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

Fooled ’em for Another Week

“that all too familiar fear of failure and judgement hit the pit of my stomach.”

14 how much more shall the blood of Christ,… cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? Hebrews 9:14

How’s your conscience? Now there’s a loaded question. “What? What do you mean? What do you know, who told you…?” We all have secrets, insecurities and guilt over something or other—don’t we?. It’s like the joke I’ve heard at work a few times and have even said myself, usually on pay day; “Well, fooled ‘em for another week!”

The inference being that if the people you work for knew just how unqualified, insecure and hapless you are they would get rid of you immediately. Of course it’s meant to be a joke but like any good joke, especially the ones based in sarcasm, my specialty, there is always a nugget of underlying truth that makes it funny in the first place. The reality is, most of us are a little insecure in our jobs, relationships, positions or what have you, and feel like if people really knew the real you, the secret battles that go on in your head and heart they would be aghast and ask you to hit the road Jack.

I know I find myself often lately in rooms full of people with engineering degrees, architectural degrees, PHD’s or whatever, owners of big companies and CEO’s and I think, what am I doing here?

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Especially when they are looking to me for input on how to make things happen on their big construction projects, like I’m the expert on every aspect of the project. Sometimes I just want to say; ‘I’m just a carpenter, don’t ask me’, but I can’t say that so I silently pray Lord help me not to make a fool of myself and I say what comes to mind.

Sometimes that leaves people a bit astounded, like, did you really just say that? Because I’ll tell you what, if you’re leaning on the Holy Spirit to guide you, combined with experience, truth comes out and it’s not always comfortable—yet it always gets the desired results and I walk away respected. Which, I suppose, is why I keep finding myself in those circles. But I’m always a bit insecure.

Or I’ll find myself surrounded by tradesmen, business owners and craftsmen asking me how they are supposed to make things work according to the plans that I am supposed to know every aspect of, and have or know where to get all the answers—and I think, How in the world did I get into this position? I just set out to be a hard working craftsman, to build things efficiently and with pride, and now I’m the Superintendent responsible for all this? Yikes!

The other day my boss called just on the heels of working through issues with the electrician, drywallers and plumbers back to back to back, and asked how it was going and I replied, “Well, I’m just solving all the problems of the world one subcontractor at a time.” Which it seemed to me at the time was exactly what I was doing, and he replied “sweet!”

That’s what I do most of the day, run around in circles and answer questions and solve problems all the while thinking; I could really mess things up here if I’m not paying attention or if I give answers that are beyond my authority or understanding to give. So, I’m still employed as of Friday—fooled ‘em for another week. And every day I continue to pray, “Lord give me wisdom to do my job well and bless my ministry as well, make sure I have plenty left for my church and family.”

Grandpa n Quiny

I often go home at the end of the day and wonder, and even cringe sometimes, thinking about some of my interactions with people throughout the day—I’ll tell you what, I don’t always feel very ‘pastorly’ when I’m pushing a big job and having to be the driving force behind a whole bunch of often difficult personalities all trying to work around, over, and with one another all day every day with the shared goal of meeting a deadline that always seems way too close.

Buttons

Buttons sometimes get pushed, and some people’s button are much easier to push. It takes a lot to push my buttons anymore to bring out the—“you don’t want to mess with me or you’ll be out of here in a heartbeat”—old school—“I don’t give a rip who you think you are” —foreman in me. But he’s in there and he serves a purpose. But I try to live by the old proverb that ‘a soft answer turns away wrath’ first and foremost because a hard answer invites push back that does indeed force your hand to play the hard ass card, and when that happens then I go home thinking, “Lord, did I totally just blow any chance of ever witnessing to that person?”

Are they now thinking, if they even know, ‘what kind of  pastor is he?’ What would the people I pastor think? ‘What do you think Lord?’ ‘Oh, man I’ve blown it again.’ —Here comes the accusations, the guilt and the temptations to just give up and give in.

