In construction measuring is important.

I learned that one summer on a mission project in Birmingham, Alabama. It was a college effort to fix some of the homes in a blighted neighborhood. The adult on our project was a notorious carpenter known as Lying John Williams.

Lying John didn’t think much of us college kids. I remember one time he told me that although I might be able to quote Shakespeare and spell Charlemagne, I would never make a good carpenter.

Part of his evaluation was based on the fact that I didn’t chew tobacco.

The rest seemed to be based on the way I held a hammer, which was close to the head rather than out on the end where I could strike the nail with authority. I was a single’s hitter and you learn to choke up for control, right?

Actually, it doesn’t matter any longer because all carpenters use nail guns and that is another article all together.

It was Lying John who taught me about true measurements. The second day of the project he handed me a stack to 2 x 4’s and said, “Saw me ten boards exactly seventy-two inches long.”

I pulled out my measuring tape and measured the first board, marking it with the square. I sawed it right on the line. Then I took the second board, laid it across the sawhorses, put the first board on top, and marked it off. When I finished sawing, I laid the third board on the sawhorses, measured with the second board, and so on until I finished all ten boards.

When Lying John reappeared, he took all ten boards and stood them end to end. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Every board was a quarter inch longer than the next board and the tenth board was two and a half inches longer than the original board.

Lying John let them all fall to the ground, picked up the saw and handed it back, “Get to work, College Kid,” he said, “and remember, to get a true measure, always use the same stick.”

Another synonym for Scripture is the canon. The word canon comes from the Greek word which means “rule or measuring stick.”

The canon of Scripture, the inspired Word of God, then becomes the ruler by which we are measured and by which we measure our behavior. God does have standards which need to be met. God does place expectations on how Jesus followers should treat themselves and others. We measure up when we follow the canon.

“If it feels good, Do it.” is a selfish cliché that has helped exactly no one to find a meaningful or spiritual transformation. There is another way.

I think about measuring up every time I cut a board. I have made lots of saw dust in my construction projects. I have made lots of mistakes doing things I have no business doing. I have learned the value of watching knowledgeable and skilled craftsmen work. I have been humbled by the opportunity to spend time with them and to help them in small ways.

I’m learning to be a carpenter follower. There are rules to follow in following.


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