The Maintenance of Relationships

I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever get caught up on all the home repairs and home improvements. I see so much that needs to be done; my wife sees even more! I dream of the day when the “Honey Do” list is no more. I imagine myself asking my wife, “Hon, is there anything that needs to be fixed, repaired, or updated around the house?” A look of concentration comes over her face, then, after pondering long and hard, she replies, “No, I can’t think of a single thing.” Okay, only in my dreams!

On my daily morning walk here in Florida I pass several empty houses that are in disrepair. They must be owned by somebody, but that somebody isn’t doing much, if any, maintenance on their property. It’s going to take a great deal of effort and a lot of money to get those homes in a habitable, let alone attractive, condition.

After many years of preaching and writing I’m conditioned to see a spiritual application to almost anything I experience or see. On walking past one of these decrepit houses I recall thinking that a lack of maintenance not only ruins a house but also a life. Our relationships, the most important part of life, need regular maintenance, like our homes.

If we don’t pay attention to our relationships, including our relationship with God, they’re going to deteriorate. The tyranny of the urgent, perplexing problems, the attraction of the attractive, and just the day to day grind of life can all result in our neglecting the nurturing of our relationships with people and with God.

I find that to keep my house and property in good shape I need to see what needs fixing or improving, and then I need to spend the time, effort, and money to make it happen. I’ve also discovered that when I do a little maintenance on a regular basis I don’t have as many big issues to deal with.

The same goes with maintaining and improving human relationships. It requires the work of spending time with the person, encouraging, being painfully honest, forgiving, and cutting some slack with the individual. A relationship with God isn’t all that different. We build a relationship with God by “practicing His presence” as Brother Lawrence wrote centuries ago which means thinking about Him a lot and believing He is very near. It also involves listening to Him by reading His Word and talking to Him, which we call prayer.

Our relationships with others and with God are like a house in that they will fall into disrepair if they aren’t maintained. Walking past that old decrepit house reminded me of this.

“Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matthew 22:37-39

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The Games of LIfe

Some of the games in our home

My wife is rather frugal, for which I’m very grateful, except on my birthday. But one area where she can go crazy spending money is on games for the grandchildren. We already have a large collection of all kinds of games, but that’s not enough. There’s always a new game to buy and play. I’ve never been big on games, but I’m being converted! I have to admit that we have lots of fun playing games with our grandchildren.

It really doesn’t matter what the game is (okay, not Candy Land, Candy Land puts me to sleep). What does matter is that I’m playing the game with my grandchildren and grandma. What also matters is that the kids aren’t fighting over the game and that Grandma and I aren’t fighting over the game. While we shuffle the cards, roll the dice, or spin the dial Grandma and I are hoping the kids are having a good time, are learning lessons about fair play and how to both win and lose graciously, and are creating fond memories.

Eventually the game is over and goes back in the box. It’s good to keep the game in perspective, that it’s just a game and that what is important are the relationships with those with whom we play the game.

It occurred to me that God has us, His children, playing all sorts of games. He participates with us to the degree we let Him, and we play these games with others. There’s the game of our job or career, the game of unemployment and the game of retirement. There’s the game of being a parent, a mate, or being single. There’s the game of illness and the game of accident. There’s the game of extended family and the game of friends. Most of us are playing a number of these games at the same time.

Here’s what I’ve come to realize. It doesn’t matter so much to God what games we’re playing or if we’re doing better or worse than someone else. What matters most to God is that we’re enjoying being close to God while we’re playing the games of life, that we’re playing well with others, and that, winning or losing, we do so graciously.

Author John Ortberg wrote a book with the title, When the Game is Over, It all Goes Back in the Box. What doesn’t go back in the box are the relationships between the participants. Hopefully those relationships are closer and better after having played the game.

All that we accumulate, work at, and deal with in life eventually goes back in the box. In the end what we will have are the relationships, with God and God’s people. In the middle of playing the games of life it seems advisable to remember this!

“‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” (Jesus in conversation with Martha and Mary, Luke 10:41-42)

Like a Child Asking for Candy

Photo by Silvia Trigo on Pexels.com

It’s just before mealtime, the day after Halloween. The child asks, “Can I have some of my Halloween candy?” The parent says, “No, it’ll ruin your appetite. We have to eat our meal first.” The child wants the candy NOW! The idea of a ruined appetite doesn’t register. Anyway, isn’t consuming candy considered eating? There will likely be tears if not a temper tantrum. The child can’t understand how the parent can be so mean as to withhold something so sweet tasting and delicious as candy.

