Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tools of the Trade: A Tribute to a Childhood Friend

On April 25th, 2012 my childhood friend Ray Christenson passed from this life after a battle with cancer that was fought courage, faith, and tenacity.  Growing up Ray was not a conforming child that sat at the front of the classroom with a shiny halo above his head.  When we reconnected in January of 2012, I was reminded that the Lord has a good sense of humor.  He found a calling in ministry just like me. When we were kids, we had no clue where we would both someday day spend our Sundays!  The truth is my halo was also noticeably missing too during our formative years.

I had a long discussion with Ray in a snow covered parking lot after hearing him preach what would end up being one of his final sermons in January of 2012.  We talked extensively about our families.  And we talked “shop” about ministry.  He listened humbly and graciously. I learned that Ray actually earned his living working in a body shop restoring cars that had been damaged and mangled in crashes.  I was actually a little envious, because my hands on skills are lacking to say to the least.  Ray didn’t sit in a plush office preparing weekly sermons.  He had little time to pursue continuing education or attend conferences.  There was not time for long lunches to talk church business. He didn’t serve a church that was constructed in a part of the city where stylish homes are cropping up everywhere.  The church he served meets in a converted warehouse in an inner city area.  Most of the people that comprise that church are not highly educated or affluent.  And the church is refreshingly diverse racially.

This week I noticed that Ray’s son, Ray Jr, is selling the tools he used in his job at the body shop.  The picture of those tools broke my heart.  It was a reality check that Ray Sr. never use them again. My first inclination was to tell his son to set them in a prominent place as a symbol of his father’s restorative work.  But I Ray Jr. knows that his father would want someone to get some good use out of them. And then I realized that Ray Sr. used another set of tools for restorative purposes. Those particular tools can never be sold or taken away….

Ray Sr. used the tools that I could not possibly name to restore bent up and mangled cars to their original beauty. They will be sold.  But he also used the tools of compassion, kindness, and humility as a means of restoring bent up and mangled lives. I have met the people whose hearts he touched. I know such divine tools were used well.  Those tools will never be removed. He has passed them on to those of us who knew and loved him.  Now it is our turn to make good use of them.

To my knowledge Ray Sr. was never honored at a seminary or Christian University. He was not a prominent church leader that everyone scrambled to listen his sermons on i-tunes every week.  He did not preach for a prominent church that everyone looked to for the latest and greatest ministry initiative. Ray spent his life using all kind of tools to restore things and people, so I count him among those I consider to be great.  And I am grateful that he allowed me to inherit some of his tools simply by investing in my life.  My message to Ray Jr. this week is this: no one will ever take the important tools from you. Be of good courage. 

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