"Have you not asked those who travel the roads, and do you not accept their testimony?" (Job 28:29)

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Watcha Doin?

OUR NEIGHBOR is an elderly man who came around whenever we worked on cars. My brother in law had said that George, my retired neighbor, must have been a mechanic when Henry Ford was a pup. George would show at the garage doorway, then a familiar routine would unfold.
 First came the "Watcha doin?" We'd simply respond with a "Messin round."
 Then came the "Uhh, Izzit broke?"

 Since the reclamation of an engine's cylinder head was the task being undertaken, I looked up from the bench as I loosened the tension that my clamp had on a valve spring.

 "No, I'm just trying to make the whole car like new." I said. I then winked at my brother-in-law, Gary, who thrashed wrenches beneath the old car's hood.
 "Don't lose them keepers." George cautioned, showing that he'd been down this valve job road before. He continued. "It'd be a sin to hafta dig around the floor fer half a one of them."
  "What do you know about sin, George?" I grinned.
"Plenty..," he said. "We all got a bit ya know."
My brother-in-law, knowing that George was a deacon in the church at the corner, decided to wade in. 
"Sinning you say? I don't figure I'm doin nothing wrong. I'm just twistin wrenches for a living."
 "That's what most folks think." said George.
 As I lifted an intake valve off its seat the old man said, "It's just like that big ol' intake valve there.., all we figure is that we need a little bit of room to slip by and pretty soon we're wobbling pretty bad."
  I said, "Yeah, this guide has seen better days."

 By this time, George had pulled up an old, antique milk crate that I often used for a seat. He took the intake valve from the bench, sat down and crossed his leg. He looked at the valve. An edge of the face had been burned slightly.
"Just like this here valve," he said, "We were made for the wear of the life at hand, but we often are headed for a burning. Like this valve, we need to be caught up just in time."

By this time Gary's curiosity waned while he worked to get the other head from beneath the hood. But, it seemed that respect for the elder man caused him to continue. He piped. "What do ya mean, George?"
 "Well, if we read what Saint Paul wrote to the Romans we hear him say... "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

 Gary grinned at me, straightened up and slapped the edge of the hood, then said. "But we ain't Roman.., we're American."
 George bore down. "Yep, but did you hear the ALL part?"
 "You mean nobody is perfect." Gary continued. "I've heard that said..," while looking and pointing his wrench at me.
 "Nobody it seems." George said, smiling at me over the valve still held in his hand.
 By this time, I'd started micrometer checks of the valve stems. George nodded at me and said, "Nobody measures up, except one. Only God is perfect, and he won't accept anyone who isn't perfect."
  "Man, that means we're in the gook like a deep and dirty dipstick" I told them while looking at Gary. But I felt a little uncomfortable.., because the old guy started to make a little sense.
"That's right." George said. "And as we try to climb out, the more slippery it gets."
 Gary now sounded serious too. "Then I guess we're going around the old race track the wrong way, ain't we?"
"But I can fix this bad ol' worn valve guide by replacing it." I offered trying to bail us out. However, the conversation was far too deep.
 "Yep, that's what God does too." George said. "He replaced your punishment for messing things up. He gave the punishment to Jesus and gave heaven to you."
 A chuckle came from Gary, who leaned over the fender cover to lift the other head from the big block.

  "Yeah, I hear ya..," he grunted as he heaved the head up off the engine. Then he sighed, "But I'm not into the Jesus thing."

 "Well, how you going to fix that valve guide?" George asked me.

 I thought for a second. Then offered, "I'm going to replace the guide and have it reamed."

 "Right!" said George. "And God replaced you on the cross of death and he crucified Jesus instead. That way Jesus got reamed. He died and you get forgiven and are called the perfect son."

 "Yeah, this is all for free?" Gary quizzed skeptically.

 "Very free. It's a free gift" George came back.

 "Does that mean I don't have to go to church with my wife? Gary snickered.
 "You don't have to.., but it might be nice to say thanks to God. After all, how'd you feel if you gave your kid to save somebody and they didn't come around to say thanks."
"Whoa," I thought. I looked at Gary. "I haven't been in church since I went chasin after your sister in the Junior Choir."

 George chuckled. And Gary bore in grinning. "Yeah.., God does get even don't he. you caught her."
 "Uh huh." I said. "And I ended up getting you in the family."

