I can’t get this picture out of my head. It’s from Stuff Christians Like, by Jonathan Acuff. Jon describes a scene that took place at the ice cream bar at Chuck E. Cheese when he was in the second grade.
I remember when I was in the second grade watching a fifth grader fall apart at the ice cream bar. The problem he faced was that the hot dog bar was right next to it. While was waiting in line I watched him take a big bowl of pristine white soft serve vanilla ice cream and approach the first condiment dispenser. He pressed down hard and out came a serving of mustard.
It was all over his ice cream and he looked down at it with complete and utter devastation. I felt bad for him but out of nowhere a Chuck E. Cheese employee jumped in and said, “Here, that’s okay. Here’s a new bowl of ice cream. That’s okay. Here you go; have some new ice cream.”
I’ll never forget that little boy’s face as he looked up at the employee and down at his ruined bowl of ice cream. He was so ashamed at what he had done, so embarrassed that he had put mustard on it that he paused and then told the employee, “I’m fine. I’m fine. It’s not a big deal. I’m fine.” And then he started to stir the mustard into the ice cream.
He tried as hard as he could to mix that bright yellow mustard into the bright white vanilla ice cream. Finally it all became this pale emo-yellow-colored mush. He looked back up and then returned to his table, presumably to choke down his mustard ice cream.
What the kid didn’t understand was that when someone purchased his trip to the ice cream bar, they were giving him unlimited access to the ice cream maker. But in his mind and world, “the ice cream is free, but the rest is up to me.”
Reminds me of me. And many Christians I know. We get our “bowl” of whatever was purchased for us at one point in time (read “the cross of Jesus” here), then as quickly as we can, we turn it into a do-it-yourself project. We return to the world of I’m-In-Control. And in that world we reveal a sad little truth:
We’re still not all that comfortable with free gifts.
Don’t believe me? Let me ask you this: When you got up this morning and thought about the day ahead, was it from the position of a receiver or a doer? Did you look at it from the perspective of a job to be done, or a grace to be received?
The last time you received a wonderful blessing from the Lord, did you put that away nicely on a shelf, and resume your “regularly scheduled activities?” Or did you say, “Lord, here’s another area I desperately need your grace for?”
The last time you failed badly and received the Lord’s forgiveness, did you live like you had received a completely new start, or like one who still had to choke down the mess you had made?
Two Quick Biblical Illustrations
Scene one: Peter and the gang, lost and tossed in the storm, scared of that water-walking ghost until they realize it’s Jesus. Peter says, “Lord, if it’s you, call me out of this boat.” Next thing you know, Peter receives the grace to do what Jesus was doing – walking on water. But then the instinct takes over: “I’ve gotta figure out how to keep doing this.” And down he goes, until he recognizes his helpless situation and cries out for grace again.
Scene two: Martha and Mary. Mary’s sitting in a position to receive from Jesus-the-giver. Martha’s sulking as she scurries about in the kitchen in her frantic effort to impress Jesus-the-guest. But later, Martha the grieving faces a situation that only grace can account for – the death and resurrection of her brother. She has to trust Jesus then. She also could have trusted (and enjoyed!) the heart and grace of Jesus just as much in the kitchen. But she was too busy blaming Mary for putting mustard on her ice cream.
To a group of really intelligent believers, Paul writes these stunningly simple words: “As you have received the Lord, so walk in Him” (Colossians 2:6).
I received the Lord when I trusted that He could do what I couldn’t – save me from me. Walking in grace means that on this day, I look at my needs and myself and recognize that I still can’t save myself, and that I need His favor, strength, and forgiveness – even if today’s task is grading papers or communicating truth and grace to somebody else.
Why do we make that such a complicated thing? Why do we come up out of the water, dry off, and start rowing again when the Wave Dancer and Wind Maker can fill our sails and power us forward?
Why do we send the funeral guests away, still awash in the miracle that’s the grace of Jesus, then return to the world of running things from the kitchen?
Or like Jon’s fifth-grader example, why do we assume that if we stir the mustard a little harder into the ice cream we can pretend that it really isn’t in there, but we still have to eat it?
How About a New Bowl?
I wonder what it would look like if you walked into today’s “kitchen” or “boat” or “bowl” situation with a different perspective. What if you really believed that the same amazing gift that governs the complexities of life, death and eternity could actually offer you something – freely – for your job search? Or your addicted son? Or your annoying conflict with somebody at work? Or your homework? Or your desperate need for a vacation?
This morning I read this verse:
And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church (Ephesians 1:22).
Two on-the-edge truths in one verse. First, God has put all things in subjection under the authority of Jesus. Every situation, every adversary, every ambition, you! Whatever appears before you today may not be the will of Jesus, but it’s legally under His authority.
Second, God gave Jesus as head over all things as a gift to the church. Thank about that.
So the church is facing a financial crisis? God says, “Here’s the Head Over All Things as your solution.”
The church is facing a crisis in leadership? “Here’s the Head Over All Things as your gift.”
The church has internal conflict? “I have a gift for you. The Head Over All Things.”
The church is weak and powerless? “Surprise! Here’s a gift. I think you’re gonna like it!”
The church just blobbed mustard (again!) over its ice cream? “Here’s a new bowl! Served up fresh from the Head of All Things.”
We have His name! We have His authority! We have His power. And it’s all freely given, totally purchased, and new every morning.
How would you live today if you knew, without question, that the Head of All Things was freely and completely given to you today as a gift of grace?
Would you really go back to whatever it was you were trying so hard to accomplish?
Would you really go back to whatever technique you were leaning on to be relevant or to solve that problem?
Would you really go back to the want ads and whining, “That’s nice, but I need a job?”
Or maybe, just maybe, would you ask for an Instruction Manual for how to unwrap and unleash this amazing gift?