Really, here in Plevna?

How he knew where I was, why he was even in the area—I still don’t know. But here he is, the building inspector…

one of many churches in Plevna

Years ago I was sent to a little town in eastern Montana called Plevna to do some work on a church. Unless you are from that area you have probably never heard of it. It’s just east of Ismay. . .which should clear that right up.

The project manager told me to just load up and head over there. (over 200 miles away) He couldn’t remember the name of the church but, he said, it’s a tiny town you should have no problem finding the church, it’s the white one with the bad sidewalks.

Guess what, there are six churches in Plevna, and they were mostly all white with old sidewalks that looked like they needed replaced. In fact, it turns out that the name Plevna is an eastern European word (Turkish, Bulgarian?) that means many churches.

Anyway, after a phone call back to the office for a little more information I found the right church. It was the Baptist church, and we went to work replacing sidewalks and improving the drainage from the site to keep the water out of the basement.

Now, I am in the middle of nowhere by most reckonings. A couple of miles off of a secondary highway on the back side of a small town, working at a small church— and after a couple of weeks on the job, guess who shows up. The State building inspector.

The first thing you see coming into Plevna

Now, aside from the few bigger towns who have their own building inspectors, there are two state inspectors that cover the entire state, one the western half, and the other the eastern half.

That’s a lot of territory. How he knew where I was, why he was even in the area—I still don’t know. But here he is; “I heard there was a project going on here so I thought I had better check it out. I don’t think anyone pulled a permit for this did they?”

Um, I don’t know. Excuse me, I need to call the office. The office told me that the value of the project was under the dollar amount that required a building permit. When I told the inspector that he said, “Well that might be true, but when you are doing anything that changes an egress, you have to have a review and a permit.”

For those of you non construction types, an egress is the way you enter and exit a building. So I told him, well, we are not changing any doors or paths of travel inside or out. He saw all the new concrete around the front door and just assumed that we had changed everything.

No, all we did was bust out the old and put in new, it’s all exactly the way it was before—without the big cracks. “Oh, okay, I guess your good then, have a nice day!”

The moral of the story is, no matter how far away and tucked away you are, you can’t hide from the building inspector. But I was not doing anything wrong, in fact, I was diligently doing my best and that little church got a nice new sidewalk among other things. A few Baptists in Plevna MT were blessed and I have since been entrusted with much larger projects—and have a great rapport and trusting relationship with the state building inspector–who never fails to find me.

You never know when the chief shepherd is going to show up, so you had best be found playing by the rules.

Obscurity

And take care of that with which you are entrusted.

Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. 1 Peter 5

There is a phrase, more of a concept really, that has been on my mind and heart a lot lately. I first heard it about two years ago, a prophecy with a promise, that those who are diligently laboring in obscurity will be the ones God uses in a mighty way to accomplish his purposes in the great harvest to come.

Pastor Mario Murillo https://mariomurilloministries.wordpress.com/ is the one who has been speaking this message. But the Holy Spirit has sealed that word in my heart.

I have certainly felt at times like I am laboring in obscurity here, in my little Red Lodge church, diligently toiling away, fixing broken things at a small church in a small town that few know even exists let alone try to find. But there is one who sees, one who knows, and he will reward us, all of us who are quietly working, doing the best we can without thought to what we can get out of it or our own advancement.

For all of you, my fellow shepherds and bond servants of Christ, toiling in dry fields far from the lights of notoriety, in the Ismays, Plevnas and Red Lodges of the world, hear this;

In that quiet humility and eagerness to just do what God asks us to do, because we love him and his, and for no other reason, we will be blessed with grace and favor that will one day turn into a crown of glory that will make us forget all about the days of frustration and doubt that we may have had.

The chief Shepherd is watching us, and he knows exactly where we are— and he is pleased.

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/barbarians-in-the-kingdom-dan-swaningson/1127708082?ean=9781683144762

Leadman

As a good leader you know that everything that happens under your watch is your responsibility.

Years ago I was working on a project at Rocky Mountain College in Billings. It was an addition on the Student Union building. I showed up shortly after it started to help form the walls for the foundation and quickly realized that the guys who were doing the work did not have all the stuff they needed, namely whaler brackets, and they did not really know what they were doing —the hundred foot of wall they were forming was as crooked as a dog’s hind leg.

The foreman was off getting some parts at the yard so I made a phone call to the shop to try and catch him because the guys had told me what he was after and I knew it was not what we needed.

I was no expert but I had been on a couple of big concrete jobs by then and had learned from the best. This was long before everyone carried cell phones so the best I could do was call the office and hope someone could run out to the yard and give him the message.

I missed the foreman, he had come and gone, but somehow I ended up talking to the big boss and I explained to him what was going on and he agreed that ‘yeah, you need some whaler brackets to straighten that wall— why don’t they have any?’  

We soon had some whaler brackets. Of course then I was worried that the foreman would be angry that I had seemingly gone over his head to get the right parts. Instead he was grateful that I had set the wall and the crew straight—he admitted that he was not very experienced in doing concrete foundations. I had to admire his humility anyway.

