After a long, miserable drive through a rare pounding rain in the Oregon Outback (with a man still suffering the effects of a recently broken back), the four of us tumbled into a booth at our favorite Chinese restaurant. It's a friendly place we know well, and we were anxious for the comfort of a familiar, hot meal.
Three out of the four of us love practically everything we eat there, so it's always a challenge figuring out what to order, but for one member of our party, the decision is a simple one: gluten free orange chicken with no garnish, white rice, and the sauce on the side. It's his meal at this place EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
It doesn't bother us because we've come to love that orange sauce. YUM! We pass it around the table, pouring it all over our food. It has big pieces of orange peel and, we are told, is cooked from scratch one bowl at a time. Mmmm....good!
As we settled into our meal, one bite hit my mouth differently than anything I've ever experienced. My mouth was burning, but not like a spicy burn. It was horribly uncomfortable! But...why?
Surely, it was just an odd occurrence and I kept eating.
Before I knew it, our hospitable server was at my table pouring me more water. "You're thirsty tonight! Boys, any water?" No, they shook their heads.
"Hmmm...just you for now. Okay..."
A few more bites, and it was clear to me...Something was terribly wrong. My mouth was on fire in a new, but familiar sort of way all at the same time.
Finally, it hit me. SALT! There was WAY too much of it! But...how? In what?
As Joel and the boys busily chattered away around the table, I quietly went to work trying to deduce what was so awful. Could it be the version of chicken we'd never ordered before? No, it tasted fine from the plate we shared. Could it be the fried rice we didn't order often? Perhaps...But it, too, tasted fine from the plate we shared. Yet, when I ate it from my plate it was no longer any good.
"It couldn't possibly be tonight's special (ginger garlic chicken and beef with green beans). It's one of my favorites!" I reasoned. Then a taste of that nearly sent me over the edge. It, too, was far too salty! That's when I made my discovery. Someway, somehow it was the orange chicken sauce I had ordered and enjoyed countless times. Yes, that wonderful sauce I poured all over my plate had corrupted the whole meal! That's when I finally made mention to my family.
"Something's wrong with the sauce. It's way too salty."
Joel, too, was coming to the conclusion that something was atrociously the matter, but busy in conversation, hadn't quite figured out what the problem was.
"Andy, what do you think? Too salty?"
"Umm...it definitely tastes different, but I think I could keep eating it." "NO! Don't! If something is that salty, it can't be safe."
At that point, we set the offending sauce to the side, scraped our plates of it, and continued eating from our shared dishes in the center of the table. What a predictably delicious meal it was, too!
However, one enormous question loomed: should we say anything? In all truth, we're not an easy family to serve at a restaurant. Two out of the four of us have varying degrees of food intolerances, and I bring a whopping ten serious food allergies to the table (with a purse full of allergy meds, an inhaler, and an EpiPen). Add to that a few other challenges into which I won't go into particulars...and, well, eating out is a tough one for us.
Knowing this about ourselves, we try to offset our peculiarities with an extra helping of friendliness and a generous tip at the end, trying to be as courteous (and forgivable!) as possible.
With that in mind, is it worth it? Should we bring any further upset, or just quietly let it go? After a bit of back and forth in family discussion, it was determined that, yes, something ought to be said. Our server knows us well enough to know we love their restaurant (and their orange chicken sauce), and if anyone is in a position to fairly and accurately judge said orange chicken sauce, it's us. Heaven (and our server) know we've ordered it enough to know. And the stuff in the bowl on our table was surely enough to send someone with high blood pressure into cardiac arrest! When our server came to give us our check, we informed her of the situation.
"Really? How odd!" She could hardly believe it. Until...she reasoned...there is a new cook in the kitchen, and she always has been concerned about the way they keep a big container of salt right next to a big container of sugar, and she has commented before that one of these days someone's going to mix it up, and...she's pretty sure that's what happened!
Yes, this explained it perfectly. Our sauce was basically seasoned with a massive quantity of salt and a heavy dose of garlic, but no sugar. Whatever orange flavoring was in there was drowned in sodium. (This explained the stunning lack of sweetness.) You should have seen the look on her face when we mentioned our concern over what this kind of error could do to someone with heart problems! This was a major error, indeed!
WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH BEING A GIANT? Actually, a lot.
You see, everyone, giant or not, at least occasionally runs into stuff that isn't quite right. Oh, these things may look good, smell good, and seem like business as usual, but under the surface lurks a corruption that has the power to make someone uncomfortable at best and dead at worst.
Like all the stuff of the world that sneaks into our lives and doesn't fit.
