In the Valley–Buried Alive

Rise to a new day

Sometimes the greatest changes happen on the heels of the worst nightmares.

Goodbye 2020 Glad to have survived you. . .

I’m not sure how this story relates exactly to all of what this last year was about, but I believe the Lord put this on my heart to share with you for this day. Some of you have already heard the story of how I was buried and nearly killed years ago. I was working at the Conoco refinery in Billings, once again, actually this story happened a few years before the one I shared last week. Again, it’s a wonder I survived all the stuff we used to do, but anyway.

It was November 4th, 1980, I was 19 years old and working in the valley, in a twelve foot deep hole in the middle of the valley, moving a gas pipeline on the edge of the refinery so that another could run under it. The hole was not shored or sloped as per OSHA regulations and I was too inexperienced to know, care or protest.

Towards the end of the day I was working on one side of the pipe, doing the messy job of wrapping the pipe welds after having primed them with a black mastic, the other guys were on the other side of the pipe wrapping up welding leads and picking up tools, when suddenly the very high and steep bank right behind me let loose and hit me from behind like a runaway freight train.

In fact that was my first thought as my face and chest was slammed against the black sticky pipe leaving me completely buried and unable to move a muscle. We were close to the railroad tracks so I thought “A train has fallen into the hole.”

As I realized that my mouth was packed with dirt and everything was black, I knew I had been buried alive. A true nightmare scenario. I had my whole life ahead of me and now it was over. I was not sure that even if they did get me out before I died from lack of air that I even wanted to live because I was sure I was paralyzed.

The weight of the soil on top of me had me pinned so completely that I could not even tell if I had the use of my arms and legs anymore. I could not even expand my lungs to breath or shout. This was as bad and as frightening as it could possibly get. But in those brief moments between life and eternity, where time slowed down to a crawl— I had an encroaching sense of peace.

I knew my Lord, and I knew my Father was with me, and I had no doubt that when I fell asleep in that dark hopeless valley I would wake up in his arms. And I did go to sleep there in that unexpected grave. But when I woke up I was not in the arms of my father, I was being shaken by my boss who was yelling at me to breath.

They had dug me out in time to stop my premature departure, I don’t know how, but I’m glad they did.

A new start

And, this is the reason I think I was supposed to share this today; the next day we had a new president. As I was being buried in that hopeless hole an election was taking place— back in the day when elections took one day and there were no computers to muddy things up— and the next day Ronald Reagan was President elect.

Soon the economy turned around, the fuel crisis was over, the Iranian hostage crisis ended on inauguration day and the days of the Iron curtain and the cold war were rapidly coming to a close. And I bought a house and got married.

The point?

Things can change in a moment, even if the moments you are in seem like the last.

So as we pop our heads up out of what many consider the pit of doom that 2020 was, let’s be hopeful that tomorrow will be a new and better day—more than just hopeful, let’s contend for, believe for and facilitate that being the case.

You are not just a hapless victim, you are a champion for the Kingdom, and God has spared you the death in the valley for a time such as this.   

Pilots Index Peaks Dan Swaningson

The timetable belongs to God, and he will yield to no other.

Fanning the Flame

“It was not long before we heard sirens coming from what seemed every direction, . . . we were now the idiots who tried to blow up Billings. “

Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? 18 Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? Mark 8

Can you imagine standing toe to toe with Jesus and having him ask you this? The indignation of this question is quite obvious in the context. So this was no rhetorical or contrived discussion question.

Welcome to the Capernaum chapter of the Clueless Fishermen for Jesus support group. Let’s break the ice by going around the circle and explaining in two or three sentences why you are still confused about this carpenter/teacher/prophet from Nazareth. Who wants to go first?”

No, This is a question from Jesus that no doubt made his followers a little uncomfortable. It’s like—‘Do I need to call Captain Obvious to explain things to you? Can you not hear? Can you not see? Have you forgotten everything?’

Do we understand? Because it’s easy to miss the obvious truth that Jesus is the Christ and that in him we have nothing to fear and nothing to loose, if we are totally surrendered to and trusting of him.

We have to keep fanning the flames of truth and understanding to really bring the knowledge of who Christ is, and what that means for us, from the head into the heart, into our very spirits. We have to let the Holy Spirit move freely through us and in us and that is a huge challenge because the enemy will do everything he can to block that wind of the Spirit so that those flames will die out leaving us with nothing but head knowledge and a weakness that leaves us susceptible to the yeast of the Pharisees—a yeast of selfish ambition and religious attitudes of judgment and haughtiness.

Look at me. I’m somebody and you are nobody, and I am worthy of more.‘  That attitude, along with the weaknesses of the flesh that we may give in to, can block the Spirit and leave us smoldering.

Why do we not understand? Because we are not putting it all together. This is what the Lord told me, because I asked, and the Lord gives wisdom to those who ask:

“The understanding is in the heart, the wisdom is in the word, and the conjunction is in the Spirit.”

Worldly wisdom comes from the head and what we can put in it. Godly wisdom is seated in the heart, it is a wisdom that comes from God’s word and is brought to life by his Holy Spirit.  

The word is the fire that is in the heart and the wind that fans the flames is the Holy Spirit fanning it all to life for wisdom, power and understanding. All of that leads to the faith we need to get us through this life with and for Jesus, blessed, fruitful and advancing the Kingdom of our God.

