Five Minute Friday: Settle

Contemplate

Gentle Reader,

Our Fearless Leader was busy celebrating her book launch, so for the first time in the history of everything, there was no prompt shared around 6:45 (Pacific Daylight Time) last night. I guess we’ll forgive her. This time.

No, seriously: We are all so happy for you, Kate! Your book is awesome. You deserve all the accolades and sales. Truly.

So, this morning, she says: settle.

Go.

We don’t have to settle, you know
For castles made of sand
And kingdoms prone to burn
For frauds who prance as princes
And trends so fast to turn

We don’t have to settle, you know
For offices tucked in corners
And accounts that bulge with cash
For grandiose titles after names
And powers gone in flash

We don’t have to settle, you know
For the building of the platform
And the chasing of the “like”
For the hollowing out of voice
And the statistics, hope they spike

We don’t have to settle, you know
For the things this place can give
And what we’re supposed to want
For all that will fade one day
And the stuff that others flaunt

We don’t have to settle, you know
Because there is more than meets our eyes
Because there is deeper than this
Because there is One who loves us so
Because righteousness and peace, they kiss

Stop.

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Content Yo Self

Along theWay @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I love Parks and Recreation.

Chris and I watched the show as it aired live. We’ve watched it completely through several times on Netflix. We can quote entire scenes word-for-word. Chris shares Ron Swanson’s love of woodworking and breakfast foods. At any given time I can be heard singing Jean-Ralphio’s classic, “Technically I’m homeless!” Both of us appreciate the beauty that is the Knope/Wyatt relationship. If we believed in spirit animals, mine would be April Ludgate and his would be Andy Dwyer. Chris Traeger and Ann Perkins are amazing land mermaids. Tammy 1, Tammy 2, Jeremy Jamm, Bobby Newport, Lil’ Sebastian…

Don’t worry – I didn’t forget the joy of Tom and Donna:

We are lit-er-ally P&R super-fans.

“Treat yo self” is a wonderful idea. In a culture that’s all about work, work and more work, as well as remaining constantly connected through social media and smartphones, it’s important to build a little space in our lives for relaxation. Eat a cupcake, see a movie, buy an expensive pair of shoes (that you’ve saved money for. Hashtag Dave Ramsey). In moderation, there’s nothing wrong with “treat yo self.”

But you know humans.

We just can’t seem to do anything in moderation.

In our Western, industrialized, competitive context, we swing from frenetic labor to “I’m going to go into major debt because I want that boat” without much thought. We are always striving, in work and in play, to keep up with…someone. Something. It’s rather ill-defined. We know for certain, however, that we are always and inevitably coming up short. Nothing is ever good enough. We are never good enough.

So onto the next deadline so we can get the next iPhone that we’ll have to make payments on by logging more hours.

Strangely, despite all the overtime and the missed vacation days, we lack discipline.

Really, we do. It’s not good that 40 hours a week is often understood to actually be 60, with little to no overtime pay. Or, if overtime is given, a tongue-lashing from the numbers guy comes along with it. “Yes, we need you to do this project that requires 87 hours of work but you have to get it done in 39.5. Kthanksbye.” There is no satisfaction accompanying a job well done, because the job is never done.

No discipline Monday-Friday equals no discipline on the weekends. Stay up too late, sleep too long, spend too much, drink too much, eat too much, shop too much. Hungover, emotionally or physically, we head back into the workweek, the ever-revolving hamster wheel of tasks and expectations.

On and on it goes.

Paul wrote:

…I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

– Philippians 4:11b-12 (NKJV)

We don’t know how to do any of that. We don’t know how to be content in plenty. We don’t know how to be content in leanness. We don’t know how to be content, period.

Because we’re looking at the wrong things.

The big house isn’t going to silence the soul-gnawing sense of desperation. The corner office isn’t going to make the sacrifice of family and friends worthwhile. The string of letters on the parchment paper won’t bring peace. The money in the bank won’t achieve security.

Paul goes on:

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

– 4:13 (NKJV)

We quote this verse out of context all the time. I know I have.

Paul is grateful, and in spite of periods of difficulty, he has learned to be content (v. 11). Note that he learned this! He did not rely on favorable circumstances for his joy and strength. He found these in a higher source: in Christ (v. 13).

Asbury Bible Commentary

Doing “all things” isn’t about achievement. It’s about facing whatever the day holds in the knowledge that Chris is always present. Does that mean we deny problems? No. Force ourselves to shun treats? Of course not. Put simply, “all things,” for the believer, are mere things. Seasons. Times. Moments that pass. Christ is the end-goal, the treasure.

