I was asked to tell my story at my friend Darryl and Mindy Wall’s church last month. I am attaching the sermon to this. I hope it encourages you. spoiler alert, it’s long and it talks about Jesus and how much he loves me. He loves you too.
Damaged goods. Leavenworth Foursquare, 7-23-2017
There 3 things that I want you to leave with today, your children or anyone you came with, a little bit of my story and when Jesus touched my life, and a deeper understanding of how much Jesus loves you.
Have you ever shopped for damaged goods? At the grocery store, there’s that table or shelf where the dented and dinged and torn label containers go, they usually have a sticker noting a price slash on them. It says something to the effect that because of the damage that occurred this merchandise is no longer as valuable as the others that are like it. These items are damaged goods. They have a reduced value.
Damaged goods. That’s how I felt about myself. I felt like damaged goods. Not my whole life, but at least after I was burned. Grace, God’s grace, stepped in and rescued me.
The word Grace. Unmerited favor. Being loved when you don’t deserve love. Being given worth when you feel worthless. I think the original word means something like “someone of high honor or stature, bending down or stooping to help someone of lesser stature or honor. Like a king, bending down to help a peasant.
My grandpa’s tractor was parked in the driveway. He had run it out of gas. There was a gas can nearby. I asked if I could put the gas in. My dad and my uncles were standing there with my grandpa talking. Telling stories and laughing. I got confused by the tractors fill ports. There was one on the front with the top popped open and there was one in the middle above the engine. I couldn’t remember which one the gas went in. I tried to quietly interrupt the men to ask but they were engrossed in the story that was being told. I had a 50/50 chance, I guessed the front opening with the top
Already open. I guessed wrong. I put about a gallon and a half of gas into my grandpa’s tractor radiator. Grandpa asked if I got all of the gas in, I said it wouldn’t all fit, slowly the men who had been busy swapping tales and telling stories were all looking as me, with looks of incredulity, Loeffelbeins, we were a bunch of car guys, we knew cars and trucks and tractors and knew which end of a tractor to put gas in. Well they did. I, apparently did not.
My dad was mortified at my mistake. He was very embarrassed that his boy had failed so badly. My grandpa? He smiled and chuckled and said, “that’s okay, that radiator needed to get flushed out anyway, you did me a favor”.
Grace. Unmerited love. Forgiveness we don’t deserve. It was my Grandpa’s constant and consistent love for me that showed what love could be.
I thought of that story because that little episode happened not far from here. My Grandparents had a small farm out on Pioneer avenue in Cashmere.
When I was born my parents had a pear orchard where the solid waste drop-off site is in Dryden. This valley always feels like home to me. Home in a magical mystical way, like my own Narnia. It’s a place that I don’t live in but that I somehow belong to.
My Family moved around quite a bit, from Dryden, to Wenatchee, to Moses Lake, to Pendleton, to Milton-Freewater, to Athena, to Pendleton, to Soap Lake.
I’m going to insert some scripture here:
Ever since I became a believer I have had several verses that I feel define my life. One of those is Romans 8:28 “28And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.”
It was while we lived in Pendleton the first time that I got burned. I was 8, my brother Mick was 12 and we were at my dad’s place of work, Lindell’s Auto Salvage. In the back of the main building there was a repair shop. It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 1968 and my brother and I went to help my dad work on a project car he had there, a 59 Chevy El Camino.
We were asked to fill the up the space heater with kerosene, the kerosene was in a big drum outside with a hand pump. I held the bucket while my brother pumped. I was splashed by the kerosene. A few minutes later Mick took outside the shop. He had two Dixie cups full of some liquid, one, he explained had lacquer thinner, the other had enamel thinner and he was going to demonstrate how their flames were different colors when they burned. He lit them each and we watched them burn for a little while but then I thought I heard my dad coming so I told him to stomp them out. The first one went out right away but the second one, when squished it squirted a stream of burning liquid directly at me. The fumes from the kerosene that had splashed on my coat found the flame and I was immediately engulfed in flames. Mick told me to drop and roll but I didn’t get the roll part and fell to the ground in flames. He ripped off his coat and smothered the fire. I don’t know what my dad heard but he came running out of the shop and found us. All Mick could say was “Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God…” It was a simple prayer, but effective. My dad slapped him into reality and Mick told him what had happened. My dad ran out and tried to get a car, any car to start but none of the cars there would start, not even the one we came in so he called my mom to come and get me and take me to the hospital. I remember standing in the gravel parking lot just dazed and confused, not really understanding what had just happened.