God, who wants people who are in relationship with Him to call Him Heavenly Father, has the same problem with us! Some of our requests we make of Him are turned down because He knows what is best and we do not, though we most certainly think we do!

Just as a parent is far wiser than the child, so God is infinitely wiser than we are. Sometimes, in hindsight, I see God’s wisdom in not answering my prayers the way I wanted them answered. Most of the time I don’t. It’s often, to be honest about it, mystifying.

Our family prayed earnestly for a long time for our young grandson to be healed of his severe heart condition. It seemed as though our prayers were being answered when the best pediatric heart surgeon in all of Mexico was able to do the surgery. Danny had the surgery but never recovered. I could list a host of other prayers that weren’t answered the way I wanted them to be answered, and I suspect you could too!

It’s often said that we should ask God for things with great faith. The truth is that it takes even greater faith to accept God’s “No” or “Wait” as His answer. What will we do in such situations? Will we express a spiritual version of a temper tantrum or stomp off, distancing ourselves from Him? Or will we stubbornly determine to still love God and seek to be His person?

A careful study of the Bible shows us that God doesn’t always go along with our requests. Such a careful study also shows us, however, that God goes along with us through whatever He has us go through!

“‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'” Isaiah 55:8-9

Three Trips to the Hardware Store

The utility sink in the garage leaked. My wife spotted it first. Why in the world does she look under the sink in the first place? Lying on my back I pushed myself inch by inch until I was under the sink. Mmm, it looks like the u-shaped thingamajig was rusted through (sorry if this is getting too technical for you).

I face plumbing jobs with fear and trepidation, imagining breaking one part after another until I’m working at replacing stuff inside the wall, then outside the house, and on to the main line at the street. Launching forth where angels fear to tread, I removed the u-shaped thingamajig, then another part, and still another part.

I made a trip to the hardware store for new parts. I went back a second time to take back these wrong parts and get the right parts. I went back a third time and, thankfully, the third time was the charm. The gal at the cash register reassured me on my third visit that a lot of people make three visits to the hardware store to fix something. Misery loves company so I felt comforted.

I eventually got the sink to stop leaking. I know, I’m as amazed as you are!

My three trips to the hardware store were an exercise in moving forward in spite of one mistake after another. I think there’s an application here to life beyond the utility sink. Making mistakes is part of the human condition. Some of the mistakes are even more than mistakes, they’re sin.

The good news is that God is revealed in the Bible as the God of a second chance, a third chance, a fourth chance, etc. Every great Biblical character was flawed, sinful, yet they did great things, by the grace of God. Their stories are told so that we might be encouraged.

I’ve learned that the way to overcoming a mistake, failure, or sin is getting up and taking the first step forward. This first forward step may mean asking God, and maybe someone else, for forgiveness. It might mean asking God for help in getting up and getting going when we are down and out.

God is the God of possibilities, which means He always has a way we can respond in a positive way when the current situation looks anything but positive. We just need to, with His help, persevere. It’s probably going to take more than one trip to the hardware store!

“You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” Hebrews 10:36

Honest to God Praying

One of the most wonderful things we can do on a daily basis is talk to God. We call it praying, but I like to refer to it as simply “talking to God” because sometimes the idea of “praying” can psyche us out – it sounds so religious, so spiritual, so theological. In reality praying, talking to God, is not all that different from talking to a friend or loved one. The difference is that it’s vertical communication instead of horizontal, and we’re taking advantage of the privilege of talking to the most important One in the whole universe.

I know, praying often seems hard to do. One problem is that our mind can tend to wander. Ever wonder why our mind wanders? I’ve learned over the years to see my wandering mind as a positive in praying instead of a negative.

C. S. Lewis, a great Christian thinker and writer, wrote in his book, The Screwtape Letters, that it was better to accept “the distraction as [our] present problem and [lay] that before [God] and make it the main theme of [our] prayers.” (Quote from Our Daily Bread devotional, “Being Real with God” September 8, 2018)

Obviously what my mind wanders to while I’m trying to sound so religious before God in my praying is what’s really on my mind; worry, troubles, an exciting opportunity, or even a tempting or sinful thought. Yes, I’ll admit that sometimes my worst thoughts come to me while I’m trying to pray! My wandering mind takes me to the place where I really am!

What makes talking to God more real and relevant is to go with the flow and talk with God about what is really on our mind. God knows everything, including what we’re really thinking about so we might as well be honest with Him. Once we deal with the wandering thoughts we just might be in a better place to talk to Him about some other subjects that should be brought before Him.

