Stumbling Servants

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

It is a privilege and a pleasure to serve, even in the chaotic and frustrating moments, because it is a privilege and a pleasure to do as Jesus did. It is an honor to be a vessel for His truth, grace and love.

Took an unplanned break last week. I joined my church family in a large community service project and just ran out of time and energy to sit and let the words flow.

There were some tough spots. I butted heads with people I love. It’s a rough-and-tumble and often dysfunctional family, this one that Christ has bought and created by the shedding of His blood. We’ve got sharp edges and soft spots and somehow always manage to ram our sharpness into another’s softness. Our ideas and ways of doing things don’t always align. Sometimes we get derailed in disagreement, forgetting what the goal really is.

That goal? To serve God by serving others. No strings attached.

This little family of faith to which I belong has had a bumpy year. We could have easily imploded over this event. Instead, as I reflect on the last month, I see a quiet, gentle work of God. We are in no way, shape or form perfect people. Far, far from it. But He used us. He prodded here and pushed there to move us beyond the sticking place. We learned some much-needed lessons. We pressed into some difficult conversations. In the end, we worked as a team – maybe a team that doesn’t always win the game, but a team that makes the plays.

Truth is: The people with whom I worship with week after week can frustrate me like no other. But isn’t that how it is with family? They drive you up the wall, but you love them. You don’t always understand the choices they make. You give them side-eye sometimes. But that love is never in question.

We know that God says we are His children. So I wonder if He looked upon us – sweaty and stumbling and maybe a little crabby – with the kind of expression that crosses a father’s face as he watches his toddler learn a new skill. It’s messy. It’s hard. But when that toddler finally makes progress, hair flying every which way and hands covered with peanut butter – the father beams.

There’s always those little spots in our minds, those unevangelized places, that don’t grasp and rest in the kind of love God has for us. We can recite the verses and say the right things. But there’s a part of us that remains scared. What if I don’t do this right? Holiness, sanctification, submission, obedience – all commanded, all Christ-enabled. Perfectionism? Not so much.

Meditate on this verse with me –

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

– Romans 5:8 (NKJV)

While we were still sinners.

The people with whom we, church folk, interacted at that event did not speak, behave or dress the ways we thought they should. They haven’t always made wise choices. They may have had addictions or come from chaotic, broken backgrounds.

Guess what?

They’re just like us.

Jesus didn’t require us to clean up our acts before He offered help.

Again, holiness gets a big “yes and thumbs up” from God. He doesn’t save us so that we can keep on doing whatever we want. We don’t get to bend the definition of sin or remove certain cherished activities from the category. That’s cheap grace. What Christ did for us certainly wasn’t cheap. It cost Him everything. Nor does He save us so that we can spend the rest of our lives under the tyranny of perfectionism. The Bible is full of stories of regular people who loved God but messed up – and God remained steady in His love for them.

Just like us.

We cannot hoard this treasure. The homeless, the addicted, the mentally ill, the sick, the broken – God loves them, just as He loves us. We don’t need to fear them. We need to listen to them, then tell them. Tell them of the God who made the stars, of the atom-splitting choice in a garden, of sin and struggle, of grace and resurrection.

Then we need to turn around and remind ourselves of these things.

Onward, stumbling servants. Get back up when you skin your knees. Resist the urge to retaliate with someone slaps your face. Seek forgiveness when you need and grant it when asked. Beg God for wisdom. Beg Him to make you gentle. Lace up your boots, gird your loins, roll up your sleeves.

We may not do it perfectly, but the work awaits.

Signature

Advertisements

Steady Mind, Stirred Heart

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (2)

Gentle Reader,

A high-church gal lurks inside this woman who has really only worshiped in low-church settings. (Aside from a handful of visits to Saturday night and Christmas Masses, back when I was working out just what it was that I believed). I love carved marble, colored glass and incense. At the same time, I am an admitted iconoclast; statues and shrines are distracting. I can buy into the idea that plain surroundings enable one to “think plain,” meaning that all focus and attention is upon God. If I lived in England with my ancestors back in the day (always a Wednesday), I would have been some odd mish-mash of Quaker and Anglican; a mind devoted to the simple, plain truths, a heart stirred by mystery and beauty.

That intersection is where I live today. Rejecting popes and extra-biblical revelation. Rejoicing in rigorous study and meaningful conversation. Longing for the quietness of sacred space. Wanting candles and stained windowpanes.

Really the longing and the wanting is focused on something more than the outward trappings of a building. I’m fine with simple surroundings (though I think artists and woodworkers often miss out in using their talents to glorify God in adding unique flourishes to our sanctuaries), but I’m not fine with the casual attitude that most Protestants display when gathering together. It’s loud and chaotic. Flippancy masquerading as worship.

