A Red Door
A friend of mine, a number of years ago, bought a new home with a brightly painted red door. She loved her new house, but didn't like the red door. There was nothing wrong with the door, it just wasn't what she wanted, so she painted it white...well, she tried to paint it white, again and again, but the red paint kept showing through. The only way to get rid of the red on her door was to strip the door down to bare wood and then paint anew.
Most of the time we as believers seem to think that our sins are like my friend's red door; we can just paint over them with good deeds, but unfortunately, those sins keep seeping through. It's not until we bow down as David did, asking God to "scrub away [our] guilt" (Psa. 51, The Message), that we can offer ourselves as cleansed vessels for God's service.
Care and Careful
As our good Mennonite friends were completing their work in building a new home for one of our daughters, I complimented them on the excellence of their finishing work. Their framing work had been good, but their finish work was a thing of beauty. Nail holes were hidden, door frames were artfully angled, porch and stair rails were cleverly devised, and the list continues.
One of them said that the finish work was his favorite part of constructing a house. The other one cocked his head for a minute, then said, 'you have to both care and be careful.'
I've thought about that a lot since he said it and I think it is true in much of our lives, but especially in how we conduct ourselves as believers. We have to care, not only about how we live but also about those with whom we come in contact and those whose needs are made known to us by others. And we have to be careful; sometimes an inadvertent or careless word can do damage to not only our testimony but to that of others. We may miss the opportunity to minister to someone because we are preoccupied with our own concerns or not sensitive to the leading of God's Spirit.
With God's help, we can be effective builders of the Kingdom if we are both caring and careful.
Our daughter was in the midst of building a house on a hilltop near Clemson, South Carolina, and as I flew south out of the Greenville/Spartanburg airport, I was able to spot her house from the plane. We had spent right much time at her house as it was going up, but the perspective of it from the plane was entirely different.
I always enjoy the window seat on a plane, perhaps because I enjoy maps, so I like to try to figure where we are and what I am seeing. Looking down on those tiny cars whose occupants may be looking up at what appears to be a tiny plane in the sky is also an exercise in appreciating different perspectives.
One way to look at dissimilar perspectives is to contrast how our priorities and choices appear from a heavenly viewpoint. God must grieve at our picayune prejudices and petty pretenses in the light of what we are called to do as believers. Jesus charged us to a higher calling with eternal importance, but we tend to squander away our energy and discipline with meaningless meanderings and fruitless fritterings.
Another aspect of different perspectives has been sharpened for us because that same daughter has spent time in the past year in four cultures that are very diverse, both from one another and from her southern American background: camps in Russia, Turkey, South Africa and Nigeria. In each of those experiences she, as a university professor and camp professional, has encountered situations where her perspective has been different from those with whom she was working. Her respect for and sensitivity to other cultures and perspectives have been shared with us and enriched us as well.
We tend to consider our ways of thinking and acting (or reacting) to others or to situations as the ‘proper' way to do so. Especially in the south, we learned a certain way of doing things that was considered ‘The Way' to do things. And those who did those same things in a different way just simply weren't taught correctly.
When our narrow way of thinking becomes something that keeps us from loving as we have been loved, from forgiving as we have been forgiven, from giving as we have been given, we have lost our sense of God's perspective. We are missing the opportunities that God has placed before us to be conduits of God's love and forgiveness. We are called to be diligent in sharing our faith, in using the gifts we have been given to honor the One who gave them to us, to be obedient to Jesus's command to love God above all and to love our neighbors, both near and far, as ourselves.
As I flew over our daughter's home that day, I couldn't see how carefully her skillful carpenters were working or how precisely the electrician was wiring her home. But I knew that work was happening because I knew the integrity of those workers. If they looked up and saw or heard the plane that afternoon, they were more than likely not aware that someone was looking down on them or who was on the plane. Our perspectives were different; they continued their work and I continued on my way to my meeting. We both had responsibilities and the means to fulfil those responsibilities, even though our perspectives differed.
'Mom, Dad, come quick!' were the shouted words from downstairs. The ceiling was wet, with mildew quickly forming. We turned off the water in the house, pulled out tarps and plastic, and called for assistance.
Two days later, we were back in business. In the meantime, thoughtful neighbors had provided us with pitchers of water to drink and buckets of water with which to flush. Our favorite builder had come and torn out the soggy sheetrock and insulation and repaired the faulty pipe.
Faulty pipe?!? Apparently a manufacturer's defect had caused the pipe to bulge and eventually sprout a slow leak. The plumber who installed the pipe called to check and it turns out the pipe is only warrented for five years, and our home was built SIX years ago (and how many folks plan for a new house's elements to last just five years?)…grrrr!
In a few weeks, after things have thoroughly dried out, we'll have the ceiling repaired, the mess cleaned up and the bills paid. It may take a little longer for our aggravation to subside!
