“Now the Lord said to Abram…”
Genesis 12: 1
Some years ago, I stayed overnight with a couple in Columbus. They didn't know me, but graciously housed me one night while I went through some training. They had a wonderful place, a ranch-style home with a touch of colonial atmosphere. Nice hardwood floors and trim. Beautiful cabinets. They had bought it from a widow who had lived there since it had been built nearly 30 years earlier. She had been a widow about a year and now found it painful to be there.
The couple noticed when they moved in that the old woman's husband had posted a neat sign in the garage near a telephone extension. It listed every hardware store within 10 miles and had some information on each. They found on shelves in the garage neat bags of parts for lighting fixtures. Attached to each sack was a little note. Each note gave the man's name, told when the light fixture was dismantled, and explained where it went.
Later, as they lived in the home year after year, they discovered a curious legacy from the past.
It started when a toilet began to malfunction. They removed the top to see what was wrong. There, taped inside, was a note. The message was simple: "Replaced float. April 9, 1962." It listed the price of the replacement part, told where it was purchased, and included the man's name.
Year after year, they discovered note after note.
They found the most recent one just a few months before my visit. The home had a corner cupboard, one of those nice china cabinets that you build right into a corner. They had found a nicer one, so they removed the old one to install their own. There, flush against the wall, they found an old yardstick. And lying right next to it was a sheet of paper. It said: “Dec. 12, 1983. Dropped ruler behind cabinet. It's a beautiful winter day. Shirley loves the house. It was always her dream." His name was on the note.
The old man died shortly afterward, and Shirley sold her dream to my newfound friends.
I was teaching a Bible study on the book of Genesis the other day, and something came up that made me remember the old man’s notes.
We were talking about Abram and his discussions with God.
“Why doesn’t God talk to us like he talked to people in the Old Testament,” Robert, my most faithful student, asked.
“What makes you think God doesn’t talk to us,” I responded.
“Well I certainly haven’t heard God’s voice,” he said.
I don’t know about you, I told the class, but I’ve found that God has left messages lying around. Some of them are right where I can see them, kind of like the hardware list next to the telephone. Others were hidden, waiting until I might need them.
That exchange opened a discussion in which we talked about all the ways God speaks to us.
One man said God spoke in a sun-speckled afternoon on the slopes of the Grand Tetons, at an ocean beach covered with kids and wild ponies, and atop a mountain in New Hampshire. Another heard God speaking through the Bible. One old woman heard God speaking from the line of waiting people at a soup kitchen. Yet others heard from God through thoughts from others, a grandmother, a parish priest, a Methodist minister. We talked about dreams and visions, conversations and silence, hymns and books, sermons and classes.
Our greatest discovery, I suppose, was that all we needed to do was listen.
Reflect on your life for 10 minutes. What is God saying to you?
“… if I your Lord and teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
John 13: 14
We had worked for years at the camp, helping juvenile delinquents to find a new way of living, but this year we were moving into the big time, hooking up electricity, turning on a new pump to provide drinking water, installing a new refrigerator in the equipment shed.
Biggest of all, though, we were building a new Adirondack shelter that would sleep 15. An engineer had sent copies of the plans, and we had bought wagonloads of rough-cut lumber from a country sawmill and finished materials from one of the local supply firms. The list seemed endless. Two by fours. Two by twelves. Two by tens. One by fours, one by sixes, one by eights. Rough-cut lumber, finished lumber. Fifty-pound kegs of nails. Sixteen penny commons, galvanized finish nails, eight penny commons; screening, and sheet after sheet of metal roofing and plywood.
The drawings were meticulous and wonderful. I began loading up my tool box. Hammer. Tape. Square. Level. Various pliers, wrenches and sockets. A saw.
Workers from two churches came to help, and finally the day came. It dawned clear and crisp, and the crew hiked through the woods to the job site. The engineer who designed the building arrived, looked around, and made his pronouncement.
You’ve got too many people over here, he said. You’ll be stumbling over each other. A couple guys should go build the outhouse.
I looked at our newly started building. I could already see that it was going to be a wonderful thing. Twelve feet wide. Twenty feet long. A story and a half high, with all kinds of angles and overhangs and fancy rough-cut siding. Built-in bunks and screened doors. Magnificent! I looked at the materials stacked by the roadway. A huge wagonload of lumber, flanked on either side by piles of other materials, steel roofing, plywood, huge beams.
There beside it, not too far off, sat a second pile, so puny it was almost invisible: A few two-by-fours, four sheets of siding, one lonely piece of plastic roofing. This was to become the camp’s third toilet. Four by four feet wide, eight feet high on the front, six feet high on the back. A back-country one-holer.
Al and I were the victims. No edifice for us. No detailed drawings and material lists. Go look at the one out back and copy it, the boss said.
We spent the next day and a half completing the job, listening all the while to whining saws and pounding hammers off through the woods. Building that little backwoods outhouse became a gift of the gospel put in my hands.
This was in my mind as I worked. Those who follow and believe in Jesus will look to him as the model and pattern their lives after his. They will bend down and serve others. They will make themselves less so others might be more.