As the job progressed it wasn’t long before the crew was looking to me for guidance on how to form the walls that got higher and more complicated as we worked around the building. I was just a carpenter, same as everyone else, but one day the foreman came to me and asked, “Dan, I would like you to run the concrete crew.”

I said, “That would be fine but if you want me to push these guys I need to get paid to make it worth the push back.” (Actually I said it in more blunt construction terms; “If I’m going to be an asshole, I need asshole pay”) He said he would talk to the big boss and see what he says.

A day or two later the big boss came out to take a look at the job and he came over to where I was working and looked at a corner in the twelve foot tall foundation wall we were forming. He saw some bracing he thought was inadequate and said, “You know the hydraulic pressure of that much concrete is probably going to blow out that corner the way it’s done there.”

I looked at it and said, “Well, yeah, you’re probably right. I didn’t form this corner, Randy and Monty did.” At this —and I’ll never forget this—he turned and looked me in the eye and said; “A foreman has to take responsibility for everything his crew does.”

I looked at him for a moment and simply replied; “I’ll make sure it gets taken care of.”

That was his way of telling me that I was now the official leadman and I did get an extra dollar an hour on my paycheck. And a couple years later I got promoted to foreman.

We all have those moments when something changes the way you think and set’s you on a better course that leads to favor and blessing—if we’ll humble ourselves and listen.

I remember that day well, standing there in that hole on a hot summer day some 25 years ago, covered in form oil, dust and sweat, and it was a lesson I never forgot. And I still live by that rule to this day, as a Job superintendent and as a leader in the church. With authority comes great responsibility and everything that happens under your watch is your responsibility. And you cannot throw people under the buss to make yourself look faultless.

In the end that only makes you look small, and the people you lead will stop respecting you and the quality of the work will suffer greatly. Carrying the load of others’ mistakes or failures is never easy but that is what those who would lead, whether in business or in the church, are called to do.

It’s not just taking the responsibility, it’s striving to help others avoid those mistakes going forward and to recover and recoup from the mistakes already made.

Heavy is the Head

There’s an old saying that was popularized by William Shakespeare in Henry the IV; “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.”

Everyone wants to be in charge, until they are. True leaders know that they are servants who get others to follow by showing them the way, not just telling—carrying the burdens with them, not just demanding that they be carried. True leaders have been there and done that which they are now expecting of others while knowing that if the job is not done he will likely have to do or fix it himself.

Am I talking about construction or ministry? —both. Heavy is the head that wears the crown whether it’s a white hard hat or the anointing oil of ordination. And the older you get, and the more you understand the significance and the reasons why, the greater the burden becomes and the more valuable your leadership.

If others will listen. It’s the fool who despises the words of their elders.

Which is why we are told to submit.

People who have earned their authority didn’t get there by being lazy or foolish.

It is not for naught that Jesus gives certain persons the gift of leadership and then has them earn their crown—pay their dues so to speak. Those who don’t are more likely to fall, or more likely be knocked off their high horses.

Grace and favor come to the humble.

Our humility today, our humble and faithful service, will gain us the crown of glory. We do not get to lord over anyone today as if we have already been glorified and all must look up to us. We have our greatest example of that, of course in Jesus. Jesus set aside his glory and became a servant, a suffering servant.

Exaltation through Humility. Jesus literally took the blame for everything mankind has ever done, he bore all our sins on that cross, exemplified love, grace and selflessness and is now wearing the crown of the king of glory over all the universe.

Certainly, his was a heavy head as it was crowned with thorns. But he did it because he knew that the end result was worth it, the end result being the redemption of those he loved.

The same thing that should motivate us.

A Man’s Pay

I handed it to him and said, that’s how you do it. The other hand said “Hey Dan, take it easy on him, he’s just a kid!”

A few years ago I was doing a remodel on an elementary school in Billings. One of the guys I had working under me was the teenage nephew of the owner of the company I worked for. I had him and another more experienced guy removing all the ceramic floor and wall tile in the bathrooms.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I got them lined out and went to do other things. A couple hours later I came back and there wasn’t a whole lot accomplished yet. The more experienced hand was popping tile off the walls with a little seven bar and a hammer, making a little progress, but here was the bosses’ nephew sitting on top of a short ladder with his Leathermen tool, basically an expensive Swiss Army knife—in case you don’t know— and he was using the little flat screw driver attachment to pry the tiles off, one agonizingly slow tile at a time.

I said, what are you doing? I gave you a spud bar and a floor scraper. He says, “Oh, I don’t need those, I have all the tools I need right here in my Leatherman.” I said, “No, put that away, we don’t have forever to get this done.” I then grabbed the spud bar and attacked the walls with it scraping off scores of wall tiles from the concrete backer board in a matter of a few seconds.

I handed it to him and said, that’s how you do it. The other hand said “Hey Dan, take it easy on him, he’s just a kid!” I replied, “He’s getting paid a man’s wages here, he needs to do a man’s work.” (Yes I know that’s not politically correct–so sue me) Production increased dramatically after that.

Just a few months ago I happened to run into his Dad at a supply house in Billings and he recognized my name as he was taking my order. He said, “Hey, I’m Kyle’s dad, my son worked with you a few years ago and he talked about you a lot, he really liked you and he learned a lot that summer! Thank You.”

