Just Getting By With a Busted Mailbox

Mailbox with cows

It was the middle of the night when some scoundrel swerved off the dirt road and flattened our mailbox.  It would have been better if all had been demolished, but it happened to be salvageable. I stood it up and tamped the dirt back around it. A couple of pieces of 2×2 nailed between the post and the landscape timbers around it made suitable braces. The contraption worked but had a slight forward lean and twisted to the left and looked like a busted post held up by two sticks.

“New post and mailbox” went on the to-do list that day. My wife, Sharon, and I thought maybe it was time for a change – perhaps, a different style. After several tries to find something different, we gave up and decided on a mailbox identical to the one we had, and a post only slightly different from the old one.

“Put up mailbox” went on the to-do list that day. But everyone knows you can’t rush out and just do it. You must think and plan, consider the weather, decide to paint or stain the post, etc. etc. And, with a mailbox, you need to make sure you have the time to complete the installation without being interrupted (after all, the mail comes every day except Sunday, so you must have a place for it at delivery time.) So, the mailbox and post sat under the carport where I laid it when I brought it home from Lowes. After that, anytime I got in or out of the truck, I had to step around the post and mailbox.

I’m not sure why, but one Saturday morning I took down the old mailbox and began the installation. The post was standing, and the mailbox labeled and attached when the mail carrier drove up. I asked her if the height met the regulations, and she said it was great. I tamped the post in and stained it, and the task was complete.

And, it only took me two years.

The problem was the old mailbox worked in its catawampus condition. It was ugly, and the door might flop open if you didn’t close it just right, but it held mail just fine. The alert flag was broken off so there was no way to let the mail carrier know we had mail to go. As I said above, it would have been better if it had been a total loss. Then, I would have had to get a new one and install it quickly. But we could get by with the old one and did, for two years.

Just getting by can become quite comfortable. The knowledge of something being out of kilter becomes blurred or filtered out of our vision. The thoughts of “I need to fix that” come farther apart and last shorter and shorter times, until the response becomes “Well, it’s not really that bad. I can get by with it.” And, we do just that – get by with it.

The physical things in our lives, such as catawampus mailboxes, should be fixed. But it often happens the top of our to-do list should come on the spiritual side. “Just getting by” in that area could mean we’re saying we obey the commandment to not murder anyone. But, as Jesus would respond “That’s good, but have you been angry with your brother or insulted your sister? If you have, don’t speak too quickly of your obedience.” (see Matthew 5:21-22)

Or, as the Apostle Paul wrote in 1st Corinthians 13, our faith, knowledge and charity might appear to be commendable, but we are just getting by if we aren’t acting with love.

Jesus, in Matthew 23, berated the Scribes and Pharisees for just getting by with tithing of their herbs and spices, while neglecting more important matters like mercy. I picture them proudly going to the Temple with their pouch containing an ounce of mint and five grams of cumin, while stepping around the blind beggar on the steps outside. “Get out of my way! I have something important to do!”

As I said, just getting by can become quite comfortable. In some areas, such as mailboxes, it may not be significant. But, if we discover we are just getting by concerning our walk with God, it’s time to stop “stepping around the post and mailbox on the carport” and address it.

It’s possible that may be easy to do, but usually it won’t be comfortable, and it won’t be instantaneous. It may take two days, or two years, or a lifetime of continuous work, but thankfully we don’t have to do it alone (because we can’t).

“Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” Isaiah 41:10

Push People, Around Here?

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At our boss’s staff meeting years ago, I suggested we give an employee’s son a job for the summer. Everyone thought it was a good idea – everyone except the manager of the department I proposed the young man work in. That manager made it clear he didn’t like me getting into his business. One of the others around the table spoke up and said he could find something good for the student to do, so we moved on.

After the meeting, the aggravated manager told me he thought I was “always pushing people around, here.” (note where the comma is.) Since, at an electric utility, system reliability (my job then) involves everybody, I replied I thought it was part of my job to “push people, around here.” (note comma location change.) He obviously couldn’t see where my verbal comma was placed, so he thought I agreed that I pushed people around and I thought it was my job to push ‘em around whenever I wanted. So, we parted and went back to our offices.

