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.
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.
The timetable belongs to God, and he will yield to no other.
This is the beginning of the end. The beginning of the final battle and I want to stay in the fight.
I just read an article on the state of the American church and it cited a study done by the Barna Group that looked at 70 different moral behaviors and could find no statistical difference between Christian and non—Christian behaviors in any of these areas. That can only mean one thing—There’s no holiness, there’s no respect or gratitude for the price that was paid for their forgiveness.
And there’s no witness.
How can we expect anyone to believe a word we say about a God who saves, a God who redeems, who changes us from the inside out freeing us from the snares of sin, addictions and emotional turmoil when we behave like animals with no control over our flesh or our emotions. Yes none of that is easy, but it takes you desiring to be free, not just forgiven, and it takes a real relationship with Jesus.
He’s not going to wade through a swamp of sin to spend time with you if you are content to wallow in filth and then wonder why you don’t hear Jesus and why you are not being blessed.
Maybe the enemy is not harassing you there, why would he? You’re no longer a threat to him. But you may end up in his goat pen in the end.
I’m just urging you to take your relationship with Jesus seriously. Take your invitation seriously.
“See, I have prepared my dinner; …” But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business.
This last year was a challenge for many Christians I know. It seems like the battles just keep ramping up and the hits just keep coming. The strong are being stretched and the weak are falling away. We cannot give up. The Lord is calling us to holiness. I have been saying this since last year and I have seen the Lord putting his people through the refiners fire and the faithful being strengthened.
This is the beginning of the end. The beginning of the final battle and I want to stay in the fight. I want to see the victory and wield the weapons the Lord is pouring out on the faithful who have not given up or given in.
I still believe we are going to see God use people you least expect to do miracles and unleash the power of heaven in places you least expect. I see it already happening.
Pray for our president. Despite his flaws he is the first president we have had in many decades who is fighting for the church, not just talking about it. Pray for your pastor. He lives to fight for you-and it is a battle. Pray for your children and grandchildren. They are the warriors of tomorrow and the enemy would love to take them out before their fight begins. And pray that you have the courage and the faith to be used by God to advance the kingdom in ways you never imagined you would be used by God to do.
Many are invited but only those who take it seriously will be still standing in the end. God will only use the Holy.
It seems that all are invited but it will not be the big name —everyone look at me —flashy church celebrities that are left standing to fight the battles ahead. It will be those who quietly and sometimes bewilderdly stood apart while the world seemed to go mad around them.
And they will win.
Who will be allowed to stay in the wedding feast? The question in the end will always be, do you know Him?
If you do you will be given the white robe and you will be allowed to stay.
7 Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” 8 And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
9 Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’ ” Rev 19
He was breathing garlic, sweating garlic, and s*#%ng garlic.
They are a couple of short parables, one right after the other, that Jesus used to describe the Kingdom of Heaven that share something real obvious else in common. They are about small things with a huge impact. -A tiny seed producing a large tree; a small bit of leaven affecting a whole lot of dough.
Let’s think about the mustard seed thing for a minute. Yes there are bigger trees, but Jesus isn’t talking about trees, he’s talking about herbs. What is an herb? You don’t make a meal of herbs, have you ever said ‘let’s sit down and enjoy a big bowl of mustard!’ (If you have you are very strange)
Or have you ever dined on a plate of rosemary and thyme? You can try it but you’ll probably be sorry. I know there are people who smell like they have eaten nothing but herbs—”eew-wee, did you eat a bowl of garlic for breakfast?” But that’s because it only takes a small amount of most herbs to make a huge smell– and it’s never good second hand.
I worked with an electrician once who ate a whole jar of pickled Costco garlic. He told me it was so good he just couldn’t stop eating it. As you know, nothing that comes from Costco is small so this was a good sized jar. I had the misfortune of having to work around him the next day.
That garlic was determined to make its presence known. He was breathing garlic, sweating garlic, and he had to run to the bathroom several times that day to more directly vacate that garlic. He was miserable, and so was anyone who got near him—or that bathroom.
I nicknamed him Garlic Boy after that day.
