Just a Soupcon, It’s Okay

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

In recent days I’ve been told that I am, perhaps, just a bit too intense about this whole Christianity thing. I’m just a little too serious about obeying Jesus. I make people uncomfortable. Maybe I should just back off a little.

Makes me think of Jeremiah:

Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him,

Nor speak anymore in His name.”

But His word was in my heart like a burning fire

Shut up in my bones;

I was weary of holding it back,

And I could not.

– Jeremiah 20:9 (NKJV)

No, I’m not claiming to be a prophet. Calm down.

I am claiming to understand the temptation to hold back. To bite my tongue. To keep silent. To please people and strive for popularity instead of speaking (writing, really) the truth. I know that my words are often strong. You know it, too. What you may not know, however, is that they come from a cracked heart. You do not know about the hours I spend in prayer, begging God to stir up the fires of repentance and revival in our hearts. I believe He hears. I believe He moves.

We don’t hear. We don’t move.

I look around at my fellow believers and I wonder just what it is that we think we’re doing. In other parts of the world, people die for their faith, while we complain if someone prays for too long.

So let’s just go ahead and talk about idolatry, shall we?

Might as well keep the “you write things that I don’t like” streak alive.

Because I really don’t know how we, the Western Church in general, are escaping the lightning bolts that should justifiably incinerate us.

We, who are supposed to know better, waste time worshiping “Christian celebrities,” rising to their defense any time someone dares to question them. (Yes, I know that some people are trolls and they can’t figure out how to argue intelligently so they go for the personal attacks. This is not what I’m talking about). We pat their heads and say, “Oh, poor you,” whenever a dissenting comment gets posted on their blogs or another Christian leader has the audacity to point out where their theology has gone wild.

We waste time worshiping power. Though the primary purpose of my writing isn’t to engage in politics, only a blind and deaf person could have escaped noticing how so-called evangelical leaders slavishly praise every move of the current administration. Because we think, maybe, we can force our vision of society on the country through the people who occupy congressional seats and the person who works in the Oval Office. It’s not like the Holy Spirit has to indwell a person in order for her to live as Christ commands.

We waste time worshiping offense. We relish calling people “snowflakes.” We scream “microaggression!” and, instead of just not going to listen to a certain person speak, we drive them off of campuses and out of stadiums. We get all hot under the collar when – gasp! – we discover that there are different viewpoints, different experiences, different ways of thinking. (All of this is far cry from working for justice, which much of this butthurtedness masquerades as).

We waste time worshiping “the way things used to be.” Don’t change the time we meet for Sunday service. Don’t step on out toes in a sermon. Don’t change the small group curriculum. Don’t paint the wall that color. Don’t dress in a way that we don’t like. Don’t bring snacks that we think are gross. Don’t ask us to do anything that’s even remotely outside of our comfort zone.

We waste time worshiping “the way things should be.” This church sucks. These people suck. Let’s complain about it, but not actually do anything to bring about positive change. Let’s not pray or study Scripture or you know, repent.

We waste time worshiping position. We want everyone to see our good works. We want to get ahead, climb the ladder. We want to be, as Leo DiCaprio so famously shouted in that one movie, “King[s] of the world.”

On and on it goes. We waste time worshiping family.  We waste time worshiping stuff. We waste time worshiping money.

But it’s all okay, we unconsciously rationalize, because it’s just a little bit of idolatry. Just a soupcon. A little dollop on top of the Jesus soup. It’ll mix in just fine. Add a little flavor, a little spice. Nobody will notice. It doesn’t matter.

Except it does.

You shall have no other gods before Me. …

…you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God…

“Now see that I, even I, am He,

And there is no God besides Me;

I kill and I make alive;

I wound and I heal;

Nor is there any who can deliver from My hand.” …

“Tell and bring forth your case;
Yes, let them take counsel together.
Who has declared this from ancient time?
Who has told it from that time?
Have not I, the Lord?
And there is no other God besides Me,
A just God and a Savior;
There is none besides Me.
Look to Me, and be saved,
All you ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
I have sworn by Myself;
The word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness,
And shall not return,
That to Me every knee shall bow,
Every tongue shall take an oath.” …

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

– Exodus 20:3; 34:14; Deuteronomy 32:39; Isaiah 45:21-23; 1 Timothy 1:17 (NKJV)

There is no other God and God doesn’t share glory. He’s not okay with some side-worship. He’s not cool with those little idols in our hearts. He ruthlessly digs them out and confronts us with them – for our benefit. For there is no life in idols, only death. Only disconnection from the Lord.

