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Mission trips with young adults have been one of those experiences in life that keep on giving. I have just completed my eighth trip. The trips have been spread over many years, first without any stake in the game (kids of my own) and then later, with my daughter and her two sons (my grandsons). The nature of each trip varied, some in Appalachia, others in the inner city, such as Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and others in small towns like Columbus, Mississippi, and Aiken, South Carolina. While each trip took on a personality of its own, I often find myself reflecting back on my love for storytelling. And when you combine a lot of great young minds, some good work helping others, and my love for the Bible, there is always a good story close by.

It was in the early 90s, and I was on one of my early trips to Appalachia. Projects were simple, and on this day, we had been given a project to help a widow living in Livingston, Kentucky. The home was small and in need of much repair, and we would rebuild her porch, patch her roof, and fix a bathroom. But what she wanted from us was to build a closet in her bedroom. Now, that may sound like a strange request. However, homes in Appalachia often lack even the most standard features. Some even lacked bathrooms. But in this case, the entire wardrobe of this lady was laid out over a chair and on the end of her bed. One of her requests was to take a corner of her bedroom and turn it into a small closet.

Plumbline1Working with our teenagers is always a true joy. They love the work and are sponges for learning anything. Construction is always one of those areas that is high on the list of desired projects. A check with a level quickly showed me that nothing was square or true in the home. This was typically Appalachian construction. Floors sloped, walls leaned, and ceilings sagged. So I reached for my trusty plumb line. As one of our young workers held the line up on the ceiling, we were able to mark the exact location on the floor for the corner of the closet. And here is where my first opportunity came to tell each of our workers about Amos.

Amos was a shepherd who tended his flock near Bethlehem and Jerusalem. He lived about 750 years before Jesus and was a prophet sent to tell the people of Israel that they would be judged by God. Amos knew that he had to talk to the people of Israel in ways that they could understand. The people of Israel were very good workers and builders. So Amos taught the people of Israel using a tool that all of them could relate to: the plumb line.

Plumbline2So as one of our youth held that line, I told them to look carefully and see how the string was always straight up and down. No matter how the plumb line was held, it was always perfectly vertical. No skill was needed here; just hold it, use it and you get a straight line. Of course, from that straight line, we could build a straight wall.

Amos told the people of Israel that “God was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. And God asked Amos, “What do you see, Amos?” Amos replied, “A plumb line.” Then God said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.” What did God mean? Well, as people, God knew that we could not build our lives so that we were straight and true without something to measure our lives against. Amos was telling the people of Israel that God would give them something to measure their own lives against so that they would know how to live correctly. God gave them His Son, Jesus. You see, Jesus is just like a plumb line. Jesus is always perfect. When we get to know Him so well that we can measure ourselves against Him, we can be just like a straight wall, pleasing to God, but if we try to lead our lives without a measurement, we often find that no matter how hard we try by ourselves, our life ends up just like a crooked wall.

Plumbline3As a parent and grandparent, I learned that children as well as adults must have Amos’ plumb line to lead a very straight and true life. The story was well received that day, and for each of my mission trips after, I have told that story about Amos and the plumb line. On what was my last youth mission trip, I had the honor to tell that story to my daughter and two grandsons. And what a joy that was!

Story taken from Amos 7:7-8