I love a real potluck!!

I looove a real potluck! Everyone brings whatever they have, whatever they love to cook, whatever their diet allows them to eat, whatever their kids will eat … and there are choices that usually accommodate everyone. There is always the chance that we end up with a meal of mostly desserts, but that rarely happens — and if it does, is anyone really complaining? The point is to get together and enjoy each other’s company, and part of getting to know each other is seeing what each likes and is good at. The potluck can reveal a lot about a person — that and playing volleyball, which is another post for another day!

It’s when the micromanagers get involved that the potluck goes awry. They assign categories of food to people who happen to have a name that starts with certain letters of the alphabet. They have a Sign Up Genius that only allows certain items. They limit the choices and say that everyone must bring lasagna, salad, bread, or brownies. These various levels of intrusion have a significant effect on my enjoyment of the occasion.

So what am I on about? It’s not just the food. It’s our roles in the Body of Christ that I have in mind more than anything else.

“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)

God has given gifts to the church as He sees fit with the goal that we all contribute what we have been given, and this is what makes us all grow together in love. God has given each of us abilities and personalities that are a gift to the whole church. Sometimes those gifts lay dormant because there is no outlet for them. We’ve all had those moments where we look at someone and say, “I didn’t know you could do that!” Maybe it is because they have never been asked. Maybe they have been trying to be something they are not to fill a pre-decided slot.

Sure, there are things that need to get done that no one considers their special ‘gift.’ Of course, we should all pull together to do the routine set-up and nursery duties. But in other areas there is a lot more leeway, and just maybe we don’t know what each other has to offer because we micromanage too much. Just maybe we would benefit from letting each bring what they have rather than prescribing exactly what the role is.

One person may be great with kids’ activities. The children are laughing, jumping for joy, and filled with enthusiasm. They go running to their parents gushing about how much fun they had. This can make us think that every children’s activity should be like this. BUT pass this same lesson plan on to a person who is not of that bent, and the result is frustration all around. Maybe for some, telling a story, teaching a new song, or doing something artsy is the gift they have to offer, and we will never enjoy the true gifting God has given them. And this variety may be just what is needed to reach children who in turn have their own bents and respond better to different approaches.

This is not a plea for everyone to find his/her ‘gift’ and refuse to do anything that doesn’t fit what they consider to be their ‘ministry.’ (That is a kind of individualism that ‘seeks its own’ and does not seek the good of the whole church. This is a corporate venture we are involved in, and we must work together.) But it is a plea for appreciation of the great variety God has blessed the church with. God gives the gifts that are needed in His church, and maybe we need to accept the gifts He offers rather than being so intent on carrying out a particular program. We should learn to give up our micromanaging and trust God to orchestrate everything to accomplish His purpose in His Church as each is freed to make a unique contribution. And if we do end up with all ‘desserts,’ it is not a failure. It is exactly what our Father knows we need!

Excellence — The Mark of a Christian?!?

I believe that ‘excellence’ is a highly overrated ‘Christian virtue,’ and may not be a virtue at all. I know this is anathema to many and sounds like the refuge of the lazy, but perhaps this is one of those presuppositions we have that needs to be reexamined.

Let’s start by saying that, of course, in all of life Christians should work hard, honor their commitments,  have just business practices, treat people with respect … in short, ‘whatever you do, do it heartily, as unto the Lord.’ (Col. 3:23)  These are the moral aspects of our work, and it is sin to fall short in these areas. ‘Be ye perfect ‘ (Matt. 5:48) applies here.

This is not the type of excellence I mean. I’m talking about the type of excellence that says that all students in Christian schools must achieve above average results, that every Christian is bound to strive to be as successful as possible in their chosen profession, that whatever we do should be of the highest quality possible, that our Christian witness depends on being ‘the best.’  Not only is this an impossible standard to live up to, but it leads us to exert our effort totally in the wrong direction.

Jesus came to save us from our sins, not our incompetence. As Christians, we can expect God to work sanctification in us, but I can’t think of any scripture that makes me think that my conversion should somehow make me a better teacher, or more creative, or more physically coordinated, or more energetic, or even have a better memory. Sure, these abilities come from God, but these things are His gifts to us from birth and are distributed to whomever He wants, Christian or not (think Mozart and Salieri), as common grace. They are not an indication of our spiritual condition. We don’t understand why He gives gifts as He does, but that is His business.

So why are we hard on ourselves when we ‘fail’ in our natural abilities? — We make an honest mistake, our performance is in some way less than ‘perfect,’ we can’t complete all the tasks we should in a day… The answer is pride. We all have delusions of competence and want to think that we can do it all. The reality is that we all come up short all the time. We are limited because of our status as creatures, and that does not change with conversion.

Andrew Murray wrote a little book called Humility where he talks about two grounds for humility – humility as sinners and humility as creatures. I suspect that we are more likely to feel our helplessness when it comes to sin, so we are ready to fall on His grace when we sin. But when we fail in some very human way (like we forget someone’s name or we notice some embarrassing thing we forgot to clean before guests come over, or don’t quite hit that high note), we are mortified and beat ourselves up. Personally, I think we should be more mortified by our sin because that is something we should expect to change, and we should be more than happy to accept our failings as creatures because that is an inescapable part of our human condition, redeemed or not.

There are always two ditches. On the one hand, perfectionism and fear of failure bind many Christians and keep us from doing the things God has called us to do. We don’t have people over because our house isn’t perfect, or we’re not good cooks. We don’t play an instrument because we are not as gifted as someone else. Chances are that all of us have not done something we really wanted to because we thought we could not do it perfectly or even well. A Christian leader I respect said something that encourages me on an almost daily basis —  ‘Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.’ If you think God wants you to homeschool, don’t be discouraged because you feel inadequate. Of course you’re inadequate and will make many mistakes, but that is better than not doing it at all. His strength is shown in our weakness. (2 Cor. 12:9) This is the nature of things, and we need to be humble enough to accept it and live in that freedom.

On the other hand, perfectionism can drive others to err in a different direction. For the more driven type of Christian, the mad dash for excellence may lead to neglect of the more important virtues. Being the best often entails such an investment of time and energy that it leaves nothing for the ‘best part’ that Mary chose. (Luke 10:42) I’m not saying it’s always wrong to strive for ‘success,’ but often I think Christians are called to make decisions based on a different set of criteria. Maybe I should turn down that promotion that involves travel and takes me away from my family at a crucial time in the children’s lives. Maybe I need to give up my music to support my husband in his endeavor. ….And, just maybe I am called to a profession that does require a high level of commitment, and yes, perfectionism (I want my surgeon to be a perfectionist!). But if this is my calling, God will provide the circumstances and support I need to do this without compromising other virtues and commitments.

One more thing – I have to admit that I am bothered by the criticism that when it comes to the arts, ‘Christian’ often means subpar. It’s embarrassing how bad Christian movies are and what terrible warehouses we often worship in, but sometimes we have to swallow our pride and say to the world, “Yes this building is ugly, but we are putting people above a structure” or “I know this movie is low budget, but we thought the story worth telling.” We have to make decisions and have priorities, and we don’t have to apologize for not being able to do it all.

To end on a positive note, I believe that all is not lost. We are not condemned to a life of mediocrity. If we “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, … all these things will be added to us.” (Matt. 6:33) Admittedly, this promise is about our daily need for food and clothing, but by extension, God will provide whatever we are unable to provide for ourselves and whatever is needful for us and His kingdom. My continual prayer is “let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.” (Ps. 90:17)