Stay on Task

now available as a podcast

This nasty cold subzero weather we have been enduring lately has me praying often for ranchers who are calving. I used to calve in February and remember well the struggles of keeping calves alive and well when these cold fronts hit. You just did what you had to do, no matter the cost in sleep, comfort or resources. The life of every calf is precious, not just for money but because you love your animals—the money could never be enough to motivate all that you endure for these critters.

If you visit or talk to any rancher who is calving in weather like this, if they had time to talk, you would find that they have or have had brand new wet calves in the cabs of their pickup trucks, in their kitchens, even in their bathtubs, sometimes all at once and at all hours of the night and day. While the ranchers themselves are emanating the pungent aroma of old and new afterbirth, manure and sour milk as they guzzle coffee and try to thaw out their feet in time to go catch the next calf.

I have an old black and white photo hanging in my church office, counting my years as a children’s pastor it has been in my office for almost 20 years now. I found in at the big museum in Cody WY years ago and instantly fell in love with it because it so captures that spirit of doing whatever it takes to care for your animals, staying on task no matter the cost.

Charles Belden circa 1920-1930

It’s a picture of a Cowboy taken in the 1920’s near Meeteetse Wyoming. The cowboy is on a horse in a blizzard, bundled up as best he can against the cold, and he has a new Herford calve draped across his lap as his horse struggles up a hill against the wind driven snow. It hangs in my office as a reminder to me that ministry is not always easy nor fun. That reaching the lost and caring for the flock is seldom convenient nor is it a part time, yeah, I think I’ll stay in tonight, everyone will be just fine without me kind of assignment.

What does that have to do with end times? Everything. But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet. 

No matter what you hear, no matter the forecast, the rumors or the challenges—you need to keep trusting in me and the strength that I will give you to complete your task of reaching the lost.

If you read through all of this chapter 13 of Mark and catch the heart of what and why Jesus is telling the disciples of the storms to come, it is so that they are not caught off guard, that they know he expects them to keep seeking the lost, to stay on task and no give up no matter the struggles and difficulty of the times and places they find themselves. And that goes for all of us who follow Jesus and are called according to his purpose.

Every life, every soul, is precious and worth facing the storms for.

Are you ready to face the storms? How have you been holding up in the storms? These are important questions and are exactly why Jesus warns us of them, so that we do not get discouraged and thinks it’s all over, that this is our end. It is not, remember, there is no past tense for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Mark 13 is an entire chapter devoted to Jesus’ warnings of the tribulations to come.

The big scary end times, death and destruction, persecution and tribulation, desecration and desolation, Jesus is coming and the angels are going to gather the elect from the four corners of the world chapter.

“For in those days there will be tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be. 20 And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days.Mark 13:19-20

It’s scary both to read and to try and teach on because Jesus gives us just enough detail to let us know scary big events are coming, but not enough detail to know exactly when and how they are going to happen. And Mark, as per his usual style, just records the facts and leaves the commentary and analysis to the many generations of preachers and scholars to come.

It’s not scary to me personally, I actually love that Jesus gives us these words of warning and encouragement, detail wrapped in mystery. An eternity altering mystery whose clues will not entirely be understood until they all fall into place as they happen and we who knew the clues say, “yes, yes, yes,—that’s it, that’s what it all meant, the prophecies were true and God is in control!”

But as a pastor it’s scary to teach on because so many have such strong opinions as to what it all means and will argue it as though their salvation depends on it.

That’s just wrong. Your salvation does not hinge on how you interpret end times prophecies—on when you think you will be whisked away, from bliss to bliss or from tribulation to bliss. Nor does it depend on where you think we are in the timeline of God’s plan for the last days. Your salvation depends on one thing, or one person rather, and that is Jesus Christ and whether you have accepted him as Lord and Savior—period.

Jesus is not concerned with how good we are at solving prophetic riddles, he is concerned with how seriously we take the need to stay on task no matter the chaos and challenges around us—Chaos and challenges we were promised and warned would come.

But he also promises to ride the storms with us, giving us the strength and the passion to complete our mission. Don’t give up cowboy, the big roundup is still to come.

Cross Welding part II

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

Enduring

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

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

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

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

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

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

yet a little while

Endurance

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

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

Jesus is coming

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

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

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

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

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

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

One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And you have an enduring possession.

Cross Welding

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

Possess your soul

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

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

Enduring possesion

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

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

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

Cross welding

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

Red Lodge Cross

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

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

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

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

shutterstock_227382586

 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.