I thought of that exchange the other day when I read Hebrews 10:24 “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:” (KJV.) Other translations use “stir up” or “stimulate” instead of “provoke.” So, I’m thinking that “push” would work just as well. I could go back and tell that manager I was following the Bible when I pushed him to do a good work and hire the employee’s son, couldn’t I?

Of course, I couldn’t. I neglected the key phrase in the verse – “let us consider one another.”  Those years ago if I had considered the other manager and asked him what he thought of the idea before I sprang it on him in a meeting with our boss, he probably would have agreed to give it a try or given me a reason why it would be difficult to make it work. Then, if necessary, we could have worked on the difficulties together.

Brother Emerson Proctor once said: “In our Christian walk, if we’re not moving forward, we will begin to move backward. There is no standing still” I find it can be easy at times, after a bit of discouragement, or fatigue, or laziness, etc. to drift backward from acting in love and doing good works.

At those times, we should trust God, pray, and follow the Holy Spirit to turn us around. But, do you know what else helps a lot? A loving push from a Brother or Sister. The push may be just from their example of faithfulness, or a word of encouragement and thanks. But it can also be a stern warning to avoid something or a strong encouragement to do something (yes, those can be loving, too.) (See Col 3:16, 1 Th 5:11, Heb 3:13, and other “one another” verses)

In a church, we need others to push us and we need to push others for the Body of Christ to be what it’s called to be. As we consider one another, the difficult part is figuring out the best way to push them, around here. (Yes, the comma placement is critical.) The “how to” varies from person to person, and from situation to situation, but it always has its foundation in what Jesus told us: “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (John 13:34)

Black Widow Bite

black-widow-spiders_thumb.ngsversion.1482872403820.adapt.1900.1My wife, Sharon, is the only person I know who has been bitten by a black widow spider. One day she took her sweater from the coat rack, put it on and felt a sharp sting on her arm. She smashed her hand on the stinging spot, shook her sleeve and the flattened spider fell out. The telltale red hourglass-shaped marking on its shiny black body confirmed what it was. Sharon sealed her attacker in a plastic bag and took it with her as she drove to the hospital.
Everyone at the emergency room was excited because no one had ever seen, much less treated, anyone with a black widow bite. It seemed to Sharon the entire hospital staff stopped by to inspect the spider and the bite marks on her arm.
I was excited too when summoned from an out of town meeting to take a phone call. Sharon told the story and assured me the doctor said everything was okay. The anti-venom was on its way from Atlanta and would be at the hospital in a few hours. Most importantly, she had no extreme symptoms. I trusted her assurances, but it was still a long trip home to see for myself.
The doctor administered the anti-venom when it arrived that evening. Sharon spent the night in the hospital for observation and was released the next morning. Thankfully, the worst effects of the bite were the five days of mental fog she endured from the prescribed mega-doses of antihistamines.
“How did a black widow spider get in her sweater?” I claim the dubious honor as the agent of that. It was winter and we were using the fireplace. At times, I brought in pieces of wood and stacked them on the floor next to the wall. If you picture the wood piled on the floor next to the wall, and move your gaze up, you come to…the coat rack. Apparently, the spider hitchhiked inside on a piece of wood, crawled up the wall looking for a dark hiding place and chose Sharon’s sweater sleeve.
Like most people, it wasn’t our practice to bring poisonous spiders into our house. However, the one that got Sharon was sneaky – we didn’t notice it because it was hiding in something useful that we often brought inside.
Spiders aren’t the only sneaky things we need to watch for. Every day we bring useful things into our homes through television, books, and the internet. These can help us learn and grow, make us think, or simply entertain us. Most importantly, these media are powerful tools that can help us as we seek to be closer to God.
But there is a negative side to the words and images they contain. Those that are blatantly evil are more easily avoided, but we might miss the sneaky ones unless we’re diligent. Subtle messages can hide among the action, information and laughter.
A scene can have a funny line, but the action may portray sex outside of marriage as not only acceptable but expected. Scripture can be taken out of context or given a slight twist to make a misleading point. Tolerance of sin (sin, as defined by God) may be constantly presented as a greater virtue than living by Biblically based standards.
As subtle messages like this sneak into our mind, they can eventually harden our heart to what is truth. Thus, we should constantly watch for them and as Proverbs 4:23 says: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” ESV
Sharon and I don’t have poisonous spiders sneaking into our coats or sweaters anymore because I carefully examine all the wood before I bring it in. Perhaps that’s the process we should follow with all things we bring into our homes.

