"And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:
But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:41-42)
You may recognize that the above Bible verses are from the account of Jesus visiting the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Martha was upset that Mary was not helping with meal preparations and household tasks, but Jesus essentially told her that sitting and listening to His teachings at that moment was the far more important thing to be doing. Jesus was not condoning laziness or irresponsibility here. Rather, He was giving an important lesson in priorities.
I want to be careful in sharing a fault of my father's here because some may interpret it as me being hostile and disrespectful to him and as not honoring him. That's not the case. I miss my father and I learned a lot from him. He was so talented and gifted. He was a pilot, a law enforcement officer, a mechanic, and very much a leader and take-charge kind of person. He had a great sense of humor and was a fabulous public speaker. My father also often had some wrong priorities in his life. He was the kind of guy that would be furious about a little scratch on the floor, or a tiny mark on the wall. One of my siblings has said that no one ever got more upset about spilled milk than he did, and that's true. A cup's spilled milk at the kitchen table would ruin his day and really set him off. One would think the end of the world had taken place! I wonder if this behavior had something to do with having lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s. His family really didn't have it that bad during that time. I'm told they were about the only family on their street that owned a car and had a telephone. Nevertheless, the care and treatment of material things meant a great deal to him.
Now, I'm not advocating that it would be great to be a slob and just dump milk and coffee and soda all over the place in one's residence! I'm not saying that breaking windows and bashing holes into walls, and damaging furniture is a good thing. But I am saying that there's got to be a balance with this kind of stuff. My father could leave you feeling that the floor or a wall or a kitchen table were much more important to him than a person was. I don't think that was his intention, but it contributed to him making me very nervous and not being particularly close to him. Honestly, what tripped this thought off recently for me is that there's a friend of mine who constantly says to me, "Don't slam the DOOR!" almost every time I open and close his car door. I want to tell him that a jury of my peers who might hypothetically watch and listen to the door closing would overwhelmingly rule that I was not slamming the door and that he is overreacting; instead I have just chosen to keep that thought to myself. But each time he's said that, I've thought of my father and his (seeming) priority about material things, and that's been painful for me.
A number of years ago, I attended a prayer and fellowship meeting for pastors at one pastor's home. The house was immaculate. No, it was far more than immaculate. It was sterile. I actually attended several pastors' prayer and fellowship meetings at that home. Each time, we were told to take our shoes off upon passing through the front door. The kitchen stove looked like it was a model stove at a department store. It looked like nothing had ever been cooked on it. The bathroom was perfectly clean. Everything was perfectly clean. It was too clean. There was not a speck of dust or dirt anywhere. One of my pastor friends who attended these meetings with me is also a professional counselor. Following one of these meetings he commented to me, "The way their house is isn't normal." He wondered if the pastor's wife had (perhaps) been the victim of a violent crime and this had led to such extreme behavior about having a perfectly sterile house. We later learned that the pastor's wife had been the victim of a violent crime some years earlier. I wondered how people from their church felt when they visited their pastor's home. I wondered if they felt like I did as a kid when I accidentally made a mark on the floor or on the wall or spilled milk at the table.
Many of you know that back in the 1980s, I was on staff at Christian Life Center church in Walpole, MA. The Senior Pastor, Dave Milley was a "stickler" about a lot of things. Something he said shortly after the church moved into their new building in mid-1980, though, may surprise you. It surprised me! The building was new and nice and big and beautiful. In one of the earliest services there, Dave Milley told the congregation that over the next few years there'd be stains on the carpets and marks on the walls and woodwork and the building would cease to be "perfect". He said that was a good thing. Coming from Dave Milley, that comment was a major surprise, but he added that it was a good thing because it would mean that people were coming to the church and people were being ministered to. The price of that would be wear and tare on the building and its contents and that was good. It was good because people and their souls are far more important than buildings.
If any of my grown children are reading this, they may be as surprised as I was when Dave made his statement all those years ago. That's because I grew up to be a guy who was a lot like my father. I, too, got very upset about spilled drinks and marks on the furniture and things like that. Now, I wasn't quite as extreme as my Dad was, but I was a lot like him. In my days of pastoring, one thing I hated was when the Sunday School teachers and childrens' ministry people had kids using paste and glitter. Oh, how I hated glitter! There'd be glitter in the hallways and glitter in the church sanctuary and even glitter in my office for months after they used it. I hated it. I thought it made the church building seem sloppy and low class. The people who ministered to the little kids thought that the impact on those little lives was far more important. I have not pastored now in five years. You know what? ... they were right. If and when I ever pastor again, I will not care how much glitter and paste residue appears on chairs and floors and other items. I really won't. And, now that I don't have my own residence, I have come to the the conclusion that if and when I do, I won't care if someone makes a mark on a wall or on furniture, or accidentally turns and breaks a lamp. I remember one time a person visiting us in our apartment in Walpole "many moons ago" sat down on our couch and one side of it collapsed. All I could keep saying is, "You broke my couch!" Sounds a bit like, "Don't slam the DOOR!" doesn't it? I wonder if Jesus would have given me a "talking to" similar to the one he gave to Martha in the Bible story I referenced above. I think so.
I know this piece could make some people upset. I'm sorry if I upset you, but this is something we all need to think about! David C. Milley was correct. People and their souls are important. That chair or piece of wallpaper or kitchen table or sofa can be replaced. They're just material. They're temporal. It's people and souls and relationships with them that are far more important.