I point no fingers at you, dear reader, that I have not already pointed at myself.

The world is watching. They scrutinize our moves in order to ascertain if we walk what we talk. We cannot sing praises to God for a few hours on Sunday and then live out praise to some other little, gross, vile, vain thing every other moment of our lives. It’s deeply, horrendously hypocritical.

God is watching. He knows the motivations of our hearts. He knows if our worship is pure and true. He will keep picking at the raw place, shining light in the dark corner, pushing us to look at what we don’t want to look at. He will keep whispering words of conviction and tender mercy to our souls.

But we get too choose.

He doesn’t force us to do what’s best, what will set us free and make us healthy.

So what will it be?

Idols or God?

Can’t be both.

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Photo credit: Alexis Brown

Five Minute Friday: Mom

Along the way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

I went to bed at 7:45 p.m. last night.

Par-tay animal.

Linking up with Kate and The Gang.

Go.

It’s the most a-awkward day of the yeeeeaaaaarrrrrr…at church.

“Happy Mother’s Day!” comes flying out of well-meaning, enthusiastic mouths seconds before the look of horrified realization – “Oh, craaaaaaaaaaap. You never carried a baby in your womb-pouch thing that you don’t even have anymore and does that maybe make you less of a woman and you haven’t adopted anyone that doesn’t have fur and I shouldn’t have said that and now I feel weird and did I make you feel weird and how can I get out of this please put me out of my misery right now I’m going to back away slowly and go get a doughnut.”

I nod. I say “thanks” and wish him or her the same in return. (Yeah, weirdly, lots of men). I’m sure a smirk crosses my face because the entire exchange amuses me.

And, oh, the Mother’s Day sermons. No matter how hard I try, I tune out. Or read the footnotes in my study Bible. Jael’s brief story is particularly interesting. Not because I’m angry or hurt. I’m not. I just don’t know why there must be special Mother’s Day sermons and services. Or any recognition of any secular holiday – Father’s Day, Independence Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Veteran’s Day, President’s Day, May the Fourth be With You. Isn’t the point of our corporate gatherings to worship the Lord? To focus on Him? Can’t moms and dads and just people be encouraged and uplifted in the normal course of that worship? Must the spotlight be shifted?

This is an unpopular opinion, I’m sure, but I don’t want church to be about anything or anyone other than God. I don’t like it when groups of people are invited to stand so all can applaud. Save it for another time, another place.

Between the above period and the “b” that starts this sentence, I’ve been staring at a blinking cursor for a good few minutes. Time is long up. I want to end this with some bit of wit or wisdom, but I haven’t got any. Just go hug your mom or your mom-figure. Or call her if she’s not close by. Because of course I don’t hate Mother’s Day and I don’t want to tear down moms. I love my Mom. The older I get, the more I appreciate all the sacrifices she made for me.

What I want is space for suffering. Space for the lack of the American Dream fulfilled. Space for weak bodies and complicated situations and marriages that have taken a beating. Space for tears. Space to think that women are insane for not using any and all pain medications available during labor because I’ve had surgery and ain’t nobody got time for that. Space to roll my eyes over the fact that every little thing in Western Christianity is oriented around children, around the family, thereby leaving out significant portions of the Body. Space to be the cool auntie with the good fashion sense who lets kids eat the candy their parents don’t allow. Space for questions. Space for bruises and blood tests and surgical scars. Space to raise my hands in worship, in an unspoken message that my Creator hears: I am not what many think I should be. I do not have what many think I should have. But You – You are enough.

Stop.

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They Call Us “Hypocrites” – They are Not Wrong

along-theway-mlsgregg-com

Gentle Reader,

My people.

Evangelicals.

What does the word even mean anymore?

Today, instead of pointing to those who are given over to the spreading of the Good News, the term appears to equate with jackassesHypocrites. Devastatingly so.

