For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.–Hebrews 3:4
I think I might have been the first furniture piece they purchased for the cottage. I was reduced to being sold for $35 at the Habitat for Humanity Thrift Store. It was absolutely humiliating, but they were very delighted. She wrote about it on her blog and called it a great deal. I shudder to think of it.
I admit I was no beauty anymore; I was a bit down and out, but I had solid black iron underneath, and at one time I was imposing. (Imported from Europe, but I don’t like to brag.) Plus, I lived large. Many people could squeeze around me, say grace, shout about the mashed potatoes, spill gravy, slosh coffee, and just, well, eat, drink and be merry. I was a table that said Home.
I heard her say that she was just going to paint me and let me be a shabby chic table; I don’t know what that means, but I am no Shabby Chick. I put all my hopes on the man; I could see he was a carpenter — all those tools! He could appreciate nice looking wood, even if I was just a fancy veneer over plain pine. Everyone has a veneer, right? And my heart and covering were both good solid woods. (And I do have great, curvy legs, if I do say so myself…) When the man got out his sander I was a bit nervous, but he was easy on me and I came out looking smooth and polished — a bit pale maybe, but definitely not shabby. Suddenly I was feeling rather Pottery Barn-ish.
I tell you I was thinking, Yes! Now I’m home and there will be real meals again! And then I was covered up in layers of plastic tablecloths, sheets, and tarps, and it was back to being a grunt work table for two more years. Even though They Said they were going to fix me up, I was beginning to lose hope.
Then one fine day, she uncovered me, moved me around, and started with the sandpaper on my legs… I wasn’t sure what to think about that pot of green paint she had with her. I thought that whole paint issue had been settled. I made her bump her head a few times before I decided I rather liked that silky green paint on my legs…
But still they hadn’t done anything to keep those gravy stains from permanently damaging my new complexion. When they finally moved me in place, I tried my best to look like I needed a vacation to the islands or somewhere sunny. Alas, all they did was give me a fake tan. But that oil they rubbed on my skin did warm me up, and three coats belonging to Polly somebody have just brought out my inner glow.
At least they have fixed up the walls I’m sitting beside. Talk about shabby? Oh, my! And those little lights above me are very sweet — they can be dim or bright depending on their mood, but we all have our little quirks, don’t you think? I think we’ll get along fabulously.
Am I not beautiful?
What concerns me now is the chairs she might surround me with… I don’t want to tangle legs with mismatched Duncan Phyfes or lazy benches or painted-up shabby chicks. And no bistro chairs, please. What is a redeemed table to do but worry about the company she keeps? I think several upright parson’s chairs would do quite nicely, thank you.
“Eh,” she says, “you’re getting a bit uppity don’t you think? I don’t need La Table telling me what to do!”
But may I quote Better Homes and Gardens here? The dining table is “a substantial piece of furniture that sets the tone for the entire room…”1
“Ahem!” she says. “I saw another table just like you today at Construction Junction for $45, so don’t go upscale on me!”
Forty-five dollars? Bring on those shabby chick chairs…
Down and Out, Longing for Renewal
Let’s leave the table in the dining room for a few minutes and think about our own renewal. God promised us—many many times in scripture—a refinishing, a renovation, a restoration of our souls when we trust in Him. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Remember when you longed to become new? When you finally admitted to yourself that you were a bit down and out, faded maybe, even though you had once been imposing. Or perhaps you actually fell apart? God does that to us—makes us realize that we can’t do it on our own. Sometimes He really humiliates us before we figure that out; or sometimes instead of humiliation, He allows suffering. But whatever it was— however God brought you to Him—don’t allow yourself to forget it. Because more than anything, God wants us to use that same weakness to bring others to Him. He never makes us go through pain, depression, illness, divorce, addiction… for no reason.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
A Thin Veneer or Solid Wood?
Think of the others who might benefit from the wisdom that you learned back then, while you were going through your own fiery trial, and don’t waste it. God doesn’t want followers who have a veneer of Christianity; He wants rock solid followers who aren’t afraid to get dirty, aren’t afraid to scratch that veneer of superficiality, aren’t afraid to admit their own past failings and fears, sins and shortcomings.
Just look at the disciples as examples. Jesus named Peter the rock, when he was anything but a rock. Peter had moments of brilliance, yes, but then plummeted to the depths of desertion and renunciation before Jesus forgave him and made him the leader and feeder of His sheep.
