Guest Post: Finding Grace in the Ordinary by Michael Kelley

Michael Kelley is one of my favorite writers and speakers. He’s the Director of Discipleship for Lifeway Christian Resources. He wrote one of the most raw and poignant books on faith and suffering I have ever read: Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal, about this journey through his son’s rare form of cancer. Now he’s back with another fantastic book, Boring, Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary LifeYou can follow Michael at @_MichaelKelley . 

I’ve asked Michael to share a guest post with us about this new book. At the end, find out how you can win one of two copies he’s generously agreed to give away. 

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loadIMGI’ve never met a president. Or saved a child from a burning building. Or climbed Everest. I don’t run in powerful circles or tweet nuggets of wisdom adored by millions. My office walls don’t have pictures with me and the Queen of England or medals from my wins at the Olympic Games. Perhaps if I were an international man of mystery, I’d look over and see a picture of me standing next to a world leader at that ceremony when I was awarded some token for my bravery. Then I could turn and see another wall full of mementos and trinkets collected from my adventures. Instead I’m looking at four family pictures, a calendar, and a particularly fierce-looking rendering of a black and yellow fire- breathing dragon laying waste to a castle.

Ah, parenthood.

A regular life isn’t bad, necessarily. In fact, a certain kind of bliss accompanies the “normal” life. There aren’t a lot of surprises, and for a guy who has a to-do list for every day (with the last item on that list being “Make tomorrow’s list”), a lack of surprises can be very comforting. What is more, an ordinary life actually affords an opportunity to love things like pictures from an eight-year-old of dragons and castles. In an ordinary life, your existence becomes papered with moments like these.

And yet . . .

And yet there are those days that just feel boring. The routine becomes monotony, and you find yourself refreshing your e-mail over and over again, waiting for something—anything—to break up the ticking of the clock. You feel something inside of you, something that appreciates the life you have, but at the same time wonders if there’s something more. Something that you’re missing. I feel that way sometimes.

The truth is that we will all spend 90 percent of our time here on earth just doing life. Just being ordinary. If I were writing a self-help book, I might follow that realistic, slightly demotivating statement up with something like: “Break out of the ordinary. Pursue your bliss. Go skydiving. Do something important. Carpe diem.” The same motivation, in Christian terms, might read: “God’s will is that you have a life of adventure. Get out there and make an eternal difference. Do something big for God.”

All of those statements are true in a sense; all of them can be appropriate. What those statements communicate is that we should be focused on Jesus and expanding His kingdom. That should be our priority. Those statements challenge us to recognize that we only have a limited time here on earth, so we need to make sure we spend our time doing things that matter. However, implicit in an exhortation like “do something big for God” is the notion that we are currently not doing stuff that matters, and we have to abandon that insignificant stuff to break out of the rut—chase the dream . . . be the man . . . overcome obscurity . . . all that stuff.

Chasing dreams isn’t the problem. Neither is maximizing what you have to make a difference in the world for the sake of Christ. The problem is in our definition of significance.

People tend to believe that the pathway to significance is paved with the big, the showy, and the grand. The people who are most often lauded as influential are the ones doing the big, impressive things with their lives. Consequently, those same people cannot involve themselves in these mundane details of life. Indeed, the mundane details are like anchors that weigh a person down from the bigger and the better. So moving toward a life that matters involves moving past the details that don’t.

But what if we’re wrong? What if “bigness” is not an accurate measure of significance? What if the whole idea of “ordinary” is a myth? And what if a life of great importance isn’t found by escaping the details but embracing them? What if God actually doesn’t want you to escape from the ordinary, but to find significance and meaning inside of it?

That’s what this book is about. This book is for the stay-at-home mom and the office job dad. It’s for the regular church member and the ordinary citizen. It’s for the person who has ever looked at the seemingly mundane details of life and wondered if they are really doing anything that’s worthwhile. It’s for all of us ordinary people who are following an extraordinary God. My hope, as you read the first half of this book, is that you would be awakened to the myth of the ordinary as you see and extraordinary God who is constantly moving and working. Then, as you move into the second half of this book, I pray that you might see the greater purposes in a few specific, but often ordinary, areas of life that we tend to push to the margin. And maybe, when we get to the end, we will have begun to see God, and life, in a whole new way. Perhaps we will have begun to see that there really is no such thing as ordinary when you are following an extraordinary God.

Michael is giving away two copies of Boring to the first two people to comment on this post (not counting trackbacks or spam). 

5 Important Attitudes About Work

Today is Labor Day and good opportunity to think about our views of work. I wrote this article for Homelife Magazine on five important attitudes about work. Here is an excerpt:

American Christians have a rather uneasy relationship with work. On Sunday, the lay person hears an impassioned message about sacrifice, self-denial, and the mission of God. He might be treated to a stirring testimony of a wealthy CEO who gave up a promising career to enter “full-time” ministry.

