Unless the Lord Builds–or Buys–the House

barn-frontIt was 11 years ago that Penny and I decided that a certain 60-acre tract between Oak Grove and Bates City, Missouri was the place for us to put down roots for the long term. We bought the place despite a few red flags that might have (or should have) warned us away. Somehow Proverbs 3:5 and not leaning on our own understanding comes into play here, at least in hindsight. Declaring discretion the better part of valor, around five years back, we moved back into town in a house just a couple of blocks from where I was raised.

Have we done it again? A few months ago, a unique house was advertised to be sold by auction. A re-purposed barn, this structure has stood in place for over 110 years. Penny went to the open house–I was otherwise engaged–and fell in love with it. We liked the place immensely, but the projected price tag was too much for us. Eventually, we simply prayed: “If this is to be, then let it be.”

So then what happened?

  • We put in a low-ball bid just to show that we were interested. Although we were outbid, the auction didn’t meet reserve. The auction company called, suggesting that the owners were open to offers. We offered considerably less than what they had wanted, and they accepted.
  • But wait, we still own a house and cannot afford to support two houses at once. Our old house was listed on December 29, although the preparatory work had been done before Christmas. At 9:30 on the morning of December 29, people came to see it. They made an offer that evening. We countered and reached agreement during the afternoon of December 30.
  • Did I mention that our old house desperately needed paint? Have you ever tried to get an exterior painter in January? Our agreement with our buyers involved them accepting the house as-is and us giving a slight financial concession. Just not having to struggle with getting a painter was easily worth that price!
  • Although the winter of 2018-19 has been fairly challenging, the days on which we moved were, although cold, quite workable. A few days before or after would have been considerably more challenging.
  • Good friends and reliable family provided plenty of help and several invaluable vehicles. Who can expect to have a friend who owns a huge box truck?
  • We owned both houses for 11 days. Those days made me nervous. We’d already committed a huge chunk of money (and pretty much all our cash) to the new house. We had no guarantee that the sale of the old house wouldn’t flip at the last minute. On Sunday, one day before that second closing, I confessed to Penny that I felt anxious. But why worry? It went off without a hitch.

In short, everything seems to have progressed as flawlessly as we could hope. Even when we had obstacles, they were overcome in ways that suggested that God was in this process. Now our calling is to redeem the grace that has been showered on us.

Yesterday, our grandkids woke up in that house and went to church with us. I think there might have been some nerf gun wars in our huge attic before we left. In the afternoon, our daughter-in-law hosted a dozen women from her church.  Thomas and I went out to the unheated and very rough “West Wing” of the structure to consider how it could be transformed into livable space for his family. Soon, the winter weather will pass and we’ll lay out our garden, planting those seeds of potential. But then I suppose we already have begun to sprout some seeds.

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. –Psalm 127:1


Whose House Is It? (Hebrews 3:14)

We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. (Hebrews 3:14)

A few years ago, I owned a lovely Victorian house. The place had been marvelously restored, repainted, and refreshed. No one could complain about the price I paid for the joint, and I stood to make a pretty nice pile of dough when I sold it. I listed it for sale at a very reasonable price. Within a few days, I had not one but two fine offers. We negotiated and reached an agreement. Who could complain?

The only problem came when we went to closing. The closer scowled at the papers and then at me. “I see a problem here, Mr. Browning. There’s no record of you ever buying the house.”

I shrugged. “Well, the place was empty when I moved in, and nobody ever came around who seemed to own it, so…” Need I explain that the sale did not go through.

It seems that you can’t cash in on something that you don’t actually own. Who’d have thunk it?

When reading today’s verse, we might be tempted to understand it to mean that we can lose our salvation if we don’t hold on “to the very end.” But notice the verb tense. We “have come” (now) to share in Christ. It doesn’t say that we “will have come” (at the very end).

Some of us might appear to belong to Christ today, just as I appeared to own that house. It wasn’t as if I actually owned that house until my fraud came to light. I never owned the house. The Christian-in-appearance-only will be found out at some point. It might be next week when adversity washes aside the pretense of belief. It might be next year, when some squabble in the home causes true colors to shine forth. Perhaps the truth will not come out until “closing.”

My story of the lovely house is a fiction, but each of us has a genuine story about ownership by Christ. Today is the day for each of us to be sure he has a clear title to our souls.

House Guest or Master (Hebrews 3:6)

But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory. (Hebrews 3:6)

Dylan came visiting a couple of weeks back. A friend of Emily and Christian, Dylan comes from Pittsburgh, where he wants to begin a community for those in need of help. Far more tattooed than me, far more politically liberal than me, Dylan still brought a quality that I appreciated. He knew how to be a guest in my home.

