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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Same Age as Jesus

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

For I have shown from the Scriptures, that no one of the sons of Adam is as to everything, and absolutely, called God, or named Lord. But that He is Himself in His own right, beyond all men who ever lived, God, and Lord, and King Eternal, and the Incarnate Word, proclaimed by all the prophets, the apostles, and by the Spirit Himself, may be seen by all who have attained to even a small portion of the truth. Now, the Scriptures would not have testified these things of Him, if, like others, He had been a mere man…. He is the holy Lord, the Wonderful, the Counselor, the Beautiful in appearance, and the Mighty God, coming on the clouds as the Judge of all men;—all these things did the Scriptures prophesy of Him.

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.19.2

He was only 33.

Well, ish. Nobody really knows for sure exactly how old Jesus was when He gave up His life to save us. Tradition places Him in His early- to mid-thirties. There’s no reason to argue with that; it doesn’t matter how old He was when He died. What matters is that He did – and that He busted out of the tomb on that holiest and happiest of days.

He is faithful in all things. He promised to send the Holy Spirit to indwell all those who call Him Lord, and so He does.

“…the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.”

– John 14:26 (NKJV)

He will teach us all things. A process that never ends.

Therefore, I find myself pondering the life of Christ in a new way.

I find it very odd to be the same age (or roughly thereabouts) as Jesus was when He took up the rough-hewn cross. He is, of course, eternal. Always existing, never created. But His humanity, the mysterious Incarnation – it was cut so short. Only a few gray hairs would have peppered His head. His face would have been relatively unlined. His body would have been full of strength and energy.

As they say, the prime of life. For us sinners, this age often means that the mistakes of youth are past and the winding down of middle age is yet to come. Barring illness, this is the peak of physicality before the downward slide (because no matter how well you eat and how much you exercise, getting older is a thing that you just can’t escape).

This moment on His timeline, this box on His calendar – He chose to sacrifice Himself.

When we read these words –

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.

– Hebrews 4:15 (NKJV)

– we tend to focus on temptation as being exclusively tempted to bad. This is true. Yet consider that the Devil would have tempted Jesus with all the good and ordinary things that any man wants – a stable career, a loving marriage, children, a happy home life. I think of the men I know, those in their thirties, who want all these things. Who work for all these things. Who are full of plans and hope.

Jesus’ plan was to give hope by dying.

All the ordinary things He would have wanted, for His humanity was just as complete as yours and mine, lacking on the stain of sin. He set them aside. I certainly want comfort, security, rest. He lacked all of these things as He traveled about, inviting people into the embrace of Kingdom. He had no home. No income. No wife to smooth His furrowed brow. No children of His own to bounce on His knee.

An ordinary-looking man, as Isaiah wrote,

He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.

– 53:2b (NKJV)

But nothing ordinary about Him at all.

I am moved by His sacrifice in a way I’ve never before experienced, a way that I can’t quite express. It makes me ache to know that the Infinite Lord of all creation, who holds everything together by the power of His sustaining word, experienced the cruel anguish of loneliness. Of painfully standing out in and remaining apart from the crowd. He did not have what any of His male contemporaries had. He did not embrace the women who followed Him as anything other than sisters. He had no possessions. No position.

Jesus wasn’t just tempted to sin. He had to have been tempted to set aside the plan and follow the path of family and friendship, the very path that most of us walk without question. No wonder He retreated so often to pray. The tomb of Lazarus and the ground of Gethsemane cannot have been the only places witness to His tears. How He must have missed the intimate, equal, happy fellowship of the Father and the Spirit! How it must have hurt to be separated from them, even if only in a limited way for a limited time.

For He, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to His prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped Himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And, having become man, He humbled Himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death He died was the death of a common criminal.

– Philippians 2:6-8 (Phillips)

Utter obedience. Not just the obedience of the cross, an agony horrific enough itself. The obedience of daily, even momently, setting aside His human longings, showing us how to be fulfilled and content without any of the usual trappings.

What a marvel He is.

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Frankly Alarming

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

Recently I came across a t-shirt emblazoned with the words, “1984 was not supposed to be an instruction manual.”

Written in 1949 by George Orwell, 1984 is a novel about:

Winston Smith…a low-ranking member of the ruling Party in London, in the nation of Oceania. Everywhere Winston goes, even his own home, the Party watches him through telescreens; everywhere he looks he sees the face of the Party’s seemingly omniscient leader, a figure known only as Big Brother. The Party controls everything in Oceania, even the people’s history and language. Currently, the Party is forcing the implementation of an invented language called Newspeak, which attempts to prevent political rebellion by eliminating all words related to it. Even thinking rebellious thoughts is illegal. Such thoughtcrime is, in fact, the worst of all crimes.

SparkNotes Plot Summary

Republicans accuse Democrats of Newspeak. Democrats accuse Republicans of Newspeak. From cries of “fake news” to the redefinition of words as part of growing moral relativism, the blame rests equally on the shoulders of members of both major parties. Subtly, sneakily, by raising the temperature of the pot ever-so-slowly so that we aren’t alarmed when the water begins to boil, we have been ushered into an new age of propaganda.