A limited warranty for water pipes in a house and the realization of how much we take for granted when we turn on a water faucet got me to thinking about the Living Water of God's Love for us.
We often take that Love for granted as well. We go about our daily lives with little consideration of the price Jesus, the Living Water, paid to insure that the pipeline of God's love and faithfulness is available to us. Our sins may clog or damage the pipe, soggy and damaged parts of our lives may need to be repaired, the bill of repentance will come due, but the warranty never runs out and the faucet never runs dry.
My daughter, Nan, complained often about how difficult it was to keep the linoleum in her kitchen clean. She would clean it up and it seemed to get dirty again almost immediately. Getting her floor to look the way she wanted it seemed an impossible task.
Recently she hired a cleaning crew to help with the dirty work at her house. On their first visit they scrubbed it clean and put a sealer on her kitchen floor. Voila! The linoleum was shiny clean, cleaned up easily and as Nan says, 'the dirt stuck out against the scrubbed white and I wanted to remove it right away.'
As unbelievers we were always soiled, unable to be or stay clean. Once we have been sealed with salvation, we are still often sullied with sin, besmirched with pride, stained with selfishness or tainted with other things that keep us from being shining examples of God's love and grace. But we can be grateful that God's Spirit will convict us, our repentance will be accepted, and God's grace will allow us to start anew. As we continue to walk with God and seek God's will for our lives, we may stay shining longer and more brightly.
(with thanks to Nan for both the idea for the meditation and her suggestions along the way)
Some friends of ours bought an old home that, upon inspection, revealed that scraps of wood of all sorts had been used in its construction. They said that apparently there had been no 'dimensional' lumber (uniform two-by-fours, etc.) used since the house was built during a time of war. The carpenter had to use whatever was available. An unusually shaped piece of wood that fit just exactly into that joint, or the scrap found in a corner that would strengthen the structure. Evidently it worked, because the house is still standing solidly after all these years.
I got to thinking about how God uses us to 'build' the church: God uses what is made available. Very few of us are standard sizes, literally or figuratively. All of us are gifted by God for use in the Kingdom, but in addition to those gifts, we have numerous quirks, knots and gnarls. Only by the grace of God can we be put to use in a positive way.
An additional thought is how quick we are to dismiss someone who doesn't conform to our ideas of 'dimensional'-ness. Ignoring our own irregularities, we tend to distain others' foibles, failings and flaws, thinking they could not possibly be of use to the Master Carpenter. We need to realize that if God can use us, non-standard as we are, God can create beauty out of the very special others who may fit perfectly into the plan.
"Or, to put it another way, you are God's house. Using the gift God gave me as a good architect, I designed blueprints; Apollos is putting up the walls. Let each carpenter who comes on the job take care to build on the foundation! Remember, there is only one foundation, the one already laid: Jesus Christ. Take particular care in picking out your building materials. Eventually there is going to be an inspection. If you use cheap or inferior materials, you'll be found out. The inspection will be thorough and rigorous. You won't get by with a thing. If your work passes inspection, fine; if it doesn't, your part of the building will be torn out and started over. But you won't be torn out; you'll survive—but just barely." 1 Corinthians 3:9(The Message)
YOU MOVED MY SCISSORS!
My husband and I were talking to a woman once who discovered that he likes to have a place for everything and everything in its place (a concept that is somewhat alien to my nature). She said that her husband was the same way, and just to bedevil him, she would occasionally move his scissors. That has become a ‘family saying' at our house whenever something has not been put back in its accustomed place or if I decide to do something like move the furniture around.
The Lord often moves our scissors. We tend to get quite comfortable with the way we worship, the way we serve, the way we go about our day-to-day lives. When something happens that disturbs our status quo, we tend to react without realizing the opportunities for spiritual growth, new experiences or ministry in the name of the One who came to make us "…new creation[ s]; the old has gone, the new has come!" (I Corinthians 5:17[NIV])
A LICK AND A PROMISE
"I don't know about you, but I'm running hard for the finish line. I'm giving it everything I've got. No sloppy living for me!" I Corinthians 9:26(The Message)
Housekeeping is not my strong point, and when I am in a hurry, especially if a dust rag is in my hand, I tend to give things, as my mother used to say, a lick and a promise. In other words, I give the piece of furniture, or whatever I am dusting, a quick swipe, and promise that the next time, I will do a more thorough job. The quick way gets the job done in less time, but it also means that the next time around the task is going to take even longer.
Many of us give just a lick and a promise in our lives as well. We send a quick prayer heavenward, maybe a "Lord, bless the missionaries" kind of prayer. Or perhaps we read a verse or two of a favorite psalm—if nothing else intrudes. We attend worship services when it suits us, but not when our attendance requires an extra effort; we reach a helping hand to others if the helping does not necessitate going out of our way; we offer to help with a particular project if we are not inconvenienced. Next time, we promise, we will do better.
