A Ranch and a Church
Dave Johnson is a cattleman. His 9,000 acre ranch is in the rolling hills and canyons of southern Kansas.
Cattlemen settled that part of the country in the 1,800’s due to good grass, plentiful water and proximity to the Chisolm and other trails leading to the Kansas cow-towns of Dodge City and Abilene where new rails made a great way to get beef to metropolitan areas in the northern and eastern states. It was perfect cow country.
A massive wildfire raced through that country devastating ranches in March of 2016. The Anderson Creek Fire started in Oklahoma, then burned north into Kansas. When it was over, nearly 400,000 acres of prairie was charred, 850 cattle dead and 2,700 miles of fences destroyed. At the time, it was the largest prairie fire in Kansas history (in 2017, the Starbuck Fire set a new Kansas record).
Johnson’s ranch was in the direct path of the fire. They lost buildings, fences, equipment plus many cows and little calves. Good neighbors and determined hard work in the face of the dragon saved their home and much of the herd. When I met Dave in January of 2017, I knew I was looking in the eyes of a man who had faced the fires of life. Ranchers like him are more leather than skin. They are the tough men and women who carve a life out of the hard but beautiful land that generations have built upon.
There were few trees when ranchers began settling that country over 100 years ago. But through the years, Red Cedar trees took over the canyons and spread over the prairies. Those trees each pulled up to 35 gallons of water a day from the ground. Grass had been choked out and springs had dried up as the invasive trees spread.
That fire scourged thousands of those invasive trees. Grass is now growing where it couldn’t before. Springs that were dry are running again. The calving season is a beautiful thing to see, and this Spring it is better than any in recent history with playful calves romping through the new grass.
Ranchers like Dave have seen devastation fade as new vigor returns to the plains.
In 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 (NIV), The Apostle Paul said, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.”
When Dave Johnson was fighting the prairie fire back from his home, he probably wasn’t giving any thought to who started the fire in Oklahoma and why. The day will come for folks to sort that out. Reflections of foundations or his heritage, values and principles were not on his mind. In the heat of flames and the choking smoke he was just trying to save cattle, horses and buildings and not get himself or others killed in the process.
As I write this, a church I love (one that Dave Grossman, Jimmy Meeks and I spoke at) is going through a raging fire of scandal. My friends at the church are in the fire control phase right now. Sure, there are reasons that caused the fire, but right now they are trying to save what God brought together and not get themselves and others killed in the process.
I know these people. I’ve looked in their eyes, and enjoyed prayer in their house. There is depth there. They will survive this. They are built on that foundation Paul spoke about, and I am confident they built well. Their church isn’t about any one man, it is about helping others see and partake from the goodness of God. This scandal will hurt and there will be loss, but they will come out on the other side.
We survived scandal at New Life when we went through it in 2006. It hit like a sucker punch to the gut, and it hurt bad. I recall in those days wondering why it hurt so bad. The conclusion I came up with was that the pain was associated with disillusionment. But disillusion is a good thing. Dissolution is the process of an illusion being replaced with reality.
It’s like we were looking at beautiful canyons of Red Cedars, and didn’t even realize they were choking us to death. When they burned up, we saw new grass and springs open up. Who’d have thought it?
Think About it…
One of the things I tell churches at every conference I speak at is, “when IT happens, IT will be different than anything you envisioned.” For some well trained in physical defense, it will be a scandal. For some who excel in purity and good deeds, it will be a terrorist attack. But IT won’t look like what you talked about in your preparation meetings. After our scandal at New Life I told my wife, “I didn’t see the archer in that bush.”
Scandal and / or leadership missteps are threats every church needs to be aware of and ready for. Never think, “that would never happen here.” It happens every day somewhere that they least expect it. The foundation for all of us was laid by saints gone before. How well your ministry built on that foundation is what will see you through or cause your organization to crumble and disappear.
Pray for and stand with the church currently under fire. They are your neighbors in need of your support. Hold them up today; they could be holding you up tomorrow.
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6,7 NIV).
To read more about the Anderson Creek Fire and the Cedar Tree issue copy and paste the following link into your browser; http://www.hutchnews.com/news/local_state_news/a-year-after-massive-wildfire-gyp-hills-showing-signs-of/article_74006093-603d-5215-9492-ac7615a4f3ef.html
And last week’s TAI …
We Interrupt This Message...
I just learned this week that a man who interrupted me once when I was speaking at a youth event died some years ago. It was 1980 when I was speaking and the man cussed and interrupted our youth event.
I just laughed it off. I knew him well, had tried to reach out to him multiple times, and he was at our service that night due to my invitation.
I also found out this week that his wife of that time was so horribly abused by him that she is now in a nursing home at 60-years-old. I learned how she used to hide in a box in a closet so she wouldn’t be beaten when he was drunk.
He was drunk that night and we just sent him home.
I made so many mistakes based on religious non-sense. The thought of turning him in back in those days never occurred to me, or anyone else in leadership at our church. I wonder now, how could I (we) have been so ignorant and naïve.
But I continue to see it happening all around us. Often the defenders observe something not right, but the leaders of the church try to “just work with him (or her).”
At the 2/5/17 Sunday Mass at St. Mary Catholic Church in Portland Oregon, a man stepped right up to the podium and up to the microphone as Priest Paul Boudreau was speaking. Boudreau just turned the microphone over to the 20-something-year-old neatly dressed man.
He started an emotional expression of “thanks to people in his life and for things that have done for him and his family,” according to Police. But then he began to speak rapidly alarming the confused audience. Police were called and he was escorted out of the service. Police knew him, did a fine job of de-escalating, and then of re-uniting him with his family at their home.
Think About it…
Are you prepared to handle such an interruption? Have you drilled for such a thing as this? You should.
Have you discussed a service interruption action plan with your pastor and leadership? You should.
The Catholic Church in Portland handled it much better in 2017 than our Evangelical Church in Kansas did in 1980. It is OK to call 911. If you wonder if you should, the answer could well be in the question. Churches typically error on the side of not calling soon enough.
With good team-work you can meet police outside the sanctuary, brief them and get the trouble removed without a lot of distraction. But all that will go much easier if you drill it first, have a plan, and make timely decisions.
I am not saying to call 911 for every upset person. But interrupting a service is a bridge too far for most. I have experienced wonderful grace in my life, and I love to extend grace when appropriate. But there are some things that are beyond tolerable. Maybe it’s somewhere more serious than an interruption of your service, but you do need to establish the right threshold of tolerance for your environment.
Don’t let the day it happens be the day you come up with a plan.
Last week I said to always listen. Sometimes when you listen, the response needs to be rapid and resolute.
There is a balance in everything we do.
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Security!? In a church?