I received a phone call about 6 weeks ago. It was a (562) number, so I let it go to voicemail. Actually I think I was teaching when this (562) number called (wouldn’t be amazing if I was talking about grace when it rang? I don’t remember what I was teaching on; I probably wasn’t even teaching, I was probably having a one on one conversation with a student about something significant while the rest of the class talked for the one-millionth time about the new Nikki Manage album. That tended to be how about 90% of my classes went. Junior Highers. Need I say more? No. I’m not complaining, I’ve come to accept that this was the best and probably the only way to run the sort of class I was appointed to teach. And I grew very fond of my students and they of me. It was awesome.) Anyways, so this number calls and I let it go to voicemail, as I do with 9/10 calls that come through with a foreign number. So I get done with class and I listen to this voicemail that this faceless (562) number has left. I find out that it is someone named Daniel, who assured me in the message that we had not met, and who is the Middle School pastor at a neighbor church in Long Beach. He wants me to teach at his camp this summer because his previous speaker fell through. My first reaction was that it was a mistake. Really? Me? Teach at a camp? I’ve never done this. I must call him back and tell him that whoever gave him my number must have misled him—I’m very inexperienced at camp speaking, and by inexperienced I mean experience-less. He should probably find someone else. I tell him this up-front and he just asks very frankly, “Well, are you any good? At teaching?” My response was equally frank, “Yes, I believe I’ve been gifted to teach. But I’ve only done it a handful of times at church” “Well, as long as your confident I’m sure you’ll do great. Lets meet this week to talk about it.” Just like that, I was on my way to doing my first camp. Right away I really wanted to do it, but I didn’t know if I could. What if I wrote a bunch of sermons and none of them connected? What if I don’t relate well with the students? The worry started instantly. The unrealistic questions flooded like a tsunami. But there was also this immense desire deep within to do it. This was an amazing opportunity, and I couldn’t deny that. I’d been wanting to get my foot in the door in some ministry but I wasn’t sure where and I wasn’t even sure when I could happen. Summer isn’t always the best time to join a ministry. Again, there were worries and anxiety…everywhere.
It was all very providential and it continued on that path for the next 6 weeks, all the way up till the end of camp. This Daniel fellow turned out to be a real champ, a complete kindred spirit. He bought me books to help me study. He prayed for me constantly. He encouraged me and helped me brainstorm ideas. He trusted me with his flock. He was continuously confident that I’d do great things and that God would use me. I on the other hand was continuously worried and anxious. There were moments of confidence and brightness where I felt like God was going to use this week to teach through me, but even on the drive up to camp, although I felt pretty good about my talks, I was worried about my car breaking down, not the one that was in the shop recovering from the small fire that had started in it, but the new one that I was driving. Yes, my car caught on fire on July 3. I had a fuel leak and it sprayed gasoline on my spark plugs, and natural chemistry followed its course. However, although I was disappointed, this was grace at work, and I kind of knew it. That’s why I didn’t get angry or shake my fist at God, and I didn’t even worry about it that much. I knew it was providential and that God was going to use his grace to redeem this for his glory and my joy. But I was afraid of God, I was mixing his grace with his discipline. You see, there was something specific in my heart that God was using his grace to change. I’m a greedy person. More specifically, I’m a very dissatisfied person. Nothing seems to be good enough for me. I’m always wanting something better than what I have. So even though God was so gracious and answered my prayers to give us a new car that got good mileage, that was safe and reliable and affordable and that had less than 100k miles on it; sadly it wasn’t enough for me. So God called my bluff and in a sense said, “oh so you don’t like it? Well then you won’t really miss it.” He doesn’t do or say this maliciously. He is simply giving us what we want. It’s true, I didn’t want that car, even though it ran and was clean and safe and carried my surfboards and was a total ace (Ranger Danger). So my vehicle was taken out of the game. And God waited for me to come to my senses. His grace was working to make me content, like Christ, who had far less than I do. This is what God’s grace does for us, it rescues us from stupid crap like silly feelings of malcontent and rings out our heart to reshape it into one more like Christ’s. This ringing hurts sometimes; I was feeling a little pain when the mechanic said, “Yea, I don’t see this car getting fixed for less than $600.” By the way, that’s not how much it’s going to cost. I actually still don’t know how much it’s going to cost because the mechanic still hasn’t found the necessary part. But it is going to be less than $600, which is already a sign of God’s gracious and redemptive power. But there was greater grace still that I had yet to see.
Up to this point, I wasn’t feeling like I had really grasped the fullness of grace, conceptually speaking. I understood it to a great degree, but there was still something missing. And the whole car fire situation opened my eyes to the grace that was currently being interwoven into my life. And it became so real to me, in an instant of gracious understanding that God opened my eyes to!