My mom arrived in a few minutes and put me in her car and we headed off to the community hospital, there was St Anthony’s Hospital, just a minute away but because of horrible care and a financial debacle left over from an accident my dad had had exactly a year previously where he lost his right eye, we would drive to the community hospital which was 10 or 15 minutes away. In route, mom’s car ran out of gas. Fortunately, a state patrolman stopped to see if he could help, looked in and saw me and offered to drive us to the hospital.
When we finally got there, the doctors determined that my face and right hand and the tip of my right ear had sustained 2nd and 3rd degree burns. I would end up staying at the hospital for 21 days, I received skin grafts from my right thigh and my neck. The recovery process was very painful. Each day the doctor and nurses would have to scrub off the dead skin so that it wouldn’t infect the part that was healthy.
When I got out it was just before Christmas. I still had bandages and open sores but I was alive and home. Life returned to normal, except for my scars.
In 1971 dad and mom decided to try their hands at running a restaurant, my mom had been working in restaurants off and on since my burn accident to help pay the medical bills, (we had no insurance). They found a drive-in in nearby Milton Freewater to lease called Curls Drive-in. The family started moving there in January of 72 but my dad and brother stayed behind to sell our house.
On February 18th, 1972, three of us kids, my older sister Kitti, my youngest sister Judi and two extras, my sister’s boyfriend Paul and my foster brother Rodney, were going to drive over to Pendleton for a weekend visit. We were using the family Forrest Service Surplus 65 Ford crew cab pickup truck. It was a foggy February night and with Rod driving we got behind a lady who was going very slow, Rod pulled out to pass but before we could get around her, we saw fog lights coming at us in our lane, Rod tried to get back over but ended up getting hit head on by the oncoming car and then hit again by the car we were passing. The force of the collision was so great that it separated the cab of the truck from the frame and tossed it out into the field next to the highway. Miraculously, even with none of us wearing seatbelts, we all stayed in the cab. I was knocked out. I came to with the cab upside down, I was laying on the roof, there were people shining in flashlights asking us questions, I could hear Rod yelling in pain as the people tried to extricate his crushed leg from the floor of the cab it would require a pin in his thigh, Paul was moaning, he had sustained a skull fracture, Kitti had broken her ankle and Judi had a broken wrist. I had a broken jaw, broken in 5 places so when I tried to talk my lower jaw felt like it was made of Jell-O. It was a Friday night and the Highway was busy, the visibility was poor, I have heard that eventually 17 cars ended up involved in the accident. I say that to explain what happened next.
As I was being put into the vehicle that took me to the hospital, I think it was an ambulance. Paul was in the same vehicle and was moaning in pain. I was beginning to panic with fear. But then I heard a voice that said, “Jesus will take care of you”, I don’t know if it was a person or an angel or the holy spirit but I heard it. Immediately I relaxed and that’s the last thing I remember until the hospital.
At the hospital in Walla Walla the hallway in the ER was jammed with people and activity. My mom had seen the emergencies vehicles and knew something was wrong. I don’t know how she found out what had happened but she knew we had been in an accident and were being taken to Walla Walla. She arrived at the hospital not long after I was wheeled in on a gurney, she saw the doctors checking on me and then walking away, she asked them if she could talk to me, they said “It doesn’t matter now” and continued walking toward the next patient. My mom started rubbing my leg and talking and I started coughing, the doctors spun around on their heels and started working on me again. What my mom didn’t know is they had checked me and I had no vital signs, not breathing and no pulse, I was clinically dead and there were a lot of other people needing care. Once I started coughing they came back to me cleared my throat out and wheeled me into an emergency room.
What no one else there knew is that I was watching part of this scene from above them.
I don’t remember anything other than seeing myself from above my body and then a feeling of rushing back into my body and feeling pain again. Oh, then I threw up.
My jaw had been broken in 5 places and required a plate to repair it. The plate is still there to this day to fascinate and impress dental x-ray technicians, among other things which I will mention later.
We all recovered and life went on.
Then in late June of 1972 there was a grease fire in the kitchen of the Curls drive in. It gutted the restaurant. We had no insurance and we lost everything. We then moved to Athena and then back to Pendleton.
From being burned and then the accident I began to feel like God had messed up. Like he got the wrong guy. I was a good kid. I went to church, read my bible, I was wanting to be a pastor. Why were these things happening to a good guy like me? I kind of disconnected spiritually, even though my mom continued to drag us to church every time the doors were opened, I was rebelling in quiet and deliberately devious ways.
My rebellion continued in a push-me pull-you kind of way for the next several years. Between 7th and 8th grade we moved to Soap lake and I eventually met this girl named Mary Ledgerwood. Mary and I became friends and then began dating. We broke up for a while during my senior year of high school. While we were broken up she started attending a youth group. While attending the youth group she got invited to this crazy Christian gathering called Jesus Northwest. While attending Jesus Northwest she saw a concert given by this wacko piano player named Keith Green. And during that concert, she gave her life to Jesus. When she got back she shared this experience with me, how it affected her, changed her. I was skeptical. Later that summer Mary and I went to a movie together, after the movie we got back together and decided that we wanted to not just date but to get married.