Get Back on the Horse?

Daniel on a pony

He was a pony working at my friend’s birthday party. I was a five year-old kid sitting on his back. Something spooked him, and off he went with the pony version of a bucking bronco. Pony version or not, it still sent me flying and put me on the ground with a thud. I cried from the terror but, thankfully, wasn’t hurt.

My father rushed over, picked me up and made sure I was OK. After a few minutes, he asked if I  wanted to give it another try. I, in effect, said “let me think about that a minute – No!”

The old adage is that if you fall off a horse, get back on quickly or you never will. I guess that’s correct  because I ignored that advice and have never gotten back on a horse. At this point, I don’t have plans to.

The other time I got personal with (but not on) one was back when my cousins kept a horse near their home. They hadn’t ridden him for a while, so he had reverted into “wild” mode. We were trying to get him back in a pen. My older cousin put me in position and told me to stay right there no matter what.

As the other cousins maneuvered around behind the horse, he took off right at me. I didn’t see any hesitation in the thousand-pound animal running my way, so I didn’t hesitate to jump out of his way. My cousin bawled me out good for not holding my ground. I appropriately hung my head in shame, while thinking “I’m sorry, but I just didn’t feel that getting your horse back in the pen was worth dying for.”

It’s not that I don’t think horses are magnificent creatures. Sharon and I once spent a memorable day touring horse farms around Lexington, Kentucky. Seeing them run and play, hearing the stories, and watching videos of the exciting come-from-behind victories of the beautiful horse standing in the stall next to us didn’t make us experts. But, it did get me to the point that I can get goosebumps watching a race just from knowing a bit about what it means to the horse. (There is no cruelty there – they live to run!)

Do I regret not getting back on that pony sixty years ago? Not really. My life has been so full of blessings and opportunities from the Lord that I can’t begin to remember them all. I don’t know how I would have worked riding horses into the mix. And, at this point, I don’t think I was supposed to.

All of that can be like the Christian life. There will be times we’ll try things in service to God and people, and we’ll get “bucked off”. We remind ourselves we can’t, and aren’t meant to, do everything. But, we also have to take more consideration than a five year old boy deciding not to get back on the pony. It could be a situation where God expects us to get back on in order to be blessed and not have regrets later on.
Galatians 6:9—”Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

That Little Warning “Bell”

odometer reading 1

My twenty-year-old Ford Ranger’s odometer reads over 471,000 miles. As would be expected, there are several things that aren’t quite “showroom floor” functional. The gear indicator on the steering column no longer matches up correctly, so if you position the pointer to “N” and plan to sit still, don’t be surprised if you start moving backwards.

The cover to the front seat console is missing. Someone threw a brick through the passenger window to look for stealable stuff years ago in an Atlanta Hotel parking lot. As they searched, instead of pushing the button and easily opening the console cover, they felt it necessary to just rip it off.

The “check engine” light came on last year and the problem was a malfunctioning emissions valve in the gas tank filler tube. Weighing the several hundred dollars it would cost to replace it versus the mechanic’s statement of “it won’t cause any problems,” it was an easy decision to leave it alone.

While the malfunctioning valve hasn’t caused problems, it does make an interesting sound. Now and then, when the engine is idling, a snuffly “whaaamff” sound comes from inside the filler tube. I can’t describe the sound exactly, but it reminds me of what a trumpeting heffalump, from the Winnie the Pooh stories, might sound like.

While the heffalump trumpet is neat, the truck has another sound that still functions, and I’ve  given a heartfelt “Thank You!” for it many times. It’s that little bell that dings when I open the door and have left the lights on. It’s reminder that I need to “think about what I’m doing” sure has saved me much trouble through the years. I don’t believe I’ve ever ignored it.

