When I was a kid, my mom was a coupon clipper and UPC saver. There was always money to be saved and a deal to taken advantage of. I love that she taught me this and I love that I have special Hot Wheels in my collection that she sent away for and got for free using UPC symbols.
Another time she saved UPCs from cereal boxes and sent them in to get this cool set of four plastic bowls from Kelloggs. Each bowl featured one of the famous characters from their cereal brand; Tony the Tiger, Toucan Sam, Snap, Crackle, and Pop from Rice Krispies, and finally, the Corn Flakes mascot rooster named Cornelius, or Corny for short.
I loved those bowls! I used them with my brothers almost daily. Over the years they got so beat up. The graphics got scratched and worn out. One even had a warped bubble of sorts. I think one of us “accidentally” put it in the microwave. We didn’t care a bit. We still used them.
My mom also had some real fancy bowls. They were much more valuable and sophisticated. They were made of a delicate china with ornate blue designs. She even kept them in a special fancy cabinet with glass windows that allowed them to be on display. They were only for special occasions. They seemed to be more for looks that for function.
Dreaming of Ice Cream
A few months ago I actually woke up after dreaming about both sets of bowls and I couldn’t help but think God was trying to tell me something.
Take that old scratched and worn Kelloggs bowl, add a few scoops of mocha-java-chip ice cream, some caramel, and top it off with ready whip and maybe some chocolate sprinkles. The bowl no longer matters. All I’m thinking about at that point is getting a spoon and digging in.
I think sometimes we feel as if we have to be like “this”, or look like “that”, or have a certain talent that can be beautifully displayed – as if that would give us our value or functionality. Let’s be honest though. Beauty is subjective. My mom loved her fancy china and thought they were beautiful. Me? Not so much.
Here is the truth. When on display, the bowl gets all the attention. It’s admired, cherished, highly valued. So much so that some like a Chinese porcelain bowl from the Qing dynasty sold for 9.5 million dollars. However, when a bowl is used for it’s functionality, like to hold ice cream, what is inside gets the attention and glory.
As I laid in bed contemplating the message God was wanting me to hear, I wondered if the lesson was that perhaps we, the modern church, have lost sight of the BIG picture. Perhaps we try too hard trying to be attractive rather than anointed, sensational rather than satisfying, worried about packaging rather than people?
Now, don’t read into this too much. I love the special amenities that the modern church offers; big LCD screens, special lighting, multiple camera angles, and of course the coffee and donuts! It’s definitely not the church we grew up with, and that’s ok. We need to take advantage of technology (and coffee) to appeal to the unchurched, de-churched, and over-churched.
My conviction, however, is that I now remember those bowls. The bowl symbolizes me personally and the church holistically. The bowl is simply the vessel to deliver the ice cream – the hope and love of Christ fully experienced in salvation when we “taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8).” Unfortunately, it appears that as the church becomes more ornate like my mom’s fancy china, that it becomes harder to keep the attention on what her original intent really is: to know Him and make Him known.
I think we would all agree that nobody wins when a person or church tries to share in the glory that was only ever intended for God. We have plenty of Biblical examples. Cane was selfish in his offering, Lot was seduced by a city. Samson was self-dependent, and King Saul was self-absorbed. Jonah was unforgiving and at times Moses was unteachable.
I am confident that it has never been intentional, but in my lifetime I’ve seen I’ve seen the decimation of families, emptying of churches, and deconstruction of denominations all due to very similar stories. I grew up in the scandals of Jim Baker and Jimmy Swaggart and then lived through similar scandals in churches that I’ve been a part of. Each story may be different in it’s specific details, but they all have a similar context. They lost their focus and allowed themselves to become the center of attention.
Do This, Not That
- Give Your Best. There is much to be said about pursuing excellence and giving our best. Any less is actually sin. Take a look at Cane’s offering. At first glance we see that he gave so what’s issue? Some say it was because it wasn’t the first fruits, others argue that it was because it wasn’t a blood sacrifice. We may not know the exact reason but God indicates that he didn’t do something right and because of it, “sin was crouching at his door (Genesis 4:7).” Ananias and Sopphira brought an offering to the apostles from the selling of some property, but they were deceptive about it. Both stories demonstrate giving but neither of them were truly all in. They didn’t give their best but it had nothing to with the items or the amount. It had everything to do with obedience. Our best is our obedience. “Obedience is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22).
- Go to war. David should have been on the battlefield, but instead he stayed home (2 Samuel 11:1). By neglected the war, he left himself open to temptation. A simple stroll onto the patio led him to lust, adultery, and murder. Thankfully, after David suffered his consequences, God showed mercy. David went back to doing what a king should do – “mustered the entire army” and destroyed their enemies (2 Samuel 12:29-31). God’s Church is at war and this is no time to sit in our ivory towers enjoying our plunder, position, or perceived power. There’s too much at stake.
- Stay Focused. I love that Peter was the only one who had the guts to step out of the boat (Mark 14:22-33). Guts will never get us to fulfill our destiny. Only focus faith will. He took his eyes off Jesus and the waves overtook him. He did it again in the garden when he cut off a guys ear, and again in the courtyard where He denied Jesus three times. He found his way back though. Around a breakfast fire, he had a heart-to-heart moment with Jesus. Then after receiving the Holy Spirit he demonstrated his focused faith. He didn’t back down like in the courtyard. Instead, he preached so clearly and confidently that 3,000 put their faith in Jesus (Acts 2:14-42).
What kind of bowl are you going to be?