A ‘lick and a promise' as a way of keeping house do not lead to a very clean house, and a ‘lick and a promise' do not lead to productive, fulfilling lives of service, either. The Lord gave everything for us; our love for the Savior should demand more than a quick swipe.
BEHIND THE MASK
There is lots of grass to cut at our house—so much so that we have two riding mowers so that we can both cut at the same time. When I am out on the mower, I look like some alien creature: hat, gloves, mask, earplugs—the works.
We have worked out a system of cutting so that we are not often in one another's way, but as the cutting continues, we occasionally pass within sight and raise a hand to wave. A smile always accompanies that wave. Now and then when a waving occasion arises, my hands are occupied and I just smile. A lot of good that does—my mouth is covered with a mask!
The other week as we were cutting and I had missed another chance to wave at my husband (and my hidden smile had communicated nothing of the love and pleasure I feel whenever I see or do anything with him), I thought of the masks that we often wear that prevent us from showing the love of God to those around us: masks of shyness, preoccupation, culture, habit, or even stronger things such as prejudice.
The love of God may be in our hearts, but unless an overt action shows it, most people with whom we come in contact will be unaware of that love. Taking off our masks means we risk the dust and pollen of rejection or misunderstanding, but it also means we will come closer to being "ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." (II Corinthians 5:20[KJ])
"If any of you wants to serve me, then follow me. Then you'll be where I am, ready to serve at a moment's notice. The Father will honor and reward anyone who serves me." John 12:26(The Message)
Not long after we bought our home on the lake, we brought my octogenarian father for his first visit. He and my husband walked all around while my husband pointed out the various attributes of the property, but Daddy, uncharacteristically, didn't say anything for a long time. Finally, he said two words, "high maintenance."
Well, he was exactly right; high maintenance is the name of the game. But to us, the high maintenance is worth it because of the end results.
Living the Christian life is like the upkeep on our property—there is no getting around the work that has to be done. The Lord never promised that following Him would be easy; He did promise to be with us all the way—whether the way involves joy or sorrow. There is a cost to discipleship: facing our sinfulness, denying ourselves, serving others. High maintenance; the results are worth it.
"Jesus insisted, ‘Someone touched me. I felt power discharging from me.'" Luke 8:46(The Message)
My understanding of electricity is minimal—I just flip the switch and trust that the appliance will operate, the light will come on, the heat/air conditioner will run, or the computer will hum. (My electrical engineer son-in-law has tried to explain it to me, but I think he has given me up for a lost cause.) But this much I do comprehend—the power flows from the source to me—and not the other way around.
When Jesus encountered the woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years, a miraculous thing happened: if any one of us had touched her, we would have become ritually unclean as she was, but when she touched Jesus, His purity, His cleansing, flowed to her. It was as if the power flow had been reversed.
Today, those of us who love the Lord have the Power to touch in the name of God. Because of God's love to us, we have the Resource to reverse the flow of selfishness, rage, injustice, racism, prejudice and/or pride so that we can respond to that uncleanness with the power of Love.
PREPARING A HOUSE
"I am going to prepare a place for you." John 14:2b(NIV)
Our oldest daughter was caught between a rock and a hard place: her responsibilities in one state would keep her until the last minute (two hours) before her responsibilities in a new place. There was no way that she could break away and find a place to live, so her sister and I were delegated to do that for her. We knew what she could afford, we knew what she liked and we had the time to do the job for her. So the two of us set out one day with a realtor, found a house, paid a deposit, made an offer and the realtor faxed her the contract. Soon enough the deal was done; the house was closed by mail. Some weeks later, my husband and I went to clean, paint, wallpaper and then be on site when the furniture arrived to place it and unpack the necessities. Though our daughter had driven down one day to walk through the house (after the closing) and had seen lots of pictures, when she drove up that day she walked into a house prepared for her by those who love her—and she was pleased.
When Jesus talked to His disciples about the future beyond death, He pictured it as the Father preparing a place (a room, a mansion, a house) for those who were to come. As we prepared our daughter's house, so, too, will the Lord prepare for us, using the treasures we send ahead, even using the materials with which we have built our lives. Knowing who we are, what we like, and loving us even more that my husband and I love our daughter, God will have waiting for us a home for eternity which will be beyond what we could possibly imagine.
Our home started its life in the mid-1940's and served its purpose as the heart of a working farm for many years. Before using it as our retirement home we did a major remodeling job on it—six weeks which turned into six months of dirt and dust and noise, six months of decisions, bills, rain and confusion. In the end the old house had been transformed with new brick, new windows, insulation and so on.
