Five Minute (Saturday): World

Gentle Reader,

Have you hugged a children’s ministry director lately? Brought him or her a very large coffee? You should. I don’t know how they do what they do, apart from the empowerment of God. I spent 8 hours with a group of elementary students on Thursday, filling in for a counselor at my church’s summer program, and I’m wiped out.

I may not be able to tell you exactly where this calling of mine is going to end up, but I’m pretty confident that it won’t be in the children’s department. I’ll take 50 hormonal teenagers who just broke up with their significant others over someone screaming at me for no apparent reason (translation: they need a nap) any day.

Kate says: world.

Go.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the humanitarian crisis at the United States-Mexico border.

We can argue with each other all day long about immigration processes. And I do actually believe that there should be a process; I really don’t know anyone who is for the idea of “open borders.” The problem right now is that the system is broken. Blame the President, blame Congress, blame whoever. But that misses the point.

We have people crossing the border, some through official channels and some not. Whether you think they should be doing so or not doesn’t matter. The reality is: They are here. And we are not treating them as fellow human beings.

Particular sorrow wells up in my soul when I think of the children who are being taken from their families. (Yes, some children are being trafficked. That makes my heart break and blood boil and I very much want the perpetrators of this evil to be brought to justice. But, let’s be real, every child who comes to the border is not a victim of trafficking, and using that as an excuse to separate families is wrong). Government officials claim that it’s not necessary for children to have access to things like soap and toothpaste, because these things do not fall under “safe and sanitary” regulations, displaying an incredible lack of common sense. Prominent evangelical leaders wonder why we can’t just send these people back where they came from while in the next breath claiming their hearts are broken for them, displaying an impressive cognitive dissonance.

This isn’t a political issue. I don’t care what side of the aisle you normally sit on, what party you identify with, or who you voted for in 2016. It’s a waste of time and breath to argue about minutiae and legalities. Further, it’s an attempt to escape responsibility, because we who follow Christ, who truly know Him as our Lord and Savior, know that we have a holy obligation to care for others. No, not an obligation, a privilege. The whole of Scripture repeats this command over and over again. God does not take kindly to the oppression and marginalization of the least of these.

And if children aren’t the least of these, then who is? If people fleeing violence aren’t the least of these, then who is?

I know, I know. Some of you reading this want to tell me that we should care for our own fellow Americans first. If I may step on your toes a little harder, we, the church, as a whole, aren’t doing that, either. We are stuck in a mindset of occasional handouts and hoping that problems will magically disappear. Because caring for others, really caring for them, involves relational investment. It takes time and the giving up of our own agendas, which we don’t want to do. And I’m right there with you; I struggle just as much as you do to surrender my will and take up the will of the Father.

Once more, this is not political. Our inability to address these issues appropriately arises when we think of them as merely political, when we cast fellow image bearers into the “other” category and deem them enemies. This is a Jesus issue. How would He have us bring light and love into this chaotic, dark world?

The words at the end of a well-known parable echo in my mind:

“Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

“The one who showed mercy to him,” he said.

Then Jesus told him, “Go and do the same.”

– Luke 10:36-37 (CSB)

What does it mean for you to “go and do the same” today? What does it mean for me? Let’s wrestle with this together, and then do as God leads.

Stop.

Please read this letter and consider adding your name to it. Doing so may not feel like much, but it’s something. Then, join me in praying that God would grace us all with compassion and wisdom, from those in positions of power in the halls of government to those in the smallest communities around the nation.

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The Wednesday Writers: Carol Graft

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

It’s The Wednesday Writers!

No idea what I’m talking about? Read this.

Today we hear from my friend and fitness accountability group member, Carol Graft.

The Gift and Fruit of Grace and Mercy

Grace is receiving what we don’t deserve.
Mercy is not receiving what we do deserve.

– Author Unknown

We are familiar with Galatians 5, the chapter that includes the Fruit of the Spirit passage:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

– vs. 22-23 (NKJV)

Notice that “fruit” is singular. It’s all the same value. We are to have all of the attributes. All the fruit of the Spirit should be manifest in our lives as believers in and followers after Christ. But if we are honest, we have our strengths and weaknesses in this area just as we have in any area of our life. We can get down about this.

We forget about grace.

We forget that it’s a gift. Instead, we focus on passages like this:

…for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

– 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 (NKJV)

I know some don’t think these words are relevant; the time for passages such as this is long gone. Given that the Word of God is living and active, not just pages of wood pulp with typeface on it, I beg to differ. (But that’s another post).

Those gifts listed above are plural, meaning multiple gifts.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone has them all, though most have several, just in varying degrees. We get wrapped up in that. We focus on what we are able to do.

What about grace? Mercy? The ability to rest in Him, instead of striving and fretting?