Reminds me of the warning the Holy Spirit gives us when we’re about to say or do something wrong and should really stop and think. I wish I could say I’ve never ignored that “bell”, but I can say when I have paid attention, it’s saved me much trouble through many years and miles. Much more than twenty years and 471,000 miles. That’s a lot to be thankful for.

Quench not the Spirit” 1 Thessalonians 5:19

 

 

God’s Providence – If we notice, we see it

In the last several weeks, we’ve heard sermons about the providence of God. This article is too short  to even comment on that broad and deep subject. But, I will mention a few things I’ve thought about lately.

In the 1960’s I lived in Bel Air Estates subdivision when it was “outside” Statesboro. Georgia. Highway 80 out there was a two-lane blacktop, and most of the roads in the subdivision were dirt. There was a new house   being built down the street from where I lived, so my cousin, Lewis, and I went exploring.

While we were inside the half-built house, a car drove up so we scrambled into the attic and hid. The family building the house was checking out the progress. There was a mother, a father, a son, and a daughter. They didn’t discover us, so, after they left, we climbed down and laughed our way back to my house.

The daughter’s name was Sharon. Our 45th wedding anniversary will be July 20th.

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Mrs. Bice, the guidance counselor at Statesboro High, sent a note asking me to come to her office. When there, she asked me what I planned to do after high school. I said I guessed I would stay at home,      attend Georgia Southern, and figure out what courses to take.

She told me she thought that would be a mistake, and that I should go to Georgia Tech. I apparently had done well enough on the math part of the SAT that her advice was to take advantage of that. So, I did, and became an engineer, which is now clear to me, and Sharon, that it was my calling for a profession.

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When our son Daniel was 4, Sharon and I decided to move from Savannah to either a small town or to the “country.” We found a wonderful renovated 100 year old house in Oliver and signed a contract contingent on selling our house in Savannah. We weren’t able to sell in time, so that fell through. We continued the    process and were out exploring one day and I said I’d show her a friend’s place where I had been dove      hunting. As we drove down the dirt road, Sharon noticed an empty house. We stopped and sat there looking and talking and my friend happened to drive by and I waved him down. He took us down the road to meet the brother of the house’s owner. We’ve lived in that house in southeastern Bulloch County over thirty years now.

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Nearly twenty-five years ago, Daniel’s friend, Garrett, invited us to go to church with them and we  accepted. And now, those many years later, I’m sitting here writing an article for that church’s newsletter.


“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” 
Proverbs 16:9

 

The Towers Crossed, It’s a New Year, And God is In His Heaven

Radio Tower

If you’ve driven Interstate 16 in Georgia between Savannah and Macon (on the way to Atlanta), you know the signs of civilization are sparse in some sections. You should have seen it forty plus years ago. Back then, it was so sparse you had to check your gauge before heading out because the gas stations were nearly non-existent.

Back then, I attended Georgia Tech in Atlanta. I drove the highway most Sunday nights because I went home every weekend I could, in order to see my future wife, Sharon. (We had already decided she was my future wife and me her future husband, we just hadn’t told anyone.) Sunday night was the sad time of the weekend, when I left her and headed back to Atlanta.

It was a lonesome drive and I spent much of the time trying to find decent radio stations to listen to for a few minutes before they faded away. But, as I neared Macon, I could always pick up WMAC—a good radio station with a strong signal that stayed with me for about an hour.

Also, as I neared Macon, (Mile Marker 9 on I-16 , measured from Macon) there were two radio towers off to the left. I watched each time, and near the spot where I passed the mile marker, the towers lined up and looked like one tower for a split second. As I continued, they would start to visually separate, and then over a hill and around a bend they were out of sight.

Although I never measured it, I took the point where they looked like one tower as the middle point of the journey. On the Savannah side I was leaving Sharon, and on the Macon side I was going to school. My thoughts would go to what paper was due or which test was coming up. But, of course, Sharon and the big picture of the two of us eventually being together remained uppermost in my mind.

It’s a new year. At midnight, New Year’s Eve, two towers in our personal journey appeared to be one for a split second, but they’re already farther apart and will continue to separate. We may or may not feel we are leaving something behind, but, now we should focus on what we need to do as we go forward. And, of course, the Lord and the big picture of us eventually being together with Him in Heaven should remain uppermost in our mind.

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” Revelation 21:4