I said “Thanks, that’s really good to hear.”

I have always believed that you are not doing anyone any favors by not teaching them how to work and expecting more out of them then they expect out of themselves. Being fair, yes, but expecting one to do their best. That’s the way I was raised, that’s the way I came up in the trades and that willingness to work hard and the wisdom to work efficiently and productively has always served me well.

It has kept me working and garnered me more responsibility, and a bigger paycheck as I have been entrusted with more and more over the years.

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. James 3:13

That’s what James is doing here, trying to teach us how to work, to garner more responsibility and trust so that we can have greater rewards.

The apostle James is laying out for us in his letter, the way to obtain wisdom, the fruit of righteousness, even grace; telling us it is in our willingness to let go of ourselves, our selfish ambitions, lusts, our need to be somebody in the eyes of the world and in humbling ourselves, repenting of our arrogance and selfishness.

In fact, he is quite adamant and passionate about it, true to his ‘no holds barred’ style he is even calling us out as being adulterous for seeking our own advancement over that of the Kingdom, which has implications of we the bride cheating on the groom. James is calling us out for going after the false gods of self and the desires of the flesh.

Bottom line here, I believe, in this section of James’ letter is that our arrogance, pride and apathy is disqualifying us from the full measure of grace and the power that goes with it that God so desperately wants to give us.

How-ya liking James now?

“Hey, I’m just a kid, leave me alone!” No. you are being fed meat, you need to work like an adult.

God yearns jealously for our spirits as only a first and true love can. And we are truly the ones our God yearns for as his first love, the crown of his creation made in his image. To love and be loved with the kind of love only a being created like the creator, who embraces that love, can.

The spirit is our inner being, the very core and heart of who we are, and God wants nothing more than to connect with us on an intimate personal level. Too often we let our mouths get in the way. There’s an old saying; “Don’t let your froggy lips overload your tadpole ass.” In other words. Don’t let your mouth get you into more trouble than you can handle.

A little humility goes a long way. Especially with the Lord.

Pride always gets us into trouble. It just sets you up to fail.

I have little patience at work, as I have mentioned to you before, for someone who spends more time telling me what they can do and how good they are, than they do working. Less talk, more work. Talk is arrogance, work is humility. When the task at hand is done, then we can talk. And even plan what’s next, based on what you did, not what you said you can do..

Let the boss catch you working, head down, mouth shut, hands busy. And when it’s time for layoffs, you’ll look up and see that the talkers are gone and you are now somebody—somebody trusted, somebody with favor, more responsibility, more authority—but most importantly, still employed.

That scenario has happened to me more than once in my construction career. God’s economy works the same way. Yeah we could all go on unemployment or welfare and make it to heaven in the end, presuming on grace as citizens of the Kingdom by virtue of the blood.

But then you are not living up to your potential, you are wasting the talents given you and you are missing out on the joys of seeing the fruits of your labors and the honor and security of being a diligent trusted worker with the opportunity, by virtue of your position, to help others and even bring them into the fold as well.

The reward for faithfully working is often those greater works you seek.

Trials and Tests

“I’m not good at the patience thing when I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Test of Faith

We don’t always think about faith and patience being intertwined but they really are. What is faith if it’s not waiting for something that we have not yet achieved or possessed? And what gets us through hard times?—trials, if it’s not patience; patiently waiting for the manifestation of that which we hope for, believing that it is coming.

The Long Trial

Ten years ago I was going through quite a trial. Two years earlier we had bought twenty acres and financed the purchase of a beautiful modular home, built a garage, new fences, we were set up pretty well there. I had a good job in Construction with a company I had been with for many years, plus another job as the children’s pastor at a church in Billings that brought in a few more bucks—and then the bottom fell out of the economy.

Construction took a major hit and to top it off we got a new field manager who seemed to have a set of favorites (drinking buddies) who got the few good projects we had, and I was not one of them. I ended up getting laid off for months at a time over the next two years and with a brand new and substantial mortgage payment due every month the finances were looking grimmer and grimmer.

I was really feeling the pressure as the bills came due every month and we would have no idea where the money was coming from. Long story short, God took care of us and we never missed a payment but I knew I had to do something. We had barely recovered from years of financial hardship caused by a major back injury—and here we are again—’I need a steady income! I have to take care of my family!’

I started my church in Red Lodge in the middle of all that also by the way, because the Lord was asking me to—‘sell my house and move to Carbon County? Right after the housing market has crashed and the big mortgage companies gone bust?’

Now there was a trial—I can’t say I was counting it all joy—but I had to remain faithful. Nervously, impatiently faithful, but faithful nonetheless, and here we are.

But, I was determined to fix my own lot in the midst of this; ‘I have to be working, I can’t sit home and keep waiting and hoping for this months’ miracle to get our bills paid and unemployment benefits are not enough.’

 So I started looking for another job, no one was willing to pay me a full time salary to preach, and I had been called to start a church from scratch in Red Lodge anyway and I only know how to do two things, preach and build things.Preacher Dan

So I started looking for another job. Turned out there was not a lot of commercial builders looking for a Job Superintendent with a bad back in the middle of a recession.

