Monday, February 4, 2013

The Stone House Parable

In my running around today, I happened to drive past a beautiful stone house that I've admired for some time. It's not along my daily route so its been awhile since I've seen it. However, today I found myself driving by and smiling - not because of its beauty, but because of the truth that God reminded me of in seeing it.

This house is close to the community I grew up in and for decades I would go past it on my way to or from someplace. A very long time ago, when the land around it was still untouched - not surrounded by an entire neighborhood like it is now, I first noticed it when the owner tore off the siding and exposed the white weather-treated wall board underneath. And then something happened. Or more accurately, nothing happened. For the the next two decades, it remained undressed. As the years went by, I wondered what had happened. Did the owner suddenly not have enough money to finish replacing the siding? Maybe the owner went bankrupt and couldn't afford to finish the job. I often expected to see a "for sale" sign spring up in the front yard and when new owners took over, they would replace the siding. That horrible white wall board with the manufacturer's named stamped all over it was an incredible eyesore and often I would pass by and wonder indigently, "When was someone going to fix it?"

It had been sitting with its walls exposed for so long, I hadn't even noticed it anymore when one day I was driving by and there I saw the most beautiful deck extending from the back where there had been none, and the white wall board was dressed in beautiful large gray stone (the kind I always wanted on my home) and new decorative shutters and dark window boxes that were stunning against the gray stone dressed the front windows. For the better part of that first year, I would slow down as I drove past to admire the beauty of the home.

Today as I drove past, I was reminded of Jesus' words of warning to those who would follow him:

One day when large groups of people were walking along with him, Jesus turned and told them, “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple.
“Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn’t finish.’
“Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can’t, won’t he send an emissary and work out a truce?
“Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple. (Luke 14:25-33, The Message)

 I feel I can say with certainty that the homeowner didn't tear off the old siding without making sure he had the ability to finish the job. For many years, I wondered why he didn't just find the cheapest siding he could and finish the job as quickly as possible. I didn't understand what he was waiting for. Now, as I admire the beauty of the finished dream, I get it. I don't know what happened to delay the project for twenty years. Perhaps there was an unexpected debilitating disease that consumed their lives for so long. Maybe, his contractor swindled him leaving him without a finished home and his money, or perhaps the contractor went bankrupt himself. Maybe the owner was a saintly man beyond my comprehension and gave the money he was going to use to someone his heart felt was in more and urgent need. I don't know what unexpected happening caused the delay. But this homeowner had a dream, a vision for his home and kept his eyes on that prize through all the years. And now every time he pulls into his driveway, he can smile knowing he didn't give in and throw on a siding that he would regret later. Every time he sits out on his deck in the cool summer evening, he can smile with satisfaction.

So what is the great spiritual truth I spoke about in the first paragraph? When choosing to follow Jesus, we are wise to "count the cost" as Jesus relates in Luke, to consider exactly what that decision will require of us for the rest of our lives. But here is the conundrum. No one can really know the cost of following Jesus until they do. You can't know what you will be asked to give up, to do, to be until it happens. No one can see the future except God and even if we could, we couldn't understand it in the way we will when it happens because we are not the people now we will be when we get to that future time. All we can do is make the decision to follow Christ fully examining the heart and mind and soul we have now and when the unexpected falls upon us...keep our eyes on the destination - on Christ. If we give in and accept a lesser, easier way, we will regret it in the end. If through the struggles of the unexpected, we keep our eyes on Jesus and our commitment to follow him, then when we are in the loving arms of Jesus, we will look back upon the years of struggle and life, and celebrate with joy - we will experience the holy contentment and satisfaction of the good and faithful servant. That is the truth I was reminded of today as I admired that little stone house.

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