I’ll get to the point: If you are using David’s or Solomon’s adultery to excuse Donald Trump’s words and behavior, then you are wrong. You do not have a hermeneutical leg to stand on.

Does God forgive unreservedly all who ask in sincerity? Yes. Of course. No doubt.

This does NOT mean that there are no consequences.

Let’s look at David and the aftermath of his infamous affair with Bathsheba.

Consider the opening verses of Psalm 51:

Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to Your lovingkindness;
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.

– vs. 1-2 (NKJV)

Contrast them with:

‘Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ Thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun.'”

– 2 Samuel 12:10-12 (NKJV)

God did indeed forgive David.

But he lived out the rest of his days in strife.

Here’s a little Interpretation 101: Just because it’s in the Bible doesn’t mean that God is okay with it. What the honesty of Scripture reveals is the honesty of God. He inspired the authors to present the sweeping story in all of its terribleness. The breadth and depth of human depravity is on full display, showing our inability to self-correct and achieve righteousness. Against this dark backdrop splashes the pure brilliance of the Savior.

Mr. Trump has lived a life devoid of respect for others, particularly women. Edit: My friend Andrew pointed out the danger of generalizations. We do not know every thought Mr. Trump has ever had, every action he’s ever taken. My comment is based only on how Mr. Trump has chosen to present himself to the public. He has at least appeared to take great delight in shocking and demeaning others. Can this be corrected? Can his heart be changed? Can the same Jesus who saved me save Him? Absolutely.

Yet there are consequences. Lifelong ones, even. For as “they” say, whoever “they” are, sins always find us out. Those who cry that Mrs. Clinton should be charged for her crimes would do well to seriously ponder their defense of Mr. Trump. If her actions follow her, then so do his. If her character is attested to in every action and comment, then so is his. There cannot, should not, be a double standard.

Here’s what we’re really getting down to: a lust for power. Church leaders who continue to uncritically back Mr. Trump, sling mud at Mrs. Clinton and engage in fear-mongering over Supreme Court justices have lost sight of what the mission truly is:

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

– Matthew 28:18-20 (NKJV)

Jesus does not say, “Be sure to vote for a candidate who might appoint justices who can possibly get through a Senate hearing so that Roe v. Wade will maybe be overturned.” He does not say, “Make sure that you do all that you can to ensure your political power and influence.”

None of that.

He speaks the above words to men and women who will immediately experience persecution for their obedience:

“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

– John 15:18-19 (NKJV)

Jesus does not say, “Yes, do be afraid. Do worry about what will happen if someone you don’t like is elected to the position of President. Do lament and sigh with great woe. Do wring your hands.”

What is that you want, you who claim the name of Christ? To be the loudest voice in a screaming world? To place a thin veneer of morality over society, expecting those who do not have the Spirit of the Living God within to behave as if they do? If you choose to be a single-issue voter or a person who casts a ballot out of fear, that’s all you can hope to achieve – and that is not an achievement at all.

Or do you want to cast yourself fully upon the sovereignty of God, knowing that you do not belong to this world? Knowing that you are a pilgrim? Knowing that you have a job to do, and that you cannot complete it through natural means? Knowing that you are called to fix your eyes upon Jesus, no matter how the storm rages or how the environment shifts or how hostile people become?

If at the end of the day you wish to vote for Mr. Trump, then do. If you find his proposed policies and philosophies of government sound, then check that box. But please stop believing that he is anymore “moral” a choice than the others. He is not. Stop believing that the GOP is the “party of God.” It is not.

As this incident unfolds, I am appalled by the attitude of those who call themselves evangelical Christians. Again, God can and does forgive. We should hope and pray that Mr. Trump has genuinely repented. At the same time, our response to this should not be the error of eisegesis, to read into the Bible conclusions we have already made, to assume that “because David did it,” all is well. Our response should not be unflinching defense of this or any other candidate. Our response should not be to deflect and say, “But look at what Clinton did!”

And certainly our response should not be, “All men talk like that.”

They categorically do not, and no woman is required to put up with those who do.

Either we care about character or we do not. Either we focus on the Gospel or we focus on clawing and scraping for societal domination. The choice is ours to make. And it is a choice. A binary. This road or that.