I went to see an old friend who had a construction company in town, someone I had actually worked with years earlier when he was a foreman with the company I was with,  but he had built up a pretty good company of his own since then. He was more than happy to talk to me, he’s a fellow believer also, but he said he just didn’t have enough work to put on another foreman at that point.

“Dan, I would love to have you and I might have more work soon, but I gotta tell you, knowing what I know about the outfit you’re with, I would just be patient for now and stick it out there. You are a good superintendent, the estimators like you, and there are some changes coming that will greatly improve your lot.” “Some of the older supers are going to retire soon and you will find yourself at the top.”

 

When I told my wife Donna what he said, she looked greatly relieved and said, he’s right. She didn’t like the idea of me jumping ship in the midst of a storm, and honestly, neither did I but I’m not good at the patience thing when I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

But my old friend was right, soon the construction market in Eastern Montana picked up, largely thanks to the Bakken oil field money, Our house sold and we didn’t loose any money on it and the field manager who couldn’t seem to keep me working was let go and eventually the old guard of the top foreman, did retire.

I was blessed with great favor translating into raises and more importantly, steady work. And last year, when the bottom suddenly fell out from under the company I worked for for nearly three decades, that favor and blessing all rolled over into an even better job doing the same thing with most of the same people and for better money still, with a company that truly appreciates me.

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And the church we started in Red Lodge has been changing lives and healing hearts throughout. And that is an ongoing and blessed story of trails and victories.

Bottom line in the whole scenario—I just had to be patient, and have faith. God had never stopped working on my behalf.

joy

So now, when the trials come—and there have been many since then in various shapes and forms—I do not worry and fret anymore. I count it all joy. Not the giddy, ‘devil may care, but I don’t’, kind of joy, but the ‘I know this is going to be alright and that God is going to use this to accomplish something good, something I cannot see  or even imagine right now kind of joy.

So rejoice in the trials of the day.  In this trial—you are being perfected.

Cross Welding part II

These are trying times and a lot of people have lost a lot in this season of social upheaval—jobs, businesses, freedoms, social lives, confidence, security. Many things have been and are being affected by this shutdown which we are just breaking out of and in many places is still in full force. And the full ramifications of it all are only beginning to be realized.

Enduring

It’s hard to be confident in the face of so much unknown; What businesses will survive? What freedoms will be restored? Will I or someone I love still get sick and maybe die? Will people who hate this country, hate the president and the church, use this to destroy as much or all of that as they can? Will we end up becoming even more divided as a nation as those who advocate a new normal come up against those who just want normal again?

Many want a choked down version of life as we knew it, a “new normal” which for most businesses is unsustainable and for most people induces great anguish.

Everyone just wants their lives back, but I’m afraid we are not going to get them back the way they were without a fight, as many are already convinced that we cannot go back.

Fine, I’m not going to argue that here and I only know what I know. The disturbing part for most is the unknown. What does the future look like? At what expense and who will suffer as a result long term and short? Will I? Will my family?

Those are the big scary questions and concerns that can make us want to give in to despair, that can push us over the edge and away from the Lord. Especially on the heels of whatever problems you were dealing with even before this shared upheaval started. Life is hard, isn’t it?

We have to focus on the good and we have to keep our eyes heavenward and we need endurance. And that is the message of Hebrews here.

yet a little while

Endurance

We need endurance if we are going to make it through this life and receive our enduring possession in heaven, that we may receive the promise. The promise of eternal life, the promise that Jesus is coming back, the promise that we will live—by faith.

We can and should have a heart full of joy in this life as we walk in the light of his love, but it is nothing compared to the hope we have, the knowledge that the best is yet to come.

Jesus is coming

Do not draw back, do not give up, endurance is what wins the day, and by patience possessing your souls. (Luke 21:19)

Paul gives the early Christians he is writing to here kudos for joyfully following Jesus, continuing in faith, enduring, even as their goods were being plundered. Many of those who chose to follow Jesus were severely persecuted, they lost jobs, homes and all their goods seized.

Yet they never gave up the one thing that could not be stolen, the one thing that was the reason they joyfully gave all to follow Jesus in the first place, and that is their souls. They had been illuminated from the inside, the Holy Spirit was witnessing to their spirits that they were now truly alive, and that the best was yet to come.

If they just endure a little longer, they will receive their enduring possessions, live forevermore in the kingdom of the one true God. They had put their trust in Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth who died on a cross and walked out of the tomb three days later and returned to heaven with the promise that one day all would see him return in just the same way, to collect his bride for the wedding feast—and we are the bride.

That cross which once represented a death that all in the Roman empire rightfully feared and had nightmares about, became the symbol of hope, of life everlasting, of their promise that there is something much greater than anything this world could offer.

They just needed to be patient, and to keep trusting the one with whom they had become one.

One

That cross that I welded on top of St Agnes (see my last blog Cross Welding) is still standing, it has endured for 25 years now, because the cross has become one with the steel structure inside of that steeple. All you can see from the outside is the cross and the shell of the steeple. What you can’t see is the important part, the part that keeps it standing, and that is the framework that is permanently attached to the foot of that cross—as I said, it has literally become one with it.

church cross Red Lodge(St Agnes in Red Lodge MT)
The unique thing about welding is—unlike screws, nails, bolts or glue, which hold two separate things together—when you weld two pieces of metal together they are literally becoming one piece of metal.

