Saturday, December 18, 2021

One Man's Trash

In the start-up days of my shop in Camp Verde, the trash truck driver would go out of his way to scold me weekly for an empty dumpster. Every Wednesday morning, I would hear him pull up at the side of the building, rev the hydraulics to hoist the dumpster over the truck and then bang it against the top of the cylinder stroke a couple times to make sure it's contents were not merely stuck. Next, I would hear the dumpster land with an angry thud, the truck engine drop to an idle and the driver door open and slam shut. "You should have a flag that you put out when it needs emptied and if I don't see it I won't stop," he would say with strained professionalism. "Traffic is really a pain in the butt. These Main Street idiots don't care what's backing out in front of them. They won't give it any room" I would sympathize a little and he would go on his way marginally satisfied.

These days, my business is well established and my dumpster is satisfactorily full when he comes... all be it every other Wednesday. I can sense his happiness to hear all my scrap bicycle parts clanging through the transition into his truck and my dumpster lands with careful precision in front of the designated parking block. Even the occasional overflow item at the side of the dumpster gets taken without complaint. The traffic is as bad as ever and my parking lot is still a tight maneuver for his truck but, with a legitimate purpose for his stop, he leaves with a smile and a wave if I happen to be out front at the time, as I often am.

We all hate busy work (and it's counterpart, rework), paid or not. And God himself knows having something real to accomplish even in a mundane task is a big deal! Likewise, our lives are not a mere going through the prescribed motions. The Gospel presents us with lives of great consequence, especially in how we choose to handle the mundane things. There really is stuff in the dumpster and it's meaningful to the shop owner and neighbors who use it illegally that it gets emptied. There really is an excited kid on the other side of that trashy bike their grandma just brought in for me to fix. There really is a trash truck driver who's whole morning was better than usual because a polite driver gave him plenty of room to back out this time. So, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving."

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Hazards of the Soul

To those pacified by pleasure as it dulls the mind,

To the sleeping soul ambition has left far behind.

Whom comfort ushers quietly into the night,

May pain restore your sight.

To those motivated ones who have attained,

To the racing heart that leaves the spirit sore and strained,

Whom thrills consume but leave the crushing debts to pay,

May sorrow change your way.

To those lofty ones with throngs at their command

To the power drunken fool who overplays his hand,

Whom privilege robs the taste of life and makes it bland

May weakness help you stand.

To those trained by hardship and refined by pain

To the stricken one whom sorrow calls upon by name.

Whom pride has overlooked and privilege never came.

The Most High knows the same.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Trouble from God

 "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" Job asked his wife after her advice to, "curse God and die." No doubt, she was speaking from her own extreme grief and distress after her and Job had suffered the sudden, catastrophic loss of all their livestock, servants and children. Her words came during the second wave of God-sanctioned testing that covered her husband's entire body in painful sores after he had already fallen to the ground in worship with his robe torn and head shaved in response to the first wave of trouble. And all this began not with Satan pursuing Job but rather with God directing Satan's attention to "the most blameless and upright" man on earth.

Trouble from God? It's a provocative question. We tend to read the book of Job as an account of great faith when our own lives are troubled. We also tend to land back in the mentality that trouble does not come from God. "I am angry with you and your two friends because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has", God reprimanded those who had defended his character in much the same way some do today - unless you've offended him, God is the source of good, not trouble. We may feel the need to point out that it was Satan who actually administered the trouble. Job had no such need as he spoke the truth, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised."

When Satan later set his eyes on the apostles and requested to sift them as wheat, Christ again allowed the test to happen but, knowing they would fall away, he made Peter the point man for restoring them. Shortly after his restoration by the risen Christ, what Peter had learned was shown through a prayer in response to persecution. His request was to be enabled to speak the word of God with great boldness, not to be spared the trouble of persecution. Later he spelled out that all the trials of life "have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire - may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." Likewise, Paul recognized his "messenger of Satan, to torment me" as a gift from God to perfect God's power in his life.

If we can stand to be honest about it, we base our faith on a book full of temporary trouble and evil spirits perfectly metered from God to make the most of our eternal life with him. Does your life include hardship you would rather not endure? Your high priest can sympathize. And even when his request was for the cup to be taken from him, he also acknowledged it as the Father's will, not a mere allowance to the will of the enemy. So even while we follow Christ's example to plead with the Father in our suffering, may we also follow his example to embrace our trials as useful tools in the Father's hands, not merely defects of a sinful world or even passively allowed troubles. They are his gift to perfect our faith and pave the way for our share in his perfect and eternal glory that he acquired through the same means. "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world", Christ encouraged us. So let us answer hardship as Job answered his wife. We are not those who curse God and die. Let us rather be those who praise God and live.