Today at church we had one of those fabulously imperfect services. More specifically, everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong. Our senior pastor was out of town, so our two new associate pastors were leading the service. It all started when the minister was welcoming people to church and an old man in the front row interrupted him to tell him that the volume wasn't up loud enough. (That never happens at our church.) The wrong words were projected on the screen, the choir was singing one verse while the congregation was singing another, the ministers tried to do a special liturgy before communion that, well, just bombed (can you say that about a liturgy?). It looked like a disaster.
But it was so far from a disaster. It was wonderful.
Preacher Tommy was preaching. (I think here they would call him "Reverend," which is weird to me because my Baptist upbringing tells me he's "Brother." So I'll just call him "Preacher" for fun.)
Anyway, Preacher Tommy was talking about the lesson in John Wesley's sermon #7 "The Circumcision of the Heart," and it was based on Romans 2:29 which says this:
"No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God."
Now, this is obviously not an anatomy lesson. It's the idea that all of our outward signs of goodness don't mean anything. Preacher Tommy reiterated the fact that circumcision is a private matter. I hope you'll agree that it's not something you know about everyone you know, right? It served as a private reminder of who the Jews were and who they belonged to.
It struck me that my life's successes are not measured by how I stack up to the people around me. That's a bit of a revelation. Here's why:
I'm competitive. I like to be good at things. How do people measure how good they are? We weigh ourselves against other people and evaluate who's on top. The only problem is that I'm neither Michael Jordan nor Ernest Hemingway nor Abraham Lincoln, so there's always someone better than me at, well, everything.
I left school last year "beat down" (for lack of better words). I measured myself against everyone around me and felt that I didn't hold a candle to them. I know better teachers than me, better moms, better wives, better Christians. I looked around me and saw that I wasn't the best at anything, so I felt like I was good at nothing.
This is the part where all of my friends reading this feel bad for me, so let me just head them off here. This is no pity party. This is me calling myself out. Dare I say it? It was sinful for me to measure myself in such a way.
God doesn't call us to line ourselves up and see who's done the most charity work or worked the most hours or made the most homemade pies. He measures our hearts, and he calls us to do the same. That's why the circumcision was a private thing, you see? It's not about where we stack up with the world, it's about where we stack up with God.
Preacher Tommy also gave us an excerpt of Wesley's "22 Questions to Ask Yourself Daily." (You can read them all here.) They are questions such as:
- Can I be trusted?
- Am I enjoying prayer?
- Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?
- Am I defeated in any part of my life?
None of them, and I mean NONE of them, say "Am I as good as that person?"
For some reason, these really hard questions bring me immense relief. I know that if I'm living right - if what's on the inside is right - then everything else is exactly as it should be.
Back to the delicious disaster that was our service this morning. On the outside, it may have looked like nothing went right, but on the inside, nothing went wrong.