It happens at a molecular level. When you heat a piece of steel with a torch or an electric arc, the molecules that make up the steel get excited and start moving around, the hotter they get the faster they move, until the steel, once cold and hard, actually becomes a liquid.

So if you heat two pieces of metal that are touching each other to that state of liquidity, the liquid flows together, the atoms within the two pieces of metal mingle together.

If you introduce some more metal, in the form of a welding rod, than not only are you causing the two pieces of steel to become one, you are introducing even more steel to make that meeting point even thicker and heavier than it was before. That is why the weld, if done right, is often the strongest point on the steel.one in spirit welding

So you’ve got all these super heated steel molecules dancing around each other and getting all mixed together forced into whatever shape the skilled welder manipulates them into that suddenly cool off when the heat source leaves, and they are now solid—cold hard steel again— and nothing can separate them again without extreme measures—they are one.

Through the cross of Jesus Christ, we are one with the Lord who died on that cross; by faith, The just shall live by faith, we are one with Jesus. Faith is the weld that has joined us with him. His Holy Spirit is welded to our soul and nothing short of extreme measures can separate us.

And that cross that becomes the symbol of who we are, the strength of what is a reality inside of us, the endurance and strength that others may not see but we and our God know is there, that cross will hold up as we are lifted up, lifted to our rightful place in the Kingdom of our God.

And he who is going to lift us up is on his way, “For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry…” So hang on, be patient and endure.

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You are not among those who draw back–You are a child of the King, a son or daughter of the Father, a Spirit filled, born again—’I can do all things by him who gives me strength’—untouchable, unflappable, enlightened and enduring  believer and nothing anyone can do or say, not all the wiles and winds, treacheries and sorceries, not all the trials and tribulations, prosecutions and persecutions, ‘nothing can separate me from my God’—follower of Jesus Christ.

And you have an enduring possession.

Cross Welding

Last week we looked at Jesus’ words from Luke 21 where he told us, “By your patience possess your souls.” You soul being your inner being, the true you that no one can touch if it is safe in the hands of the Father and made alive by faith in Jesus Christ.

Possess your soul

“By your patience”, Jesus said, that is what will get you through the hard times to come, the scary end times stuff that he had just described to the apostles, and to us, by proxy.

Jesus wants us all to be ready for hard times, to realize that although we may suffer in this world that it is only superficial and short term, the real you will be fine and your real reward is yet to come, your enduring possession.

Enduring possesion

So patiently endure, and be confident. Did you catch that? Don’t cast away your confidence. Confidence is what gives us patience and the ability to endure. Confidence is the unwavering knowledge or belief that we can do something no matter what others may do or say.

Confidence displaces fear, worry, anxiety, and doubt. All those things lead to depression, panic, addictions, anger and any number of maladies, the fruits of failure. But confidence—that brings in a whole plethora of soul strengthening attributes; right at the top of the list is hope, but also fearlessness, peace, faith, patience and endurance.

Think of something you’re good at, you have a confidence in that, you are confident because you are good at it, and because you are confident it makes you even better at it. Like a surgeon for instance; you don’t want a nervous surgeon operating around delicate nerves or intricate blood vessels and arteries if his hands are shaking and he just learned how to fix a brain aneurysm by watching a YouTube video the night before because he wasn’t sure he knew how.

Cross welding

Back in the nineties, long before I started my church here, I was sent by the construction company I worked for up here to Red Lodge to weld the cross into the steeple at the New Catholic church we were building—St. Agnes.

Red Lodge Cross

They had built the roof of the bell tower in the street in front of the church. It looked like a giant upside down sugar cone. It was probably about 15 feet high or so, all made out of wood, with the shingles all in place and ready to be set on top of the steeple. Except for one thing. There was a large steel cross made from six by six tube steel that needed to be stuck into the hole in the top if the steeple roof and welded to the angle iron frame work that was built into the inside of the steeple.

Since I was the only certified and experienced welder working for the company at the time I got the job of welding the cross in place. So when I got there and got my portable stick welder all set up they set the cross into the top of the steeple with a crane and I crawled up inside of the steeple top, and up on the scaffolding they had set up inside of it, and proceeded to weld away.

After an hour or so of welding, making sure I had good clean beads and multiple passes on everything I could weld in there, I crawled out and said, “I’m done, it’s ready to go.”

The boss asked me, “Are you sure? You know your welds have to hold the weight of the whole structure as we pick it up to set it right?” “Yes, I know, you have told me that several times now. My welds will not break.”

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 They were literally going to pick up that steeple roof up by the cross I had just welded into place in the top of it, and set it up on the bell tower.

So everyone got into place as the crane operator waited for the signal to start lifting it. As I stood off to the side to watch one of my co-workers, a carpenter who had helped build the steeple top asked me, “Are you nervous?” I said no, my welds are good, if your tower doesn’t fall apart that cross will get it to the top, no problem.”

It did, and to this day I get to drive by that church and look up at that cross and think, “I welded that cross into place” and I am one of the few that knows that it was the thing that lifted the whole top of that steeple into place. And it still stands, it has endured.

