Ministry, Laptop Style

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (2)

Gentle Reader,

There’s always this battle going on inside me. One part wants silence and simplicity, the unadorned and straightforward nature of Quaker, Amish and Mennonite worship services. The other wants full-on Anglicanism, liturgy and stained glass and choirs. My understanding of Scripture leads me to believe that these parts will not be fully fused and satisfied until Eternity, when, somehow, being with God will be simultaneously simple and full of awe-inspiring grandeur.

Because He’s cool like that.

I didn’t grow up in a denomination and the idea of joining one took some time for me to wrap my head around. That part of me that likes the simple doesn’t always understand the need for things like creeds and manuals and ordination processes. The Apostles didn’t need any of that to do the work Christ gave them. That other part, though, the formal side, is pretty into structure and order and sacred tradition.

The Church of the Nazarene (my denomination) requires men and women who want to serve in full-time ministry to go through a rigorous, years-long process. There’s schooling and licensure and meetings and mentoring. Some parts of it make sense, some parts of it make me roll my eyes. In the end I’d rather caution than foolishness; anyone who dares take on the mantle of leadership should know exactly what they’re getting into and take that very seriously. It’s no light thing to stand before a congregation and preach the Word of God.

When all the hoops are jumped through and all the tests passed, then the ordination ceremony. A solemn occasion. All the candidates stand in front of the church members gathered for district assembly (basically all the churches in a certain area get together for a several-days-long business meeting, but with worship and cool workshops). There’s a whole lot of prayer. No rushing through allowed. It’s pretty awesome to watch.

I have zero desire to be a pastor. Oh, preparing sermons each week would be super-fun, and I could probably muster up the courage to stand behind a pulpit and preach, but the other stuff…the having to listen to people complain about stupid things and keep from smacking them…yeah, I’m not so good at that. (Thank you to the men and women who are. Thank you for not smacking me when I complain about stupid things).

But I am in ministry.

Stupidly, I didn’t realize this until recently.

I’m not ordained.

I’m definitely not paid. (Starving artist status, for the win).

But every time I open my laptop and start typing, I am engaged in ministry. I am teaching. I am leading.

Yes, I have known for a long time that my spiritual gift is teaching. I can’t help but tell anyone who will listen (and some who won’t) about the things I’m learning. It just happens. I have known since I was a child that I have the ability to write. But ministry? That’s for the people “up there.” That’s not me.

I wonder how differently we might see ourselves and our work if we lived in the light of two words: holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:9).

What does it mean to be the elect of God? Quite simply, the elect of God identify with the vocation of Christ and are a holy people who manifest God’s glory in the world. As Christ bore the rejection of humanity, so will his followers. Yet as Christ fulfilled his calling as the Elect of God and was honored, so it will be for his followers. God’s elect people identify with God’s elect Son and assume his vocation in the world.

For this very reason, Peter concludes this section by ascribing to Christians the titles of honor enjoyed by Israel (2:9-10). Like the redeemed of old, those who have been redeemed through Christ are God’s chosen, holy people who make known the wonderful deeds of God in the world. As the elect people of God they are the unique people through whose Christlike conduct God reveals his mercy and power to the world.

Asbury Bible Commentary, emphasis mine

The purpose of ministry is to “make known the wonderful deeds of God in the world.” This can and should be done by those who have heeded the call of the Lord and given themselves over to this work in a formal, full-time way. This also can and should be done by those who have heeded the call of the Lord and given themselves over to this work in an informal, but no less full-time, way.

We’re all called. Anyone who belongs to Christ has been enabled to do whatever it is He has called her to do – from bringing truth and light to the corporate world, to patiently changing another diaper while singing “Jesus Loves Me,” to submitting to the process that results in a pastoral position. It’s all ministry.

And there it is, that blending of simplicity and formality. A glimpse into the mind of God, who brings the low and the high together in order to create something entirely unique, something that cannot be copied by mere human effort.

Minister wherever you are, however you can. Each day is filled with opportunities to make God known. There’s always someone who needs to hear His truth and feel His love. You and I are the vessels by and through which His presence and salvation are declared.

Let’s not forget or waste that knowledge. Let’s learn to see folding laundry and filing reports and sitting at bedsides and everything we do as holy work – chances to pray and speak and be the hands and feet of Christ. There is no sacred/secular split for us.

For if we are in Him, then this is all about Him.