Don’t believe me? Go and check out President Trump’s “real news.” State sponsored/controlled media. That’s a thing we have now. #Icanteven.

 

Irritated as I am over this, I’m not surprised. Both parties have been effective in undermining the work and position of the media. Both parties have gone into overdrive in painting the other as the most evil entity to have ever existed. Both parties have ingeniously and deviously played on the fear, ignorance and arrogance of the American people. I hope that my fellow countrypeople wake up. I hope they reject this insanity.

But this article isn’t even about that.

What gets under my skin even more, what pushes my temper to the hot zone, is the proliferation of evangelical propaganda. Consider:

Texas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, one of President Trump’s evangelical advisers who preached the morning of his inauguration, has released a statement saying the president has the moral authority to “take out” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“When it comes to how we should deal with evildoers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil,” Jeffress said. “In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un.”

Jeffress said in a phone interview that he was prompted to make the statement after Trump said that if North Korea’s threats to the United States continue, Pyongyang will be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

The biblical passage Romans 13 gives the government authority to deal with evildoers, Jeffress said. “That gives the government … the authority to do whatever, whether it’s assassination, capital punishment or evil punishment to quell the actions of evildoers like Kim Jong Un,” he said.

He said that many pacifist Christians will cite Romans 12, which says, “Do not repay evil for evil,” but Jeffress says that the passage is referring to Christians, not to the government.

“A Christian writer asked me, ‘Don’t you want the president to embody the Sermon on the Mount?’ ” he said, referring to Jesus’s sermon. “I said absolutely not.”

Washington Post; August 9, 2017

This is easily summarized: God is okay with evil actions if they stop other evil actions, especially if the United States (and, more specifically, the President/party we like) takes the action.

Last I checked, assassination is murder. Where does God say He’s cool with that?

Now, consider this:

“I can’t help but admire Jared and Ivanka. The two of them have put their lives entirely on hold in order to pursue the good of their nation, and I have found them to be particularly interested in our concerns as evangelical Christians. It’s just like God to use a young Jewish couple to help Christians in the United States defend their rights, and secure their religious freedom for now, and for subsequent generations.”

“I have found every interaction with Jared Kushner to be exemplary. He is clearly an extraordinary individual, with obvious integrity, and he has been a great gift to the evangelical community. We have always found him to be ‘an ever-present help in time of need.’ There are few things I’m sure of in the world we are living in today, but one of thing I am sure of is that Jared Kushner is a good man, and I’m honored to know him.”

Pastors David Jerimiah and Samuel Rodriguez

An allusion to Mary and Joseph. Really?

Quoting Psalm 46:1 – the opening line of a song of praise to God – in lauding a mere mortal. Where’s the bolt of lightning?

Once again I think about all the professors I had, the ones who would have not hesitated to fail me or anyone else who dared to present such shoddy, sloppy interpretation. These church leaders, who have influence over so many, are engaging in Newspeak. They attempt to eliminate opposition by removing any understanding of doctrine and Scripture that would testify against the activities of the current administration. Are they calculated or malicious in doing so? I can’t guess at the motives. God alone knows. All I can do is point to the rotten fruit and tell you not to eat it.

Whatever your politics, this abuse of Scripture is wrong. Blatantly so. Crossed over into disturbing. This is not what we’re to be about, folks. We don’t use the Bible to prop up politicians and we don’t twist it to fit our agendas. We don’t snip it and pick it and fold it and ignore the stuff that doesn’t fit within our existing worldviews. We either take the whole Bible as it is and allow the words of truth to shape us via the loving, convicting, guiding activity of the Holy Spirit, or we inevitably destroy it and thus destroy our ability to witness, to speak truth.

Consider a churchman who understands this:

[Moore] actually been warning about someone like him for years. Writing prophetically in his 2014 book, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel, Moore warned that Christians “ought to be the last people to fall for hucksters and demagogues.” He argued against the coziness that old-guard evangelical Christians had nurtured within the Republican Party in the last few decades and chastised believers who celebrated politicians in exchange for access and power.

“Some sectors of religious activism are willing to receive, as Christians, heretics and demagogues, so long as they are with us politically,” Moore wrote. “When that happens, we are demonstrating what we believe to be truly important, and we are embracing then a different gospel from the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

He also rejected the notion that the United States was a nation in covenant with God.
“Our end goal is not a Christian America,” he wrote. “That illusion is over, and happily so.”

– The Survival of a Southern Baptist who Dared to Oppose Trump

I realize that my position on these matters and increasing willingness to share that position with others is abhorrent to some. Know this: It’s not a Trump thing. If Clinton had won, I would be just as appalled at the evangelical community, for no doubt, instead of slavish devotion, many would have opposed anything her administration attempted out of sheer spite.

Slavish devotion or sheer spite.

Surely these are not our only options.

Surely we are called to something better, something higher.

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Photo credit: Christin Hume