Review: Where I End

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (3)

Gentle Reader,

Jesus…teaches us to put our question in a way which is meaningful. He tells us that we should not ask ‘Why?’ but ‘To what end?’ … Jesus is a true Pastor. For when we understand the change, we are no longer cloaked with terror. We can breathe again. We can cry and not be weary. We can live by the profound peace in our hearts.

Everything changes under our hands if with our hand in the hand of our Lord we are ready to march forward to the great ends of God. Our conscience is stained and we are guilty. But being in the hand of Jesus,we may ask with fear and trembling, ‘To what end?’ and we may receive the answer of Paul: In order that grace may be mightier, the cross greater, and the Lord dearer to us.

Where I End, p. 194-195, 196; quoting Helmut Thielicke’s Out of the Depths

I am tempted to end this review here, for this quote tells you all that you need to know about Where I End: a Story of Tragedy, Truth and Rebellious Hope, written by Katherine Elizabeth Clark. However, if I did this, perhaps you might be tempted to believe that Clark is somehow above it all, a perpetually-smiling, saintly figure who has nothing at all in common with you. Such a belief would drive you away from this book – a book every one of us needs to read.

In our modern, Western, sleek-and-shiny context, we don’t know how to suffer well. Unlike our brothers and sisters in hostile and war-torn countries, we are not daily confronted with dark moments of terror. Thanks to advances in medical science, we don’t have to watch loved ones die of preventable diseases like measles or scarlet fever. We are insulated. Cushioned.

Only two things can shake us out of our rose-colored haze: If we consciously choose to seek out suffering by ministering among the poor and the marginalized (which, no bones about it, we should do) or if tragedy suddenly and inexplicably strikes.

Clark and her family experienced the latter. In the briefest of moments, their entire world was transformed. A game of tag. A child who jumped. Broken vertebrae. Pain. Paralysis.

A young, healthy, active mother could no longer hold her children.

The children had to grapple with looking upon their mother lying in a hospital bed.

A husband and father forced to bear the load.

For better, for worse, we say in our marriage vows, in the covenant we make with each other and with God.

Except we never really expect the worse.

Clark details the journey in a non-linear format, which would normally drive order-bound me up the wall, but this narrative choice worked well, because this book is so much more than a story of sorrow. It is about choices. It is about figuring out how to suffer well. Not denying the pain, not ignoring the anger, but turning again and again to the Lord. Seeking the hope that is found in His presence. Releasing a sigh and resting in His arms, even when nothing makes sense, even when the world screams that He can’t be trusted.

It is a story not of praising God for pain, but praising God in the pain. Learning to sing loudly when the storm rages, the song of worship rising above the howling wind, moving the heart of the Father. Determining to be grateful for little blessings and small progress. Seeing things with new eyes.

Above all, Where I End is a very human story nestled within the awesome story of the God who sees, the God who knows. It is about accepting the very human limitations of physicality and of understanding, then choosing to love the God beyond the limits instead of allowing the limits to turn to bitterness. This is the only way that we can survive the shattering of the cocoons that we make for ourselves without bank accounts and education and white picket fences.

Where I End releases January 2018. Do head over to Amazon and pre-order your copy today.

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I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.
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Revelation 21 People in a Genesis 3 World

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might,
He increases strength.

– Isaiah 40:29 (NKJV)

Life rarely, if ever, makes sense or goes as planned. So much is out of our hands. Beyond our control. We can do all the right things, follow God as closely as we know how, and yet find ourselves smack in the middle of a great storm. The waters rise and the winds rage. We bow our heads in confusion, sorrow, even anger.

It is difficult to read the promises of Scripture during these times. We know we should feel comforted. Encouraged. Strengthened. We know our faith should grow and words of praise should fall from our lips. After all, we know that joy is not dependent upon circumstances. We know that God is good all the time and all the time God is good.

But when the diagnosis comes or the relationship ends or the job changes or we suffer for no apparent reason at all – how can the promises of God be true?