Praying, talking to God, doesn’t have to be, shouldn’t be boring or a drudgery. It can be a delight, a natural and meaningful part of our day or night, as long as we make it honest to God praying!

“You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.  You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.  You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.  Before a word is on my tongue, Lord, you know it completely.” Psalm 139:1-4

The Unknown Future

The scrawled note was from Jacqueline Kennedy to her personal assistant. The date on the note was November 22. It gave the schedule for the day…

8:45 Breakfast

10:45 leave for airport

11:35 arrive Dallas

Motorcade

Lunch

2:00 Leave Lunch

The luncheon and the leaving of the luncheon never happened. Jackie’s plans and those of her husband, President John F. Kennedy, were tragically changed by the assassination of the president that day.

One of the simple but all-important truths we need to accept of life is that it’s unpredictable. As the famous line from Robert Burns’ poem of 1786, To a Mouse, states, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.”

Someone was once asked that if he could have one wish what would it be. He replied, “To know the place where I’m going to die.” He was asked why. He said, “So I can stay away from there.” His wish will never be granted. The future is not ours to plan, at least not definitively, that’s God’s domain.

The great theologian Woody Allen said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” My mother would often conclude her description of any plans she had with the line, “The Lord willing.” I find myself doing the same.

The future, including our efforts to plan for it, is just another facet of life where we’re to have faith and trust in God, exhibiting a willingness to yield to His will and purposes, however different they might be from our own. There is one aspect of the future that we do have control over and that is the guarantee of having God with us and for us in our future, if we so decide. I’ve always taken comfort in the old saying, “We can’t know what the future holds, but we can know the One who holds the future.”

Certainly God wants us to plan ahead, we’d be irresponsible not to do so. It’s just that we should do so by adding the footnote “subject to change.”

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

Doing Little Good

My ears perked up when I heard a song on the radio that proclaimed, “Dream small.” Dream small? We’re always being told to dream big. I listened carefully to the lyrics as they unfolded. The song, by Josh Wilson, referred to a pastor who had served a church for 40 years, “Forty years of loving on the broken and the hurt. These simple moments change the world. Dream small.” I served Mayfair-Plymouth Church in Toledo, Ohio, retiring in my 40th year, so the song really got my attention!

The song then declares, “Don’t buy the lie you’ve gotta do it all. Just let Jesus use you where you are. One day at a time. Live well. Loving God and others as yourself. Find little ways where only you can help with His great love.”

Self-help books and graduation speeches tell us to dream big. Maybe it’s time we spend some time dreaming small! Fred Rogers, friend to millions of children through his television show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, spent an entire week on the theme of “Little and Big” and emphasized how little things can be done with great care.

Most of every day is made up of little things, seemingly inconsequential at the time. The big things, the great opportunities, come infrequently. Because a majority of the building blocks of life are the little things it’s best to do them well, for they are at hand, rather than waiting for the big moment, the big opportunity, that has not yet materialized.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, stated, “It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.” Mother Teresa said, “The Lord likes small things best, especially those done with love.”

Good relationships and success at any task aren’t achieved so much by taking advantage of the rare big moments but by doing the common little things with great care. Every day is packed full of little things. It’s the small things that are a big deal. So, dream small!

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” (Jesus in Matthew 13:31-32)

Lessons from an Estate Sale

“Estate Sale” the sign stated. We followed the directions on the sign and pulled up to the house. Walking through the front door my wife and I found everything laid out for sale, everything. It seemed that all of the couple’s material existence was there, including partly used containers of shampoo and conditioner displayed for sale in the bathroom.

It felt awkward joining a parade of strangers strolling among the artifacts of a couple’s lives. We had never met the former inhabitants of the house, but their possessions told us a lot about them, their taste in furniture, wall art, and reading material. Hints of their hobbies were scattered about. Their preferences for personal hygiene items, cleaning supplies, and cooking spices were apparent. By the time we made a tour of all the rooms with all the items on display, we felt we knew a fair amount about the former occupants of the house. Everything was there except for the couple to whom it had all belonged!

It was a reminder that all the possessions which we have collected around us, so familiar and so valued to us, will one day no longer be ours. An estate sale, a giant garage sale, a fire, a tornado, or some other manifestation of the unstoppable movement of time will separate us from it all.

I’m not trying to be depressing, though it certainly could be taken that way! I think I’m just being realistic and also attempting to provide a helpful perspective on how to view our possessions.

For a few years (and it is only a few years in the grand scheme of things) we live on earth and in this material world where we need food, clothing, a roof over our heads, a car, a television, a computer…. okay, I’m moving from needs to wants.