Funny, I got home the other day and grabbed the mail. I noticed that I had a letter addressed to me from Foursquare, the big headquarters office in LA. That’s not unusual, but this one, this one made me uneasy right off the bat and I first didn’t realize why. I looked at it again and it was addressed to Dan Swaningson, yeah so? Well, most everything I get from Foursquare is addressed to Rev, Dan Swaningson. So you know the first thing that came into my mind? ‘Am I fired?’ Foursquare finally figured out that I am not qualified or worthy to pastor and they are stripping me of my title?

mountain preacher

I knew that wasn’t the case but isn’t that the way our minds work?-instant guilt, instant fear. My mind instantly flashed back to something I had written on a monthly report a couple months ago about the tight winter we had here—instant guilt and conviction. They’re going to replace me with a charismatic millennial in skinny jeans and a Prius rocking a man bun, and… Birkenstocks? —I don’t know, I’m not even hip enough to know what millennials wear, if it doesn’t say Wrangler, Stetson or Carhart on it I wouldn’t know if it came from the Dollar Store or from 5th Avenue, nor would I care.

So, I’m getting a it off track here, my point is, I panicked just a bit as that all too familiar fear of failure and judgement hit the pit of my stomach.

We are always a little afraid of getting into trouble, of maybe being found out like we have to hide who we really are, what we really think and probably some things we say or do, maybe I’m worse than most because of my codependent tendencies, but overall I think this is just human nature and part of our spiritual makeup. As we talked about last week, that’s the conscience pricking us, something it’s really good at.

Some of that may be the accuser whispering in our ears that we are miserable failures doomed to fail and to be cast aside by everyone who matters and by our God. And some of it is the legitimate feeling of guilt we have by virtue of having God’s laws and ways written in our minds and on our hearts.

10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Heb 8

We who know the law better than most because we care to read it and study it from our Bibles, often experience that guilt, fear and panic more than most. But that’s not the way it should be. We need to remember who we are, loved children of the Living God washed and guiltless before our Father by the blood of the Lamb of God—Jesus.

So, anyway, I didn’t get my ordination revoked so my church is stuck with this old redneck, cowboy shirt wearing preacher for now with no tattoos, an Ironworker vocabulary that I work hard to suppress every day, and a Pickup truck powered by Ford.

Turns out that letter was just a notice of some changes to my 401k and was from the financial dept at Foursquare, and their services being available to all paid staff across the board they don’t necessarily know or care who’s ordained and who’s not.

So, I’m fooled ‘em for another day. I’m still credentialed and okay to preach on Sunday—whew!

Barbarian meme

Be Ready (The slacker virgins)

Jesus himself said it numerous times, outright and in parables, I will return. In fact, the only thing he would say during his trial, and the thing that got him convicted of blasphemy, was his assertion that they would “see the Son of Man returning on the clouds of heaven.”

Jesus made this point well in the parable of the slacker virgins, (Mat 25)  —that we need to be ready. (Better known as the parable

10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.

11 “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ 12 But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’

13 “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.

coming meme

Being a preacher is a lot like being a construction foreman in the respect that I have to keep warning people to be ready, to follow the rules, especially when it comes to safety. In both case, it’s not a matter of what we can get away with, it’s a matter of doing what is right because it is right and can keep you out of a lot of trouble.

About this time last year the company I work for, after forty or so years in this dangerous business of construction, had their first fatal accident. It was kind of a freak accident but the bottom line is, a worker was in a place at the wrong time. A place that the  foreman had told him that very morning not to be, and a very large chunk of concrete came loose from overhead, falling and crushing him. One minute he’s working and the next he’s gone.

Of course it hit all of us very hard. I got the phone call from the boss telling me the bad news and after I was able to process the news, pray, and get myself together I stopped work on my project and called everyone together to tell them the news and to have a safety meeting.

We do safety meetings every week but I wanted to let everyone know what happened before they started hearing rumors and because even though it was not my project that had had the accident, I expected OSHA would soon be paying us a visit as my job-site was only a few blocks away from where the accident took place.

I reminded everyone of the general safety rules and the need to be extra diligent because we might be getting a visit from an agency who has the power to fine the daylights out of us. That, and “I do not want anyone getting hurt on this job.” I have never had a serious accident on any of my projects and I intend to keep it that way. I also told them that I pray for their safety every morning, a statement that I could see in their faces that they appreciated.

You know what happened then? All my subs—the electricians, plumbers, tinners, framers—suddenly were throwing away all their damaged electrical cords and calling for new ones. The missing guards on tools suddenly were not missing and it no longer seemed necessary to stand on top of a ladder or to be on the roof without a harness on—weird, all the things I had constantly warned them about and argued with them over, were no longer an issue.

Why? Mainly because the possibility of that dreaded OSHA inspector showing up was no longer just a remote possibility, it was imminent, and the even worse cost of not playing by the rules, the death of a fellow tradesman, was suddenly large in everyone’s mind.