But I was still a little worried about my sermons. My main concern was that literally every single student would fall asleep because my messages were too hard to understand and far too boring. But I couldn’t think creatively at all leading up to the camp! I couldn’t for the life of me find a freaking illustration or a little word picture. It was really annoying! Little did I know that this lack of confidence would be the key to my success, or rather, to the Lord’s success. I went to prepare for my message, read through it, made some notes, and God gave me a few more insights into the topic of grace. Whew! Okay, this might just work. Maybe only a few of them will fall asleep. My first message was shaky but very logical and it flowed well. I was nervous, I had just met the students. I didn’t know how to connect. Am I going too long? Why are my hands so sweaty? Good lord, this is almost as bad as my wedding day. And then it was over. Only one fell asleep, but I chalked that one up to a long day of recreation and too much sugar, and he was only asleep for maybe 5 minutes. I sat back and thought back over what I had said. Made sense to me, and it seems like it made sense to them too. Awesome! Wait, I still have 3 more of these to do. Crap. Well, hopefully God will provide some more insight tomorrow. I already felt more confident, like I had talked out my jitters and a good portion of my anxiety. But I still couldn’t shake the feeling like I was really dispassionate when I spoke and that I had stayed completely monotone for the entire message. I have to show them that I’m excited about grace! Once again, Daniel came through the next day and encouraged me further. “Bryce, just be who you are. You don’t need to be some fiery speaker, because I don’t think that’s who you are. Is it?” “No, not at all really.” “Then don’t fake it. You sounded like you up there, which is great!”
Okay, lets do this again. God provided more insight, a lot more and the second message was really sweet. I got a glimpse of the rest of the week, and I saw that God wanted to keep me unconfident. He desired that I stay weak and anxious, because He is a God who wants nothing to be left to doubt: He is the one that is speaking. It is his truth that he has privileged me to comprehend. These are his lungs and his mouth. I am just the vessel. Not a identity-less robot, but a working, thinking, feeling craft. And I felt it. My passion was there and it showed. Later, a student came and asked me questions about the message. It was just what I needed: affirmation that this was indeed providential. God knew I was not yet fully convinced of this truth; my eyes were not fully open to what was really going on. Even though they probably should have been, God was not angry with my lack of progress. He was cooperating with me, he was meeting me where I was. This is how I know that I’m not a robot. God cares about his vessels. He doesn’t see us as disobedient or rebellious pieces of machinery. The next two days I looked forward to my preparation because I couldn’t wait to see what God provided, what illustrations he sent to me, what stories he would remind me of. And he provided so well. I was able to share from my heart the amazing truth of grace that I had experienced so many times throughout my life. I was able to be real and honest about how I had been blind to so much of God’s grace and the ways God had humbled me when I had been too proud to see it. And I was able to share how I had been blessed to give grace to so many people and how they have the hope and privilege of doing that as well.
I was also reminded every single day that volunteer youth leaders are some of the most amazing people on God’s green earth. I recalled daily that wonderful year and a half when I was part of Bethany Jr. High staff. Those were amazing days, and so formational and significant for me personally, and not just because that’s where Molly and I met. I bonded with people under the common flag of leading young people away from the wide path of destruction and onto the narrow and winding path of righteousness. We were united under God’s call of grace, the call to be and give grace to others, to participate in God’s will to rescue mankind from his slavery to sin and offer him a free life of joy, love, hope and significance.
However, although I taught all of this, my mind was limited to camp in many ways. So when I came home I was surprised that there was grace waiting for me there. I got home and the very next day went back to work. My heart was slightly rebellious and bitter about this. I’m still not sure why, when planning this week and asking for the time off, I was thinking that I would be so zealous to return to work and why I wouldn’t, you know, want a day to recoup. Also, I saw Harry Potter 7 at midnight the night I got back, so I only got a few hours of sleep before going back to the green coffee giant that pays my bills. (If you’d like to read a review of the film, I’m sure my wife will have one up in a few days. I’m actually quite surprised that she hasn’t put one up yet.) So grace was at work immediately. It was amazing to do something that I know for a fact I'm supposed to be doing for the rest of my life and then come back and do something that I don't want to do for even another week! This is where grace becomes most powerful. God was testing to see if this message had really sunk in. Was I trusting that his grace would be sufficient, if his power was truly perfected in my weakness? And it was. I survived my weekend of early mornings and grace was there each morning when I awoke. Grace reminded me that I still have to fix my car, which is still at the mechanic, going on 2 weeks. Grace reminded me that I still have to register for classes for the fall. Grace also reminded me that I still don’t know how my wife and I are going to both go to school part time and work and still pay the bills. Oh yea, and grace also reminded me that I’m still not in the career I desire to be in, in fact, I’m not in a career at all. God’s grace is very exciting, because just like how I looked forward to the ways that he provided for my sermons, I’m also looking forward to how he provides for all these needs. I know for a fact that, just like the last Harry Potter movie, everything will be made clear and every question will be answered and every worry will be put to rest.