I love the freshness that comes with the beginning of a New Year. As a creature of habit, much to the dismay of my wife and kids at times, I function best when I align myself with healthy rhythms in my life. One such rhythm is that of seeing the New Year as a season of new beginnings. It is a time to re-calibrate to those things, or shall I say ‘the thing’, that is truly most important – loving God and loving others. The following is a reflection I wrote a few months back. Perhaps you saw it, but even if so, I encourage you to read and reflect on these words with the lens of a new beginning in mind. On a personal note, as I enter into 2019 to both lead my family as well as CLDI, I am reminded of the abundance that comes through the messiness of life. I expect for this new year to be met with challenges on many fronts, but I am hopeful (and prayerful) that the Lord use this ‘mess’ for great abundance, for His glory, and our good!
It was opening day of archery season, and a beautiful day at that. Having hiked a mile or so, my friend and I sat on an exposed hillside as the sun came up to watch for game on the move below. I will confess, I am not always the most patient ‘sit and wait’ kind of hunter, so I typically multitask and have an agenda for how best to spend my time sitting. Diving into my Scripture reading that day, the 14th chapter of Proverbs was on my reading list. No telling how many times I have read this particular passage, but I can say with great certainty that on this particular morning, overlooking the best of Montana’s beauty, God spoke to me in a powerful way with this particular proverb:
“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” (v. 4, ESV)
If your concern is to have a squeaky clean manger, then don’t have oxen! But if you want “abundant crops”, you need the oxen, and needless to say, you’re going to have to shovel some serious amounts of manure! Point: you can’t experience the fruit without the mess of the ox.
Sitting on the hillside that early morning, I began to ponder this passage’s application to my own life. I absolutely love things like a clean, orderly house that is free of clutter, but at this junction of my life, Shelly and I are raising four young children, and we often have a house guest live with us. The chaos of life with a large family quickly destroys any hopes I have for order, peace, and quiet. On a recent visit from my parents, my mom was setting the table and asked if we had some more forks. Over the years of living life, hosting many different people in our home for long periods of time, and raising kids, some of our silverware has magically walked off. Where it went I have no idea! With frustration in my voice, I said, “No, unfortunately not. They have disappeared over the years.” Very casually, yet profoundly, my mom then said, “Then it is a sign of a home well lived in.”
Settling in for the ‘sit and wait, I thought back to what my mom had said and this proverb…would I really trade all those years of hosting people in our home to ensure that I had exactly all 10 of the original forks in mint condition? Absolutely not! And in thinking about the piles of shoes I wade through every day coming through my front door, the countless papers and drawings on the island, or the random socks I find throughout the house, would I really want to trade this ‘chaos’ for a peaceful and quiet home, without the liveliness of my four children? Absolutely not! God had given me a new perspective, not only for my personal life, but also for my work with CLDI and in the South Side. The reality is that laboring for abundant crops is messy business. It means that our sense of order and neatness is often thrown to the wayside as we enter into the muck of peoples’ lives. In a given week I hear of many hardships from my staff and interns…yet another tenant has gone off the deep end, entrenched in their addictions once again, and are now facing eviction; a phone call from a parent that one of our South Side youth has again tried to commit suicide by overdosing on drugs; a young woman has returned to her life on the streets (selling herself to feed her addiction) so as to numb the hole and emptiness in her heart; we read the news that one of our former job trainees (and neighbors) was killed in a knife fight; a young teenage girl is neglected with no place to formally call her home; and on and on I could go. Yet, in the midst of these hard realities, we remember that Jesus also entered into the muck of our lives. Scripture tells us that while were still sinners (enemies of God), that God demonstrated His great love for us in that Jesus died for me…and you…and all of those who will turn in faith and repentance to Him. Our very knowing Him and calling Him Lord is a miracle and a great crop indeed. In the hope we have found and experienced, we press on with messy mangers, hopeful of what our great God will do and for the abundant crops yet to come. Thank God for the many ways in which we have seen His amazing grace at work, not only in our lives, but in the lives of our neighbors and friends that we are blessed to serve. It is messy, but so also is it abundant.
*For those of you who I left wondering, I did NOT get an elk or deer that day! In fact, I missed a great opportunity at a massive buck as I was distracted in my activities! Better luck next time!