Knowing this is the only way that we can be content, and out of that contentment arises the ability to set boundaries. I don’t have to do the work of three people. I can say “no.” I don’t have to buy this thing that I don’t have money for. I can enjoy what I already have. Understanding that Jesus is King and that we are His children means that we don’t have to strive. We don’t have to get caught in the rat race or possess all that is shiny.

Of course, we cannot attain this perspective on our own. We’re not amazing like that. The only way we can conclude that this life, this world is not all there is and that something else matters a whole lot more is through the power of the Holy Spirit. We have to ask for His eyes. We have to ask Him for faith.

So, yes, work hard. And treat yo self. Just remember, neither in the working nor the treating does contentment lie.

Find it in the arms of Jesus.

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Photo Credit: Kaylah Otto
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Simmer Down

Cry

Gentle Reader,

I’ve avoided IF: Gathering for a couple of years. The direction the group was headed at the time wasn’t one that I could follow. Gather ye pitchforks while ye may, but I’m just not “progressive,” theologically-speaking. I actually believe that God is real and Satan is real and there is a spiritual war going on and that the things recorded in the Bible happened and that the commands on the pages are necessary to life and salvation. I believe in terms and concepts like Sin, Incarnation, Atonement and Resurrection. While I certainly don’t believe that people who don’t claim the title “Christian” can or should live as if they are, I do believe that those who call themselves followers of Christ have to completely, fully buy into the fact that He gets to make the rules.

(That’s all without nuance, because I also believe in interpretation, historical context and the proper, responsible handling of Scripture).

Some of the speakers/teachers associated with IF in the past have been people with whom I don’t align. And that’s fine. I’m not saying that only people I agree with have a right to speak or teach. I just chose not to tune in. Not a big deal.

Then I heard the buzzing of Twitter last Friday night.

Rebekah Lyons: made some remarks about anxiety and pooh-phoo’ed #MeToo.

Christine Caine: joked about schizophrenia.

Overall: “conservative” theology, which is just so backward.

Everyone was very upset.

I thought, “Huh. Interesting. I should look into this.” Because I’m curious. I like to know things.

I watched the entirely of the first session, which is over 4 hours long. (Full disclosure: I took many breaks and did it over a two-day span). Whatever joke Caine made, I didn’t hear. (That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen; I probably missed it). I’m not the biggest fan of hers, but her message was rock-solid. Nothing Lyons said bothered me in the slightest; not once did she say that anyone who suffers from anxiety (or, by extension, other mental illnesses) shouldn’t take medication or see a therapist. Additionally, the fact that she pointed out that women don’t rise in order to stomp on men – as men have so often done to women – didn’t cause me to twitch with anger.

Listen: I nearly committed suicide. I take Zoloft every night. I’ve been in therapy three times for myself, totaling roughly 2.5 years, and am currently in couple’s counseling with my husband as we wrestle out what God has for us since our lives look nothing like the lives around us (i.e., I can’t have children). Anxiety constantly buzzes in the back of my mind. I’m part of #MeToo and #ChurchToo. I wake up every morning with the knowledge that, at any moment, my liver can (and will certainly eventually) go to crap; words like “cancer” and “transplant” are never far away. My joints always hurt. My head throbs with migraines on a regular basis. Not a day goes by that I am not nauseated and exhausted.

Without doubt, I am hyper-vigilant for any mushy, gushy, false, prosperity garbage teaching. I am the enemy of the “health-and-wealth” preacher. I will without hesitation do battle with anyone who tells me to “pray it away.” For 10 years I have openly, publicly, shared about my suffering and how, in the upside-down way of the Kingdom, it has brought me closer to the Lord.

Do I believe that the church has to learn how to have difficult conversations? That we need to stop assuming that the “American Dream” is God’s plan? That we need to wise up to the fact that pain is, in fact, promised to those who follow Christ? That the hurting people who sit in the pews every Sunday need to know that there is a place for them?

Yes.

I also believe that, sometimes, we are sensitive in unproductive ways.

That we go looking for something over which to be offended.

That, because we do not fully pursue healing, because we remain in a place of victim-hood, we read into (hear into?) messages things that simply aren’t there.

If I got upset every time someone made a joke or said something idiotic about anxiety, depression, OCD, infertility or suicide, I would literally never leave my house and I would definitely never go online.

There’s a difference between consistent, ongoing abuse and something said without consideration. Were Lyons and Caine flippant at points? Perhaps. It is important for communicators to choose their words carefully. Do they need to issue apologies and submit themselves to a social media flogging? No. Look at the entirety of their ministries, their teachings. Is there an ongoing pattern of idiocy or simple, isolated, human moments that we all experience?

