The Peculiar Glory of Unexpected Discoveries
Content is king. Or so they say. Not that you would guess it after discovering the billions of dollars that are spent every year in packaging, marketing, and advertising in general. We are obsessed with hype, highlighting the wrapping, and creating a sense of anticipation. We are a generation who have perfected the art of over-selling and under-delivering. Big ticket consumable products are preceded by cinematic campaigns, while even our movie teasers have teasers and even these are fast being delivered as trilogies in their own right.
But there is a peculiar glory found in unexpected discoveries. A cool fresh stream flowing down a heavily forested gully is enjoyable, but the same stream found in the barren wastelands of a distant desert is a wonder. Treasure, found in a clay jar, is all the more brilliant for the fact of where it was hidden. As I said, there is a peculiar glory found in unexpected discoveries.
While the Bible explicitly warns us of the folly, many a church have not been immune to following the well worn paths the world has blazed. Whitened smiles and power suits are fast being replaced with whatever the latest packaging trends are, but both communicate the same thing — “We’ve got a product you want, and if you come get it, you can be just like us.” Just as the world is growing weary of the pretence of marketing, so many disciples are growing weary with the charade of Instagram Christianity.
The Apostle Paul, a world away from ours, speaks into the veneer of our world with wisdom for the weary.
For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. — 2 Corinthians 12:10
If our heart is truly tuned to the cause of Christ, if in fact we actually are centred around the gospel as a planet orbits the sun, then Paul’s words begin to ring true—glory in unexpected places is precisely his point. But if the veneer of my life showcases my own ability, my own fortitude, my own wisdom, my own strength—then who gets noticed? Who gets the glory? Is the gospel even portrayed at all?
Here are three tools to chip away the veneer of strength we think we have in order for people to discover the glory of God in an unremarkable and unexpected place.
Live life up close
Nothing spoils the mystery of illusion like a good old fashioned ‘behind the scenes’ special. Just like nothing reveals the folly of our marketing executives like a Photoshop fail leaked in one of those ‘before and after’ layouts. If we continue to live out our faith in carefully selected screen grabs, presented with post production filters that only show our ‘good side’, we may think that the charade is somehow advancing the gospel—but it’s not. We need to remove the distance. We need to show people the full frame. Living life up close with people is a sure-fire way of revealing your weakness, and with it, the true power of the gospel to save.
Confession isn’t just for Catholics
Somehow (and I think I know why), modern protestants have practically relegated confession to some pre-reformation period. We have mistakingly lumped the good and Biblical practice of regularly revealing our shortcomings to one-another, in with some image we have of a latticed booth filled with incense and the sounds of clicking Rosary Beads. We need to seriously commit to rediscovering the practice of regular confession, not because we need regular absolution—we already have that in Christ, once for all time—but because we need regular accountability—of which many of us have little to none.
Plant yourself in an ordinary local church
I’m not sure what your picture is—the one of the perfect church you’re carrying around in your back pocket—but tear it up. You’re not going to find it. At least, not until the consummation of all things when Jesus himself welcomes his spotless bride into the banquet hall of his Father. But for now, tear up the image you’re carrying around and plant yourself in an imperfect local church. More than likely, the preacher won’t be anything like the guy you subscribe to on that killer podcast every week; this preacher will likely hit far more singles than home-runs. Don’t worry too much about the production value of the worship team; their sound will probably have some funny feedback on occasion and the words on the screen will often be a slide behind (or in front, or, oops, there’s that blue screen again). But is the gospel there? Do you hear (and see) good news for screw-ups like we are? Are people loitering in seemingly no rush to escape being together? Look around the room, do you see people bowing in whispered prayer for each other in unscheduled times? Do you hear about how you can succeed in this life, or do you hear about the Christ who meets us in our weakness? Do these people seem ‘ordinary’ and ‘everyday’, maybe even a little weak and worn-out? Good, then this is the place you should plant yourself. Why? Because there is a peculiar glory in these ordinary unexpected places, and it is the extraordinary, radiant glory of Christ.
He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. — Isaiah 40:29-31