I've decided life is really about sifting.
Perhaps I should clarify. In 2013 in the United States, I would venture to guess that most households do not own a sifter and most youngsters today have likely never even seen one. There are many different types of sifters for many different purposes, but the one I'm most familiar with is a flour sifter. Hang with me here... I think it will be worth it in the end... Kitchensavvy.com tells us that, "In earlier days, sifting flour served several purposes. When flour was milled using stone wheels, as opposed to modern steel rollers, sifting removed bits of the millstone and other impurities that might be found in the flour. Sifting also breaks up clumps, adds air to the flour which helps produce lighter cakes and pastries, and makes measurement more uniform."So why do I think life is really all about sifting? Well, I've seen people who've been through horrible, nightmarish things in life who still live healthy, happy, fulfilled, purposeful lives and I've seen others who've been completely sidelined by the most minor offense.
The bottom line is that what we hold onto and what we let slip away, for better or for worse, really does define our human experience.
So how do we sift what life hands us? We can't hold onto everything we experience in life, so how do we decide what to hold onto and what to release? Here are two questions to ask about the stuff in our lives we are holding onto to determine whether it should survive a good sifting:1. Is it pure?
In the description of the flour sifter, we learned that one reason for sifting is to remove impurities. Is what you are holding onto pure? Is it True? Is it producing purity and truth in you?
If yes, then hold on to it. If not, let it go. 2. Is it adding lasting value?
A flour sifter incorporates air into the flour which makes the resulting baked goods light and fluffy. Is what you are holding onto adding value to your life that will produce something even better in the long run?
If yes, then hold on to it. If not, let it go.
So, what sorts of things need to be sifted...
- memories (more specifically, the way we interpret memories)
- relationships (careful here, grace is always the first resort)
- recurring thoughts
- possessions (or our attachment to them)
If the flour sifter example is any indicator, things get clumpy the longer they sit. Why not run the stagnant, clumpy parts of your life through the sifter and see what happens...
chances are there are some things that you've held on to that need to be broken up (reevaluated), filled with air (reinvigorated or reframed), and thoroughly filtered (keeping the good and releasing the impure and untruthful).Hosea 10:12
"Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you." ESV
The video below is a PERFECT example of a life that has been well sifted.
This weekend, some friends took Tim and I to the Southern Ohio Indoor Music Festival
. It wasn't my first time hearing bluegrass music, but it was my first time at a bluegrass FESTIVAL. As I sip my coffee this morning and think back on the experience, I can't help but think the church (global and local) could learn a lot from the bluegrass music culture. CHURCH, Listen up!
- People really cared about each other and they showed it. This festival is an annual event. During the course of the concerts this weekend, people who were not in attendance for various reasons were appropriately acknowledged. It was evident that while the music is what initially draws people to the festival, the friendships and family-feel is what keeps people coming back year after year. Examples: One lady who ran a booth each year was unable to attend this year because of health problems. The festival organizers left several sheets of stationery in the vendor room for people who would notice she was missing to write her encouraging messages and let her know she was missed. One of the performers lost his mother to cancer a few weeks before the festival. A last minute raffle was organized and people donated to breast cancer research (raising over $2,500) in her memory at the event. Local church - how can you show people in your congregation that they matter? That their losses matter to you? That their presence and involvement matters to you?
- Young people were celebrated and involved in every part of the event. Young people, ages 11 and up, were prominently featured at the festival. Some were musicians who played on the big stage right alongside those who had been playing for decades, honing their raw talent. Others were working at the vendor booths, working back stage, or helping check in the musicians' instruments between sets. The bluegrass culture quite naturally celebrates senior adults, but they go out of their way to honor young people and to involve them and embrace them. Local church, young people are the future of your congregation. How can you embrace their talents, energy and perspective? How can you bring them along and include them in every area of ministry?
