The Best Builder
by: Joel Bates
One of the downsides of living in the wilderness is a lack of resources. Directing a camp that specializes in taking people through a process of wilderness learning often results in my finding myself in the same classroom. I learned another lesson the other day when I discovered a problem with the roof on the Iron Stake Lodge.
As I walked atop the weathered shingles, examining them with a wary eye, it was neither the thick layers of green moss growing on the shingles that gave me greatest pause nor the bare patches on the eaves, revealing tar paper where a shingle ought to have been. Not even the many weather-beaten, worn out, brittle shingles themselves grabbed my attention so much as when I took a step on a spongy part of the roof and nearly fell through to the rafters below. Even with my untrained eye, I could tell the roof needed help, and I needed resources.
I checked the bank account and found that the funds were there not only to buy materials, but also to hire a professional to re-roof the lodge. Historically, the camp hasn’t always had a bank account that allowed contracting the services of a pro. That’s why almost everything around here has been built by volunteers or camp staff. With lots of other plates spinning, I felt truly blessed be able to hand off this mammoth task to someone else, someone more gifted, someone specialized.
I began the search for a quality carpenter by making a list of phone numbers. I then began dialing those numbers with a smile on my face, but it didn’t last long. Some had a waiting list I could join if I wanted to wait until 2056! Others had life emergencies that prevented them from committing. One said he could get to it—alright!—but not until late spring. Sigh. Another could have fit the job into his schedule…if it were a little bit smaller. I kept crossing off names as I contacted every qualified builder I knew. No one was available to do the job.
Morosely, I grabbed up my measuring tape and ladder. It had been a long time since I’d done any roofing, but as I trudged down to the lodge, a plan was forming in my mind. Maybe if I could just get the project started, perhaps a professional builder would emerge. I collected my measurements, placed the order, and huddled up with Briar, the camp’s newest full-time staff member. “Briar, do you think the two of us can at least start on the roof project?”
He grinned, “Sure, let’s do this!”
We began, cutting off the decayed drip edges and pulling back shingles. Our efforts revealed all the places in the sheathing that were spongy and rotting and needing replaced. Saws whined as they cut through tar paper and wood. Hammers pinged as nails pinned down replacements, and old boards screeched and popped as crowbars pried them from their aged cradles. We were thankful that winter was giving us a respite from the chilling winds and heavy snow. That day the clouds had parted to let the sun gaze down on our progress.
I paused to look around from my rooftop perch in the center of camp. There above the oaks and pines, I stood high enough to see the fallow cow pasture half a mile to the south and the deep green cedar forest beyond. I wiped the sweat from my brow and grinned as I took in the view. Briar stole a glance at me from his position across the way, “Sure is pretty, isn’t it? You know, I think you and I can do this job.”
His optimism warmed my heart as I glanced down at the orderly pile of recently delivered materials—shiny green roof panels, drip edges, and fresh lumber stacked on the ground ready for installation. “Maybe so,” I mused. “But we’ll need more help!”
The next day, bribed by the promise of pay and cheap ice cream, my kids joined us on the roof, hauling boards, hammering nails. and snapping lines. As I directed the work, memories of past construction projects came to mind, and the more progress we made, the more my rusty memory came to life with the solutions to the next steps. It finally dawned on me partway through the project that there was no professional coming and that perhaps we could do the entire job ourselves! The sun was still shining, and I relished that “Aha!” moment that spurred us on.
As the weeks passed, we made more and more progress until one day last month, I put in the last screw. I stood back and looked at the new roof. I was there alone that day as I surveyed the finished project. It had been a big task. So big that I should have had a professional do it. Curious, I uttered a question to God that had been on mind for some time, “God, with all the qualified professionals out there in the world, why did you not provide one for this job? Why did you leave me with no choice but to do it myself?” As I stood there silently waiting, a thought filled my mind, “This is my building, Joel, and I wanted the job done right…by the best.”
I was stunned. This couldn’t have been the voice of God. It must have been my own will infiltrating my mind to puff up my ego and rob God of the glory. I pondered this doubtfully, but still listened. Then the Lord clarified His message. It was not that I am such a great builder or the best carpenter. Far from it! But who more than the camp director cares about these buildings? I don’t want to cut corners on the work here because I, as much as anyone, will have to deal with the consequences of shoddy craftsmanship later.
What’s more, the Lord was with us as we worked, qualifying us, providing for us, and enabling us. He was there when the sun warmed our backs, and He was there when the materials we had measured for and ordered were the right size and the right amount. He enjoyed seeing my children learn to swing a hammer and run a drill as much as I did, and He thought it would enrich me personally to get to do this project and feel the joy of its success. Realizing that God cares so much about our plans, our tasks, and our lives and that He is so intricately involved from top to bottom brings tears to my eyes.
I’m not just making this up either. The Apostle Paul shared my sentiment when he jubilantly wrote in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” You see, the heavenly Father has building plans, and we all are part of it. There is work for us to do, and it does not require the hands of a professional, just the hands of the faithful, the committed, the willing follower.
We have promises from the Lord in what we are building for the Kingdom. “Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me” (Isaiah 44:21). I’m utterly amazed by God’s willingness to involve us in His plans and by His ongoing humility to release some of the work to us. Moreover, to share in God’s work surpasses all the work we would do for ourselves. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 3:9, “For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building.” So, the work I was doing on the camp’s lodge roof was good, but truly a God thing, because His people were involved.
At the end of the day, we remember His unlimited resources for us. We step back to take in the view of what we’ve done together and remember that the greatest work that God ever does is the work He does in us through Jesus. There was a task that we could not help Him with. It involved our sin, our salvation, a cross, and an empty tomb. The completion of that task has given us everlasting life with God. Now that’s a building project that I can get into!
