Just Getting By With a Busted Mailbox

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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)

Captain Ahab, Khan and Diotrephes

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I thought of the novel Moby Dick today. In case you forgot – Moby Dick, the great white whale, bit off Captain Ahab’s leg, and Ahab spent the rest of his life in hatred, peg legging around his ship as he sailed the ocean chasing the whale. The most memorable lines from the book were the epithet that Ahab screamed at Moby Dick as they battled to the death (or at least Ahab’s death).
I think it was memorable, also, because those same words were what Khan cursed at his longtime nemesis, Captain Kirk, in the final battle of the movie Star Trek II– the Wrath of Khan, as Kahn set off the Genesis machine to destroy both of their spaceships. (Captain Kirk and the Enterprise survived of course)
Ahab and Khan said: “To the last, I grapple with thee. From hell’s heart I stab at thee. For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee.”
What a terrible way to spend and end a life.
Alistair Begg is preaching a sermon series called “Useful to the Master.” He was preaching from 3rd John and mentioned Diotrephes, who the Apostle John describes as a malicious malcontent. Then John mentions Demetrius as having a good testimony from everyone. Alistair Begg said Demetrius, unlike Diotrephes, was useful to the Master. And then said, to the effect, “wouldn’t that be a great testimony to be able to have on your gravestone – “He (or She) was useful to the Master.”
So, I thought of the end of life, and with the description of Diotrephes, Ahab’s and Khan’s final words came to mind. I thought of, instead of hatred, ending life like Demetrius, having been useful to the Master.
So rather than ending so pitifully with such hateful words, like Ahab and Khan, may we work every day to be useful to the Master and may the Lord bless us to be able to say “To the last, I have fought the good fight. From Heaven’s doors, I behold Your glory. For love’s sake, with my last breath on earth, I will praise thee, my Lord and Savior.”

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.

The Cricket in the Bushes

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On a Columbo TV show the other day, a car drove by in a night scene. The camera was in the edge of the woods so we (the viewers) were, in effect, standing in the bushes as we watched. The car was too far away to hear the motor, but you could hear one of the cast members making noises in the bushes. The sound of a cricket’s chirps rang out, trying to convince the viewers they really were outside at night.

I’m sure he wasn’t listed in the credits, but he was probably the main cricket cast member for Columbo. Anytime there was a nighttime chirping part to fill, I imagine the sound effects editor pulled out the “cricket #1” tape and over-dubbed it on the soundtrack. Perfection every time. Never had to do a re-take.

I wondered if this cricket was featured in other soundtracks. Had I heard him before but didn’t         recognize him? Maybe he was a mega-star among crickets, and recordings of his chirp were shared among the studios and his “voice” heard in hundreds of shows and movies. Or was he even an international star – you wouldn’t need subtitles for that, because they all seem to speak the same in any language. (Actually, not speaking, of course, but rubbing their wings together.)

I don’t know the answer to the cricket’s stardom status. It’s likely he’s just another “extra” that remains unknown. Like the extras I point out to my wife, Sharon, now and then. I’ll pause the TV, rewind a bit, start it again and excitedly say “See me? See me? There I am, over the star’s left shoulder!” as someone walks through the background of the scene. Only him (or her) and their family has a clue who they really are.

I once read extras are there to enhance the ambience (the mood or character) of the scene – to make it more enjoyable. Most of us are extras in the sense we remain unknown to most folks. We may be heard and not seen, like the cricket, or seen and not heard like the person in the background of the TV scene. Now and then, we may be seen and heard for a few minutes as we pass through. And, in all those moments of  being extras, our job is to enhance the mood or character of the scene and make it more enjoyable to those involved.

Jesus gave us instructions to enhance the ambience of any scene we’re a part of when He said “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13) and “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). Then, He made it clear that we are the extras, and the glory goes to where it truly belongs:

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

 

Joseph and Our Hard Times

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Last week my Bible reading included Genesis chapters 39 and 40. Joseph’s brothers had sold him to a caravan of travelling merchants, and he ended up in Egypt as a slave to Potiphar, an official in Pharaoh’s court. Potiphar’s wife “cast her eyes” on Joseph and tried to seduce him.    Joseph refused her over and over but one day she caught him alone in the house and grabbed him. He pulled away and ran but she held onto his coat and he left it behind. Potiphar’s wife yelled out and lied that he had tried to assault her. The result was that Joseph ended up in prison even though not guilty.

After two years, Joseph was released from prison because God enabled him to interpret  Pharaoh’s dream about seven good years and seven years of famine that were coming. Joseph told what the dream meant and also gave a plan to deal with the famine. The plan pleased Pharaoh and his advisors, and Pharaoh made Joseph second in command because it was obvious to him that     Joseph was wise because God was with him.

About that time in the chapter, my brain began wondering about a possible scenario. Say, two or three months after Joseph became second in command, he called his administrative assistant. “Here, Hapusenaram, take this note over to Mrs. Potiphar. Tell her to come to Pharaoh’s palace, where I’m second in command, by the way. I’d like to talk with her a few minutes.”

Wouldn’t that get her excited about what Joseph might do and say? I have a hint of what I might do and say in that situation and it might not be nice (We can deduce that because my mind wandered in this direction in the first place). But I also think we can deduce what Joseph would say based on what he later told his brothers about being sold by them: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

Those words can easily roll off our tongue, but it takes a work of the Holy Spirit and much work by us to have them come from our heart. So, we pray and work against our wandering mind so that we can mean it when we say “God is good—all the time!” – no matter what situation we’re in.

And in the End……..

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We went through a course at work many years ago on Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the habits was: “Begin with the end in mind.” In the postscript, beyond the business aspect, of his book, he explained the life aspect rather starkly. What do you want people saying about you at your funeral? Figure that out and live toward it.

Along those same lines of thought, my Uncle Ivy once told me he had spent a night in his recliner praying and meditating while considering much that same question—what kind of man did he want to be? He concluded that he wanted folks to think of him and say, “Ivy Spivey is always willing to help in any way he can.” (And he always was.)

In another course at work we were required to develop a personal mission statement. I didn’t think a lot about it and just took the Boy Scout Oath as mine. That is a great statement and living by it is certainly a good “mission.”

But, through the years I’ve thought more about my life’s mission, as Steven Covey suggested and as Uncle Ivy did. My latest rendition is:

  1. The only things that really matter in life are God and other people – so live like it. (You may recognize this is a paraphrase of the two great commandments Jesus gave – Love the Lord, and Love your neighbor. I was thankful when I realized that.)
  2. Do the right things – for the right reasons. (It’s obvious The Bible tells us to do the right things and not do the wrong things. But 1st Corinthians chapter 13 (“the love chapter”) makes it clear that without the right motivation, particularly love, doing the right thing means nothing. See also the Sermon on the Mount and what I call the “woe” chapter—Matthew chapter 23)
  3. Pay Attention (If we don’t, we’ll miss opportunities to do the first two. Isaiah chapter 42 mentions looking but not seeing and listening but not hearing.)

I’m not writing those points here because I’m always successful in following them – The older I get, the more I realize how pitiful my results often are. And, I’m not saying you should take them as yours. I’m just suggesting as we go into this New Year, along with making resolutions like eating healthier and exercising, which are still good resolutions, we also spend time in prayer and meditation and, as Jesus said, consider the “weightier matters of…justice, mercy and faithfulness.”  (Matthew 23:23)
Micah 6:8  “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”