And for me it is an enduring reward.

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And, it always reminds me of what it means to have confidence, I had confidence in my welds because I knew and understood what I was doing and had done it many times. And that is a good feeling, a feeling that drives out anxiety and doubt.

That’s what Paul is telling us in our scripture today; ‘Don’t be full of doubt, trust the cross and that it will get you to where you truly belong because it has never failed you and the Lord who died on that cross has gotten you through many hard times before, and he will never pick you up just to let you fall.’

Enduring cross

The confidence Paul is talking about here is confidence in Jesus, not in anything we have to earn or accomplish, not in keeping the law or saying and doing the right things, it’s a confidence born of faith, and a faith born of faithfulness, the faithfulness of Jesus to meet us where we are, to hear us when we call and to catch us when we fall.

Hang on to Jesus, have confidence in the healing, the peace, the strength, and the life that was purchased for you on the cross, and you will endure–forever.

Don’t Look Down

Lord! I’m afraid to take another step! Come and get me, my knees are wobbling and I’m getting vertigo!”

love overcomes crown

1 John 4:18— a verse that will no doubt be familiar to many of you, at least in part—says:

 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment.

Fear does indeed involve torment, fear is torment. Often fear is what causes whatever it is you’re afraid of to come to pass. It becomes what we are focused on and it throws us off balance. Whatever you convince yourself is going to happen is often what happens. That’s why we need to learn to change our focus, to let perfect love become our guide, our focal point, leaving no room for fear.

Spoiler alert—that perfect love is Jesus.

The High Iron

As those of you who know me know, I work construction and have all my adult life in various forms. Whether moving dirt, welding, pounding nails or pouring concrete, I have always worked with my hands, and even though now I largely oversee that work as a project superintendent, I still like to get dirty and work with my tools when I can.

One of the things I don’t like is being way up in the air—unless I know I have something solid underneath of me or know that I have a safety harness on, which today is required by OSHA. When I started in this business safety was pretty lax and I was asked to do some pretty crazy dangerous stuff looking back—I think I kept my guardian angel on his toes, and even slipped thru his grasp a time or two, but I have survived—largely intact. (keyword being largely)

Still, you are not going to catch me walking any beams, harness or not, more than a couple of stories off the ground. I have jokingly said that one of the reasons I work in Montana is because we don’t have too many high rises.

My grandfather, on the other hand, was an iron worker who worked in big cities like Dallas and Minneapolis. He liked to walk the high iron, as they call it. I remember talking to him many years ago as he was recounting his work on a 60 story sky scraper in Minneapolis and he said he liked working up top because the foreman were afraid to go up there and everyone left you alone.

 

He told me something that has stuck with me throughout my whole construction career and although you are never going to catch me on an I beam 60 stories off the ground, it has come in handy many times as I have walked on top of a concrete foundation wall or the top of a framed wall, or even when stepping from stone to stone as I’m crossing a mountain creek for instance, and that is; “When you are walking the high iron, don’t look at your feet.”

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You have to have faith in your feet. You have to trust that your feet are going to go where your eyes go.

Think about it, when you are walking anywhere else you are not looking at your feet, your eyes are ten or twenty feet in front of you mapping out your path, and your feet just follow.

When you stare straight down at your feet you get nervous, you lose your balance, because your world just became very small and out of proportion, and the next thing you know you are tipping over. Not to mention if you are looking down at your feet you are focused on the dangers below them instead of where you are going.

But if you have faith in your feet and just keep walking to where you need to go next, you’ll get there just as surely as if you were strolling down the sidewalk on a sunny day.

eyes on Jesus

How are we doing? Are you keeping your eyes ahead, mindful of  where you are going, or are you worrying about whether or not you are going to lose control and fall to your death?

Walking the walls, hopping the stones, or walking the high iron, it’s all about what’s going on in your head, it’s having faith in your ability to keep putting one foot in front of the other and staying upright.

You do it anywhere else! Why would you suddenly just tip over because you are over a dangerous spot?

The same is true in life, we have to have faith in our ability to keep moving forward.

We trust Jesus to be with us and get us through our days when things are going well, when we are just strolling along, going where we have been a hundred times without any overriding fear of falling. But when things get challenging, when we look down and realize that we are walking in places we haven’t been before, when it seems that we could easily fall to our death if we make one wrong move; and we panic—”Lord! I’m afraid to take another step! Come and get me, my knees are wobbling and I’m getting vertigo!”

And he says, Child! Look up, keep your eyes on me and just keep walking, don’t look down and don’t look at your feet. I will lead you to where you need to go, but you must trust me, you must have faith in the feet I have given you for this day. I love you too much to let you fall for fear of moving—let my love overcome.

calm the storm

I Am –The Punch List?

“I don’t need to check with someone else, I have the authority.  As far as you’re concerned—I am the punch list.”

The Apostle John refers to Jesus as being The Word. So, how can Jesus be the Word? How can a person, a real tangible thing, be a subjective intangible thing?

the word become flesh

And, that seems like kind of a strange thing to call someone, Son of God or no. I’ve thought about and studied this a lot over the years but as I followed the Lord into the head of his apostle John here, I think I had a bit of a revelation, or at least a better understanding, of what that means.