Yeah, I said it.

We lean too heavily on Hebrews 4:14-16, reading into it a meaning that we shouldn’t:

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 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. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

(NKJV)

We are the children of the Good Father. We swim in the grace-river. We claim a royal position, a holy inheritance. All who are cleansed by the blood of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8) can enter into the presence of the King without fear of reproach.

Still, we must know that this is no Buddy Jesus, no Cool-Guy God that we deal with.

This is the One whom we approach:

A voice came from above the firmament that was over their heads; whenever they stood, they let down their wings.

And above the firmament over their heads was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like a sapphire stone; on the likeness of the throne was a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it. Also from the appearance of His waist and upward I saw, as it were, the color of amber with the appearance of fire all around within it; and from the appearance of His waist and downward I saw, as it were, the appearance of fire with brightness all around. Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. …

I watched till thrones were put in place,
And the Ancient of Days was seated;
His garment was white as snow,
And the hair of His head was like pure wool.
His throne was a fiery flame,
Its wheels a burning fire;
A fiery stream issued
And came forth from before Him.
A thousand thousands ministered to Him;
Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him.
The court was seated,
And the books were opened. …

I was watching in the night visions,
And behold, One like the Son of Man,
Coming with the clouds of heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days,
And they brought Him near before Him.
Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
Which shall not pass away,
And His kingdom the one
Which shall not be destroyed. …

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” …

Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. …

Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean,[f] followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written:

KING OF KINGS AND
LORD OF LORDS. …

…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

– Ezekiel 1:25-28; Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Revelation 1:8, 12-16; 19:11-16; Philippians 2:10-11 (NKJV)

Does it seem right to take a casual attitude toward God?

To sing mindless, repetitive, human-centric songs and call it worship?

To complain about studying the Bible?

To get bored during prayer?

To look at the clock and become irritated when the service “goes over?”

Of course we’re all human and of course we all fall into these very human patterns from time to time. We go through dry spells and rebellious phases and seasons of complacency. There is, to our everlasting benefit, an always-extended mercy from God.

The God who sees.

The God who knows.

The God who is nothing like us and yet planted something of Himself inside us.

The God whose very existence demands the singing of the doxologies, the glory sayings. Mouths open, words spilling over lips, voices raised in blessing the Name of the Lord. Joy rising, the kind of soul-expanding tingle that washes over us when, for just a second, we get our eyes off of ourselves.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!

– Thomas Ken

Yes, praise Him. Praise Him with head bowed, heart quaking, knowing that He is holy.

For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.

– Colossians 1:16-18 (NKJV)

We have lost something in adopting a fast-and-loose approach to faith. In our rejection of liturgy, our banishing of silent reflection, our fear of beauty and our quest to package the full expression of faith into a neat two hours on Sunday morning, we have lost the knowledge that worship is not about us.

Do we honor Him when we fail to quiet ourselves, when we enter the sanctuary as if it is just another room? Do we honor Him when we treat our meetings as just another thing to do, another social time, another check mark to make on the list? Do we honor Him by running, running, always running away from stillness, quietness, order, reverence?

God made the world and all things in it. He said it was good. He could have made it flat and ugly. We wouldn’t have known the difference. Instead He made His presence known by giving us waterfalls and sunsets and dew and a dog’s happy panting and a baby’s high-pitched laugh. He made it all unique and intricate and beautiful. The masterwork all around us reveals the creativity, the heart, of the Master.

Simplicity.

Beauty.

Reverence.

Shouldn’t our worship have these elements?

 

Signature

Photo credit: Matt McLean

Five Minute Friday: Play

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Apropos of nothing, a little poem I wrote the other night:

Mountain and meadow,
Sunlight and shadow,
All made to glorify Thee

Birds here, beasts there
Fauna tall, flora fair
Every one singing of Thee

Child’s laugh to old man’s sigh
Calendar pages flying by
Humanity aching for Thee

It’s the five-minute flash write with the fabulous people. We: play.

Go.

All these pretty happy shiny people with their pretty shiny happy Instagram posts, loving summer.

My disdain for you knows no bounds.

That’s not really true. There are people for all seasons and seasons for all people. This isn’t mine. Which is odd. Because I was born in August. The hottest month of the year around these parts.

Summer is the time for extroverts, I think. They get to go out and play in all the groups with all the noise and all the mess. Me? I’m sitting inside, by my air conditioning unit, sulking. Waiting ever-so-impatiently for late September and the slide into non-tortuous temperatures. For rain and boots and scarves and crisp mornings that beckon one out into the glorious, changing expanse.

