Trials and Tests

“I’m not good at the patience thing when I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Test of Faith

We don’t always think about faith and patience being intertwined but they really are. What is faith if it’s not waiting for something that we have not yet achieved or possessed? And what gets us through hard times?—trials, if it’s not patience; patiently waiting for the manifestation of that which we hope for, believing that it is coming.

The Long Trial

Ten years ago I was going through quite a trial. Two years earlier we had bought twenty acres and financed the purchase of a beautiful modular home, built a garage, new fences, we were set up pretty well there. I had a good job in Construction with a company I had been with for many years, plus another job as the children’s pastor at a church in Billings that brought in a few more bucks—and then the bottom fell out of the economy.

Construction took a major hit and to top it off we got a new field manager who seemed to have a set of favorites (drinking buddies) who got the few good projects we had, and I was not one of them. I ended up getting laid off for months at a time over the next two years and with a brand new and substantial mortgage payment due every month the finances were looking grimmer and grimmer.

I was really feeling the pressure as the bills came due every month and we would have no idea where the money was coming from. Long story short, God took care of us and we never missed a payment but I knew I had to do something. We had barely recovered from years of financial hardship caused by a major back injury—and here we are again—’I need a steady income! I have to take care of my family!’

I started my church in Red Lodge in the middle of all that also by the way, because the Lord was asking me to—‘sell my house and move to Carbon County? Right after the housing market has crashed and the big mortgage companies gone bust?’

Now there was a trial—I can’t say I was counting it all joy—but I had to remain faithful. Nervously, impatiently faithful, but faithful nonetheless, and here we are.

But, I was determined to fix my own lot in the midst of this; ‘I have to be working, I can’t sit home and keep waiting and hoping for this months’ miracle to get our bills paid and unemployment benefits are not enough.’

 So I started looking for another job, no one was willing to pay me a full time salary to preach, and I had been called to start a church from scratch in Red Lodge anyway and I only know how to do two things, preach and build things.Preacher Dan

So I started looking for another job. Turned out there was not a lot of commercial builders looking for a Job Superintendent with a bad back in the middle of a recession.

I went to see an old friend who had a construction company in town, someone I had actually worked with years earlier when he was a foreman with the company I was with,  but he had built up a pretty good company of his own since then. He was more than happy to talk to me, he’s a fellow believer also, but he said he just didn’t have enough work to put on another foreman at that point.

“Dan, I would love to have you and I might have more work soon, but I gotta tell you, knowing what I know about the outfit you’re with, I would just be patient for now and stick it out there. You are a good superintendent, the estimators like you, and there are some changes coming that will greatly improve your lot.” “Some of the older supers are going to retire soon and you will find yourself at the top.”

 

When I told my wife Donna what he said, she looked greatly relieved and said, he’s right. She didn’t like the idea of me jumping ship in the midst of a storm, and honestly, neither did I but I’m not good at the patience thing when I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

But my old friend was right, soon the construction market in Eastern Montana picked up, largely thanks to the Bakken oil field money, Our house sold and we didn’t loose any money on it and the field manager who couldn’t seem to keep me working was let go and eventually the old guard of the top foreman, did retire.

I was blessed with great favor translating into raises and more importantly, steady work. And last year, when the bottom suddenly fell out from under the company I worked for for nearly three decades, that favor and blessing all rolled over into an even better job doing the same thing with most of the same people and for better money still, with a company that truly appreciates me.

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And the church we started in Red Lodge has been changing lives and healing hearts throughout. And that is an ongoing and blessed story of trails and victories.

Bottom line in the whole scenario—I just had to be patient, and have faith. God had never stopped working on my behalf.

joy

So now, when the trials come—and there have been many since then in various shapes and forms—I do not worry and fret anymore. I count it all joy. Not the giddy, ‘devil may care, but I don’t’, kind of joy, but the ‘I know this is going to be alright and that God is going to use this to accomplish something good, something I cannot see  or even imagine right now kind of joy.

So rejoice in the trials of the day.  In this trial—you are being perfected.

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.”

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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.

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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.