It kind of goes back to something I’m sure John heard Jesus challenged on many times; By what authority are you doing or teaching these things?

It’s hard to explain something that I fear I am only catching fleeting glimpses of myself in its magnitude.

But–lucky for you–I have a story, that I know will fall woefully short of being anywhere near adequate to explain what this all means but it might help you start to wrap your brains around it.

Punch List

As many of you know, I am a Superintendent for a commercial building contractor which means I am responsible for getting things built, built right and on time.

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A few years ago I was overseeing the building of a 40,000 sq. ft. warehouse addition for a chemical plant. It was largely what they call a pre-engineered metal building. Which means it’s a whole lot of steel beams and sheet metal that all bolts and welds together. This involves a lot of very large heavy beams, columns, purlins and girders, but it also involves a lot of small braces, nuts, bolts and screws. All of which have to fit together and all of which are important to the overall integrity of the building.

What got me thinking about this was a video I saw the other day, a nightmare video for anyone who builds for a living, of a large steel building going up, suddenly crashing to the ground while they are working on it, and there are workers everywhere.

You could see the big steel columns were all in place and they were setting the main roof girders when the roof steel just started to buckle under its own weight and soon came crashing down and taking the whole building, and the cranes that were still attached to it, along with it. It looked like everyone had a chance to run clear before it all hit the ground, but what a mess.

(Similar to this one– another builder nightmare GIF)

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I thought; “Why would that have happened? It had to have been designed by an engineer to support the weight and then some?” Then it dawned on me. They were probably just setting all the big stuff, the main beams and columns while they had the cranes there—cranes are very expensive—without doing any cross bracing or supports—the little stuff that can be put on by hand off ladders and lifts later. Big mistake.

 

That’s when I remembered that huge metal building I had done in Billings, it was about three times bigger than the one in the video I saw— It didn’t fall over. But there was some corner cutting going on there, I discovered near the end.

As the Iron workers we had contracted to erect the building for us were telling me they were almost done, I started asking their foreman about all the left over parts we had and comparing what was built to the structural steel details of the plans.

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In particular we had pallets full of 3 or 4 foot long angle iron pieces. “Aren’t those the braces that go from the columns to the roof purlins?” I asked looking up at the 20 foot high ceiling with him. “Oh, yeah, I don’t think we need them, they’ll never notice. Let’s wait and see if they make the punch list.”

That was the wrong thing to say to me.

Now, for those of you who are not in construction, a punch list is a list that is generated at the end of a project when the contractors say they are done. It is a list of all the things that need fixed. The owner, architect, job superintendent and engineers who have authority to say what is acceptable or not, usually puts together this list of things that are not quite done, got missed or need repaired.

The list then goes out to all the different trades who worked on the project and they are responsible to either correct the item or plead their case as to why they believe it is acceptable as is. Either way, the job is not completed and no one gets paid until everything on that list is checked off.

And you know what? As the Superintendent overseeing a project for the General contractor who is responsible for making sure things get built on schedule and built right, I have the authority to put items on that list and in the end it is my responsibility to check items off of that list before submitting to the owner that it is done and getting his final stamp of acceptance.

So, I said to my little “No one will notice a few missing braces” iron worker buddy “I know that those missing braces will be on the punch list because I am going to put them there!” He just looked at me totally incredulous, but he stopped arguing with me at that point and guess what? He put on all the braces.

News flash, ‘I am not here to help you get by with doing a half-assed job, I am here to make sure it gets done right. And, not only will I put any of your unfinished or unacceptable work on the list, I will be the one who checks it off the list when it is complete.’

‘I don’t need to check with someone else, I have the authority.  As far as you’re concerned—I am the list.’

word with authority

Jesus is the final authority—in everything. ‘As far as your concerned’, he was telling all who challenged him, ‘I am the Word.’

John, who wrote in his gospel, his letters and in Revelation, that Jesus is the Word  got his theology from Jesus, from listening to him teach for three years, listening to him interact with others and then by having the promised counselor living in his heart reminding him of everything he heard, and teaching him all things. So when John refers to Jesus as the Word, he is encapsulating and distilling down what Jesus said and inferred over and over, that Jesus is the fulfillment, the author and the enforcer of God’s word.

Jesus was constantly being challenged by those who thought they knew the word better than he did. And they thought they could get away with what they were doing, that they could justify their way of thinking and acting, by the word, and even use it against him.

But time and again Jesus pointed out that He was the authority, the final say, the only and ultimate truth and the judge of what is right and wrong, finished and unfinished, acceptable and unacceptable. Judging by the word and saving by the word. He was the maker of the punch list, the one who saw that the punch list was carried out and the only one who can judge in the end as to whether or not the items called out were completed or whether they could be struck from the list as no longer being an outstanding issue.

Which of course is what he did on the cross.

Breach of contract

He fulfilled the contractual obligation and paid the penalty for failure to comply, thus releasing those whose names appeared behind those unfinished or substandard items from their obligation.

In short—either you fixed it or you put your hope in the one who could release you from it and thanked him for it.

