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Grilling and the gospel

July 3, 2017

#Merica. Land of the free, home of the brave. Where the stars and stripes and eagles fly.

These (and many more) are rallying cries for our country.

Though many college students say them sarcastically and obnoxiously, they are still rallying cries. They gather us around something we have in common.

It doesn’t take much to get college students excited about celebrating their country.

Even in the midst of deep division, most college students can set aside their disagreements and link arms to sing some of the great lines from “God Bless the USA.”

“From the lakes of Minnesota
To the hills of Tennessee
Across the plains of Texas
From sea to shining sea”

With our nation’s birthday approaching, I want to invite us to view this holiday through different lenses than we normally would.

I want to ask you to look for the opportunity to build relational bridges with students, create memories, and open doors for the gospel.

What can this look like for you on this upcoming 4th of July? Here are the two ideas I want to get across:

  1. Open your door: Capitalize on the 4th for mission
  2. Close the grill: Capitalize on the 4th for intimacy

Open your door

It is commonly said that when you have all you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence.

The 4th of July, and other holidays, give us an opportunity to open our doors to others. As Steve Shadrach has said for years, one of the best tools in ministry is your dinner table.

Don’t let this holiday be a time when you close your doors and only spend time with your family. Open up your life and invite others in.

The 4th of July can be for college ministers what Halloween can be for church planters.

On Halloween, almost every family in every neighborhood opens their doors and invites people to meet them. What a great opportunity for a church planter to get to know everyone in their neighborhood!

Independence Day (as well as other holidays throughout the year) needs to be seen through missional lenses.

All life should be seen this way, but especially these natural hot points in the year that people are more open and naturally social.

In case any of you are worried, I don’t think it is too pragmatic to think strategically like this.

Think of how God chose to pour the Holy Spirit out on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. This just so happens to be one of the few days out of the whole year where people from all of the surrounding countries made the trip to Jerusalem.

This is not a coincidence. God strategically allowed the gospel to be preached to thousands of people by capitalizing on this national holiday. We can do the same.

Consider this:

Most people are never more comfortable than when they have a spicy-mustard-covered brat in one hand and a sweet-tea-filled red Solo cup in the other.

Something about this dynamic opens people’s hearts and mouths more than just a meeting in the Christian bar we call Starbucks.

Picture this:

People are walking up to your party. The frozen burgers are sizzling on the grill. 38 Special’s “Hold on Loosely” is cranking in the background, and your students are welcoming new people to play cornhole, can jam, or whiffle ball.

What an opportunity!

Shoot to create an environment that looks like the 4th of July in one of my favorite movies of all time, The Sandlot:

Practical points for those on a summer project:

Use the holiday as an opportunity for outreach to others and not only a party for your students on the project.

Invite international students, people from the neighborhood around your hotel or church, and people from work.

Cast vision to your project participants and help them see the great opportunity for relational evangelism. Train them now to think of holidays this way for the rest of their lives.

Practical points for those in your college town:

Don’t believe the lie that it is too late to pull the trigger on a celebration of some sort.

If there are students still in your college town right now, trust me, they are DYING for something to do. This could be some of the easiest recruiting you’ve ever done.

Most college football teams have their players moving back to town around this time. What a great opportunity to connect with them!

Trust me, they’ll take some free American Pie (AKA apple pie.)

If no students are in town, look into what your city/community/campus is already doing for 4th of July and join in.

You can meet new people who could potentially be new supporters, friends, or even students who are trying to meet new people.

The secret to a good party is a good playlist

The quieter the party, the more awkward and uncomfortable.

Create a great American pastime playlist with songs that showcase our history.

Have fun with this. You should be laughing and reminiscing the whole time you make this playlist. Here are a few to get you started:

  1. Ray Charles, “Hallelujah I Love Her So”
  2. Kansas, “Carry on Wayward Son”
  3. Toto, “Hold the Line”
  4. Hall and Oates, “You Make My Dreams Come True”
  5. James Brown, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”
  6. Chicago, “Saturday in the Park”
  7. Abba, “Dancing Queen”
  8. Neil Diamond, “Sweet Caroline”

You get the idea.

Close the grill

If using the holiday for mission doesn’t work out this year, there’s one other way to redeem it.

Last summer I had the privilege to enjoy a month long sabbatical. During this time I spent a ton of time reading, thinking, and grilling. I bet I grilled two times a week on average.

Believe it or not, God used grilling to teach me more than he did through the books I read.

One afternoon as I was grilling, I noticed a nervous anxiety in my heart.

I wanted to make sure the meat was cooking evenly, I wanted to ensure the smoke was flowing properly and the heat was right, I was checking the temperature of the meat every few minutes, and I was spraying the charcoal with a water bottle.

Yeah, you’re right. I was overdoing it.

My heart was at a point where I couldn’t even simply enjoy an afternoon of grilling. I had to do it perfectly.

It was at this point that God started teaching me a lesson about myself.

If you know much about grilling, you know that the more you mess with the grill while you are trying to cook, the more you will mess up your fire.

I saw that I can tend to do this in ministry as well. I can tend to insert myself as the “lord of the harvest” and think that “unless Taylor builds the house” it won’t get done.

At that moment, I closed the grill.

I sat down and looked up at the clouds.

I realized that not only was the meat on the grill going to be just fine, but my ministry would be fine with or without me.

Our sovereign God knows what He is doing. HE is the Lord of the Harvest (Matt. 9:36-38).

Unless HE builds the house, all of my labor and micro-managing is in vain (Psa. 127).

I don’t know where you are or how you view yourself, but we can all rest in Jesus.

This 4th of July, close the grill. Leave it alone. Unplug.

Let gratefulness grow in your heart. Don’t over-lead your people.

Give direction and then close the grill. Back away and trust God. Enjoy the 4th.