 George just sat for a moment in the quiet that fell after the laughter died. Then he said, "There's a seat for that valve right there in that head to make things work just right, and there's a seat for you in the church that's been sitting empty. You'd best be thinking about filling the hole."
 Gary pushed the analogy a bit farther, "I guess not getting seated means you can burn, brother, just like the valve." 
George mused as he rose from his seat. "Never thought of it that way. but it does make some sense."
He put the milk crate away, then walked toward the door of the shop. He looked at the old four door upon which we worked.

 "You know what F-O-R-D stands for?"
 Being a Chevy disciple, Gary blurted "Found On the Road Dead!"
 "Hmmph!" I countered, "How bout "Faster On Race Day".
  But the old man said, "Nope, it means. For Our Redeemer Died.

 Next week I'll tell you the full story.., about how Jesus came back".

 Surely Ol' George seemed a bit taller as he went out the door and walked up the driveway. He seemed to be talking to someone. I hear old folks, especially old mechanics, do that.

 (If you liked this true story, and wish to continue reading about it, click on the link below and order our book from Amazon... )

Monday, January 13, 2020

Word and Witnesses?

HERE IS an invitation to those who stand on the sidelines while the battle in our society rages. Click here to read concerning the Christian calling.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Salmon Ford

  A WIDE brown dirt road lay straight out beyond the Thunder-chicken Ford hood ornament. Two young men in the car had left their barracks on Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. They were traveling fast in the rising sun, casting for a few days of walleye fishing. Andy and Bart drove across the prairie quickly toward Devil’s Lake. The first hour had sprinted them in missile-like fashion across miles of smooth, recently-scraped and firmly packed dirt road. They were almost halfway to their destination.
 Andy had a home-spun theory about traveling fast on straight gravel roads. As he taught it, Bart.., a California boy, did not argue the point. Not being from a Midwest prairie state, he did not fault his friend’s prairie logic. Andy’s strategy seemed to work. The driver said, “When you drive a dry prairie gravel road, you’ve got to play around until you find a speed that won’t pick up stones.”
  Andy’s strategy was well-planned. At too-low speeds the car would fill with dust. So he said they needed to go a bit faster. Then gravel started to bounce from the tires toward the floor board and rockers, but the dust in the car lessened. As he increased speed, they heard fewer “clinks” and “chinks” as gravel missed the bottom of Andy’s ’56 Ford hardtop.
 Thus, varying speed a bit according to the humidity and other natural wheat field factors that only Andy could talk about at length, they sped up... and the noise stopped. On that morning at precisely 62 mph, Bart noted that relative quiet settled into what had been a dust-raising drill. No longer was dirt coming in, but was seen curling up far behind. He became very glad that there was no oncoming traffic. They would make the two men slow enough to keep stones from hitting windshields.
 Andy explained to Bart that the centrifugal force of the tires overcame any “stickiness” of small pebbles clamped in the tread. The ideal speed threshold was therefore detected only by the relative quiet. With just a slight rumble of rolling wheels, they could then listen to Hank Williams on the radio, and talk to one another at a normal fish-monger's volume.

 Once the two young men achieved that ideal speed with the wide smooth gravel road still allowing safety, Andy maintained a rate just a few mph above the “quiet” speed zone. This took a bit of old-fashioned, astute mid-western throttle play that could make many modern, electronic cruise control envious.
 Andy had sought to get them right up to that ideal speed quickly. He had just paid a body man big bucks to refinish the lower panels of the Ford with the original salmon-like, coral color he liked so much. After the paint restoration was so ably completed and dried for a time at the base hobby shop, he’d attached small rubber mud flaps on the front wheel wells. Andy topped off his work with a bug screen bought at the Western Auto. The screen graced the front of the car to protect the grille. Though Bart had not said so, he thought Andy’s bug catcher a bit much for the beautifully-kept Ford hardtop. However, the bug screen was not just to protect the grill. The screen helped to keep the radiator from being clogged by a bumper crop of grasshoppers. While the overhead valve Ford V-8 did run clean and cool thanks to the regularly washed screen.
 On that day, Andy had more in mind. His prairie practicalities were at work. You see, Andy hailed from South Dakota. He was raised in Mobridge. In his youth he had learned to fish for pike prairie-style. Given that history, he knew exactly what he was doing with his bug screen. While Bart had wondered why they weren’t taking a paved road toward the east that morning, Andy had acquiring bait in his mind.