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Five Minute Friday: Silence

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Jeremiah. I just finished studying the book that bears his name. Now, I’m in the middle of Lamentations. That man walked a long, hard road. He preached destruction and repentance to a people who were in no way interested.

I love him.

Kate says: silence.

Go.

I have a new favorite phrase: “I’m not here for that.” Urban Dictionary (a most reliable source) tells me that this is what you say “when asked a question that is beneath you, or else confronted with a situation that you simply cannot care about.” I like that definition, but I prefer to use the phrase differently. After all, doesn’t postmodernism teach us that words are fluid? (FYI: I don’t actually believe this).

So.

I’m not here for the ongoing defense of sexual predators.

I’m not here for prioritizing power over holiness.

I’m not here for the abuse and twisting of Scripture.

I’m not here for willful ignorance.

I’m not here for speaking softly and kindly to false teachers.

I’m not here for overlooking sin and character flaws because we think that person might give us what we want.

I’m not here for turning a blind eye to injustice.

I’m not here for deceit.

WAKE UP.

American evangelicalism is burning to the ground and we’re the ones who lit the fire. Not some external, vaguely-defined cultural “force.” Not members of other religions. Not atheists. Us. We. You and me. Every time we talk about a Jesus who supports the “American dream.” Every time we preach prosperity over sacrifice. Every time we talk a great game and make no attempt to live it out.

I love the church. She does much good. But she can be better.

We can be better.

It’s not about programs or numbers. It’s not about websites or social media. All that stuff will fade away. It’s about us putting our lives where our mouth is. It’s about us actually doing this thing.

Read your Bible, people. Learn some theology. Ask God for the discernment to be able to recognize false teachers and manipulators before you’re in too deep. Ask Him to examine your heart and expose your idols. Then destroy them. Beat them into dust.

Because you know what?

For all the noise out there, for all our screaming, the silence of cowardice – the profound lack of ability or willingness to rage against the evil that’s all around, but especially the evil that’s within His Body, and weep, pleading for the grace to change – is really deafening.

And telling.

Stop.

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Photo Credit: Ben White

Five Minute Friday: Accept

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Our FMF brother Andrew referenced Crispin’s Feast in the chat tonight. My appreciation for the Bard came late in life (as a matter of fact, just in the last few months, after watching the BBC series Hollow Crown: Wars of the Roses). Up until now my response has has been, in the words of Joey Tribbiani, “Hey, Shakespeare? How about a chase scene?”

Ah, but does it really get any better than this?

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

– Shakespeare, Henry V; Act 4, Scene 3

Kate says: accept.

Go.

It’s hot beverages, scarves, sweatshirts season.

Oh, and boots. Can’t forget boots.

Christmas may be my favorite holiday, but Autumn is my jam.

Pumpkins glow a fiery orange against the muddy backdrop of a near-empty garden plot, their vines fading from the bright green of new foliage to the duller shade of maturity. They are all that remains of summer’s growth. Beans, carrots, cucumbers, onions, peppers and tomatoes all harvested a couple of weeks ago, as the sun began to hint at its diminishing, giving way to cooler temperatures and the barest, cheek-brushing kiss of frost upon the ground.

A pumpkin is nothing more and nothing less than a pumpkin. A seed responds to the rain and the sun and the soil. A process mostly unseen. Held together by the word of God. It sprouts, it grows, it delights, it dies. All as designed by its Creator. It is, of course, not sentient. There is no wrestling with the great questions of life. Without a brain, it cannot worry that it is not as good as a spaghetti squash. It cannot wish to be slim like a cucumber. It cannot throw its weight around to intimidate a carrot.

A pumpkin simply…is.

I have been wondering about God’s love. Truth be told, I’ve not often felt it. Some speak of their hearts being overwhelmed, their souls swimming in Divine affection. Being at least half-Vulcan, I am at home in the mind. I have emotions. I cry (though few have seen it). I have compassion for people who are hurting. But I just don’t speak in the language of “feels.” That part of me is underdeveloped.

It is true that we cannot base our faith on feelings. There are far more mundane days than dances on mountaintops. More opportunities to grit our teeth and choose obedience than bask in the glowy fizz of spiritual hugs. This is right and good. We have to be tough. We have to have grit.

And yet…

God is love, right?

The mind and the heart have to be devoted to Him.

It’s not that I don’t love God. I do. There’s simply a desire for…more. I don’t know what this means. I have asked Him to allow me to experience His love in a way I haven’t before. In a way that will make sense to me. (In a way that will keep me from yelling at the kids loudly playing basketball across the street, kids who should be inside having dinner or doing homework). In a way that will reach beyond the walls and the cherished sins, the dark places we all possess and seek to keep hidden.