Which is why the word had to come in the flesh, so he could pay the penalty for our breach of contract—so that we could be signed off as completed. “I am the author of the list, and only I can remove you from the list.” Until then you are not finished. That can be kind of scary—but then, come the words from the lips of the author of the list, the author of life, as he hung dying on the cross—“It is finished.”

It is finished Jesus

Perhaps the most beautiful and meaningful words the Word of Life ever uttered. None who heard it at the time knew what it meant, but now all those who believe and received, who abide in the doctrine of Christ—they rejoice in those words. Those words are life for us.

children of God recieve believe

Our striving is over, the condemnation that comes for failing to live up to and abide by the words of God spoken as prophecies, laws and historical lessons, is removed—we have been set free by that which all of that pointed to, and was intended to convey, confer and promote—Love.

Love for God, the Love of God, and our love for one another.Little children …Love.’

The doctrine of Christ is love— “For God so loved the world… Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your souls and love your neighbor as yourself.  This is love, that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, … perfect love casts out fear, …above all of these put on love.”

I could do this all day—because God is love, his word is love, Jesus is the word and Jesus is love. All encompassing, sacrificial—”this is how much I love you ’Father forgive them for they know not what they do’—love.”

little children love 1 John

 

That is what the bible is about, that is what Jesus is about, and that’s what the writings of the disciple whom Jesus loved is about.

So, that needs to be what we are about.

 

You Old Guys!?

You can either have a person’s back and know they’ll have yours, or you can stab a person in the back and expect to be stabbed.

older men

Don’t be a grumpy old man. At 58, I’m starting to understand why some old men get grumpy—it gets wearisome sometimes when all the been there done that’s under your belt keep coming up against all the haven’t been there and haven’t done that yet—‘but let me tell you how it is’ —punks who want to have the same old fights with you that you’ve dealt with a hundred times.

Just imagine how God feels, the one who has always been there and knows all things, when we try to tell him how to fix things— how to answer our prayers. One thing I’ve figured out along the way is to always pray the Lord’s will be done, my prayers are suggestions, unless the Lord shows me specifically how he wants me to pray, and my faith is in the fact that God hears and knows how to handle my petitions, he doesn’t need me to give him a step by step fix it list.

That’s just an aside; the point of these instructions are to tell us older guys not to be grumpy old men.

Older men be sober, reverent, patient and loving. Sounds pretty basic. But how many are good at that? As one who is now falling into the “older men” category I become ever more mindful of how I relate to other guys because a lot of them are now younger then me. I had kind of a reality check a year or two ago on my construction job.

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I was getting on a plumber on my job one day about getting his under–slab rough-in done so we could pour the floor slab on schedule. He was a young guy with an even younger helper and struggling a bit to figure things out. So I, apparently not so patiently, explained a couple things to him; *“Let me explain the situation here, A. you’re getting me down. B we got us a leash law here and C. You’re in the wrong town.” (Okay, only you fellow baby boomers out there will get that one) and he looks at me and says: “You older guys need to be patient and help us out a bit, we don’t know everything yet.”

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I was kind of convicted by that—I try to be patient but job pressures sometimes make that tough—but what really struck me was that designation; “Old guys”. I didn’t think of myself as an old guy—the old guys are the old guys—wait, my old guys are dead or retired, I am the old guy!

I’ve tried to change my outlook a bit since then. Instead of getting frustrated at having to deal with the same things yet again and teach yet another green hand how to do things, I remember all the “old guys” I learned from and respected along the way and I want to be one of those guys. It takes on a whole larger and more critical aspect when you are also representing Jesus.

I did change my attitude toward that young plumber, made it a point to teach him a few things by helping he rather than riding him, and as the project progressed we ended up having some real good conversations about the Lord.

It’s hard to witness to someone whom you just belittled or got short with because they irritated you with their ignorance or lack of apparent motivation. You can be patient and respectful while still being firm in making sure the task at hand is being done to the best of everyone’s ability.

I learned a long time ago that a hand that respects you will do their best for you while someone whom you treat with disrespect will be looking for ways to get away with doing the minimum required and may even look for ways to make you look bad.

It’s about having one another’s backs. You can either have a person’s back and know they’ll have yours, or you can stab a person in the back and expect to be stabbed.

have my back.jpg

 

Guy’s, don’t discount this. I have worked with some of the same guys for years, guys who don’t know the Lord and would much rather sleep off a hangover on Sunday morning than sit through a church service. But because I have earned their trust and respect they will actually listen to me when a door does open to interject my faith into a conversation and, even better, they will even ask the questions that start those conversations.

Many of them have asked me for my books and even read my blogs (I know right?). On the other hand, I have worked with guys who let everyone know right up front that they are religious, ‘I go to church, I teach Sunday school, I only listen to Christian radio…’ and they have a special way of looking down on the dirty heathens they are forced to work with. ‘I’m going to be late coming back from lunch because I have a noon Bible study.’

They have  the effect of driving people farther away from Jesus.

Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:1—2

In short, don’t be a pharisee—be Jesus to the world. Don’t shun sinners, eat with sinners, and exemplify a better way. The sinners drew near to Jesus. Are they drawing near to you? Or are they speaking evil about you behind your back?

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*CW McCall Crispy Critters

img_2941Barbarians in the Kingdom