Isaiah recorded these words, spoken to him by the Lord, within the context of warnings about oncoming destruction. God’s people had turned away from Him and they would suffer the consequences of so doing. They could not claim surprise. Deuteronomy 28 outlines exactly what would happen if they chose to follow Him and what would happen if they didn’t.

Still, He did not abandon them.

Seven decades of exile would pass, but they would come home. The city and Temple would be rebuilt. God would even be with them during that exile, as shown in the book of Ezekiel, though not in the way they were accustomed. Not in the way they expected.

Though God was faithful to His people, He removed His glory, the tangible manifestation of His presence, from the Temple. There would be four centuries of silence. Not until a young woman pushed one last time and the cry of a baby pierced the air would the voice of God be heard again.

Not at all what they expected.

That’s all well and good, we think. People get punished when they do something wrong. But what about when they don’t do anything wrong? How come they suffer? How can God be good and true when bad things happen?

These are questions that humanity has wrestled with for so long. We forget that, right now, today, in this moment, we live in a Genesis 3 world. So while it is true that,

He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.

– Colossians 1:13-14 (NKJV)

It is also true that,

Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.”

– Genesis 3:17b-19 (NKJV)

Or, as Jesus put it,

In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties.

– John 16:33 (MSG)

Submitting to the Lord does not guarantee health, wealth or a trouble-free life. Anyone who teaches thus is nothing more than a snake-oil salesman, a deceiver. The death and resurrection of Christ destroyed the power of sin and darkness, so that anyone who receives the awesome gift of salvation through Him can be restored to right relationship with God. We are released from the terrible yoke of slavery that was pulling us toward death and Hell.

But we continue live in a world that is not fully set to rights.

In John 9, the disciples asked Jesus who had sinned and therefore caused a man to be born blind. This is one of my favorite scenes in the Gospels, and I always wonder if Jesus shook His head a little when He answered, “Nobody did.” Just as a life of bliss is not the result of obedience, so a life of suffering is not automatically the result of disobedience.

In this Genesis 3 world, every atom, and all the crazy little pieces tucked inside those atoms, is distorted. Warped. Not functioning properly. Nothing that we can see, feel, hear, taste or touch, including our own bodies, escaped the Curse. There is no horizon upon which you can cast your gaze and think, “Yes, that place is perfect and I shall go there to be free.”

Suffering happens because, despite life-jackets being securely in place and every nerve ready to jump, we remain on a sinking ship. We can see the shore, safe and pleasant. We know we’ll end up on the shore. But we’re not there just yet.

How do we live in that tension? How can we cling to the promises of God, even when unspeakable agony strikes?

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [who by faith have testified to the truth of God’s absolute faithfulness], stripping off every unnecessary weight and the sin which so easily and cleverly entangles us, let us run with endurance and active persistence the race that is set before us, [looking away from all that will distract us and] focusing our eyes on Jesus, who is the Author and Perfecter of faith [the first incentive for our belief and the One who brings our faith to maturity], who for the joy [of accomplishing the goal] set before Him endured the cross, disregarding the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God [revealing His deity, His authority, and the completion of His work].

Just consider and meditate on Him who endured from sinners such bitter hostility against Himself [consider it all in comparison with your trials], so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

– Hebrews 12:2-3 (AMP)

Brothers and sisters, Jesus knows our pain. He knows exactly what it is to be struck down, abandoned, wrecked – for no reason at all. He never sinned. He never put a foot wrong. Yet He took that beating and hung on that cross.

The anguish you feel – He felt it.

Ours is not an aloof God, removed from humanity, judging us with coldness. He entered in. He continues to enter in through the loving activity of the Holy Spirit, drawing the lost and comforting the found. When you face difficulties, He will give you power. We you must endure, He will give you strength. These things may not come in the way you expect or desire, but they are sure promises, straight from the heart of the Lord who never fails.