  Bart was to learn that almost every prairie dusty road they traveled had wide ditches on both sides. In winter, drifted snow would fill them. Those wide, shallow areas Andy used as a resource. Bart discovered his strategy when they drew up to a lonely stop sign.
 The two men sat there for a moment idling at a prairie intersection. There was not a house or barn anywhere in sight. Andy then drove slowly across the rural intersection, and went down the gradual slope into the wide ditch paralleling the road. He started to drive slowly along in the very bottom of the ditch. He picked up a little speed through the still wet grass. Soon minor taps on the front of the car and the splats on the windshield told the tale.


You see, Andy had picked the right road, the right ditch, and had the right height to the rising sun. After a quarter mile or so of ditch running, at the field’s next tractor access road, Andy pulled up out of the ditch and stopped. He quickly jumped out with the keys in his hand. He opened the trunk lid and handed Bart two big empty coffee cans and a pair of gloves. They went to the front grill’s bug screen and started picking live bait! Live, stunned and splattered grasshoppers, beetles, moths and bugs were there! Some of those nasties Bart still can’t describe or identify. Andy grinned, and said, “Now we’ve got bait!”
 I remembered this scene described from Bart many years ago as I strolled through a car show. The show was held next to a little lake in the town where I now live. There I saw a Ford hardtop of the same color as my friend’s former ride. The hardtop sparkled in the morning sun. Beautifully preserved, the Ford Victoria lured both my attention and the focus of my camera lens. I was not, however, the only person gathered by the sight.
 Though it did not have the stone deflecting mud flaps, nor a massive bug screen attached to its grille… the car was a magnet. It worked quite like a bug zapper lit up at night. People gathered around the car. Amid them was a man passing out Christian pamphlets.

 As a minister, I wondered why I hadn’t thought of that witness method. I thought of my Air Force buddies and those prairie fishing methods. So I asked the man with the Christian gospel tracts, “What kind of fishing bait did the disciples use?
 He said, “Lord knows…”
 Andy had taught me, “Find a ditch on a lightly traveled road; move at just the right speed, and the bait gathered will be right.”
 Those words tapped into my mind like the bait on his bug screen. I thought about them again as I later unfolded my lawn chair next to the lake. I opened my fishing box after casting out a tasty bug as bait. I looked at the tract the man had given.
 The booklet he was passing to others told about Jesus teaching folks down at the lakeshore. I read a few lessons taught about faith.
 Oddly, only now I remember that Andy had taken that road for a reason. I remembered that I knew him after meeting him in a Lutheran church in Mohall, ND. I realize now that those two young servicemen carried on long conversations about fishing, faith and God’s love supplied. It was three-hook bait given freely by God like bugs in a ditch, but far more profound. 
You see, during many excursions in North Dakota for land-locked salmon, pike, muskies, pickerel and more, Andy had been instrumental in laying the foundation for faith understanding in many people. In quiet trips to Devil’s Lake my fisherman friend shared his faith on more than one occasion, with Bart and others.
 Andy, in somewhat regular practice grown of his mid-western Norwegian Lutheran roots, showed that he lived a baptized life of hooked Christian freedom every day. Whenever possible, he’d gone about prayerfully fishing, hunting and harvesting… gathering the sinful and un-nameable bugs that God had laid out before him. They were like the manna bread given by God to the people of Israel in the desert so long ago.
 I do remember that conversations about Jesus as Lord were spoken easily by Andy. They certainly became part of the day for anyone who sat in a boat with him on a farm pond. The story of Jesus calming the seas seemed fit to be laughed about as he would row hard to beat a rain storm sweeping across the Garrison Reservoir. Through all his witness, Andy would find that a fishing buddy would slowly be brought to know the grace of God.
 I wonder now, “What does the Holy Trinity have in common with a treble hook?” Maybe very little, but it makes for great debate as we might sit alongside each other on the banks of a cold Dakota lake. I think of this after my many years in the pulpit. Andy taught me that it’s amazing who you can catch just by driving slowly through the ditches of life... trolling along... catching devilish bugs maimed… and using them as bait.

Here's a video for those who like to try fishing for people...

About Liking Fish!