Maybe We’re Responsible for Too Much

Figuring out what matters matter

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Obligations

I’m on the board for my local homeowners’ association (HOA).  It’s not at the top of my list when it comes to ways in which I identify but I’m not ashamed of it either.  It just is what it is.  I joined because Joe, the board president, is my neighbor.  About a year ago he came to my house and asked if I’d be willing to fill a seat.  When I asked him what the role required, he said it basically meant checking my email periodically and voting on some decisions, to which I agreed.

Joe does the vast majority of the work that needs to be done in order to fulfill the HOA’s commitment to homeowners to ensure an environment that is both desirable to live in and desirable to own an asset within.  That work includes covenant enforcement, community communication, and accounting/bookkeeping.

I asked Joe to come by today because I wanted a better understanding of what’s required of the HOA.  I wanted to to know what would need to be done if Joe got hit by a bus, and more so, I wanted to alleviate some of the pressure on Joe’s shoulders, despite the limited room I have in my life to take on new things.

Joe was kind enough to explain to me how we do our accounting; how we receive payments, pay vendors, reconcile accounts, assess late fees, maintain receipts, etc.  There were certainly moments when my eyes glazed over and my mind wandered to less demanding places, but for the most part I kept with him.  I’ve worked in accounting in the past and used personal budgeting software for most of my adult life, so I felt I had an advantage, though I can definitely sympathize with those would say they simply zone out completely when reviewing things like cash flow reports or an income/expense review.

My takeaway: there’s more to it than I thought.  I assume most homeowners are similar to myself in that they pay their monthly dues and leave it at that.  We assume it’s not that complicated.  You, oh evil HOA, take my money, leave me alone, and shovel the sidewalks.  Make sure the community grass gets mowed and send me a letter that I’ll burn when I get lazy and don’t pull in my trash cans.

The truth is that there’s a quite a bit that goes on behind the scenes in order to make the ship run smoothly.  Suffice to say though that Joe’s volunteer service to our community is drastically underappreciated.

Stepping Back a Few Steps

This got me thinking,  not about expressing appreciation for Joe, though I should think about that, but rather about responsibilities, and how many responsibilities the typical full-time working, tax-paying, Facebook-updating American man or woman tries to maintain on a daily basis.

I don’t have a very complex life, I think.  My friend, Matt, has a lot of responsibilities.  He has a wife, a full-time job, three kids, church-type responsibilities, community responsibilities, extended family responsibilities, and probably some other things going on while I, by comparison, have two dogs and a lawn I neglect.  And a broken marriage.

Like Matt and many American men though, I also have a home, bills, an aging body, complicated relationships, desires, dreams, a faith, friends, family, bills, dirty floors, a cluttered garage, neighbors, unread books, social media accounts, a blog, unfinished projects, appointments, trash cans, a high-mileage vehicle, bills, an unchanged air filter, an empty fridge, a seat at church, laundry, dirty dishes, unwritten books, ungiven gifts, unmade money, unassigned time, an ever-dying phone, unused potential, an underused gym membership, and overused XBox Live subscription, undeveloped political opinions, unadopted children, unprayed prayers, unused vitamins, unstretched muscles, bills, and a seemingly ever-increasing list of other societal demands and expectations that I sometimes–no, oftentimes–choose to ignore rather than wrangle.  Because it’s a lot, and I’m tired.  Or at least that’s what I say to justify my choice to check out.

I don’t care about a lot of this stuff.  I mean, I know I should care, and I do, sort of.  I care about my Mom and Dad, and my salvation, and the salvation of those I love, and I want my desires to be God’s desires.  I want to read my Bible, and I want to have good conversations with good friends over good drinks and good food.  I want to be financially stable, and I want to be a responsible man.  But sometimes–like when I’m looking at what it means to be a responsible member of my HOA board–I can’t help but wonder; does this matter?

In the example of the HOA, what we (and by we I mean, Joe) basically do is work to make sure Jim Bob doesn’t park his truck on his lawn, and Betty Boo doesn’t paint her house pink, because we promised the other owners we’d hold the line against owners who might be temped to act a fool.  Full disclosure: my lawn needs mowing.

But what if we didn’t?  This is a question I ask often, and I think it’s a good one to not only ask, but play out.  What if we didn’t do what the HOA does?  What if I don’t read my Bible?  What if I don’t go to counseling?  What if I don’t walk the dogs, pay the bills, go to work and spend time with friends?

Well then there would be consequences.  Choices often render changes, and while I could judge those consequences as good or bad based on society’s expectations, the fact is that I don’t know the entirety of the story, which makes it hard to say what was for the better and what was for the worse.