These two things fall into both the “gift” and the “fruit” category.  Straight from the heart of God, we simply must have grace and mercy flowing in and out of our lives.

Grace: unmerited favor. Favor that we didn’t earn.

Ihis book Grace: More Than We Deserve Greater Than We Imagine, Max Lucado talks about a night in an upper room.

The grace of God.

Hours before Jesus is to be killed, to take the sin of the world then and now upon His shoulders, He shows grace, compassion and unconditional love.

John 13: the Last Supper, that last Passover remembrance.  After the meal, Jesus grabs a basin and a towel and proceeds to do what would normally be done by a slave. Wash the feet.  

Jesus didn’t exclude anyone from what He was doing.  Not the doubter Philip, not James and John who always wanted to be first.

Not Peter, who turns his back on Jesus,

We see Jesus is so full of grace that He washes the feet of Judas himself. The man who very shortly will sell Him.

Could you do that? Could you wash the feet of your betrayer? Could you wash the feet of your boss who fired you?  Could you wash the feet of _______ (fill in the blank)?

To be gracious women and men, we need to walk in Christ. To walk as if Christ’s love is surrounding us and in us.

If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do.

– John 13:14-15 (CEB)

To accept grace is to accept the vow to give it.

Mercy: withheld punishment.

Scripture says we are redeemed by mercy.

In His love and mercy He redeemed them…

Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.

– Isaiah 63:9 (NIV); Romans 11:21 (NKJV)

Because we have been granted mercy by God, we need to be merciful to those we meet every day. Those in our lives that try our patience. Those who don’t know the Lord.  If we only remember where we were and what we were brought out of, maybe that would soften the attitudes, the hearts of us and our judgments to others, especially those who don’t know yet the wonderful cleansing of God and His love for us.

The gifts of grace and mercy enable us to live as He wants us to. The fruit grows when we are planted deep in the soil of His love. We are changed, for:

What shall we say [to all this]? Are we to remain in sin in order that God’s grace (favor and mercy) may multiply and overflow? Certainly not! How can we who died to sin live in it any longer?

– Romans 6:1-2 (AMP)

 

Remember today that God’s mercy and grace is so very, very rich.

“In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.”

– Ephesians 1:7 (NIV)

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Carol lives in West Michigan, close enough to the beach to chase the sunsets when she can. Married 33 years and counting. Mom to 7, mostly grown, children. 3 daughters in love, and blessed with grands. Loves hot beverages, prayer and worship. Love to teach and encourage others in this Journey with Jesus. While I think my writing is rather rusty, I am learning to lean in and follow the call, stepping out on the water.  Keeping my eyes on Jesus.

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Peace, They Say

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (3)

Gentle Reader,

I took part in an exchange today, one that has me shaking my head. I was accused of gossip for commenting on an article that the author invited comment on. I was told that I “obviously have problems” for believing that the Church should advocate for victims of any kind of abuse rather than protect and defend the perpetrators. The jabs at my character won’t keep me up tonight, but they do make me sad in the sense that they stand as yet another example of the deep dysfunction within the Church.

I love the people of God, but I don’t always love what they say or do.

We are called to be so much more.

We cannot stand on such cheap, flimsy understandings of mercy and justice. When we minimize or justify or defend any kind of sin, when we claim that it’s all good and nobody should be upset because the person repented, regardless of whether or not they ever humbled themselves and did everything possible to make things right with the one they offended or abused, when we contrive to shift the blame onto the shoulders of the victim, we wind up belittling what Christ did.

He became sin. He BECAME sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). Every horrible, awful, evil, dark, nasty, vile action or thought that anyone would ever have, He became. The Father turned His face away. Those agonizing hours when Jesus hung on that cross, naked and bruised and bleeding and gasping for breath – THAT is the fallout of sin. That is God’s opinion of it. It is not a “mistake,” an “indiscretion” or “no big deal.”

Forgiveness and restoration is available to anyone who comes to the Lord with a sincere and contrite heart. Thank God for that or I would be lost. But we don’t get a blank check to do whatever we want. Grace doesn’t mean that there aren’t consequences to our actions. It doesn’t mean that, if Jesus were walking the earth today, He would protect or defend those who perpetrate abuse.

On the contrary, He would call them out. He would bring them face-to-face with the full ugliness of what they’ve done. That’s precisely what He does now through the work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:5-11). He doesn’t pat abusers on the head and say, “It’s all good now that you asked Me to forgive you.” No. He washes them clean and then gives them both the humility and the fortitude to go out and face reality. See, that’s part of the radical, transformative nature of the Gospel; not that we hide behind “God forgave me” and seek to escape consequences, but that we deal with them, whatever they are, in the light of truth because we understand and accept just how heinous sin is. We accept that our actions affect others and that there is not such thing as a victimless crime.