I hate summer. People get depressed in winter; me, I feel low in the haze and the heat. Yes, I’ll go play with you for awhile. I’ll swim or enjoy a ride in a boat. I’ll certainly eat ice cream. I do love to garden. But after an hour – I’m done. It’s over. I’m sweating and sticky and my facial expression is involuntary, major side-eye. The great she-crab just wants to retreat into her shell. (Do crabs do that? Probably not).

How glad I am, as Anne Shirley was, that we live in a world where October exists.

Sometimes I wonder what I’m gonna do
‘Cause there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues

– Cochran & Capehart

Stop.

Signature

The LORD Your God in Your Midst: Sing! Shout! (3:14-15)

The LORD, the Mighty One

Gentle Reader,

Small, clear lights bounce off of ornaments, throwing a cheery glow about the room. Candles burn, hazelnut and vanilla melting in the heat, filling the air. Advent. Christmas.

How appropriate that we are invited into a joyous celebration.

Sing, O daughter of Zion!
Shout, O Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
The LORD has taken away your judgments,
He has cast out your enemy.
The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst;
You shall see disaster no more.

– Zephaniah 3:14-15 (NKJV)

With Them Then

In the last seven verses of his book, Zephaniah shares a hymn of praise. The excitement is palpable. After all the sin, after all the disaster, after all the chaos, after all the years of judgment – God reveals to His prophet that He has not given up on the people. Those who choose to reject Him are rejected in return, but He will not leave them as a whole. He will not turn a deaf ear to sincere repentance. He will not fail to come through.

..the people of God are summoned to rejoice in the presence of Yahweh. The recurring word qirbek, “your midst” (NIV “within you,” vs. 12; “with you,” vs. 15, 17), contains the central theological idea of the passage, Yahweh dwells among [H]is people. (1)

As we have discussed so many times before, many prophecies had an immediate fulfillment, with final unfolding yet to come. Israel is obviously not at peace. The glory of God obviously does not fill the Temple, which will not exist in its proper form before the thousand-year reign of Christ. This time of singing and celebration must be in the future.

And yet.

 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the ordinance of David king of Israel. 11 And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD:

“For He is good,
For His mercy endures forever toward Israel.”

 

Then all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.

– Ezra 3:10-11 (NKJV)

But.

…many of the priests and Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this temple was laid before their eyes. Yet many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard afar off.

– Ezra 3:12-13 (NKJV)

The people returned from exile. They rededicated themselves to God. Under the leadership of Ezra the priest/scribe and Nehemiah the gutsy cup-bearer, they repaired the city walls and rebuilt the Temple (as much as a ragtag group could). There was joy. There was hope. There was gladness.

But there was weeping. The Temple was not as it once was, not just in lack of beauty but in lack of weighty holiness. The lack of Shekinah, the glory of the Divine. The people did their best. They were reaching out, wholeheartedly, to the Lord. I believe that He responded – His way of responding had simply changed. Here was the precipice, the time between the times. The years just before the silence. He was still good. He was still involved. He was still working out His plan.

It just didn’t look like what they imagined it would.

With Us Now

No trumpet. No fanfare. Only those with the keenest eyes and clearest senses even noticed with the glory of God, the Divine presence, returned to the Temple.

…when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord…

– Luke 2:21-22 (NKJV)

And yet.

…weep with those who weep.

– Romans 12:15b (NKJV)

But.

“…He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—  the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”

– John 14:16-18 (NKJV)

And yet.

From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness…

– 2 Corinthians 11:24-27 (NKJV)

All is not complete. All is not well. Their songs and our songs – tinged with tears. Mouths that fill with praise equally fill with mourning.

Sing Now, For Tomorrow Comes

The “already.” The “not yet.”

Where we live.

We sing through the sobs, as they did, because we know that tomorrow comes. We know that there will be a day when we are no longer afraid. No longer sick. No longer in pain. No longer at odds with another. Not longer depressed. No longer anxious. No longer wrapped up in distractions and vain ambitions. The day will come when the wavering notes are transformed, becoming bright, clear and strong.

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me,  “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”

And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.” …

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

– Revelation 21:1-7, 22:20b (NKJV)

Sing now. Seek the beauty.

Tomorrow comes.

Reflection

  1. Listen to these songs. Spend some time in worship.

Signature

Sources

(1) Asbury Bible Commentary (under the “study this” tab)

For all entries in The LORD Your God in Your Midst series, go here.