OSHA didn’t show up on my project after all, but they did a months long investigation into the jobsite that had the accident and found that there were no violations directly related to the accident. But they did find a couple of other things to fine us for. OSHA is like the IRS, if they want to find something, they will.

If you have ever seen an OSHA regulation book, you know that the rules are extensive and complicated, you are surely always in violation of something just by showing up every day. But, generally, if the inspectors know you are doing your best to comply, they will not bust you.

construction worker safety danger
Photo by Life Of Pix on Pexels.com

Slackers?

That’s what the Lord is asking of us, that we just do our best to comply with his ways. He has a very extensive set of guidelines and we are almost always in violation of something just by being human in this messed up world, and he understands that, he was here with us and as us for a while.

If we are doing our best, he will not bust us, he just asks that we act as though he can show up at any moment, that we don’t just see what we can get away with, throw caution to the wind for expedience sake and hope that we get some warning as to when he’s on his way so that we have time to straighten everything out.

Imagine if you are engaged and your fiancé, your pure sweet lovely soon to be bride in white, is running wild, collecting beads at Marti Gras and winning wet T shirt contests in Cancun during Spring break?  “Oh that’s fine sweetie, just make sure you gargle before the wedding to cover the smell of Tequila and vomit and let’s pretend none of that never happened. Tell your good-time boyfriends they need to go home now, I’ll wait here until you’re ready to just be mine.— Isn’t she wonderful?”

Or the groom who thinks the bachelor party is his last chance and excuse to. . .you know, be stupid. “That’s okay honey, boys will be boys, take a shower before you put on your tux.”

I’m sorry if any of that offends anyone but that is just wrong, just as putting off our commitment to faithfulness to the Lord is just wrong. Jesus wants and deserve a pure white bride ready when he’s ready, not when we feel like it. He deserves it because he offers it, he gives us the means to be pure and holy and just wants us to take it, to take him, seriously—to love him as he loves us.

i am his meme

That’s the bottom line—love. We want to be ready, we long to be ready, for him to return, because we relish the incredible love he has for us and want more than anything to be acceptable and pleasing to him long before and during the wedding feast that will surely come.

Don’t be a slacker.

 

The Work of my Hands

Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. 3 John 1:2

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Midnight Sparky

Do you believe that the Lord cares about your life and will intervene on your behalf to prosper the work of your hands and give you success in your endeavors? I believe he will—so long as we acknowledge his help and recognize that we must praise him regardless of whether we feel we had a good day or not.

It was 2005. I was in my fourth year of serving as the children’s pastor at Hope Center and in my third decade of working construction. I was doing some remodel work at the United Methodist church in downtown Billings. Because the church had a day care center that was open all day and the work we were doing was noisy and messy we were working nights—never fun, but whatever it takes to get the job done and done right.

Part of the job involved putting in an elevator for handicap access to the lower level. To do this we had to cut a hole in the concrete floor of the basement to create a pit for the Hydraulics that would run the elevator. I had a concrete cutting contractor come in a saw the floor, and in the midst of the cutting there was a loud pop, a puff of smoke and sudden darkness.

We immediately knew what happened, we had cut through a conduit under the floor cutting the power to many of the basement lights. Luckily it threw the breaker right away and no one got hurt—no one but the power feed anyway. We plugged in some temporary lights and finished the job, pulled the concrete from the hole and sent the cutting contractor on his way.

So then, I’ll never forget this, it’s about one o’clock in the morning and I’m standing there looking at the severed conduit in the bottom of my hole thinking, ‘now what am I going to do?’ Even if I could fix this myself I cannot get the stuff to do it, it’s the middle of the night and everything is closed and all the electricians I know are no doubt home in bed.’

It wouldn’t matter so much except that the basement was where all the rooms were that they used for the day care and the dozens of kids would start arriving bright and early—to a dark basement. So while I’m standing there pondering this, and halfway praying at the same time, more an expression of exasperation: “Lord, now what do I do? I need a sparky!” Suddenly someone walks into the room and says, “Hey Dan, how ya doing?” It’s Jamie, a sparky!—an electrician I know from previous jobs whom I know is also a believer. I looked at him shocked and said, “What are you doing here?”