Thomas spoke amazing words of faithfulness when he said to the other disciples, “Let us go with Him, that we might die with Him,” (John 11:16) yet he also professed confusion and doubt on other occasions, when he said out loud that they didn’t know where Jesus was going, so how could they follow Him (John 14:5); and of course, the phrase which gave him the nickname Doubting Thomas — “…unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25)
And Paul? He tormented Christians until Christ blinded him on the road to Damascus and then allowed him to see with new eyes. It was a regeneration of gargantuan proportions: the former persecutor becomes the greatest evangelist of all time. But none of that rock solid faithfulness of the apostles happened overnight. It took years. Why should we be different?
Losing Hope in the Wait
No matter where we are in the stages of refinishing a piece of furniture, a table, for instance, there will always be times of inactivity or waiting. Perhaps we are waiting for the finish to dry, or perhaps we get sidetracked by the little details of another project— that table sat unfinished for almost two years before we were ready—and she herself said she was beginning to lose hope. But to be rebuilt, reconstructed, or renovated, takes time and patience. It is not for the faint of heart:
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4: 16-17)
Read that last verse again and consider what that renewal is bringing us—a home grander than any worldly mansion, a hope beyond all earthly hopes, an eternal glory that far outweighs anything we can comprehend. Can we wait for that?
Protection from those Gravy Stains
In the midst of the restoration work on the table, there came a time, when she was laid bare: sanded down to raw wood—exposed and vulnerable to all sorts of stains and spots from those who surrounded her. Yes, that table needed three coats of spar varnish for protection.
We’ve all felt that need for special care—to have our hearts wrapped “…in a blue cloud-cloth away from the too-rough fingers of the world.”2 When we are defenseless we need only take up God’s Book, which will arm us with power. When we need protection, we must repeat over and over to ourselves the verses that affirm God’s care and protection over us. He himself tells us to “put on the full armor of God.” (Ephesians 6:10-18) There is the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, but perhaps most important of all, is “…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:18)
Just today in the sermon, the pastor reminded us that it is difficult to avail ourselves of God’s protection if we do not immerse ourselves in His word. He wrote, “I am at times brought into situations where folks are facing great difficulties and I want to encourage them to pray, but that is most difficult because they have not had the years of training in God’s Word.”3
Find your favorite verses about trusting in God’s protection. Memorize them. Some of those verses are amazingly easy to remember: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
I have two favorites:
Just imagine the Holy God of the world redeeming you, knowing you by name, protecting you from flood and fire, and watching over your coming and going now and forever. Three coats of spar varnish, indeed.
The Company We Keep
Yet despite her own sins and her vulnerabilities, despite her renovation and redemption, what does the table worry about? The morality of the chairs with whom she will associate. My dining room table has become a Pharisee!
And yet, it is a battle fought by all the redeemed of God. We must forever forget the sins we have been forgiven from; scripture says they are wiped clean, (“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me…” — Galatians 2:20) but at the same time we must never forget them or the magnitude of them, or we run the risk of forgetting the amazing grace and mercy of Christ who died to save us from those very sins. We are no better than anyone else; we have no right to moralize or condemn, but only to love with Christ’s love that now lives inside us.
And if it is within God’s power and mercy to redeem you and me, then He can cause your neighbor, your loved one, your church, your town, the world to explode in reawakening, renewal, restoration, revival. To paraphrase Matthew 19:26, all things are possible with God.
For further study, read Colossians 3
Questions for thought:
- One of my primary struggles is putting to death what is earthly in me. There are several ways–awareness, prayer, self-discipline–but we can also think of putting on the protections of God–His armor, perhaps? Thoughts?
- The first part of Colossians 3 tells us what are the earthly sins, and there is quite a long list. A couple of weeks ago we talked about the (ancient) seven deadly sins, but more recently Jerry Bridges wrote the book called Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate. These are the sins like pride, jealousy, unthankfulness, judgmentalism, discontent, selfishness, envy, gossip… that we tolerate in ourselves (while criticizing others for their big sins!). How can we strike a balance on desiring personal holiness and being convicted of our sins, yet not dwelling on them?
- The beat-up old table struggled with several things; they are printed in bold in the essay above. Is there one that resonates with you and where you are in your Christian journey right now?
- That’s why I love the second half of Colossians 3–in answer to the negative sins in the first part, Paul tells us how to live as a new creation in Christ. Which one of these positives resonates with you?
- As an exercise, look up all the verses you can find about being cleansed from sin — wipe clean, slate wiped clean, cleanse me from sin — and thank Him for the renewal that is yours, through Jesus.
1 “Ultimate Guide to Dining Room Tables,” in Better Homes & Gardens online. http://www.bhg.com/rooms/dining-room/furniture/ultimate-guide-to-dining-tables/
2 “The Dreamkeeper” by Langston Hughes in The Dreamkeeper and Other Poems, New York, Knopf, 1984.
3sermon by John Dorean.