I learned a lot at my first church down there in Sarasota, Florida: old folks — and I am one of them now — are very pragmatic, just worry about the things I can control; always do one thing at a time and do it well; I'll never live long enough to be an expert; afternoon naps are better than aerobics, my wife is smarter than I'll ever be; throw something away or give it away before I buy anything new; never tell a lie unless I have a great memory; all sermons are great if I love my congregation and visit them regularly, and it's amazing how much I learn when I shut my mouth and listen. Since most of what I write is open-ended, you may add your own thoughts. I'll bet you have some humdingers.
Harry Alber, one of the best elders our church ever had, just happened to be a journeyman mason. He could take a pile of rocks and build a home, a sanctuary, a chimney or an icon that belonged in a museum. He also happened to be a recovering alcoholic. He asked if he could start an AA program at the church, and I said that it would be a wonderful ministry. In about two years, we had one of the biggest and most attended groups in the city. I remember Harry telling me one day, "John, we visited Sarasota for at least 10 years before moving here permanently. One day, I woke up in my upside down car and decided it was time to give up drinking. The hardest part was trying to find my way around this city sober." Think about that for a tad.
We were driving to a Presbytery meeting one day when he pointed out all the brick homes he had built over the years. He wasn't bragging. He was just proud of what he had done. He pointed to one in a very nice neighborhood and said, "See that two story brick over there with the big chimney?"
"Very nice, Harry."
"Well, that guy tried to stiff me. He never paid on time. He usually tried to short me on every stage of the building and I knew he'd never pay me what he owed if he could help it."
"When I finished the chimney, I gave him the final bill. He said it was too much and tore it up in front of me. I just sat in my car and waited. It was a pretty cold day, and when he lit the logs in his new fire place, the smoke started to fill up the living room. He ran outside, saw me in my car, ran up to me and between curses told me to fix the problem. I gave him another bill and said that I would fix it when the bill was paid in full. He gave me a check and I went to the top of his roof and dropped a brick down the chimney. The fireplace began to work just fine."
Harry grinned and looked at me.
"Okay, Harry, what'd you do?"
"It's an old bricklayer's trick. I cemented a pane of glass in the chimney."
I'll never forget what Harry asked me. "John, was that a Christian thing to do?"
I don't know what you folks would have said, but here's my answer. "Harry, you are an expert mason and I believe with all my heart that you built this guy one fine home. Had he paid you for your work, you wouldn't have had to resort to the bricklayer's necessity in the first place."
Folks, Harry did not sue him or take him to court. He did not go around telling everyone how the man did his best to avoid paying his bills. Harry did not and would not build anything beneath his ability.
Deuteronomy 24:15 as well as Matthew 20:1-16 go to great lengths to teach us that we deserve a fair day's wages for a fair day's work and should receive what was promised. I'm not a philosopher, but I attempt to claim that I am a reasonable theologian. Even Paul, in Thessalonians, had a lot to say about earning a living and I believe that to say we are to be paid well for a job well done. I will not argue over a pane of glass.
In this great big complex and challenging world, it's not easy being a model man or woman and even more problematic is the fact that God basically said, "This is My world. Take care of it."
When God spoke of the world, I believe that means that we who accept His call to obedience must also accept the good as well as the bad, the easy decisions as well as the difficult decisions and the choices, and by golly, we have to choose.
Our good friend Paul struggled with choices. In Romans 7:15, he poured out his heart and admitted he wasn't the man he hoped he could be. However, he did profess, "There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!"
I believe I can say, "Don't sweat that pane of glass. Build the best you can!"
Let's just try to be the best man or best woman we can. God takes care of the rest.