Upon arriving, he announced that he’d be happy to do any work that we needed done. Penny and I assumed that he was simply being nice. When he repeated the offer, we determined to use his willingness. He ran a bead of silicone on our barn roof, a place that I hate to go, and hung a bat house. There may have been more, but in those two actions he willingly did more than most people who live here. Besides that, he cleaned up after himself and pitched in with the dishes and such.

While Dylan and I might clash over politics and the answers to social problems, I think we agree on the need to love people and take care of each other. When we agree on such matters, the other will resolve itself in time. Perhaps I am assuming too much about this guy, but I do believe you can tell a great deal about a person from what sort of house guest they prove to be.

Jesus, I’m convinced, was an outstanding house guest. I’m not sure what that meant in A.D. 33, but I rather expect he walked away from the home of Mary and Martha without them shaking their heads and wondering where he’d gotten his manners. He proved faithful as a house guest and as the master of the house, the church. Our call, I would suggest, in imitation of Christ, is to prove ourselves faithful over the house we find ourselves occupying. Perhaps that means we should be good house guests. Perhaps we should be good house owners. We might submit ourselves to someone else or exercise leadership over others. The tasks differ, but the call is the same.

I pray that Dylan will get that community started. I’m convinced he’ll prove a good steward over it. After all, I’ve seen some of his work.

Home Maintenance–1 John 4:20-21

If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.–1 John 4:20-21

Today, I enjoyed a harrowing experience. Back on Monday, I made a list of things I needed to accomplish in the week to come. Since today is Friday, I’m down to finishing off all those matters that I had put off ’til tomorrow. Two of them stood out. “Get the ladder” and “Clean out gutter.”
Most people do not look forward to cleaning out gutters, but my gutter, on the back of the house, is particularly unpleasant. A complete two stories up, this stretch of gutter resists all attempts by sane people to reach it. I can’t get to it from the deck. There’s no window access. I considered getting onto the roof from the front and crawling over the top, but I’m too big a chicken for that. Instead, I borrowed my mother’s extension ladder, a wobbling, wiggling affair, and clambered up to a nervous look over the gutter’s edge.
They say that “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” In the case of gutters, I think that absence makes the heart ignore. I’ve known that this particular stretch of our gutters was messed up for a couple of years, but with its rather out-of-the-way location, I could easily ignore it. I can’t ignore my grass when it gets too tall but I can ignore the miniature wilderness area between our house and the “vampires” next door. What you don’t see very often is easy to block out.
As he continues to harp on the necessity of loving our brothers, John seems determined to demolish all of our pretenses, our illusions of truly loving God when we don’t. Think about it. When you see some able-bodied person’s yard a total mess, don’t you expect that the less obvious matters of home maintenance, matters like gutters, might not be getting proper attention. So it is with our love for God. If we can’t love the people right in front of us, who are we fooling when we say we love God? We’re not fooling God. Perhaps we’re just fooling ourselves.

Janie’s House–1 John 4:9

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. –1 John 4:9

Janie does not love her house. This house isn’t the one where she lives. I can’t speak about her love (or lack thereof) for that place, but her previous house, the one down the street from our house, the one that she apparently owns jointly with her ex-husband, shows a definite lack of love.

This lack of love is clear. The deck nearly fell off of it before some workmen tore the thing down. Janie has allowed a family of raccoons to take up residence, apparently gaining access through a hole in the eaves. They might also use the broken-out panel of the garage door or the recently kicked-in back door. I’m not entirely sure, but I have it on good authority that the ‘coons have moved in and left their evidence all over the place.

To her credit, Janie did get the grass mowed before being issued a ticket by the city. It had only reached mid-calf when her workers did their duty. The place is finally on the market, a move that brought great rejoicing onto our street. Hopefully somebody will pay a good thirty or forty bucks for the house and relieve us of our long neighborhood nightmare.

Love, whether it be for a house or a person, typically manifests itself in some tangible way. Although we humans can occasionally do apparently loving things for a reason other than love and apparently unloving actions despite genuine love, actual love will sooner or later be accompanied by actual loving actions.

Today’s verse talks about God’s ultimate act of love, one that far surpasses any that you or I might ever muster. But I really don’t want to focus on that act. Instead, I’d like to look at the way that I demonstrate love and encourage you to look at your acts of love as well. How do I show my love for God? My wife? My children? My church and my community? Hopefully I do a better job than Janie when it comes to maintaining the house of love.