In the mystery, the questioning, of being among the rescued who nevertheless find themselves going down with the ship – hold tight to the hand of the One who slipped that life-jacket over your head.

He will see you safe to shore.

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Photo credit: Nikko Macaspac

Linking up with God-Sized Dreams and Barbie Swihart today.

Five Minute Friday: Blessing

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I went to a new doctor yesterday. Yearly check-up that we ladies are always so thrilled to have. As she pulled up my medical history, her face went through a serious of contortions, landing on an expression of surprise. “Wow,” she said. “You’re so young. How have you had so many things go wrong?”

Had to laugh.

Big ball of weirdness, am I.

Linking up with Kate and the people. We write about: blessing.

Go.

Theological statements show up in strange places.

I’m not really a fan of Macklemore – the famous son of Kent, Washington – but I did listen to his new song, “Glorious,” the chorus of which is:

I feel glorious, glorious
Got a chance to start again
I was born for this, born for this
It’s who I am, how could I forget?
I made it through the darkest part of the night
And now I see the sunrise
Now I feel glorious, glorious
I feel glorious, glorious

Those words, they take me to church.

The days drag on. We have to live in these broken bodies, on this broken planet. We have to deal with broken relationships, broken dreams, broken systems. There are desires left unfulfilled, plans left unfinished. We dwell in the space between Genesis 3 and Revelation 21.

So it’s easy to forget.

Forget who we are.

Forget Who is with us.

Forget our purpose.

Caught up in the grind, we look in the mirror and forget to look for what cannot be seen by the human eye. Forget to ask for the holy perspective. We see creases and lines, worries and sorrows. Words left unsaid and conflict unresolved. Weak and fragile bodies.

We forget,

But if God Himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of Him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome Him, in whom He dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, He’ll do the same thing in you that He did in Jesus, bringing you alive to Himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and He does, as surely as He did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With His Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!

So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who He is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with Him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with Him!

– Romans 8:9-17 (MSG)

We are blessed to be children of the Living God, bought with His own blood. Blessed with fresh mercies, brand-new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).

We forget.

We must learn to remember.

Because when we remember, we regain the ability to press through the trouble, which does not magically disappear. Following Christ is no guarantee of health, wealth or any other human-defined blessing.

It is a guarantee of purpose. Of clarity.

Of knowing, in your bones, who you are and where you’re going.

Stop.

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Photo credit: Danka & Peter

The Harm in That

Harm in That Cover

Gentle Reader,

The LORD upholds all who fall,
And raises up all who are bowed down.

– Psalm 145:14 (NKJV)

I hate pants.

Three abdominal surgeries have left me with very sensitive skin and internal organs that don’t function properly. Anything tight is a big no-no. It’s a good thing that my style leans in the casual, comfortable direction already; I can’t really wear anything that is the correct size.

I was reminded of this yesterday after foolishly wearing a belt. My outfit for church was, if I may say so, very cute. Floaty summer top and slim khakis. But the pants don’t fit right. So I slipped the belt through the loops and anchored it as loosely as I could while ensuring that my underwear did not make an unexpected appearance.

Cue the nausea.

Hannah Anderson tweeted this yesterday:

So now I’m sitting here thinking about link [between] conservatives’ approach to healthcare [conversation] & [G]nosticism prevalent in evangelical church…

Gnosticism is our modern term for various ideas and philosophies, originating in the Jewish world of the first and second centuries, the proponents of which sought to attain “higher” or “secret” spiritual knowledge. An inter-religious movement rather than a distinct belief system, gnostics tended toward asceticism, disdaining the body and physical world as corrupted and of lesser importance when compared to the spiritual. Highly influenced by Platonism and comfortable with syncretism, Gnosticism emphasized personal experience over systematic doctrine and liturgy.

How is Gnosticism present in American, evangelical Christian teaching today, specifically in the context of healthcare?

Right there in the assumption that a Christian should be able to conquer her body.