- The music was equal parts serious, fun, and inspiring. When people think of bluegrass music, most will think of Dueling Banjos or something upbeat and knee-slapping from Oh Brother Where Art Thou. That kind of music is a part of bluegrass but it isn't everything. Bluegrass music can be soulful, serious, reflective, and even silly and down-right funny sometimes. It pays homage to EVERY human emotion, not just the ones people deem pleasant. While you might go to a concert to hear Dueling Banjos, you may very well leave thinking about something that you never even realized was a part of the bluegrass scene. Local church, Don't be a one trick pony. God created individuals to be creative, unique, and infinitely variable. When the church reflects that reality it brings more glory to God, not less. Our music, teaching, events, programs, prayers, outreach and ceremonies can and should have variety and at times should be unexpected.
- There is no competition in bluegrass. If you have attended a concert, but not a festival, you might be under the impression that it is each musician/band out for themselves. When you sit through a day or two of music with multiple bands present however, you quickly find that they all know each other and they are all very much family. Their goal is a common one - to play great music and to see bluegrass music enjoyed and carried on as a genre. It is very common during a band's performance for them to bring up other artists to the stage for a comedy routine or a special song that they will collaborate on. As the festival goes on this happens more and more frequently and at the end a finale might include 4, 5, or 6 different groups all playing together simply for the joy of the music that they share. Local Church, you are not in competition with other denominations or the church down the street. Embrace your commonalities for the good of your people and for the good of the cause of Christ. Celebrate each other. Work together whenever possible.
- Bluegrass music is not about perfection. There were several points during the festival when mistakes were made by the singers and musicians. They were obvious at times and more subtle at others. One particular moment occurred when the host of the festival couldn't seem to find the right note to start an a capella song with his band. He didn't try to act like it wasn't happening. He made us all comfortable with his struggle by acknowledging it, humorously even. We were drawn to him and rooting for him. Someone brought him a bottle of water and the show went on and the song was great! It didn't take away from the festival one bit... in fact, that moment enriched the festival! People were reminded that the players on stage were just as human as they could be and that they were up there to be a blessing and to bring joy, not to be superhuman and without imperfection. Local Church, do not fear imperfection. The more you cling to perfection and demand it, the more you set people up to feel distanced from what is going on within your four walls rather than drawn to it.
I hope everyone reading this gets a chance to go to a bluegrass music festival at some point, but more than that I hope that you get yourselves involved in a local church and be people who make the church more joy-filled and effective in its work. Romans 12:3-5
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
"Picture your marriage as a grassy field. You enter it at the beginning full of hope and joy. You look out into the future, and you see beautiful flowers and trees and rolling hills. And that beauty is what you see in each other. Your relationship is the field and the flowers and the rolling
hills. But before long, you begin to step in cow pies. Some seasons of your marriage they may seem to be everywhere. Late at night they are especially prevalent. These are the sins and flaws and idiosyncrasies and weaknesses and annoying habits in you and in your spouse. You try to forgive them and endure them with grace.
But they have a way of dominating the relationship. It may not
even be true, but sometimes it feels like that’s all there is—cow pies.
Noël and I have come to believe that the combination of forbearance
and forgiveness leads to the creation of a compost pile. That’s where you shovel the cow pies.
You both look at each other and simply admit that there are a
lot of cow pies. But you say to each other: You know, there is more
to this relationship than cow pies. And we are losing sight of that
because we keep focusing on these cow pies. Let’s throw them all
in the compost pile. When we have to, we will go there and smell
it and feel bad and deal with it the best we can. And then we are
going to walk away from that pile and set our eyes on the rest of the
field. We will pick some favorite paths and hills that we know are
not strewn with cow pies. And we will be thankful for the part of
the field that is sweet.
Our hands may be dirty. And our backs may ache from all the
shoveling. But one thing we know: We will not pitch our tent by the
compost pile. We will only go there when we must. This is a gift of grace that we will give each other again and again and again—because we are chosen and holy and loved."
This is an excerpt from John Piper's book, This Momentary Marriage. It is my favorite book on the subject of Christian marriage and it is a resource that Jason and I rely on HEAVILY when offering premarital counseling sessions. I pray that you can find your own way to keep the "cow pies" where they belong - in the compost pile, and that you pitch your tent far from that place.
PS - Congrats to our friends Jared and Emmy on their recent wedding and many blessings to Sabrina and Emily and their grooms as they make final preparations for next week's big events! We are blessed to have you in our lives.