Then, Monday morning happens. He takes his place on the factory line, at a desk, in a garage, or behind the wheel. The guilt and shame surge up inside of him, for he thinks that if he were truly committed to Jesus, if he were part of the A-team of Christians in the world, he wouldn’t get a check from a “secular” corporation or small business, but from a Christian company such as a church or a parachurch organization.

I’ve lived on both sides of this secular-sacred divide. My dad is a plumber. He’s a committed husband and father who’s given himself in service to his church. But still he’s … just a plumber. He’s not a pastor or missionary or worship leader. At times, I’ve felt that Dad was made to feel as if he were on God’s junior varsity. As if his entrance into glory won’t be met with the same applause as those who delivered the sermons on Sunday.

I’m also a pastor and have had to guard against unwittingly shaming the hardworking lay people I serve, simply because I’m privileged to work, full-time, in the business of church. Some pastors might consider themselves more dedicated and more like Jesus than those who sling it in the real world, getting their hands dirty in jobs that seem less than sacred. Although the pastoral and missionary callings are sober, serious endeavors, they don’t ascribe any more glory to the sinners who occupy them. Moreover, if faithfulness is God’s measure of success, everywhere you serve is God’s theater.

This divide between secular and sacred is an unhealthy one. I believe it stems from an incomplete theology of vocation. So I offer five important attitudes when it comes to the arena in which we spend the majority of our lives: the workplace.

Read the rest of the article here:

Every Member Has a Role

Today, for Leadership Journal, I talk to Thom Rainer, CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources. I always enjoy Thom’s insights on leadership and church life. His podcast Rainer on Leadership is a great listen and his blog is a go-to source for leadership content.

I asked Thom about this latest book, I Am a Church Member where he challenges Christians to take their local church involvement seriously:

In your latest book, I Am A Church Member, you give guidelines for what “faithful church membership” looks like. Does the average Christian understand his or her responsibility as a church member?

No. We have failed to communicate the biblical tenets of church membership. For the typical church member, membership means rights and perks. But the biblical concept of membership means that we serve, we forsake our preferences, and we seek unity in the body. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul reminds us that every member has a role, and every member is to function and serve. In 1 Corinthians 13, he reminds us that we offer this service on the basis of sacrificial and unconditional love.

Read more of the interview here:

The God (little “g”) in Your Pocket

I was talking to my mother last week about the readily available technology we have in our smart phones. She was telling me, half-joking, “I can always Google something. So if I’m in a conversation and I don’t know what they are talking about, I can quietly Google it and sound smart.” We laughed, because we have all been there. And perhaps with Google glasses we won’t even have to figure out ways to inconspicuously look down and type it in our phones.

It’s sure nice to have Google with us. In the middle of the night when my kid is sick and exhibiting symptoms I’m not familiar with, I can quickly google, “Coughing and fever, plus a rash” and get results. If I’m on a trip to Denver for business, I can google, “weather in Denver tomorrow.” Or if we are wandering about and looking for a McDonald’s with a Playplace, I can Google (not while driving, of course!), “McDonald’s with a Playplace near me.” I can actually speak it into Google and it comes up with info. The same goes for hours for my favorite barber shop, the closest Starbucks, or how to change the headlight in a Chevy Blazer (my brother did that and it saved my parents lots of money on repairs).

But as much as I like all of this technology and as much as I really don’t want to back to the 1950’s where you actually had to know stuff and read maps and be satisfied with looking dumb in conversations, I wonder if we are tempted to replace God with Google. I’m not trying to #JesusJuke you here. I’m speaking honestly about a very real temptation I face, particularly when I’m in trouble.

See, my inclination, when something bad comes up, when I’m uncertain, is not to get on my knees in prayer. It’s to grab my phone and type or speak and expect an answer. Sometimes this is helpful. But sometimes it’s a dangerous crutch, a rabbit trail for answers that Google can’t produce. Worse yet, the little god in my pocket gives me the illusion of being in control. I can solve this. I’m smart. I have tools that can give me answers. 

This is why the words, Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10) should hit our hearts with a thud. Be still means to stop thinking, processing, figuring out, wondering, scheming, and yes, Googling (that’s the Greek translation) for answers. Be still means to stop phoning friends, stop texting, stop panicking and to just be quiet and listen to God. Oh if we could learn this in our generation. I fear that we are so dependent, so given to the illusion of being our own little gods that we have forgotten the art of silence, solitude and worship. I struggle with this mightily.

Why must we be still to know God? Because the act of silence, of prayer, of not creating our own answers is in and of itself an act of humble, subservient, worship. We’re saying, “Yep, I’m really not in charge here. I’m not God. He is.” And in that moment of despair, of weakness, we find God. We know Him. That’s why Paul says that when we are weak, we are strong (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Imagine the folly of God’s own people, redeemed by His grace in Christ, running around with their smart phones acting as if they can run their own lives. From a theological and logical standpoint, it’s pretty silly. And yet that’s the life we subscribe to. That’s the life I often live.

So we must pray, Lord, help me to be still. Help me to resist the idolatry of technology, to stop, listen, and learn. Help me to query you first for answers, not Google. 

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