The Apostle Paul puts it this way:
"whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry...and anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips." (Colossians 3:5, 8)
That stuff corrupts! And that's why Paul teaches to put it to death (Colossians 3:5) and rid yourself of all these things (Colossians 3:8). However, it can be insidious.
I've run into a few Christians lately who mixed a little bit of corruption into what was a really good, really godly recipe, and it's left a really horrible taste in my mouth. I know none of us are perfect, but mixing a handful of yuck into an otherwise good recipe ruins the whole thing. Replacing sweetness with bitterness or coarseness does too.
At first, little comments and actions left me feeling uncomfortable. "Surely, that's not how they meant it." In time, though, the situation became more clear and I was left feeling deceived and a bit burned.
When whatever belongs to the earthly nature lurks under the surface, the seasoning is bad, and the whole lot is ruined. Just like our plates, everything we poured the sauce onto was influenced for the worse because what was in it was not right. The balance of the flavors was all out of whack.
WE'RE CALLED TO BE DIFFERENT -- pure and new in Christ through and through.
"Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful." (Colossians 3:9-15)
Interestingly, Paul mentions salt in his letter to the Colossians too:
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:6)
In this case, Paul is saying some salt is good. (I think we could all agree some salt is basically always necessary!) It enriches and draws out good flavors, but he's saying here that the things we say ought to always be full of grace and seasoned with salt.
Enriching. Drawing out. Seasoned.
The things we say and how we respond to others ought to have the flavor of that beautiful thing called grace.
Grace is the wonder that we who are in Christ have received again and again -- "grace upon grace" according to John 1:16. It is the fact that God gives us life in place of the death we deserve, and blessing instead of curses. Grace is receiving what we don't deserve.
It's also what we must give others. Listen, friends: Who we are and what's going on inside of us where nobody can see MATTERS because it won't be hidden forever. It will be revealed, even if it takes a few tastes for others to figure it out, and it has the power to enhance or destroy. We can't give others the right thing if we don't have the real thing.
FAKE GRACE DOESN'T WORK ANY BETTER THAN FAKE SALT.
This reminds me of something Jesus once said:
"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot." (Matthew 5:13)
There's a lot in this passage, so I say this at the risk of oversimplifying, but hear me out: if you have the right flavor (in Christ, of course), don't mess it up! That orange chicken sauce wasn't good for anything anymore not because it lost its saltiness (quite the contrary), but because the flavor was all wrong. The only acceptable place for it was the trash.
[Amusingly, our server returned to our table after clearing our dishes to inform us that she did, in fact, dip her finger in our sauce and give it a try. She confirmed it was the saltiest and one of the worst things she had ever tasted, and she now suffered from a powerful thirst! She was happy to throw it away!]
Think of it with another analogy: The contents of the soil you're planted in make a difference. I looked it up just to be sure and, yep, not enough salt in the soil and a tree will not thrive; too much salt in the soil and a tree will die.
Just like salt in our food, the right contents in soil will enrich and draw out good nutrients, and good nutrients make fruit sweet.
What's sweet to the tongue?
Paul addresses this too:
"Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." (Colossians 3:16-17)
Giants speak words that edify others, glorify God, and express gratitude and thankfulness...and that's why...
GIANTS SPEAK UP WHEN SOMETHING ISN'T RIGHT.
Edifying others isn't just encouraging when all is well, finding the silver lining, and always seeing the good in others. It's also coming alongside a brother or sister in the Lord and saying, "There's so much good here, and I love you, and that's why you should know something is off. The recipe isn't right today."
The word accountability comes to mind.
When something leaves us with a really uncomfortable taste in our mouths that gets worse with each bite, we can't ignore it forever. For the sake of health and safety, speak up! Our sweet server that night had one big question for us: "Why didn't you say something sooner? I could have had it made it right for you."
We assured her we still greatly enjoyed the rest of our meal (and we would surely be back!), but we felt we should say something so the kitchen could be more careful to get it right in the future...especially considering other potential patrons who might not have healthy blood pressure.
This is why Paul gave us the recipe for these kinds of conversations:
"Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ." (Ephesians 4:15)
If I want to cultivate giants, I have to be honest with myself and I have to say something to others in love when things aren't right. Some of the hardest pastoral conversations my husband and I have ever had with anyone are the ones in which we had no choice but to confront significant unhealth and the response was, "How come no one ever said anything to me before?" Sad. We can't fake our way through this Christian life, and we shouldn't let others do it either. Love big enough to speak the truth gracefully.
To God be the glory!