A few years ago, I stood in my church’s kitchen combing through massive chunks of steaming pulled pork. It was to be sold heaped between hamburger buns as part of a mission fundraiser.
As I coaxed the juicy meat into smaller chunks, I was disappointed.
I’d recently been pulled out of a couple ministry opportunities at my church. I’d been assured that it wasn’t about my heart or competence – just other things going on.
The struggle in my heart was real. Sin kept whispering at me, You wanted to do X and Y and here you are in the kitchen, holding a fork. The Spirit in me wasn’t that stupid. I knew it’s not about me. I knew ambition is unholy. But sometimes lies can feel overwhelming, especially in my already-formidable climate of fear and self-criticism. A gale against a fragile sapling of holiness, trying to stay upright.
Unlooked for, as I stared down into the pan of shredded pork, God spoke into the gale.
I am shredding you.
There’s a book called Do Hard Things, by Alex and Brett Harris. I’ve heard it cited by a number of hopelessly inspired teenagers who have been drawn out of their comfort zones, I’m intrigued. But I haven’t gotten a chance to read it.
So perhaps it is redundantly that I ask –
Are we really doing hard things?
A young man from our youth group preached a sermon from Acts 10 last night. I hope I’m not simply regurgitating what he said (is that illegal?), for something fell together for me in my own words as I listened, and I’ve got to get it out.
It was not ten chapters into the era of the church, the era of salvation through Christ, that the gospel went from being “just for Jews” to open to all nations. You’d think this turn of events would have been obvious from “and Judea and Samaria and to all the ends of the earth” (1:8). But to get his message across, God orchestrated an encounter between Peter and a Gentile – a centurion of the hated Italian Regiment, natch – and brought the Spirit upon him in full view of Jewish believers. After that, there could be no doubt that the gospel was for Jew and Gentile alike – anyone who would hear the Word and respond.
What’s crazy is that God had to send Peter three visions to get him into position.
Would Peter have gone with Cornelius’ messengers without the visions coming immediately beforehand?
That the visions were needed first – and evidence from his own life – implies that Peter was ready to take the Gospel to his own Jewish countrymen before the Gentiles.
This truth bomb was dropped on my head by Sarah over at Love/Power/Strength in response to a discussion here on my blog, and my ears are still ringing from the impact.
It’s just such a deceptively great phrase! And it applies regardless of what you’re waiting for.
Because there’s so many directions you can take the idea of “graceful”, at least in my mind. And because there’s an alternative: to wait gracelessly. I’ve done my share of that.
What could “wait gracefully” mean?
1. Graceful appearance
The outward appearance of our lives can be staggered, jerky, tumultuous and ungainly, or it can be smooth, tranquil, flowing, and confident – pleasing to the eye.
I entreat you for a respite from our usual Christian talk about how joy and happiness are different things.
Joy is possible in any circumstance, generated by intimacy with God and hope of heaven, not our earthly trappings. I fully embrace that as a central and crucial tenet of our faith. I even embrace the idea, without flinching, that God will withhold happiness if it makes us holier. That is well and truly believed on this blog.
But since I also believe that God does not exactly hate our happiness, let me share a verse from a poem that I ran across yesterday…
I asked God to give me happiness,
And God said, “No”,
He said, “I give blessings,
Happiness is up to you.”
– author unknown
Yes, I know…I took this from a larger poem containing a few other ideas that some might differ on. That’s why I only reproduced this paragraph, because…wow.
How many blessings have we received and not made the most of?
Now, I hate that the previous sentence (and others like it) tend to come across so watery, wispy, and commonplace. Sometimes a little jolt is needed to really make a thought come alive. So let me offer a question I once read, one that truly exploded my contentment and easily counts as one of the top five most mind-blowing things I’ve ever absorbed:
What if God were to announce tomorrow that he would remove from your life everything for which you failed to thank him today?
I have a confession to make.
When I got into a relationship a few years ago, I caught a distinct sentiment running through my head:
“Now it’s my turn to shut people out.”
And sadly, for a while, I did.
Perhaps I’d been roasted too often by some friend disappearing into their own little world upon finding someone. We all know the pain of finding ourselves on a friend’s back-burner. Once we find someone who really gets us, it’s amazing how expendable everyone else suddenly looks.
And that betrays a pretty awful assumption: that relationships are about us.
I’m making an assumption: that we singles are training for our future marriage with our eyes on God. We’re seeking what he wants for us, revealed through Scripture, believing it’s best, choosing even in our relationships to practice as many marriage principles as we can.
So what if Scripture led us to train as if marriage isn’t about us?
I recently filled in teaching Sunday School (the usual guy was on mission in India). The topic for the weekend was the church – its role, its record, and how indispensable it is for the believer.
Suffice it to say I was blown away. The high school students in that group had solid, practical ideas about what a church should look like, how to evaluate one, and how much urgency we should place upon settling down in one.
Blown away because while these students knew the right answers, a lot of people my age find them hard to execute.
“I love Jesus, but not organized religion” has become millennial-code for rejection of the church. It’s not hard to see why. I could blame the media for doing its best to blackball the church by accentuating its faults. But I don’t have to. A lot of us have our own wounds to sport. We might have been judged. We might have been extorted. We might just be sick of gaudy sanctuaries, sermons resembling TED talks, and iPads handed out to retain newcomers. Or we might just feel that this or that church doesn’t “feed us” well.
But permit me to challenge. What if we shifted our view of the church from a service to an opportunity?