In the process many of the old camellias and rose bushes that surrounded the house were destroyed and the heart of pine hardwood floors that I had counted on being able to refinish and enjoy proved unusable. I came in one day to find the freezer had been inadvertently disconnected, a brick had come through the office ceiling, a concrete truck had cracked the lid of the septic tank—and I sat down and cried. I was in residence during the project and friends and family kept encouraging me and reminding me that one day, when the project was finished, I would be able to say it was worth it. They were correct, but there were many days when I wondered.
In the midst of the project I was asked to do a program for a missions group. As I thought and prayed about the program, it dawned on me that I had been living through a picture of Romans 12:1 ,2. "Therefore, I urge you, brothers [and sisters], in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—which is your spiritual worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be TRANSFORMED [emphasis mine] by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." (NIV)
When we come to Christ, we are already a person, a house, in need of the transformation of the Holy Spirit (sanctification)—talk about a remodeling project! As the Lord works in our lives, some of the old scruffy parts of our ‘house' (such as the old back porch of our home) have to be dismantled, torn out, carted off and burned. Some of the things that have been very special to us may be destroyed in the process (such as Mother's Day gifts of roses buried under three tons of sand). Some of the dreams we have cherished for ourselves (such as the heart of pine floors) are not part of the finished product.
We have an image in our minds of what the ‘house' will be like, but the image God has in mind for us is to be like the Son. As we undergo the remodeling process, there will be days when we think it is all just too much for us and we cry out for relief. There will be times when we think the project has no hope of ever turning out correctly. We will question whether the Contractor has any idea of what is going on. But there will also be days when we catch a glimpse of what the end result will be and other days when we will be touched and moved by the concern of others for us. Then we will know that at the end of the transformation, we will know what is "good and pleasing and perfect."
STEPS TO NOWHERE
"In building the temple….a stairway led up to the middle level and from there to the third." I Kings 6:7a ,8b(NIV)
Driving along the road, we pass an unusual sight that catches our eyes: steps that lead to a blank wall. The house, which has been carefully remodeled, has been gradually transformed into a charming place with a welcoming front porch, hanging fern baskets, new siding and so on. But along one side, a door was shifted several feet away from the stairs that formerly led to it, and now the steps lean against the wall at the old location without providing access to the door. Perhaps, at some point, the door and steps will be realigned, but for now neither the stairs nor the door are usable.
We often find ourselves climbing figurative stairs that do not lead us anywhere but to a blank wall. We start up the steps of striving for success, building our financial resources, seeking fulfillment, popularity, pleasure or security. Then we find ourselves at the top of the stairs, to find only emptiness. When King Solomon built the temple he followed the instructions of the Lord, so the steps Solomon built led those who sought to honor God ever upward. The stairs we need to climb are ones of confession of the sin in our lives, belief in the saving grace of God, and acceptance of the gift of forgiveness and eternal life that is offered to us. Those steps lead to lasting peace and fulfillment and are aligned with the door to God's presence.
When we decided to do a major remodeling job on our home, we hired a contractor who did most of the carpentry work himself. My image of a carpenter is one who builds things, but as he worked on our project, our carpenter spent many hours tearing out rotten wood, ripping out walls, demolishing and dismantling. Only then could he begin the process of making our house into what we had planned for it to be.
As I spent those weeks in the midst of dust and dirt and noise, I realized that my image of the Master Carpenter needed revision, too. In order for God to make me into the transformed image of the Son, there is a lot of demolition work that needs to be done. Before the love, joy, peace, longsuffering and other spiritual assets can become a part of who I am, the rotten wood of pride, the termites of prejudice, the unusable rooms built of selfishness and other sins need to be removed. Paul says (in Romans 12:1 ,2[The Message]), "So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering….[F]ix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out….God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you."
WOW, DAD, THAT'S COLD!
"You know well enough how the wind blows this why and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it's headed next." John 3:8(The Message)
The refrigerator repairman and his pre-teen son were here doing a repair job that involved removing and replacing the freon in the compressor. The repairman had brought a special plastic bag with him to use in retrieving the old freon and asked his son to assist him with that task. As the son held the bag, his astonishment was both visible and vocal as he felt the coldness of the freon and saw the bag inflate. There was no doubting the presence of freon in that bag. I expect the son already knew that freon was the element that enabled the refrigerator/freezer to cool food, but his experience that day confirmed the reality of freon and its properties.
The presence of God in our lives is kind of like that freon. When God's Spirit is in our lives, those with whom we come in contact ought to be able to sense that Presence in our lives just as our repairman's son sensed the presence of freon. God's presence doesn't preclude sorrow or difficulty in our lives any more than having freon precludes the outside temperature from rising to 90+ F. in the summertime. But being able to get something cold to drink, or to ride in an air-conditioned car certainly does make a difference in the way we handle the summertime heat. Even so, God's presence should make a difference in our handling the heat of our lives. Those of us who know God's love in our lives should be the evidence to others of the existence and power of that Love.