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
2 Corinthians 5:17
by Joel Bates
Every DM intern must complete certain assigned readings from the shelves of our camp library. We have some good ones, like Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning and Ashley Denton’s Outdoor Leadership, but my all-time favorite is Alfred Lansing’s Endurance. Though I’d read the story before, I found for the first time a message of Jesus sandwiched between the lines.
The ship was lost, but the men aboard were not. We read how they painstakingly hauled their equipment and stores miles and miles across the treacherous ice tundra, always taking sightings and plotting a course for the freedom and salvation of the ocean that lay north. Months and months, they traveled with persistence and fervor across the rolling tide of the floes to reach the sea. But alas, the sea presented another test of their skill and resolve as they embarked again on a perilous journey, braving the icebergs, encountering pack ice, and being drenched by the icy spray from the swells of the open ocean.
Though riddled with scenes of peril, intrigue, and the anguish of their plight, it was the book’s last few pages that brought tears to my eyes. Against all odds and with unmistakable divine intervention, Shackleton prevailed and returned to rescue his crew who had waited faithfully for months. The captain refused to rest easy until the last soul was reclaimed from Elephant Island, and as those souls step into the lifeboat, “everything that had only moments before seemed so important, now faded into nothing at the realization of their rescue.”
I cannot help but think of our great expedition leader, Jesus. He crossed a void we could not cross. He overcame all odds to rescue us. I want to be like that crew awaiting their captain, faithfully believing that he would return. I will not lose hope, not grow apathetic, not become consumed with hoarding all I can to preserve myself in this current situation. With my Savior looking on, I want to be one who steps into that lifeboat, having never lost faith, having never given up the fight, and never looking back and longing for the trappings of all the remains on icy, Elephant Island—things that seemed so important only moments before, but now fade into nothing.
When interns ask which book to read first, I might just suggest, The Gospel according to Endurance.
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us
an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,
since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (NIV)
by: Joel Bates
Have you ever hunted for real treasure? The other day, I sat out behind my house in the misty
woods, enjoying a small campfire. I was relishing time with Jesus in prayer and in His Word when I
heard Him say, “Let’s take a walk. I want to show you a treasure.” My little fire was warm, so I
hesitated to leave its comfort, but drawn by the promise of a prize that God wanted to show me, I got
up and started walking.
I went north, down a big, forested slope that ended in a sharply enclosed ravine. As I walked, I
wondered what awaited, and to my delight, the Lord said, “Look closer.” With great curiosity, I began
examining each tree…each leaf…each rock, but nothing seemed very remarkable. Then, I spied a
familiar outcropping of igneous rock and made a beeline for it. Rocks like that, protruding from the side
of a hill, often identify a cave. What if all this time there had been an exciting cave right under my nose?
Surely, this was the surprise Jesus wanted to show me. I could easily imagine how important a new cave
would be for ministry use. However, as I crawled around the distended formation, I found no gaping
opening that invited exploration.
Disappointed, I continued on until I came to a small dried up creek bed. Years ago, my family
and I had walked this way and chanced upon an incredible find—two huge deer antlers with skulls intact
had lain locked together. They told the story of a duel fought long ago that ended in defeat for both
prideful victims. I began to search the area more closely for any signs of deer or any trace of an antler
shed that I could take home to surprise my kids. But the more I explored, the more I got the feeling that
this, too, was not what the Lord had in mind. So, I kept going, looking intently for caves and deer
antlers, mind you.
Before long, I neared the top of a rise that offered a little clearing. The more I survey the area,
the more I could imagine a house built upon this hill, or better yet, a lodge for camp use, standing as a
sentinel. Yes, perhaps this was what the Lord had been trying to show me. Did He want me to build
here—more buildings to use for Kingdom purposes, more beds to house more participants for more
camp programs? Then I heard the still small voice of the Lord say, “Keep going.” I guess this was not the
treasure He wanted to show me.
As I walked down another slope and back up again, I began to doubt whether I had really heard
the Lord. Maybe I just thought I had received His direction. That’s when I saw a gravel road, emerging
from the thick forest, I stood in the middle of the road and looked first left then right. A sign guarded
the entrance with bold white letters on a red background. It said, “STOP!” I had seen it before, but in
fact, the sign was quite common and seldom caused much reflection.
I stood there blinking at it, somehow knowing it was not only for passing automobiles, but for
me, too. I knew this gravel road all too well. It’s the road my new neighbors live on. I still have not
introduced myself to them. And, then I thought of elderly Lenny, a widower living out there with no
family around. This road leads to the homes of friends and neighbors. I haven’t talked to any of them
I knew without Him even telling me, but He said it anyway, “This is the treasure I wanted to
show you--people.” God had placed people near me, or maybe more correctly, He had place me near
them. I haven’t met those new neighbors who may not even know Jesus. I have forgotten an elderly
fellow who could use a friend to offer the companionship of Christ. Have I abandoned longtime
acquaintances who could simply use an encouraging reminder that God loves them?
I wiped a tear from my misting eyes as I realized how seldom I treasure the things God
treasures. If I want to be like Jesus, I must care about what He cares about. If left to my own pursuits, I
would settle for holes in the ground, horns to mount on the wall, and hills to build on, but God reminded
me that He so loved the world—the people—that He gave His only son. They are the treasure God
seeks. They must become our treasures, too. This holiday season, consider the words of the Savior:
…but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys
and where thieves do not break in and steal.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be added to you.
Matthew 6:20-21 & 33
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.