I want to live fully in the reality of these words:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.

– Ephesians 1:3-6 (NKJV)

Beloved. Dearly loved. Much loved.

Christ, the much loved. Christ, the dearly loved. Christ, the beloved.

I want to feel that love. It is, by right of adoption, mine to have. Mine to experience.

Mine to accept as a gift beyond pricing, for He has accepted me by His love, in His grace, through my faith.

I want to simply be in Him, confident of His pleasure, secure in His affection, at rest, with no fear.

Just as the pumpkin simply is.

Stop.

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Keeping Up with What?

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.vom

Gentle Reader,

I have a confession.

You should probably sit down.

Here goes.

I got sucked into the world of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

It’s okay if you judge me. I judge myself.

Don’t even know how it happened. Some random, black, internet hole pulled me in without warning.

The family is weirdly entertaining. Sure, they’re materialistic, out-of-touch with the real world, are publicly naked far too often (once is far too often) and have zero sense of style or fashion. Kris Jenner probably pushed her children into the limelight. Certainly she gave her youngest daughters far too much freedom. At the same time, the petty fights and bizarre conversations they have – it’s like any other family. They’re in each other’s business, push each other to do better (their version of better, anyway) and come to each other’s defense if anyone on the outside dares to attack. Though I doubt they reveal their true selves on television or social media, one thing shines through the layers of make-up and spray tanner: They genuinely love each other.

Elements of horribleness and elements of absolute normalcy.

And humor. There were some genuinely funny moments in the episodes I watched.

I know. I write about theology, history, logic, chronic illness. How can I also be so low-brow?

I’m a complicated person. What can I say?

What truly fascinates me about this family is how easily, casually even, they throw around references to God, church and Christianity. In one episode, the oldest daughter, Kourtney, tells her friends that they will be going to church that evening – after they’ve spent time getting drunk and playing pinball at a Korean barbecue joint.

What?

How do those things possibly go together?

As I sit here, knowing I need brain bleach and some time meditating on Philippians 4:8, I am reminded of this article that Karen Swallow Prior shared on Twitter over the weekend. I quote:

Instead of an intellectual tradition, it is a church built on emotion. Every sermon is a revival stump speech about the evils of the world and the need for salvation. Every sermon ends in a sentimental pop song/worship chorus to accompany an altar call in which the same handful of members weeps at the altar (these people are subsequently held up as the most exemplary Christians. I had a friend in junior high who could cry on cue; she cleaned up on attention in this system). …

…you have membership with no theological or doctrinal depth that you have neglected to equip with the tools to wrestle with hard issues.

And there’s the answer.

We have such a hard time getting church right, don’t we? Across this country, there are thousands of churches that are built on either legalism or cheap grace. Both ends of the spectrum appeal to the emotions; oddly, it’s the same emotion – pride – that they tap into. “Do these 375.32 things and God will be happy with you” or, “Do whatever you want and God will still be happy with you because love.” Either way, it’s not really about God being happy. It’s not about walking in close relationship with Him, learning to wholly submit to His will each day. No, instead, it’s about pouring the infinite Lord into some ridiculous, man-made box. “He will behave this way, because I want Him to.”

How interesting, to realize that legalism and libertinism are two sides of the same coin.

Oh, idolatry. You’re just lurking around every corner, aren’t you?

The Kardashians aren’t the problem. They’re the symptom. There are many people who live exactly as they do, just with less money and without television cameras documenting every move. They believe that God must bless whatever it is they do, because…because. It goes no deeper than that. It’s “your best life now” and “God wants you to be happy.”

Sanctification, holiness, righteousness.

What happened to those concepts?

Please, church, stop trying to be relevant. Stop trying to be cool. Stop trying to “fit in” with the people you want to reach. The true Gospel transcends time and culture. Preach that. Give people what’s real. Call them to something higher and better found in humility before God and hiddenness under the shadow of His wings. Show them that true happiness is found in obedience. That God’s law is for our good and protection.

The Kardashians need the truth. At the end of the day, when the make-up slides onto the washcloth and the extensions are removed; when the cameras are off and the silence of night descends, what are they left with? Near as I can tell, only the sorrow of believing that their value lies only in the sexiness of their bodies and the deception of a false faith.

God made these women and He wants so much more for them.

It’s our job to show them – and all the rest – that more.

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