Wednesday, January 18, 2012

An Unlikely Ministry

I hate my husband's car.

It is a tin can on wheels.

More specifically, it is a 1999 white Honda Civic.

It has four doors, an odometer with 117,000 miles on it, and a rattle that would dumbfound Click and Clack. Seriously. The entire car vibrates when you hit 45 miles per hour.

The heat only works when you're pressing the gas pedal, giving a whole new meaning to long stoplights in January. Both headlights just went out in the same night, so we've been driving around high-beaming everyone in the North Hills while we're trying to figure out how to change them.

These are some of the adjectives I've used recently to describe the tin can on wheels:

Jalopy. Junker. An Embarrassment.

A few nights ago, Greg refuted my descriptions. He was recounting the events of his day at the dinner table, laughing at the fact that he had to take someone that works for him along to the airport. He could tell that the kid was intrigued that his boss drove a car with windows that you have to roll down yourself and a seat that will only move back if you jerk violently on the metal bar at your feet and then push yourself backward with all your might. Greg works in an industry where cars and homes and country club memberships are the tools used to trumpet your success to the world. More often than not, he parks the tin can between a Benz and a Lexus when he pulls into the garage in the morning, so it was interesting - though not surprising - for me to hear his passionate defense of the car.

It's not a junker, he said. It's a ministry.

I considered this and then jumped in. You're right! I agreed enthusiastically. Just THINK of the kinds of cars we could be driving if we decided to keep all of our money for ourselves! I stood up with a huff and self-righteously marched my dishes to the sink - but that wasn't what Greg had meant.

I think it's good for people to see that you can be happy and content - maybe even more happy and more content than they are - driving around in a hunk of junk, Greg said. 

I thought about that for a minute or two. I thought about how I often feel when I've just visited someone's particularly elaborate home... am I the only one this happens to? I come home and suddenly my house doesn't seem quite as nice as it did when I left it a few hours earlier. I notice the dirt marks on the white trim, the spotted carpeting on the stairs, the old Craig's List coffee table that I so carefully sanded and painted last year. Suddenly, everything looks... shabby.

Now hear me on this: I do not think for one minute that it's unbiblical to live in an elaborate home or drive a fancy car. Some of the people I consider to be my strongest Christian mentors do both. But think about how flat-out refreshing it is to come across someone who actually could drive the fanciest car on the block if they wanted to, but chooses to drive their old Subaru into the ground. How about that person that still lives in the home they bought when they got married, even though they could have upgraded five times over? Maybe they're doing it because it allows them to give even more money away - and that's amazing. But could it be more than that? Perhaps... they just don't care. They're not defined by their stuff. They've figured out that the car will just get old, and the neighbor will eventually build an even nicer house than their upgrade. They've stopped trying to fill up their emptiness with stuff. I'm always so drawn to people like that. I find myself angling to get close to them in social situations because I want to know them more. I want to understand them more. I want to be more like them.

There's no heroics here. The tin can isn't parked in our driveway because we secretly have millions in the bank and want to make a statement to the neighborhood. It's parked there because it's what we can afford. We give to our church as God has directed us to, and then we feed our family and pay our mortgage, and we buy a necessity or maybe a treat, send a tiny amount to World Vision, and put a little aside for college and piano lessons. After that, what we can afford is a tin can on wheels. The real test will be the future, if and when we can afford more. What then will be our ministry? Could we be the ones a young couple wants to know more? Understand better? Be like?

Only time will tell.

"13Someone out of the crowd said, "Teacher, order my brother to give me a fair share of the family inheritance."
 14He replied, "Mister, what makes you think it's any of my business to be a judge or mediator for you?"
 15Speaking to the people, he went on, "Take care! Protect yourself against the least bit of greed. Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot."
 16-19Then he told them this story: "The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. He talked to himself: 'What can I do? My barn isn't big enough for this harvest.' Then he said, 'Here's what I'll do: I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I'll gather in all my grain and goods, and I'll say to myself, Self, you've done well! You've got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!'
 20"Just then God showed up and said, 'Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods—who gets it?'
 21"That's what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God."
Luke 12:13-18 [The Message]

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