He said, “I’m doing some night work in the bank across the alley and I recognized your truck so I snuck in the back door to say hi.”  I said, “Boy am I glad to see you! I have a little problem here.” I pointed down to the severed conduit and said, “Do you have time to fix this for me?” “Sure, it’ll just take a few minutes, let me run out to my truck and grab some stuff.”

Problem solved. There was no doubt in my mind that God sent Jamie there at just the right time to take care of my problem, not just that, but to remind me that he is always looking out for me, and that he indeed hears my prayer every day before I go to work that he “bless the work of my hands.”

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I could tell you many stories just like that, and I could also tell you stories about the times things have gone south because I got cocky and started thinking my efforts prospered because I was awesome, I’m not awesome but I have a God who is and that is much better in the long run, and the short for that matter.

Fast forward to this week.

I had my mind blown this week, what started as a seriously stressful week with all that’s going on in my job and ministry, God showed up.

Wednesday I got a call from the owner of the company I work for—Jim. He asked if I could come to the office after work, he needed to talk to me about something.

I said ‘okay, I’ll swing by on my way home.’ It sounded way too serious so I was suddenly real nervous racking my brain, “What did I do wrong? Or, maybe he wants me to do a funeral or something for someone in his family, uugh, no fun.”

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So a couple hours later I jump in my old work truck and head to the office. I pull in the yard and walk into the shop, just as I’m about to pull open the door to the office area the door opens and there’s Jim, the big boss. He says, “I saw you coming. Come with me and he motions me to the back door.” My heart starts racing and I’m thinking, “Oh no, it’s so serious he wants to make sure no one else hears.”

We walk out the back door to where his big fancy truck is parked and he abruptly says, “get in.” So we’re going for a ride. Now I’m thinking, okay, he has some nasty welding job he wants me to look at, just what I need on top of the big job I’m trying to ride herd on now. We start heading west on East Laurel road and just before we get to King Avenue he says, “I suppose you’re wondering where we’re going?” —Uh, yeah.

He says, “I don’t know if we tell you often enough how much we appreciate you and all the hard work you do for this company. We consider you one of the big dogs. You always get your jobs done and done well and everyone wants to work with Dan.

I said, “Wow, thanks but to tell you the truth that kind of adds to my stress, that’s a lot to live up to. But I also have to tell you that I cannot take the credit, the Lord just blesses the work of my hands, I pray that every day, and I just show up and do the best I can.”

He says, That’s what we love about you.” He then reaches into the cup holder in his console and hands me a fancy electronic key fob and says’ “Here’s the key to your new truck.” My jaw dropped and I stammered something or other, we then pull into the local Ford dealer and he says “There it is. If you push that button right there is will start remotely.”

I push the buttons and all the lights flash and it starts. We walk to the truck and he tells me to get in and starts to run through all the bells and whistles, it pretty much has them all. It’s a 2019 F250 with an extended cab, four wheel drive of course, back up camera, an activated Sirius radio with Bluetooth hook ups, and myriad other things I am still trying to wrap my brain around–I mean, my old work truck didn’t even have power windows and locks, let alone rear window defrosters and power side mirrors–It’s just big and bad and beautiful.  He says ‘Drive it home and show Donna and tomorrow we’ll take it in and get it outfitted with a grill guard, tool box, floor mats and, the company logo.’

I don’t own it but as long as I work for them, I can drive it like I do.

I tell him, “I don’t even know what to say. I have never had a new vehicle in my life.” As I’m driving home in shock I think to look at the odometer and it has 12 miles on it and I am overwhelmed. “Thank you Jesus!” You have indeed blessed the work of my hands and caused me to prosper.

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And his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made all he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight, and served him. Gen 39

I continued to pray: “Let me never forget that the primary reason I am here, that my work is being blessed, is because I am yours and you are mine and my primary mission is to be a light for you in all I do and say. Thank you that my diligence is a reflection of you and your character.”

Barbarians in the Kingdom by Dan Swaningson

Follow The Plans

“Failure is never an option, not in construction, and not in life.”

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 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. “ Jeremiah 29:11—13

An incredible promise, one that, like all of God’s word, can change lives and hearts from one of hopelessness and despair, to hope and joy, as we come to realize that we have a purpose, that someone a lot smarter and more powerful than we are, has a plan for us—if we can just figure out how to follow it. There’s the rub.

We focus on the plan part but forget about the seek part. Too many just want to claim the promise of verse eleven and grumble when it doesn’t fall into their lap, because we missed twelve and thirteen.