For example, God can and will forgive a murderer, but that murderer should serve jail time. God can and will forgive an adulterous wife, but her marriage may end. God can and will forgive a man who beats his children, but those children should be removed from the home. God can and will forgive a woman who steals from her place of business, but she should be fired.

Should perpetrators be given the chance to make things right? Yes. We should not walk in bitterness and withhold that from them. But we should also not make light of their actions or slap their wrists. Mercy and justice do not exist in separate spheres.

Finally, God is absolutely an advocate for victims and calls His people to be advocates as well. Even a casual reading of Scripture reveals His heart in that regard (just a sampling – Psalm 82:3-4, Isaiah 61, Proverbs 24:11, Proverbs 31:9, Isaiah 1:17, Isaiah 58:6-7. Ezekiel 22:28-30, Amos 5:21-24, Micah 6:8, Luke 10:27-28, 1 John 3:16-18).

God forbid we be characterized by these words:

They dress the wound of my people
    as though it were not serious.
‘Peace, peace,’ they say,
    when there is no peace. – Jeremiah 6:14 (NIV)

My journey to faith. (15)

I Need a Savior

Along the Way Graphic Template (2)

Gentle Reader,

I’d really like to take a nap right about now, but apparently I’m not through tossing my thoughts out into cyberspace. It’s been awhile since I’ve felt this excited about writing anything.

Last week I went and had lunch with a group of wonderful, intelligent, beautiful women. The Big Bear Deli was our locale; the yummy food and cozy camaraderie did much to lift my tired spirits. We munched and laughed as a steady flow of hungry traffic funneled in and out. It was just one of those days that couldn’t be ruined by anything.

All of this, however, is not what I enjoyed most about the outing. At my persistent (yes, I admit it!) questioning, each of these ladies shared their stories with me. They told me about how they came to know Jesus and about how much they needed Him. When my turn came around, I was struck with this thought:

Does anyone know that I need a Savior?

I gotta tell you, I think I’m pretty good at looking like I’ve got it all together. Dependable, mostly punctual, largely stable. I’m the girl who folds her towels a certain way, whose floor is consistently vacuumed, who gets good grades and has a nice marriage.

Do you know what lies underneath all that external and occasionally annoying “put-togetherness?”

A huge mess.

* * * * * * *

My parents taught me about God. Contrary to popular opinion, this did not stunt my intellectual growth. I grew up with a fond love for learning and asking questions, but with a simple faith. God was real. I could talk to Him. That was that.

Over the course of my childhood I was exposed to several different churches. By the time I was old enough to really begin investigating things like faith and the nature of life, I watched as the congregation of which we were currently a part forced the pastor out. Supposedly it was a sabbatical, for his own good. This was not, in fact, the case.

I began to have all kinds of questions. I still held to the belief that God was real, but I wasn’t a fan of His church. His people were mean, nasty. They bickered about ridiculous things. I didn’t get it. More importantly – they couldn’t answer my questions. They didn’t even try. This was especially the case at the private school I went to, where I watched as Bible verses were used by some as a means of getting what they wanted. I asked more questions. I got into trouble.

By the time I was 13, justice had become very important to me. I watched a friend of mine be expelled from school for something I felt was incredibly silly. With the support of my parents, I wrote a letter to the principal and circulated a petition amongst the students to have him reinstated. This was the first of many trips to the principal’s office.

So, at this point I had developed an extreme distrust for people who claimed to be Christians who were in authoritative positions. What they were doing all around me didn’t square up with what I was reading in the Bible. At the same time, the simple faith that I’d had from earliest memory was beginning to be mocked. I had braces. I wore glasses. I was covered in acne. I couldn’t afford “cool” clothes. My relationships among my peers were constantly shifting. On top of all that, I was a “goody.”

I wish I could tell you that I clung to that simple faith. Instead, I chose the road of hypocrisy. By the end of my freshman year of high school, I was done for. I knew all the right things to say and how to act so everyone would think that I was still a good Christian girl. Inside, though? I was smoldering. I was a mess of rage and hormones that was ready to pop at any moment.

Pop I did.

I liked the same boy for two years. Another girl liked him, too.  I did everything I could, in my jealousy, to belittle her in his eyes, something which I deeply regret today. (She’s a fantastic person, and we’ve since become friends). I had a friend of mine steal things out of his locker that she left for him. I said mean things about her. I lied. I was just…mean.

I wanted him to like me. I’m not really sure why I was so desperate for that. Maybe it was just because I was 15. Maybe it was because things had gotten awkward between my parents and I, as they are so apt to do as children age. Who knows what it was? All that year, though, he kept me guessing…even as he got more and more flirtatious.

