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What’s Your Empty Stable?

February 1, 2011
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OK. A little glimpse of Lebhar family history. Neil’s fastidious mother and I were once working side by side in the kitchen of his childhood home. Neil was looking on. I was apparently being extra particular about whatever I was doing, because his mother suddenly teased me, “Marcia, you are so neurotic!” Neil howled at the irony and immediately broke into the chorus of that old song: I want a girl just like the girl that married dear old Dad!

So, I do admit it. I am a neatnik, a magazine straightener, a counter cleaner. I clean the house as we are leaving for a vacation so it will be fun to come home to. I love walking in and feeling, ‘Aaahhhh!’ Peaceful. Inviting. Clearly I am not apologetic about this. In fact, I have developed something of a personal theology to justify my housecleaning inclinations. Surely order and beauty glorify God? Surely I am readier to open the door to friend or stranger if I feel like things are under control here?

Well, maybe. But opening the door invites all that order to come undone. Opening the door invites clutter and crumbs and complications. Bumps and breaks. Wear and tear. People and problems. The very ordering of my life under the roof of my house needs to be simultaneously offered back to God to be disordered or re-ordered by him. This is where God makes the conflicts of my heart clear. The New Living Translation renders the ‘double-minded man’ of James 1:8 as one whose “…loyalty is divided between God and the world.” All I am doing, I am doing for God, right? But does he have permission to mess up my house… my life… for a greater purpose?

Once when we were preparing for a wonderful wave of young adults to come in the door on a Sunday night, I felt particularly weary as I anticipated a long evening of serving and conversation and late-night clean-up. The Lord brought Proverbs 14:4 to my attention. It made me laugh and cry! An empty stable stays clean, but no income comes from an empty stable. (NLT) Half of my heart yearned only for an empty stable. No mooing or munching! But the better half of my heart wants Kingdom income to issue from the stable of my home and life.

Hospitality is the obvious first application of this analogy, and it is a challenge the church in America desperately needs. Bringing the stranger, the outsider, into our homes and families is a profound way to demonstrate who God is and how he cares for us. Jesus cast much of his teaching in the terms of shared meals and table fellowship. And his images for what he is doing now, as we await his return, are those of preparing a place in his home (Jn. 14:1-4) and preparing a banquet for us, his bride (Is. 25:6-9; Rev. 19:6-8). Though the book of Romans tells us to be eager to practice hospitality (Rom. 12:13) and 1 Timothy makes enjoyment of guests in the home a qualification for leadership (1 Tim. 3:2), in this country we hardly ever do it. Neil is fond of quoting the statistic that over 50 percent of single Americans never enter another person’s home in the course of a year. If we would be true disciples of Messiah Jesus, we’d open our doors.

But beyond the issue of hospitality, the image of the empty stable is a good shorthand way to help us talk about how else we might be guilty of arranging our lives according to divided loyalties. We want our e-mail inboxes to stay under control. We want our schedules to stay predictable and sane, our finances straightforward and unchallenging, and our career goals streamlined. What’s your empty stable?

At the time of Jesus, disciples of an itinerant rabbi followed their teacher closely. They observed his every move. Being a good disciple was as much about imitating your rabbi’s behavior as it was about learning doctrine. It involved mastering oneself as much as mastering material. One of our favorite teachers says that learning how your rabbi responded to stubbing his toe in the dark was to be as instructive as memorizing his every word.

If you had slept in the same house or field with Jesus, awakened with him, eaten with him, walked with him and helped him, what would you have observed? One thing we always think of is that Jesus gave himself almost entirely to what we would consider interruptions. Most of the teaching, healing and wonders we see in his life were responsive… seemingly unplanned. He trusted that what the Father allowed to cross his path was just that… from the Father. Trusting his Father for the real plan for the day, Jesus always seemed willing for things to get messy.

Where’s the profit, the Kingdom income, in the way we like our homes and our schedules, in the way we arrange our lives? Sometimes it is only when we offer our stables up to be spoiled, from the world’s perspective, that they really bring forth anything eternally valuable. Let’s ask the Lord to give us grace to let him fill up our stables with whatever life-giving enterprises he knows we can handle. The Scriptures are clear that all of our stables are on loan and that one day we’ll give an account of what has come from our use of them. It won’t be enough to say that we kept them neat.