Right now, our house is a mess. Old wood, rotted lumber dotted with tiny holes, 2/4’s piled high on the side of the house. The back deck is half ripped apart, patio furniture is strewn about, and bills are mounting on a daily basis. It’s a mess, but a good mess.
Before the havoc, things seemed fine. A few ants here and there, nothing that an Ortho Home Defense from Home Depot can’t handle. For the past three years, these creatures have come back in the early summer. Same corner, same persistence. But this year, the ants started showing up in other places, like the kitchen. There was a stray one in the hall way, a sighting in the bathroom, and rumors of ants in other places. Not a big deal really (unless you are my daughter!). Nothing Ortho can’t handle. Until one night, Heather screamed.
In a low use part of our home, the Living Room, (used onlywhen we want to impress people) the ants had essentially staged a coup and threatened to take over the house. They had chewed a hole in the wall, one large enough to put a fist in. I know because I did. It was near the vicinity of (you guessed it) that outside corner of the deck, and now the ants were everywhere. There was a ten lane highway headed north, with overnight stays under every rug. It seems the stuff I sprayed had become less a deterrent–more a kind of summer cooler, a 5-hour ENERGY DRINK. If it had any power, it apparently never penetrated command and control. The ants had been building nests between the foundation wall and the insulation, and the winter moisture and summer warmth had combined to create a sort of ClubMed experience. Apparently our house was on kayak.com/hotels.
The exterminator explained that this is what happens. When the nest gets crowded (and it’s time for the kids to get out on their own), the queen kicks out the female “supplemental ants” (a.k.a. reproductive ants). In search of a future, they eventually establish a home and put away for retirement. But in order to have a family, they must first look for mates. When they find compatible (educated and attractive) male “supplemental” ants, they meet on a date and after some initial flirting, these same bachelorettes proceed to rip the male sperm sac off, leaving these young bachelors to die a slow and agonizing death (I’m not making this up!).
It’s a tough world for ants–even the worker ants are shown no mercy. They are consigned to work until they work to death. If you are born a worker ant–or a MSA (male supplemental ant), this can only be regarded as an unfortunate act of providence. Not that I feel any sadness.
So where is all of this going? Here’s where. At the same time I have been dealing with the need to strip everything off of the back of the house, get to the bottom of things, and do a major renovation, I have been writing a book, one inspired by the Gospel of John. I have spent the last two days focused on one of the stranger incidents in Jesus’ ministry. In John 8, in the midst of a feast in which the Jews were either ignoring or harassing Jesus, it says that a number came to believe (v. 30). This would thrill any evangelist, but it doesn’t end here. Immediately after the altar call, everything came apart. All hell broke loose. Jesus called these “believers” to discipleship and to a passion for His word. Only then will they be truly free (v. 32). If only He had not said “make you free.” Insinuating they were in some sort of bondage deeply offended them, enough so that they eventually picked up rocks to kill Jesus (v. 59). How dare Jesus suggest such upstanding children of Abraham are slaves!
In his chapter, “Unwell In a New Way,” Eugene Peterson describes a tug of war that takes place between pastor and people. The contest is over how parishioners see themselves. People who come to church often view themselves in need of affirmation and an occasional moral touch. We’re all needful and somewhat imperfect. Who doesn’t occasionally go ballistic, shade the truth, or talk too much about oneself?. But things are basically fine. An occasional spray will fix things.
Pastors see people (must see people) in theological terms We are sinners, persons separated from God. and desperate for grace. This is how God sees us–alienated, in need of a Savior, and in bondage to sin. Only a major renovation, one that goes to the deepest parts, will do. No matter how much you paint and spray, once you strip away the layers, there is a deeper evil working, nesting in the heart. It’s the nature of our fallenness. Either we yield and acknowledge and invite Jesus to rip away the rot and replace with a new heart–or we become offended at the suggestion we are in some sort of bondage and throw rocks. Sadly, in the John 8 account, the story never gets to grace. The people refused to acknowledge their true condition, short circuiting God’s love.
So yes, it is a mess on Harvest Street–but it is a good mess We are finally getting to the bottom of things–a reminder that I must daily invite God to get to the bottom of things.