We cannot travel both.

We cannot hold onto the world with one hand and hold onto God with the other.

We must do better.

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Addendum: I know that someone is going to cry “foul” because I plan to vote for Gary Johnson and he clearly holds some positions that are contrary to Scripture. I do not pretend that Mr. Johnson is a perfect candidate and I do not pretend to agree with him on every issue. I choose Mr. Johnson because I find him to be the sanest candidate in an insane election cycle, even after the “Aleppo gaffe” and the “tongue thing.” I choose Mr. Johnson because, as a for-the-most-part Libertarian, I do not believe that it is the job of government to do what the Church is meant to do. I choose Mr. Johnson because the two-party system is irrevocably broken. I choose Mr. Johnson because I refuse to “vote strategically,” for that method simply doesn’t work. For more on this topic, please see “Laws & Hearts.”

If you are interested in reading an excellent argument for Evan McMullin, please see this.

Things I Will no Longer Argue About

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I overdid it last week with the bending and the lifting and the stretching and the insomnia. Didn’t mean to. Just happened. With the morning sun came shooting pain in my abdomen and a wicked headache. So I’m in the recliner today, wrapped up in a blanket, watching the minutes tick by. That lovely combination of exhaustion and restlessness that follows surgery settles in. I don’t know if I’m going to have a panic attack, take a nap or give in to the urge for junk food that been poking at me for days. All seem like good options.

Thankfully, I’m just slightly smarter than I have been in the past. A panic attack may come, but it won’t kill me. A nap this late in the day definitely guarantees a sleepless night and I can achieve that without an extra help. Junk food equals liver poison. So I’ve been listening to music that makes me happy. Drinking water. Praying. God reminds me that I’m tougher than I think I am, and 15 days from now I’ll be released fully back into “normal life.”

Maybe you need that reminder today, too. It won’t last forever. You got this.

********

Anyway, that’s not what I want to write about.

I know better, but sometimes I take the bait. Briefly got into it with someone over the weekend. Same old argument about women’s roles in the Church. This time, Matthew 15:6-9 was flung at me:

…Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:

‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth,
And honor Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ (NKJV)

Not only was this so far out of context as to be laughable, the point was very clear: If you’re an egalitarian, if you think that women can preach, then you are far from God.

Of course this slap in the face was done “humbly,” in an effort to set me straight.

And I thought, “That’s it. I’m done.”

No longer will I argue about this. Contrary to popular belief, egalitarians take the Bible extremely seriously. We have studied this issue. We are not idiots or “liberals” (I’m not always sure what someone means when they use that term). We love the Lord just as much as complementarians do. I’m not going to waste time defending or justifying or explaining to people who clearly just want to fight. I’m not going to try to reason with people who seriously wonder if a woman should be “allowed” to be in charge of the finances if she’s married.

I’ve also decided that I won’t argue about Calvinism. So done with that. I’m sure my decision was predestined.

Look, it’s possible to talk about these things in a spirit of love and family. It’s possible for us to say, “I disagree with you, but you’re my sister/brother” or “I think you’re completely wrong, but we’re both saved by Christ.” I’ve had interactions of this type and they’re always fun and edifying. I always learn something. I always feel respected. Unfortunately, in my experience, many complementarians and Calvinists (they often go hand in hand, but not always) have taken such a hard line in their positions as of late, especially online, that this type of exchange is next to impossible. I find that extremely sad.

I’m an egalitarian. I’m Wesleyan/Holiness. Beating me with your “women must know their place, and their place is __________” or your Reformed system of biblical interpretation isn’t going to make me change my mind. Look down on me all you want. Feel superior. Tell me I’m rebellious. Tell me I am willfully ignorant.

When all is fulfilled and restored, when Heaven and earth are as one, I hope we have houses next to each other.

I firmly believe that correct doctrine is vital. I also believe that there are times when we need to make like Elsa and let it go. There’s a dying world outside our front doors. It isn’t helped by us trying to squash each other into submission.

Go ahead. Stay up in your comfortable ivory towers and talk about how everyone who doesn’t agree with you is wrong, wronger, wrongest. I have work to do.

My journey to faith. (15)

Photo Credit: reenablack