I feel scared to go any farther down this road, but I cling to James 5:16, which reads:

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” (NKJV)

I was teased all that summer because I had turned 16 and had never been kissed. It was humiliating. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I wasn’t quite so physically awkward anymore, though I had not yet embraced the coolness of being a nerd. I just wanted to fit in. I began buying stylish (read: name-brand) clothes with the money from my part-time job at the library, another source of embarrassment. I listened to music I didn’t like because that’s what everyone else was into. I stopped reading my Bible and my family wasn’t going to church.

I began to blend in.

I also began to date this boy.

I don’t wish to dishonor him, so it’s enough to say that we went too far physically – all while I would tell my friends about the virtues of abstinence. Funny. I went to a youth convention with him and, instead of learning about God and growing closer to Him, I learned about how to kiss on the bus without being caught.

Spent a lot of time in the principal’s office that year when another friend of mine was expelled for getting pregnant. (She was expelled, but the father was allowed to say. Thankfully he did the honorable thing and left the school, but the injustice of that situation still baffles me). Wrote an article about that in the paper, was nearly suspended. The boyfriend was threatening to break up with me because I was “slutty.” Isn’t that ironic?

The boyfriend did break up with me – two days after my birthday. After not speaking to me for two weeks prior. Surprise, surprise. I was devastated and even more angry than I had been before. The white-hot rage within me was building to an explosion, but I wanted to ignore it. Got another boyfriend, destroyed my purity further – and, I’m ashamed to say, played a part in him walking away from youth group, which we both desperately needed at the time. Spent LOTS of time with my rear planted in a chair in the principal’s office; faced expulsion the day the spring play opened. Were it not for parental intervention, I’m sure I would have been out on my tail.

Graduation. The current boyfriend calls me all sorts of names for graduating at a better standing in the class than he did. Feeds into what I already feel and think about myself. The next few years are spent bouncing from relationship to relationship, pouring myself into being the best reporter the college paper had ever had (with the awards to prove it) and posing as some sort of collegiate intellectual.

Inside?

Loneliness. Deep, abiding loneliness. Shame. Sorrow. Approval-seeking. A ball of venom.

All covered by a slick veneer of perfection.

I returned to the faith of my childhood about the time when my family was dealing with some serious issues. I developed an intellectual assent toward its tenants without desiring to change the way I lived. I got to decide that; I couldn’t see how anything else was going to work. So, did I believe that Jesus of Nazareth existed, that He was God and that He and died and rose again three days later? Sure. Did that have any impact on my life whatsoever? None.

Met another boy. Finally gave away the last of whatever purity I had left to him. Didn’t darken the door of a church or crack open my Bible for at least two years – though I still talked a good game. Hypocrite. We decide one day to start attending church, feel convicted about some stuff, get involved. Even get baptized. It’s still not that deep. I party on Saturday and go to church on Sunday. I tell middle schoolers not to compromise even as I go out dancing at Mic n Mac’s.

I marry the boy. Shortly after our one-year-anniversary, he tells me he wants to kill himself.

Agony. Hate. Bewilderment. Sorrow. Fear. Loneliness.

Three years ago. That’s when I fell in love with Jesus. I sat in that hospital lobby and told Him to show up if He was real. All I know is that He did. All I know is that He still does.

Sometimes I stretch the truth to make myself look better. I still have a lot of anger and bitterness. I have manipulated people – and been good at it. Sometimes I cut corners. I am very impatient. Sometimes I think that I am smarter than others and that they should be quiet. I don’t take correction/instruction well. I am arrogant. I hate the way I look. I belittle myself. (How does that work when you’re arrogant?) I’ve had sexual sin.

The plaster of perfection is just that: plaster. It barely covers the cracks. The day I met Jesus was the day He began beating all of the plaster out of my life so that His light would shine through the cracks. I’m not perfect and I can’t do this on my own. I am messed up and twisted inside. I don’t have the right perspective and any wisdom I have comes straight from above. I am utterly and totally dependent on His unflinching grace.

I think I maybe understand, just a little, what Paul meant when he wrote in Romans 5:8 that Christ died for us while we were sinners. WHILE. In the past act, present act and future act of violating His commands and trying to go our own way. I need that. I need a Savior so badly, and He’s the only one I’ve ever seen Who qualifies. Not myself. Not my husband. Not anyone else.

You know what I really need? Someone who doesn’t want the plaster. Someone who thinks it sucks. Someone who loves me and thinks I’m pretty darn special, despite all the garbage I’ve heaped on myself. See, God doesn’t make junk, but He is in the business of peeling it away.

He loves me. He made a way for me to be free, a way that I am still discovering, when nobody else possibly could. Believing that might make me foolish or weak in the eyes of some, but I guess I wonder: do those people really feel any different than I did before I fell at His feet? Do they feel any less lost, hurt, angry or confused than I did? I can’t really answer that, but I do wonder.

I need a Savior. It’s that simple.

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