Qualifier: I am not currently particularly hormonal... let me just say that up front. I just finished watching episode 9 of season 3 of Fox's cooking competition, MasterChef and I can honestly say I teared up at the end like I was watching a Hallmark tear-jerker. "Seriously?" You might say. "You cried watching a Gordon Ramsay show?" Yes. Yes I did.
This episode was the last episode before the finale and in it the three finalists would be narrowed down to the final two who would compete for the title. Becky, who had been a major front-runner throughout the competition ended up falling short (having to cook frog's legs, no less). She was completely devastated. That in and of itself might have made someone get misty-eyed, but that is not what made me cry. Once the final two were announced and Becky was left as the odd man out, Gordon Ramsay asked her what would come next for her. Feebly she answered that she would go home and see if she could find a restaurant kitchen to sneak into and work for awhile. Here is how he responded:
"I've got a few restaurants. Trust me, each one of those doors are open, whether it is in the center of Europe, Paris, New York, I don't care; the door is open. Any time you wish. You have a gift."
Okay. That's where I lost it. So did she. Gordon Ramsay has worked very hard over many years to get to a place where he can now, not just give others a leg up or a helping hand, but catapult them into the stuff dreams are made of. He put in the blood, sweat and tears to realize the dream and now he can "open the doors" of that realized dream for others to enjoy and benefit from. That is a beautiful picture to me. That is why I strive to do things with excellence and why I am disappointed in myself when I fall short, because it isn't just about me! The more I learn and grow, the more I have to offer the world around me.
When my friend Katie and I started a children's drama and choir troupe in a church in a small town in rural California many years ago, it wasn't to make a name for ourselves... that is laughable to even consider. We wanted to serve our church. We could have just gotten kids together and sung a few songs and taught them about music and it would have served a purpose, but instead, we both felt compelled to offer the children and the church the very best we could, with God's blessing and strength and grace along the way. In the end, I look back on those years with such joy. Because of that commitment and God's favor, we were able to offer the church, the children and parents, and the community an experience they wouldn't have had otherwise, one that the children in particular (who are all grown-up now) will be able to carry with them for the rest of their lives. We did full fledged musicals with 2nd through 6th graders! There were dance routines, competitive auditions, full sets, choreographic elements, costumes, and high expectations for memorization and performance. We taught them that "they had a gift" and then we gave them a chance to put that gift to use in a wonderful way.
Do you know who was most blessed during that MasterChef episode? Gordon Ramsay. No matter how blessed Becky felt, her joy couldn't have possibly paralleled Gordon's. Do you know who was most blessed at the end of each and every children's musical? Katie and I, no doubt about it.
What a privilege it is to work hard and in gratitude offer up what God has allowed us to attain to the building up of others. What are you working hard for right now? What possible ways can you imagine that God could use the fruit of your labors to bless others?
Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)
"Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think."
So, I feel compelled to admit... I am completely convicted right now about laziness! I fear my standards have become too low. Scratch that. I don't fear. I know. The amount that I am accomplishing on a daily basis is paltry compared to what I am truly capable of. I think I've allowed the fact that I have a lot on my plate keep me from being as fruitful as I can be. You see, when you have a lot of responsibilities, people cut you slack. They don't question you as much. Meanwhile, there are people with far fewer responsibilities who are accomplishing far more. The Bible says that "to whom much is given, much is required," and I am living in a dream world where I am ignoring the requirements and enjoying what's been given. The thing is though, I'm not really enjoying it.
Proverbs 19:15 says, "Laziness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle man will suffer hunger." I am not suffering physical hunger... far from it. BUT, what I am realizing is that I am still hungering. I'm hungering emotionally and spiritually. It is impossible for a true Believer to knowingly live in sin and feel fulfilled.
Lately I've been trying to memorize 2 Peter 1:2-8. This is a reflection of what it takes to live a fruitful and useful life, and it doesn't leave room for mental or physical laziness:
"Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. Seeing that his divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness through the true knowledge of Him who called us according to His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self control, and in your self control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Time to make some changes!