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.