But the point is, herbs are meant to flavor something, to change the palatability, the taste, to enhance, alter or even preserve food.
Yeast does pretty much the same thing. So when Jesus compares the kingdom to a mustard seed, he’s talking about an herb that flavors and alters whatever it’s put in to, but yet when planted and allowed to grow, unlike other herbs that generally grow on fast growing and low lying plants that whither and die fairly quickly or can easily be trodden underfoot, the little tiny mustard seed is an herb that grows into a strong sturdy long lived tree that cannot be overlooked and draws in, and sustains, life.
“…but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”
Remember the point of these short parables—they are conveying what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. So the Kingdom of heaven, though it may seem like these are just insignificant stories of a faraway fantasy place, in the face of other things of this world that seem to undeniably slam into you like Jalapenos and Habaneros making your eyes water and your lips burn, this kingdom is real and it can change the world like nothing else can, it just works differently—diligently, consistently, sometimes imperceptibly.
Until you have a tree that produces more mustard seeds than you can possibly use or plant alone and withstands the storms, the droughts and the changing seasons.
Sounds like the kind of kingdom I want to belong to, sounds like the kind of church I want to belong to.
Are you letting the kingdom take root in your heart? Are you trusting the still small voice, the leaven of the Holy Spirit that continues to give rise to good things if you’ll just give it time and keep it in the proofer of your soul.
Hide God’s word in your heart, plant his love in your soul, and watch the fruits of joy, peace and hope take root and turn your new year into the most blessed year ever.
Affecting the world for the Kingdom of heaven starts with the small things, it starts often times just with your smile.
“You know I’ve been to the edge, and there I stood and looked down. You know I lost a lot of friends there baby, I got no time to mess around.” –Van Halen, Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures 1 Cor 15:3
So here we stand, on the precipice of a new year. A fitting term I guess because ready or not it’s happening, and we can either fall into it headlong and hope for the best or we can try to control the descent knowing that we could still lose control at any given point.
(I’m not sure what that means but in light of the past year it made sense when I First wrote it.)
We can plan and hope all we want but ultimately we cannot control the future, all we can control is our response to events that we incur along the way, and really—that is everything. Because if we lose control of that, we are undone and I for one refuse to let anyone or anything undue me because as Paul wrote:
10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; 1 Cor 15:10
Rush Limbaugh, (whom you can love or hate, don’t miss my point here) has said of President Trump; “The press did not make Donald Trump so the press cannot unmake Donald Trump, only Trump can undo Trump.” —referring to his support in the eyes of those who voted for him.
Well, the world did not make me, the enemy did not make me, circumstances did not make me, you did not make me—the grace of God made me what I am so only he can undue me, so long as I understand and cling to that. And I chose to do so. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is my rock and I will not be shaken. So bring it on 2019, let’s see what you got. I’ll go into it safe in the grace that made me, and I’ll come out of it still safe in that grace, stronger for having survived another year.
So, as Van Halen once said, “You know I’ve been to the edge, and there I stood and looked down. You know I lost a lot of friends there baby, I got no time to mess around.” (When was the last time you heard Van Halen quoted by a preacher?) But it makes my point exactly.
As we stand on the precipice of tis new year, we need to stop messing around, for a bit anyway, and remember what is important because we have indeed all lost a few friends who perhaps just fell headlong over the edge, forgetting what’s important, not keeping the first thing first. We can’t get hung up on things that can destroy us or neuter us. —And yes, that’s exactly what I mean.
Speaking of precipices, I used to enjoy rappelling back in my younger days; going off a cliff backwards while hanging from a long robe looped though a carabiner attached to a nylon strap tied around my waist and between my legs to create what we called a diaper.
I think they have more specialized gear nowadays, fancy riggings, but it worked for us, a rope, a strap and a couple of carabiners, mixed with some knot tying skills, and a little courage. It was all we needed. It was simple and basic but it did the job. We would tie one end of our second hand fifty dollar rope to the bumper of a truck, a tree or a rock, toss the other end over the side of the cliff, and off we would go, descending like we knew what we were doing with ultimate faith in our equipment.