If you would just eat this…. If you would just do that…. If you would drink this…. If you would take this herb/read this book/buy this flaxseed pillow…. If you would exercise harder…. If you would pray more….

The body is nothing. It is lesser. Mind over matter. Control.

Consider our Christian celebrity culture. What prominent pastor, teacher or author can any of us name who isn’t conventionally attractive? Who doesn’t have decent health? (Not perfect; we do love those who have beaten cancer). Joni Eareckson Tada, of course, but her teaching is really just for “those people,” right?

The ones that make us uncomfortable. The ones we shuffle off to the side.

No room for bodies that don’t conform.

I write very generally and I don’t seek to condemn. Not all Christians have these beliefs and assumptions. There is much compassion and acceptance among the people of God. But we struggle. It’s easy to comfort someone diagnosed with terminal illness. Even in our awkwardness, we know how to hold hands and shed tears and bake casseroles. This is good, necessary, gracious work.

When it comes to those whose pain has no expiration date, though, we don’t know how to respond. We don’t know what to do. Such suffering messes with our tidy theology. And so we let fear or discomfort cause us to release such people from the bonds of fellowship, never thinking to find creative ways to support and love them. Or, if we do think of it, we become terrified of doing it all wrong and stay away. Worse, we indulge in arrogance, taking health for granted and wondering, in some corner of our minds, if the chronically ill didn’t do something to bring on the illness.

Never mind that any one of us can be struck down, at any moment.

The next clear, painless breath is not guaranteed.

We don’t think about that.

We don’t dare.

So what do we do with verses like Psalm 145:14, which show us that God is intimately involved with the suffering? He holds up people who can’t take another step. He carries them. There is no hint of anger, no trace of, “well, if you had just….” What do we do with “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33, emphasis mine)? How can we fully embrace that Christ was “beaten, He was tortured” (Isaiah 53:7a, MSG)?

This is why I wrote The Harm in That: False Gospels, Alternative Medicine and Suffering. Not to scream at people who hold fast to essential oils. Not to shame those who don’t understand exactly what they buy into when they accept “health and wealth” teaching. Not to make anyone feel bad and myself feel superior. I wrote this book because we, Christians, people of God, have go to come to grips with suffering. We have to learn to accept it as part of life on this broken earth, even as the eternal part of us, the part that cries out to God and knows that this is not how things were meant to be, rebels.

I pitched this book to many agents and several publishing houses last summer and fall. Over and over again I was told that my writing was good and the topic was one that needs addressing, but nobody wanted to touch it with a ten-foot pole. Because it’s not a “happy, feel good” book. It’s not warm fuzzies and rah-rah time. It’s not a guaranteed best-seller. It steps on toes. Confronts some cherished beliefs. It’s messy. Unpretty. (It’s also not a “woman’s book,” but that’s an entirely separate issue, one that I could go off on for hours. I will spare you that).

So, convinced that this was something God would have me do, I self-published the thing back in January. No fanfare. No fuss. It’s sold a few copies. I’ve achieved starving artist status. Woohoo.

Really, making money isn’t my concern. This is a book that people need to read. Not because I’m amazing or the best author ever. I’m not. I simply believe that I have a perspective that is often lacking in Christian teaching. Again, not because I’m a genius. Rather, because the sick and suffering are marginalized, however unwittingly, by a church that doesn’t know how to respond, doesn’t have a clear understanding of how illness and faith can exist in the same body. Their voices are silenced in the face of a callousness that many probably don’t even know they possess.

Would I like you to buy my book? Of course. I got bills. But if you can’t afford the cost, I’ll send it to you. Free of charge. (No substitutions, exchanges or refunds, though). You can find my contact information on the “about” page. One thing I do beg of you: Please don’t take advantage of me. Like I said, I got bills.

Oh, if you do get the book, leave a review on Amazon. It’s painless and makes you an extra-awesome person. You don’t even have to leave a good review.

Okay, enough with the very uncomfortable self-promotion. Continue on with your regular activities.

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