Fire!

Back in the 80’s when I worked for an outfit that did pipeline and refinery work we got contracted to do the demolition of one of those big oil storage tanks at the Conoco refinery in Billings. The tank was located in a lot just behind the refinery actually, just off the Interstate in what they called the “tank farm.” If you are going through Billings you have surely seen those tanks right near the river just before you get to the Lockwood exit.

Our job was to go in there with cutting torches and cut this huge tank into sheets of metal small enough to fit on a flatbed truck to haul away for scrap metal.

So where do you start demoing a giant steel tank? On the roof of course. So, using a crane with a “man cage” swinging from it they hoisted me up to the top and deposited me with my cutting torch in hand. The Oxy/Acetylene bottles were still on the ground and I had many feet of hose run out to it. I started cutting away, the plan being to cut pie shaped pieces of the lid loose and let them fall down inside. That’s another story all in itself, it’s a wonder I survived my earlier construction years looking back at some of the things we used to do. But anyway, so far, so good.

Now, this tank had been sitting empty for many years and there was a large hole cut in the side big enough to drive a small skid steer through and to let things air out real well. But there was this weird thick black dry residue of something all over the floor. It looked to me like ground up tires, three inches thick or so. It was actually some kind of residue from the crude oil that had been stored in the tank at one time.

We soon discovered that it was somewhat flammable, no problem. As I was cutting on top, occasionally a small fire would flare up on the floor and someone would just go in and pat it out with a shovel.

Then the boss, the owner of the outfit, ol’ Wayne, at least he seemed old to me at the time, decided that it would be much more efficient to put the oxy/acetylene bottles up on the lid, and then we would have enough hose to get two guys cutting.

So they loaded up the bottles into the man cage and hoisted them up to the lid. Everyone’s attention was on the bottles and the people going up to the top—and no one was watching the inside of the tank where a little bit of smoldering residue had got enough wind to burst into flames.

We now had a big enough hole in the roof that the wind blowing through the opening in the side could really get to fanning the flames and soon there was quite a plume of smoke billowing out of the top. I shouted “Hey, there’s a fire down below!”

The flames were now way too big to pat out with a shovel. The boss quickly swung us and the bottles down off the top and soon everyone was running around like chickens with their heads cut off. I was standing there with Wayne waiting for him to tell me what to do and he looked at me and said; “I don’t know what to do!”

By this time there was a line of cars stopped on the highway watching this huge column of thick black smoke billowing out of the top of a tank; at the refinery!—this does not look good. We were a long ways from the nearest phone but the smoke signals we were sending up could be seen for miles. Just imagine a giant burn barrel full of tires; that’s what we had going there.

(A more recent fire) A STORAGE TANK at the ConocoPhillips refinery, above, lies crumpled Friday morning after a fire on Thursday in Billings.

I looked at Wayne and said “We have to stop that wind from blowing in that hole in the side—it’s just fanning the flames and making it look really bad.We grabbed a large tarp from one of our trucks and Wayne and I stood there and held it up against the hole as best we could to block the wind.

It helped but it did not stop the flames, the smoke was still horrendous. It was not long before we heard sirens coming from what seemed every direction. Soon a big yellow fire truck came rolling up and fireman all decked out in their coats and respirators came running at us shouting “What’s going on?”

We were standing the with our arms up over our heads holding the tarp against the tank, futilely trying to cut off the air, our faces black with soot—and Wayne didn’t say a word. I don’t know what he was thinking but he looked like a deer in the headlights. So I quickly explained the situation. About this time hoses were being strung out so we dropped our tarp and got out of the way as they ran headlong into the tank and started spraying foam everywhere.

Photo by Tobias Rehbein on Pexels.com
Here I am– to save the day!

Before it was over we had five different fire crews show up. The City of Billings, Lockwood, the refinery fire crews from Conoco and the nearby Exxon crew and a truck from the now defunct O’Donnell’s Fire service clear out in Shepherd.

I was just shaking my head. I kept thinking, “It’s just a little fire inside of a tank all by itself over here, it’s mostly just smoke!” But apparently everyone thought that the whole city was in danger. The fire was out long before all the trucks stopped rolling in.

Of course we made the evening news and we were now the idiots who tried to blow up Billings. But we went back to work the next day and made sure we kept someone on fire watch. Life goes on.

Thots

Do you understand?

Understanding is the small flicker of flame that starts as a little smolder in a rich and abundant bed of fuel planted in our hearts by God’s word, that has to have the wind of the Spirit to really get it roaring. The Devil will try everything he can to put out that fire. But all he has is a tarp made of lies to try and block the wind. Don’t let him do it.

To understand you have to put it all together, if you understand that Jesus is the Christ, that he is with you, that you have nothing to fear, that he can use what you have to do incredible things from a heart of compassion for people, and do not let the greed of the heart, the lies of the world and the pride that is always prodded by the enemy choke you off, then the Holy Spirit will fan the embers of faith in your heart into a roaring fire that God can use to overcome any obstacle to his purposes that he puts on your heart to achieve.

Not for greed, not for glory, not for fame or self-satisfaction, but for Jesus.

The understanding is in the heart, the wisdom is in the word, and the conjunction is in the Spirit.

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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.

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.

thots

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.

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.