When I came to camp the next year, I noticed a little golden plaque on the shelter. It told who designed it, who paid for it, which churches provided the volunteers. Later, when I had to visit the outhouse, I hiked off through the woods and saw a rough board sign over the door. Two words.
It said, “Larry’s Place.”
Reflect on your life for 10 minutes. Where’s your place?
“I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
John 14: 6
Have you ever been lost? I mean really lost.
I was lost once for most of a day. Army training. They dumped me off in the middle of miles of rolling woods and dirt roads. It was a test. Could I use a compass? They told me to run three legs. Go 1.2 miles at 189 degrees. Then go 2.4 miles at 354 degrees. Then go 1.6 miles at 49 degrees.
Do that, they said, and you’ll find your group.
I knew what to do. I opened my compass, sighted on a tree at 189 degrees, as far away as I could see, then headed straight for it. I had to twist and turn. Brush and obstacles blocked my path, and swampy areas forced me to detour, but as long as I saw the tree, I wasn’t lost. When I got to it, I stopped and took another sighting. Another tree, as far away as I could see. I repeated the process three or four times and finally found a man standing by a tree.
He told me I had completed the first leg, and so I now turned to 354 degrees. The country opened up a little. The trees weren’t so close together. I could see a little further, run a little faster. I was in the middle of the process, my eye fixed on a target. I ran over the crest of a hill for all I was worth, intent on getting to that tree and being the first one to get to my goal. All of a sudden, I was on the ground, rolling over and over, clear to the bottom of a draw. I struggled to my feet, headed back up the hill, where I found a single strand of barbed wire that had tripped me. But I had lost my tree.
I did the best I could. I tried to find the exact place where I had tripped. I sighted on 354 degrees and picked out another tree. But it was a test. The guy at the end of leg 2 didn’t say a word as I went past, off by about five yards. He stayed hidden, and I was lost. I ran in those woods for eight hours, never seeing a soul, never finding my way.
Have you ever been so lost that you didn’t care who or what you found?
We all get lost.
We lose our way in our marriages. On the day we’re married, we’re filled with a sacrificial love that would surrender anything, but then, too often, our spouse picks his teeth or farts or squeezes toothpaste wrong.
We lose our way at work. When we start, we’re excited. We’re learning new things, getting rewards. Then the routine wears on us. The boss isn’t nice.
We lose our way with our family. Our family loves us. They do all kinds of things for and with us. But then we do something stupid, and the family explodes.
We lose our way in our ministries. The work of the church becomes just so many jobs. We begin with a vision of what God wants us to do and be. But vision leaks. We poured out the vision, and we thought as we poured that we were pouring it, like coffee, into glass cups that wouldn’t leak. But we didn’t understand. Vision can only be poured into something like those little paper cones at the cooler. Have you ever held water in a paper cone for 30 minutes?
We get lost. We trip and fall. We lose sight of the most important tree, the only one that can keep us on track. It’s the nature of life.
How can we find our way? Jesus tells us.
I am the way and the truth and the life.
Can you say it?
Reflect on your life for 10 minutes. Recall a time when Jesus helped you find the way.
“Rabbi (which translated means teacher), they asked, where are you staying?”
John 1: 38
Each morning in Haiti, the roosters began to crow about 3 a.m.
We joked that the chickens there were somehow learning disabled because they began to crow long before dawn. The roosters crowed at 3, and the neighbor’s four dogs began to bark about 4.
Some of us would rise and go to prayer, either on the roof or in a rocking chair on the balcony. As we prayed, Haiti began to awaken. Eventually, as the sky turned gray, then pale blue and pink, a young boy would walk to the field behind the mission and begin his morning battle to milk the cow.
We laughed as we watched because it so often seemed he was fighting a losing battle. Not that the cow resisted. It didn’t. In fact, the cow seldom moved or objected.
The boy would approach, pail in hand, and bend down to begin milking. The moment he began, though, a young calf would hurriedly nose its way in, lowering its head and beginning to nurse. Each time the boy tried to milk, the calf would nose and butt and push its way beneath the cow, in the process shoving the young boy off target. This routine would go on, sometimes for 30 or 40 minutes – the calf and the boy fighting to obtain milk – with the boy most often losing because he had to protect his small bucket.
That calf knew where its life came from, and it wasn’t about to let anyone or anything disconnect it.
I sometimes wonder if we have as much sense.
Kathleen Norris, in her book Amazing Grace, speaks about the word detachment, something early monks spoke and wrote about. Nowadays, she points out, people often speak negatively about the word. Someone who is detached is not engaged in a healthy way with the world.
In the tradition of the monks, though, it meant not allowing worldly values to distract us from what is most essential, our relationship with God. In their view, someone who was detached would be free from the world and fully trusting of God. For them, detachment was a positive thing.
John understands that the first would-be disciples were aware of the importance of this discussion. Their first question of Jesus is this: “Where are you staying?” Another way to ask that might be: “Where do you abide?”
John provides an important answer much later in the gospel, when Jesus speaks about the vine and the branches. He speaks of the interconnectedness of the vine, the branches, and the fruit. I abide in the Father and the Father in me, he says.
Those who abide in me, he tells them, will bear much fruit.
Reflect on your life for 10 minutes. Where are you staying?