A hundred years from now none of what I now own will mean a thing to me. I’ll be in the astonishing presence of God dwelling in His amazing heaven. But in the meantime, while living this life here on earth, I want to enjoy the material things with which God has blessed me, being thankful for it all and being a good steward of it all. I also want to hold on to all of it loosely, so that I possess my possessions but that they don’t possess me!

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Jesus in Matthew 6:19-21

Life Outside the Garden of Eden

Taking my daily walk near our home in Florida, I stroll by an undeveloped area about a square block in size. The rumors are that some kind of housing is going to be built on the location. For now, however, its boundary is defined by chain link fencing with an occasional “No Trespassing” sign attached to the fencing. Within the boundary of the fence grow countless palm trees and other greenery.

Walking the street that borders this natural beauty I’m reminded of the Garden of Eden that our most distant ancestors, Adam and Eve, inhabited before they rebelled against God. They had a perfect place to live with everything they needed, an ideal relationship with each other, a personal relationship with God, and meaningful work without frustration in tending the Garden of Eden.

After disobeying God, our Grandpa and Grandma of hundreds of generations ago were expelled from the garden and had to live in a fallen world, as have all of their descendents up until the present, including you and me. I think about this as I walk along the street gazing upon the beautiful scene inside the chain link fence of a golden morning sun streaking through the palm trees and other lush growth. Every day I enjoy this beautiful scene, but always from the outside looking in.

Living daily in a far from perfect world with broken relationships, illness and disease, people harming people, natural disasters, and frustrated work, we have an instinctive sense that this is not the way it should be! The desire for the Garden of Eden is in our DNA.

The good news is that what we yearn for, a perfect world, is what God has planned for the future! I know, it’s hard to imagine and even harder to believe, but God has made it clear in His revealed Word, the Bible, that there’s going to be a major change coming. Not only is there the perfect heaven to look forward to, but also a new earth, a new cosmos. God’s also made it clear that when we accept His overture of forgiveness and love we’re going to be a part of this amazing future!

It’s this hope for God’s better future that can help us cope with the far from perfect present. We humans have an amazing capacity to put up with and get through tough times when we know better times are coming. It’s been said that some people are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good, but it’s really the opposite. We can be of earthly good, doing the best with the less than best and helping others do so, when we know something perfectly wonderful is in our future!

We’re currently living life outside the Garden of Eden. We can have the hope, however, that some day we’ll be living life even better than life in the Garden of Eden!

“But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.” 2 Peter 3:13

The Requirement for Rest

Cat Nap

Most of us have a battle with sleep in one way or another. Some of us suffer from insomnia, wrestling with falling asleep or staying asleep, tossing and turning on the wrestling mat of our mattress with the opponent named Insomnia, who often wins.

Others of us resist sleeping, like a little child fighting bedtime. We’ve bought into the culture’s belief that there is too much to do and that we’re too important to waste much time in the unproductive state of sleep.

We even feel guilty taking a nap. A friend of mine put a poster on Facebook stating, “Daniel slept in a lion’s den. Peter slept in a prison. Jesus slept in a storm. No matter your circumstances, you can take a nap!”

It’s time for a fresh look at the value of rest and sleep! The truth of the matter is that God designed us to rest and sleep. In God’s description of His creating the universe in the book of Genesis He includes the interesting detail that at the end of the creative process He “rested” from His work. It’s not that God needed to recuperate but that He wanted to give us an example to follow.

One of the Ten Commandments is a command from God for us to take one day off each week to rest. Resting must be really important to make it into the top ten commands from God! Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work.” (Exodus 20:8-10a) Yes, we’re commanded to rest!

A personal testimony here: My father, an Iowa farmer, never worked his fields on Sunday. He had to feed and water the farm animals and milk the cows on Sunday, but He never ever worked the fields. I learned from his example. I find it very liberating to rest and take it easy after church on Sunday, even taking a nap, being guilt-free for not mowing the lawn or tackling a home improvement project. Rather than seeing it as a legalistic law I find it freeing!

I think one reason God designed us to need rest and sleep is that it’s humbling. By stopping our work or by lying down to temporarily go unconscious with a nap or a night’s sleep we’re reminding ourselves that the world can get along just fine without us, at least for a little while. It’s an opportunity to put our trust in God, in essence saying to Him, “God, I know you don’t need to slumber or sleep so I’m putting everything in your hands while I do so.”

Resting and sleeping is a way to express our faith and trust in God. It’s also a confession of our limits.

One way we can embrace the fullness of life is to find value and delight in rest and sleep! Trust Him, He will stay awake and take care of things. Sweet dreams!

“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8