I did have a couple of close calls; like the time my front shirt tail got pulled into my carabiner by the rope. There is no going back up the rope, it only goes down. The only thing I could think to do was cut off my shirt tail but I couldn’t get into my pocket to retrieve my knife because of the way the diaper was tied around my leg.
I called out for help and one of my buddies still on top peered over the edge. “I need a knife!” “How am I going to get it to you?” I didn’t dare try to catch it with one hand as my other hand was keeping the rope securely pinned behind my back to stop my descent. If I missed it we would really be up a creek without a paddle and the motion of trying to catch it could have set me to falling until I was hanging there off the rims over Billings with my heavy shirt pulled into my rigging until I was hopelessly stuck, or my shirt just ripped and I fell.
Then it would have been—”Run and find a payphone to call 911, Swany’s hanging off the rims like a scarecrow tangled in a clothesline!” Remember the good old days before cell phones? At least I wouldn’t have become a YouTube video.
Well, luckily I wasn’t that far over the edge so I yelled, “Lower it down to me somehow—use your boot laces!” So he hastily pulled the laces from his heavy 1980’s waffle stomper hiking boots, tied those together and then tying that to the belt from his pants he finally had enough length to lower me his pocket knife so that I could cut off the chunk of my shirt that was getting pulled into the ‘biner.
I was very relieved, needless to say, and I continued my descent down the cliff face—good times. Tell you what, I never rappelled with my shirt untucked again, I could hear my high school shop teachers’voice ringing in my ears as I was stuck there on the cliff side; “Never wear loose clothing around machinery kids.”
Anyway, it was a pretty basic rescue for a pretty basic operation, but it worked and we conquered many more cliffs with that same simple equipment in the months and years to come. We kept it simple. It was simple, life was simple. No high dollar custom harnesses and safety backups. No helmets, no GoPro’s, no Facebook pages to brag to the world about how adventurous we were. No YouTube videos to study or to post to, no classes, certifications or permits.
‘Here’s your rope, here’s your diaper and ‘biner, just back off the cliff and keep a firm grip on that rope, you’ll get the hang of it. Oh yeah, wear a pair of insulated leather gloves so you don’t get rope burn.’ It was a blast. Once you became comfortable with it, and got out there on your robe a ways you could push yourself out from the cliff face with your feet at the same time you were letting out some rope and just feel like you were flying in midair. What a rush.
Of course getting good instructions from someone who was there to guide you through the process was essential. You didn’t just jump off the cliff and hope you are doing things right.
So, as we get ready to jump into 2019,let’s try to do things right. I think the best way to get off to that right start is by getting back to the basics here to start, peeling off all the advancements and extra paraphernalia we have accumulated that keep us from truly experiencing the moment and only serve to disconnect us from the rawness and realness of it all anyway, and just remember what’s important, what is critical—what is the rope we hang on too—because without that, nothing else matters.
A good sound rope with just enough stretch, that is tied off securely and reaches all the way to the ground—nothing worse then running out of rope before your feet touch the ground—because you are going down one way or another.
First things first. What is our rope? What is it that is critical to our faith, to our doing church, doing life as a believer? I hope you all know the answer here—just like the kid in Sunday school who knows that whenever the teacher asks a question there is a good chance that the answer is Jesus. In this case ‘you would be correct little Johnny, the answer is Jesus.’
But it’s not just Jesus, what is of first importance? What is it about Jesus that is critical to our faith, our getting through this year, this life—eternity?
The answer is in our title verse of course;
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures 1 Cor 15:3
Jesus died for our sins. —period
Nothing in this life, nothing in the universe, all the wisdom of the ages, the prophets and the sages, is more critical then this; That Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures. He made the promise, he is the promise, and he fulfilled the promise. He is our hope, he is our rope and no matter what else you know, no matter what else you do, have, or give away, nothing else will matter.
If you show up at the cliffs edge without your rope—you’re going to make it to the bottom, but you are not going to survive the journey.
So I want to start this year by remembering what’s important. Jesus Christ and him crucified—the gospel.
Put Jesus first and all else will fall into place.