Messy Christianity: Nov 24th - 29th

by Carlene Archer, Chatsworth, Georgia

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. (Matthew 9:10)

 I just saw yet another Thanksgiving food commercial on TV. This one featured different families sitting at their Thanksgiving tables, ready to eat. A family patriarch sits at the head of each table. If you close your eyes you can see the table yourself; perfectly golden turkey, mounded mashed potatoes, flawless yeast rolls that you can almost smell, and family members dressed right out of the dozens of catalogs that keep arriving this time each year. With every hair in place and perfect smiles on their faces, there should be a "Norman Rockwell" signature at the bottom of the TV screen.

I can't help but smile as I think of the contrast between those Hollywood-created, artificial families and my typical Thanksgiving. My husband is one of nine siblings, and every year a large sampling of his family gathers at my in-laws' house in Florida for the annual Thanksgiving "event." This is not for the faint-hearted. We're talking a mob of 20 people in the house by Wednesday night. The number swells to over 30 by the time everyone sits down to Thursday afternoon's feast. With all the siblings grown, there are at least two grandchildren there with their own children, several college-agers, and plenty of teens with excess attitude. The kids bounce between the backyard trampoline and the moonwalk that some uncle gets talked into renting every year. There are always babies to smooch on and tickle.

But the contrast in my mind, as I watch the spotless Thanksgiving world on that TV commercial, is the scene immediately after our feast every year. What was turkey is no longer even recognizable. Bowls and platters that are mostly empty abound. There are gravy spots on the tablecloth and napkins lying like abstract paper sculptures all over the room. Highchair trays are the palettes of unrecognizable finger paintings. Chairs lie tipped over by kids anxious to get back to the trampoline. And the only edible morsels left anywhere are being picked out of the marinated shrimp bucket by my brother-in-law Dan.

But where does real life happen? Not around those tables in the TV commercial. Real life is messy. Real life spills things, stains clothing, skins knees, and makes lots of noise. But in the midst of all that, love lives...and love grows.

Jesus didn't live a showcase life. He fraternized with outcasts, touched the untouchable, resolved disputes between His followers, and solved food and drink crises for followers and relatives. He remained patient when Peter couldn't quite walk all the way on the water and brushed bits of roof out of His hair as He healed a man whose friends cut a hole in someone's roof to get him to Christ's healing hands.

Music ministries aren't always well choreographed, either. We have spats with one another, let our egos run free, and don't always devote adequate personal time to prayer or rehearsal. We miss notes, roll our eyes at others' mistakes, and smirk when one of the singers misses the final note to a song -- yet again.

But in the midst of our spats we learn forgiveness. Loosening the grip of pride teaches us to fall and humbly get up again. The joy of learning breath control in order to hit that final note on pitch can bring tears to our eyes!

For all the finely brushed artwork in Christian bookstores, a more accurate picture of Christ is Him sitting at a big, round table covered with the debris of a 30-person Thanksgiving feast, holding a toddler with dirty feet in His lap. I think that, when we make a mess while trying to do His work, Christ will only see the masterpiece that is our new growth in Him.

Dear God, when we've made a mess trying to do Your work, guide us as You clean away all that soils our efforts. May Your faithful hand bring purity to our work for You and bring us closer to Your side. In Christ's Name, Amen.

GOING DEEPER:
1. Are your Thanksgiving dinners more like the picture-perfect TV one or the one described here?
2. God seems to regularly allow us the opportunity to learn and grow through the circumstances of our lives. What lessons have you been learning lately?
3. How can we keep our focus off of things like mistakes and the production of worship and more focused on the heart of worship?