THE WORKSHOP LESSON
By Steve Bietz
My grandfather, my dad’s father, was a farmer for much of his life. My grandparents, David and Edna Bietz, lived in the small farming community known as Cleveland, North Dakota. My grandparents owned right at 1000 acres of land where my grandfather planted and harvested barley year after year. I enjoyed my young years of mostly being in my granddad’s way I suspect, as he let me ride in the cab with him in his green John Deer combine tractor. Up and down and back and forth we would go all day across the fields of barley.
But the day would come, while my grandfather was still in his 50s when he would have a severe heart attack. Though he would survive, it was felt that it would be best if my grandparents sell their farm. My grandfather would live into his 80s, no longer farming, but still active in retirement.
Actually, it was after my grandparents sold the farm that I saw the extent of my grandfather’s gifts that went beyond farming. I discovered my grandfather was a carpenter. He could build you a house, but his passion was roll-top desks, footstools, end tables, china cabinets, rocking chairs, and on and on. Much of the work he sold, but so many times, he just gave the items away.
My grandfather’s workshop was the basement of their home, which was now in town if you can call Cleveland North Dakota a town. There was a constant aroma, as you entered my grandfather’s workshop, of wood stain. Scattered all over the place were the wood shavings and sawdust from his work.
One summer, I spent several weeks in Cleveland North Dakota with my grandparents. I was somewhere around 13 or 14 years old. As I got out of bed one morning, I heard noises coming from the workshop in the basement. Still, in my pajamas, I headed downstairs to see what grandpa was up to so early in the morning before breakfast. He was working on a rocking chair, but almost immediately I could sense that he was frustrated. I wasn’t sure what the problem was, but finally, my grandfather sighed and set down on his stool.
He looked at me, with a slight grin on his face and said, “well Steven, this is why we call this place a workshop…because sometimes it doesn’t work.” After grandma fixed us breakfast, back to the workshop we went. I watched as my grandfather took apart the rocking chair that had not met his approval. He would remake several of the rocking chair pieces and then rebuild it. That late afternoon, I was pleased that grandfather gave me a brush so that I could help with the staining of that rocking chair.
I wish I knew what became of that rocking chair. But I have no idea where it sits today and who might be sitting in it and rocking away. But I do know the lesson of the workshop that I learned and how connected it was to the wisdom we find in a loving Carpenter named Jesus Christ.
This world is not heaven. However, it is a workshop where God’s people are being chiseled, sawed, and sanded. The Great Carpenter, Jesus, tenderly builds our characters. He has had to do a lot of sanding on me and has also taken me apart and put me back together when I just don’t fit right. But, like my grandfather, I sense a grin on my Lord’s face as he says to me, “it’s ok Steven, that is why we call this place and time, a workshop.
Christ, our carpenter, sands and saws and chisels away at each of us, until our characters are stained by His blood and sealed by His Character. There is a poem written by Paul Warren, that I like as it describes the work of a carpenter, in this case, the carpenter Jesus.
“He selects the wood very carefully/ The grain and color so beautifully/ Looking along the edge it’s straight/ And feeling it, it has a good weight/ Remember to measure twice and cut once/ Is the rule of thumb before you pounce/ He knows the work and the craftsman’s tools/ As He saws, planes and sands to carpenter’s rules/ The joints are a woodworker’s art and a pleasure to see/ When glued together with strong and straight it will be/ The last piece of the Carpenter’s work is at hand/ To finish is to wax the wood for a look that’s grand.”
Thoughtful words. I sometimes forget that Jesus was a carpenter. Fortunately, the psalmist didn’t forget: Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Psalm 127:1
May we gladly lay on the workshop table that belongs to our loving Carpenter, Jesus. May we welcome the necessary sanding, cutting, and waxing, till our Great Carpenter’s Character glows in each of us each day.
Steve Bietz is the pastor at Morganton Seventh Day Adventist Church.