

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Personal development is not a genre that I typically read. I have a difficult time with gimmicky, formulaic, “follow these steps and your life will be made of unicorns and marshmallow fluff!” types of books. It’s all been said and done. So when Dr. Thien Doan shared this in the introduction:

There are plenty of books out there on this subject by experts and success gurus who have conquered the world, made fortunes, and have millions of followers, fans and “friends” on Social Media. I’m not one of them.

I found myself smiling. The Life Path may not have been a title I would have chosen if not graciously asked to review it, but I can’t help but appreciate an author who is refreshingly down-to-earth.

The subject matter – planning, goal setting, leaving a legacy – is difficult for me. My eyes tend to glaze over when an author tasks me with composing lists or figuring out where I want to be in five years. This brain simply doesn’t work like that. It’s not that I don’t like planning; I do. Quite a lot. I am in fact deeply logical and orderliness is my jam. Perhaps the struggle is rooted in living with chronic illness. I simply have no idea what the next day, let alone the next year, will bring.

Thus I appreciate that Dr. Doan doesn’t pretend that life is neat. Plans must be sketched in pencil. He keeps the changeable nature of human existence at the forefront as he lays out the steps of the “Life Path.” We must take responsibility for ourselves, he rightly declares, but he doesn’t try to sell the notion that we can achieve perfection or bliss this side of eternity. Dr. Doan draws the reader to focus on God; how He has gifted and called each person. Those gifts and callings are varied. One life will not be exactly the same as the other. Several biblical illustrations are used to drive this home, from Nehemiah and his quest to rebuild the wall to the haunting question Jesus asked the man by the pool: “Do you want to get well?”

This is an honest book, outlining a never-ending journey. As we grow and change and become more intimate with the Lord, the road shifts. Dr. Doan reminds us that God is the center, the focus. He is to be our highest priority. We must be willing to lay our plans aside as His will becomes clear. That is a necessary and timely message to a church culture that is caught up in self-centeredness and the pursuit of the American Dream.

Humble and straightforward, Dr. Doan peppers his message with humor and pop-culture references, which I greatly enjoyed. One moment I was laughing…

I’m like Steve Rogers before he got the Super Soldier serum that turned him into Captain America. Beaten up and with a bloody nose, I’ll still square up and look at life’s obstacles in the eye and say, “I can do this all day.”

…the next I was thinking deeply,

God has a clear and compelling assignment for your life. Can you see it? Is your vision clear? Is it compelling enough to get your butt off the couch?

This is feet-on-the-pavement style teaching, meant to drive the reader to action.

Dr. Doan sums up the message of this book within its pages:

If you’re not learning, you’re not growing as a person.

This is the task of the disciple – to learn from and grow in the Lord. The Life Path is a good resource in that pursuit, perhaps especially if you’re not normally a fan of this kind of book.

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I received a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.