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.
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