For example, I made bad choices that led to the deterioration of my marriage, but in the time since she left I’ve made–by God’s grace–some of the most important growth in an area of my life where I’ve needed it for a long time, and that is good.  Does that make my bad choices good?  I don’t think so.  But it does humble the judge in me.

My point

Maybe we’re responsible for too much, and maybe all those responsibilities sometimes distract us from what matters.  I would suggest that eternal salvation matters most, because if it is true, nothing matters more, but that is not to say that date nights and time with kids and time in school and mowing your lawn isn’t also important.  You don’t get to be a shitty husband because you’re such a great guy at church.  But keeping things in their proper place is important so as not to become too anxious about temporary situations.

My encouragement to you and to myself is that we would begin and/or continue to take time to step back and take stock of what matters, lest we get wrapped into the meaningless minutia.

“I’m a slave.”

Slaves

Paul introduced himself to the church of Rome as a “servant of Christ Jesus” (Romans 1:1, ESV).  This is a translation of the Greek word, doulos, which could also be translated as bondservant, or slave.  Paul was, by his own eager proclamation, a slave to Christ.

Lest there should be any confusion, Paul makes this point only all the more clear in Romans 6, in which he exhorts Christ-followers to realize themselves as “slaves of righteousness.”  His letter to the church of Corinth supports this identity when he reminds his readers that “you are not your own” (1 Cor 6:19); a considerable affront to our modern-day American sense of individualism and autonomy.

Therefore, we who call and consider ourselves Christians are to understand ourselves as not authoritative over our own selves, be that physically, mentally or spiritually.  We have a master; a Lord; a commander; an owner, and it is He and He alone who calls the shots in our lives.  We may make requests, but ultimately we are not self-governed.  We are His, and He is ours.

Fortunately for us, unlike men who are owned by men, we are owned by an eternal, all-powerful, everlasting and good God who we can trust to govern us well.  He governs us better than we can ever hope to govern ourselves, and we trust Him to direct us even when our deceptive and short-term driven desires would lead us to do otherwise.  We trust Him to know our deepmost desires better than we can know them ourselves, and we trust Him to know what is best for us with the knowledge He and He alone has, far beyond what we can ever hope to see from our immeasurably more modest vantage points.

That is why I wish I had–or rather wish that I employed the boldness God has given me to introduce myself as Paul did so frequently; as a slave to my master.  My name and vocation have so little meaning compared to my identity as a slave to Christ, if in fact I am grafted into His vine, that it seems outright silly to introduce myself in any other way.

Obviously, it would put people off-kilter, at least in America, but so what?  Maybe we need more of that.  If it might lead someone to an eternal community with Christ, is it really so great a sacrifice to be the weird guy or girl who responds to the question, “What do you do?” with an atypical answer that might reorient an eternal soul?

I mean seriously: do we, oh fellow Christians, really believe forever exists?  And if we do, how does that change us?  How can that not change us?  How alarmed ought we be if our understanding of forever, graciously given us by God, does not affect our identities or conversations?  If we are still merely names and vocations?

I am a slave to my Lord; a slave to righteousness.  I am a servant of Christ and a sinner saved by grace.

Prayer

Father: Please, give us the boldness to do the work that matters most.  Give us and give me the courage to go and make disciples.  To respond as an enthusiastic slave to You.  You are my God, and I am grateful that my life is not directed by me, but by You.  Please, remind me regularly of who I am, and why I submit to you not out of dutifulness, but in a spirit of eager anticipation for the good things that I and others can only experience in You.

Amen.

Word

“What’s the word?”

In the Marine Corps, we had this thing called “word.” Basically, word was pertinent information. It was what you needed to know to move forward with your day and with your government-owned life.

It was a coveted thing because word was not typically made available to everyone first-hand from our Commander, by whom it was issued. Rather, word had to be passed from one echelon to the next, from top to bottom.

“What’s the word,” was a common question in the barracks where Marines might spend hours standing by (waiting) to receive it. For reasons I still don’t understand, it often took a long time to obtain word and pass it to everyone. Bureaucracy, I suppose. There was word of the day, weekend word, etc. Word was what you needed to start your week or be freed on a Friday afternoon.

This concept still exists in communities and circles I am a part of now, except that as a Christian we believe God has not only given us word, but THE word. Made flesh. And it is abundantly available to all.

Unfortunately, unlike new believers in China and Rwanda, American believers like myself largely take the word for granted. Our Bibles are dusty and our Commander is, at best, a counselor, whose orders have been misunderstood as advice to be considered rather than unquestionably obeyed.

In the Corps we heeded word because we feared the consequences of deviating from it. In Christ, deviation from the word is not without consequences, in this life and the next, but unlike in the Corps, the word of God exists not merely to control us. It exists to give us life, that we may share it. Pass it along. Not because we have to, but because we get to.