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Vinegar and Smoke

December 22nd, 2008

Focus Text: Proverbs 10: 26 (NLT)

26 Lazy people irritate their employers,
      like vinegar to the teeth or smoke in the eyes.


Stop Here and Reflect Before Reading Ahead

I often speak of my upbringing because it has so vastly affected who I am today as an adult.  I was blessed beyond measure with a set of parents who loved me unconditionally and modeled for me integrity, loyalty, godliness, and work ethic.  I’m sure you’ve heard me refer to it many times, but while growing up, my family owned and operated a commercial lawn care business on the south side of Nashville.  For that matter, they still do.  

Their business is a family-affair.  My Dad and Mom began mowing some thirty-four years ago to help make ends meet.  Dad worked the mowing business after his day as a school teacher would end.  Into the night, Dad and Mom would work themselves silly to provide for the family.  Today, they are still silly . . . working, that is.

I’m sure they celebrated when the day came that the family was able to give back.  When we were old enough, my older siblings and I all began working for the family business.  It started off with blowing grass and leaves off of the sidewalks of the apartment complexes or picking up the garbage in the ditches before the mowers would cut. Eventually, as became teenagers, our roles became more substantial and the business flourished because we each learned how to work.  My sister and brother both operated huge seventy-six inch lawnmowers.  I, on the other hand, joined Dad as a weedeater operator.  I like to think that I had a natural, God-given talent of weedeating.

In the summer, the days were long and blistering.  We would begin a day at about 6:15 or 6:30 am and sometimes finish it by the light of the street lamps.  I learned to love the heat!  To this day, I still enjoy being outside and would much prefer the heat to cold.  Ah, the cold.  We worked in plenty of cold spells as well.  Cleaning out gutters or mulching leaves in sub-arctic temperatures made for some pretty frosty memories.  You haven’t experienced real pain until your ears are on the verge of frostbite when a piece of rock or gravel from your weedeater flies up and pops your red, frozen ear right on the lobe . . . OUCH!

Those years and years of hard work shaped much of my schemata of ministry, career, and life.  Dad and Mom taught me that hard work is honorable to the Lord and also brings favor with people.  I wouldn’t trade the lessons and lifestyles taught to me during those years for anything; but I’ll never forget the times as a boy that I began to realize that everyone didn’t work as hard as my Dad.

As our business grew, my parents would often hire out workers to fill our crews.  As an twelve year old boy, I was already weedeating full days and could somewhat hold my own.  When Dad would hire a grown man to come work with us, at first I naturally assumed that they would give their all to the job as we were taught to do.  Trust me, a half-way job was never acceptable in our business.  Do it right or don’t do it at all.

Well, some of the guys Dad would hire took the “don’t do it at all” approach.  I can’t tell you how many dozens of people over those years would come to work in the morning and quit before lunch because the labor was “too hard.”  When they bailed, my dad and I were left with their excess work.  I even remember the days that certain workers would stay because they needed the money, but their quality of work was so poor and they took so many smoke breaks that we would have to redo all their part anyway.

If I were to describe the “taste” left in our mouths when we dealt with lazy workers, it would be “vinegar.”  Just like this passage states, “Lazy people irritate their employers, like vinegar to the teeth or smoke in the eyes.”  It wasn’t just irritating because of the extra work that we had to do, but more so because the job was a reflection of our family and we took it seriously. 

Often on this journey of wisdom through the book of Proverbs, the road leads through deep, thought-provoking philosophy.  At other times, like this one, the path presents us with simple, practical truths.  This principle is easy to understand, but not so easy to implement . . . but implement it we must!  Laziness is detrimental and will “burn in the eyes” of those who are counting on us.  

For us, the reason we worked hard was simple: it was family.  That’s the same reason we should work hard and with excellence at every pursuit of life . . . we are members of God’s family.  We reflect the divine family name not only in what we do, but also in the way we do it.  We don’t want to leave a “vinegar and smoke” impression on this world.  

Hard work is just the remedy we need to clear the pallet and the air!  Just ask my parents.


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