Sunday, March 25, 2012

Broken Boards

The back door opened and Nina bounded outside, thrilled to be released into the brilliant sunshine and fresh air of another gorgeous California morning. An active German Shepherd pup, as she trotted the perimeter of the enclosed back yard, she could smell the Labrador Retriever in the yard next door, and stopped at one particular spot of the fence where the wood was rotten and breaking apart somewhat, giving her the best access to the tantalizing odors coming from the other side. She pressed her black snout hard against the barrier and breathed deep, then snorted a time or two before pressing even closer and inhaling deeply again. And suddenly, she felt the weakened wood give a little. Instinctively she moved in again, pushing a little more eagerly, the presence of the dog on the other side a magnetic force that pulled her growing frame hard against the boards between them.

Suddenly the wood gave way. With her head already through the hole, Nina was quickly able to push and wiggle the rest of her body to follow. Unfortunately what she met on the other side was not the dog she’d been dreaming of, but his owner, instead, who just happened to be coming down her back steps in time to see the intruder coming through. Quickly she hustled Nina back through the hole and blocked it somewhat before hollering to her neighbors that the barrier had been breached and they needed to bring the dog inside.

My sister owns the German Shepherd as well as a terrier of sorts named Sam, and shared the story of Nina’s Great Escape in an email in which she detailed the difficulties the broken fence now presented in their lives. The easy solution was to nail a board over the damaged section, but it was obvious that a larger scale repair job would have to be done over the weekend, weather permitting. There would be a span of several days in which the fence would be torn apart, so my sister’s family began rescheduling their days to accommodate the need to walk the dogs and take them elsewhere to run and get the exercise they require.

And so it is that many of us have fences to mend in the relationships surrounding us. The best of long-standing friendships can have a weak spot that has developed over time. When one person repeatedly pushes on that sensitive area, the other has a tendency to push back, and the result is an eventual break in the unity between them. At that point sometimes all manner of unexpected emotions come pouring through the gap, widening the break and forcing an eventual separation of two lives that once walked side-by-side in harmony.

The question then arises of what to do about it. One choice surely is to simply do nothing, to let the chips fall where they may, so they say, and leave things as they currently are. But as my sister found out, this requires a surprising amount of work in itself. Lives have to be rescheduled and habits changed to avoid confrontation with the other person, demanding time and attention that would otherwise be devoted to worthier purposes.

Too often we likewise try quick fixes in our relationships, perhaps apologizing for sharp words and offensive actions without exploring the deeper feelings which prompted the anger in the first place. Eventually the underlying issues have to be addressed or they will continue to fester unseen and erupt again somewhere further on down the road.

There are other factors to consider, as well. Mending fences can be an expensive operation. My sister weighed the price of wood and labor against the preciousness of what could be lost and found that she really had no choice - she couldn’t take the chance of her dogs getting out and being injured in some way, possibly never coming home. Similarly it may cost us something to lay down our pride and devote the time and effort necessary to make things right in our relationships. Perhaps the decision is easier when we consider the depth of friendship and the years of memories that could be tarnished or lost forever if we don’t.

The fence is finished now, the repairs complete, and the dogs are running happily in their respective yards once more. In the end it only seemed right that my sister and her neighbor split the cost of the repairs. What’s true with broken fence boards is likewise true in ruptured relationships - both sides share the blame for the break but reap the benefits of a restored one, especially when they work together to make things right.

“I urge Euodia and Syntyche to iron out their differences and make up. God doesn’t want his children holding grudges.”
(Philippians 4:2 MSG)

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Penny in His Pocket

Getting dressed for work involves more than just pulling on some clothes anymore. More important than the store uniform itself is what goes into the pants pockets. Bound by habit as well as function, I slip a cough drop, a wrapped piece of candy or two and any notes to myself (like my seemingly daily grocery list) in the left side; on the right I keep a handful of change. It’s those coins that I find I can’t do without, as they cover lack of all kinds that I encounter in an 8-hour workday. Sometimes they quiet the rumbling in a belly that needs a quick bag of chips. At other times they might buy a bagger buddy a can of pop. And then there are times that they save a customer from having to run to the parking lot and dig around the floorboard of his car for a few more cents to cover his bill. I supplement my stash daily with the change from my own transactions and the contents of the zippered coin compartment of my wallet when necessary to ensure that when I walk through the workplace doors each day, I’m fully supplied.

It’s no wonder then that preacher Randy Clark got my attention in a recent message when he asked God to make him a coin in His pocket, available for Him to spend. God likewise has work that He’s about on the earth, and His people are the tools in His shed, the weapons in His arsenal…the coins in His pocket that He uses to get it done.

When I reach into my pocket to fill a need of some kind, I pull out a mixture of coins in my hand. Pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters all come out together, and I select what’s necessary from what I find in my fingers. God simply does the same. Each of us carries a certain spiritual denomination, one that doesn’t refer to our value in God’s sight, but rather the size and kind of job we can handle, based on the giftings and talents we possess. God picks and chooses from what He has available to accomplish His goals.

The Bible says that we all are given a measure of faith, which is our starting point in our spiritual walk. It’s what we do with that faith that matters. The Parable of the Talents found in Matthew 25 tells the story of a man who entrusted his wealth to his three servants while he went away on a journey. One servant was given five portions, or talents, and used them to earn five more. The second servant put the two talents he was given to work and raised another two. But the third simply buried the one talent he was responsible for in the sand and earned nothing but his master’s scorn. His one talent was taken away and reinvested in the one who achieved the most with what he had been given.

We may start off with just a penny’s worth of faith, but we don’t have to stay that way. God reminds us that even those with faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains in the spiritual realm. He desires that we put what faith we have into action, and watch it grow from there.

The old saying, “See a penny, pick it up, and all the day you’ll have good luck” doesn’t mean much to a lot of people any more. These days most folks walk right by a copper-colored coin they see lying on the floor, figuring it isn’t worth the effort to bend and pick it up. Thankfully God doesn’t see penny-people that way. Rather He seems to take special interest in those who are beaten down by life and abandoned on the sidelines, looking past their current circumstances to the potential hidden within, aware of what could be released if only some effort was put into restoring and polishing them. He sees their purchasing power in the spiritual realm.

Maybe the difference is that when we pick up a penny, it’s still a penny. But when God picks up a life, He makes it brand new, and the possibilities before it suddenly become endless. He already has a plan for that person (Jeremiah 29:11), and soon that “coin” is burning a hole in God’s pocket, as the saying goes, so eager is He to put it to work on His purposes.

Oh, that we would truly see ourselves as God does, line up our thinking with His, and strive to become all that He knows we can be. That’s when the abundant life we‘re promised becomes a reality, and we find ourselves shouting a slightly altered version of Isaiah’s famous prayer, “Here am I, Lord! Spend me!”

“And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said, Here am I; send me!”
(Isaiah 6:8 MKJV)
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