We have to follow the plan, we have to realize that there is a schedule and we have to be constantly consulting with the architect of the plan because he makes it and lays it out but it is up to us to learn to discern it and follow it. It takes patience, time and experience but mostly it takes working closely with the one who came up with it and trusting that he knows what he is doing.

So that we can go from thisIMG_2308

To this

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The new 911 Call Center for Billings MT

Besides pastoring a church I also work for a general contractor. We mainly build commercial buildings and this is a project I just finished as the Superintendent responsible for getting it done —this does not happen overnight.

It took 11 months to go from groundbreaking—“stand back and watch us work”  to finish “here’s the keys to your new facility, we’re done.” But in between was a long, complicated, arduous, often back breaking and stressful process.

Why would we think that the building of our lives into the plan God has for us would be any different?

No building on this earth is more complex or valuable you’re your life. You are not going to get where you are going over night. The whole objective is to keep working and getting one step closer with every step and one day closer with every day. And to live in and appreciate it all along the way. And most importantly to never give up, failure is never an option, not in construction, and not in life.

The Schedule

We can’t just look at the goal, ‘I am called to pastor, I am called to bring Jesus to a far-away land, I am called to be an awesome worship leader, be the beloved patriarch or matriarch of a Godly family, to be a world changer, a sought after writer, speaker, a millionaire building for the glory of God and financing changed lives— whatever you feel in your heart you are called to do, whatever your passion is for the Kingdom— you don’t receive your vision one day and have it fully realized the next.

          And you certainly can’t achieve it by winging it.

When I start a new project I don’t just look at the picture on the front page of the plans and just wing the rest. I have to follow the plan and trust that the architect knew what he was doing.

In the construction world I live in the plan is everything. As general contractors once we are selected by an owner and awarded a contract, we get a set of plans from an architect showing what the building is supposed to look like when it’s done and hopefully all the components that go into it to get it there.

Depending on the size of the project there are many, many pages to the plan showing everything from the foundation to the roof, the density requirements for the dirt below the foundation to the paint colors on the walls, the plumbing to the lighting and on and on and on. Most would be astounded by what goes into a building, both structurally, functionally, aesthetically and technologically.

Getting that initial set of plans is just the first step in the building, that is once the architects and engineers have done their part, which can take months or even years. The architect of our lives has had an eternity to plan our lives. It’s largely up to us, just as it is a contractor, as to whether we want to build according to the plan. Because I’ll tell you what, in construction, or in life, not following the plan leaves you with a real mess.

So, the first thing I do when I get a set of plans is look at the artist’s rendering on the front page, just to get a general idea as to what it’s supposed to look like when it’s done, what the ultimate goal is here. For the general public and often for the owner, the ones who are going to move into the building, that’s all they see. They want to just wake up a few days later and see the building standing on the piece of ground they’ve chosen, “gasp— it’s so beautiful!”, and move into paradise. That’s the way it works on TV right? “Move that Bus!” It only took a half an hour.

Well, here’s how it really works. You have to build it, one shovel full of dirt, one yard of concrete, one steel I beam, one brick, one sheet of drywall, one piece of copper piping, one length of wire, at a time. And on and on, until it’s done.

So, as the one who has to actually build it, I start by studying the plans to make sure I understand how everything comes together, I have to know the right sequence and the materials to acquire, and then I come up with a game plan. ‘First this, then this, then this. . .’

I look at the schedule that the estimator put together when he was determining how much it was going to cost to build this thing and if it could be done in the time allotted by the owner. Every step of the building is given a specific amount of time and put into a particular block of time. The overall schedule. It’s my job to keep the job on schedule.

Then there is the three week schedule which I put together in the field each week showing more specifically what exactly needs to happen and when it needs to happen in the few weeks ahead so that everyone involved can plan.

If we start getting too far behind the base line schedule then we figure out ways to make it up by getting more people, working longer hours, whatever. If everyone has done, and does, their jobs, the building is completed on time and correctly.

Everyone is happy and we get to do it again. In my world, each job completed on time and within budget keeps me working and gets me entrusted to do bigger, more demanding and costly projects with more responsibility but greater rewards.

My point is, we don’t just look at the picture on the front page, say ‘looks good’, and drive down to the job site and complain because it’s not just appearing. We have to build it and we know it will take time and sweat, lots of time and lots of sweat.

Sounds like life to me.