Do not mistake me. Leaders are not immune to needing correction. But we cannot go around assigning beliefs and motivations to people just because others in our lives have had those beliefs or motivations at one point or another. That is not fair to those others and, in so doing, we set ourselves up to be re-victimized over and over again. What kind of life is that? Where is the room for trust, for grace, for relationship?

I know that some of you reading this are real mad right about now. You want to tell me that I don’t understand. You want to dismiss me as not being “woke.” So let me just go ahead and smash the last little bit of your toes: At some point, we have to move forward. We have to press through. We have to square our shoulders and decide, by the mercy and empowerment of Christ, that we are stronger and tougher than all the hurts of the past, present and future. We stand, bruised, bloody and sweaty, believing that our God is with us, come what may. We don’t slink around like invertebrates and we don’t continuously, obsessively claw off the scabs so that we can keep on bleeding. We have to stop indiscriminately demanding heads on platters in an effort to make ourselves feel better.

Pain is real. Jesus is also real. Choose Jesus in the midst of pain, keeping your eyes fixed on Him. That’s the message I heard during the first session of IF: Gathering. It’s a message we need to sit with. We have to learn to shun the extremes of both denial and dwelling. Jesus is in neither of those. He is instead in the middle, in the muscle-burning, soul-stretching work of one foot in front of the other, throwing off the things that would weigh us down and take us out.

Because, you see, people are dying out there. They need to see, to hear, the hope in our lives, the hope that gets us out of bed each morning. That will only happen if we are willing to go where they are, beyond ourselves, to the places God calls us. We can only do that if we are willing to submit to His healing work, a work of transformation that leaves the scar but heals the wounds.

It’s time.

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They Say It’s My Birthday

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Today I am 33.

And it’s stupid hot outside, so I’m hiding in the house, next to the air conditioner, shades drawn. There’s a small rectangle between the top of the couch and the bottom of the blinds that allows me to peek out on a scorching, quiet world. Nobody is out-and-about. The rose bushes climbing up the trellis look a little sad. The dogs alternate between panting and snoozing.

It’s August.

I feel kind of sorry for making my mom go into labor during such a miserable time of year (as if I had any control over that). I was supposed to show up at the end of the month or even in early September. But I was in a rush, three weeks early. Bald-headed and a little over five pounds. My dad tells me that I came into the world with my eyes wide open, which I like to think was a sign of the curiosity and hunger for understanding that remains with me.

I’ve reached yet another transitional season of adulthood. I’m not young and stupid, but I’m also not old and wise. I know enough to know better, but not enough to always foresee the oncoming bend in the road. People begin to seek my advice on serious issues like faith and relationships, which is completely frightening. Most scary of all, I’m old enough to have been married long enough to start being looked upon as an example for other, younger wives.

Yikes.

I can’t help but take that seriously.

Today I wonder what kind of advice I can really offer to anyone. The better part of wisdom is knowing just how much you don’t know. Despite all my reading, all my studying – I know very little. But perhaps it’s not about the quantity of knowledge, but rather the quality of knowledge.

With that in mind, I move to pondering what I might wish to say if this were my last birthday. Yeah, yeah. Some of you find that morbid. Hike up your big kid britches. We’re all going to shed this leaky tent; some of us are forced to face that fact sooner than we’d prefer. I am painfully aware on a daily basis that this skin-suit is going to stop working one day. I have no delusions of immortality, none that are beyond the life eternal promised in Christ Jesus.

On this day, then, I want to leave you with some of the truest words I know, the best pieces of wisdom that will light the way through any darkness:

…what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again.

Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.

And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. …

Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. …

How can a young man cleanse his way?

By taking heed according to Your word.

With my whole heart I have sought You;

Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!

Your word I have hidden in my heart,

That I might not sin against You.

Blessed are You, O Lord!

Teach me Your statutes.

With my lips I have declared

All the judgments of Your mouth.

I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies,

As much as in all riches.

I will meditate on Your precepts,

And contemplate Your ways.

I will delight myself in Your statutes;

I will not forget Your word. …

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. …

“…I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

– Hebrews 11:32-12:3; 1 Timothy 6:6-10; 1 John 2:15-17; Psalm 119:9-16; 2 Timothy 4:6-8; Matthew 28:20b (NKJV)

Look to Jesus. Cry out to Jesus. Follow Jesus. Rest in Jesus.

Now, instead of singing happy birthday to me, go and sing to Him.

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Linking up with Suzanne EllerHolley Gerth and  Susan Mead.