This new relationship that Mary had with Jesus was intriguing. I began to imitate her, and go to the youth group she was going to. I didn’t understand all of it. I thought that it was about being good, and when you weren’t good, well, you had to do more good, better good to outweigh the not good. I was in a good works quest to earn my way into heaven, I wasn’t sure if I could get into heaven, I at least wanted to work my way into a better relationship with God.
I continued my childhood career path to become a pastor, a Lutheran pastor. I applied to Concordia College in Portland and was excepted. Mary and I got married in August and I was funded for school in September to start classes in October. Unbeknownst to the Mary and I, we had picked up a passenger on our honeymoon. We soon found out that we were going to have a baby. I was on my quest to get closer to God by becoming a pastor but that plan would unravel as the baby got bigger and Mary wasn’t able to work. I realized that I had to support my little family and becoming a pastor was an 8-year process which was too long. I decided to quit school and take over my parent’s small café back in Soap Lake. It was while we were there, the first month or so, I went to the café to get Mary some breakfast and I was pondering how I could continue my quest to get close to God, since I was no longer going to be a pastor and then right there, next to the dishwasher, just inside the back door of the Burger Bar Café, God spoke to my heart the words of Ephesians 2:8-10:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
It was by grace that we were saved, Jesus did it all for us on the cross. Jesus’ death had paid for all my sin. I didn’t have to work to earn God’s favor or his pleasure or his attention. I have all of those through Jesus’ death and resurrection. That what Jesus was talking about when he said as he was dying on the cross, “It is finished..” He finished my salvation. He finished our salvation. Everyone here. Every-one, every-where. Our salvation is complete in Jesus.
My new life in Jesus started right then and there.
As I look back over my life I can see how god can use anything for his glory, even my burn scars and the steel plate in my jaw.
The romans 8:28 verse has been a life verse. Two special ways and they both have to do with Mary and our relationship.
After I was burned I was sure that no one would ever love me. I was damaged goods. My face was disfigured. When I met Mary, I met her because of my scars. She saw me laughing with friends and thought that someone who looked like I did and could still laugh was someone she wanted to get to know.
Then, later on in our relationship, while we were broken up Mary met and started dating another guy. It made me sad to see them together so I tried to enlist in the Air Force. A kind of French Foreign Legion escape play. They would allow me to enter early and not finish my senior year, I just wanted to get out of town. I was working with the recruiter going through the paperwork, everything was going smoothly I was ready to sign and get sent off to basic training. Then he asked one last question on my medical history, did I have any metal pins or plates anywhere on my body? Yes, I had the plate in my jaw. The enlistment ended right there. They wouldn’t take me.
I ended up staying and finishing my senior year and towards the end of the summer Mary and I got back together, and the rest is just history. Now 37 years together, 4 kids and more than 9 grandkids together, all loving and serving Jesus.
Every time I tell my story I remember different people who have influenced me along the way. There was my dad who would read the bible to me every night when I was little. I have no conscious memory of that, yet the bible stories still stuck in my brain and in my heart. There was my mom who lived her faith in a very open and honest way. She kept us in church and continued to talk about God and Jesus and the bible with a natural grace that continued to weave the bible into my life as truth. There was a dentist, I met, Floyd Jacobson who would pray for you and pray with you and went out of his way to share Jesus and share his life and family with us. There was my Grandpa, who just loved me no matter how messed up I was or how many times I made mistakes. I already shared about Mary, how her changed life showed me there was truth and love and grace to be had in living for Jesus. Each one of these people dropped seeds and watered the garden of my heart. Eventually those seeds germinated and grew into faith and hope and trust in Jesus.
Let’s take a look at the story Jesus told about spreading seeds.
Parable of the sower is in Matthew 13. We will read vs 1-9 and 18-23
I have been trying to grow a flower garden this year. Out where I work. I work at a chemical plant in Moses Lake called Moses Lake Industries. It is built on land that used to be part of the Larsen Air force base. The ground is rocky, it sits on a huge gravel spit formed by the Missoula floods that came down the Grand Coulee corridor. I am a diabetic, type 2, I try to maintain my blood sugars with Metformin, diet and exercise. Part of the exercise is walking. When I am at work I walk on an old road that heads north and out through some unused ground of the plant site. The ground is rocky, hard and dry but it still grows weeds so one day this spring I thought, “if it will grow weeds, why can’t it grow flowers?”
I picked a spot that was part of a dirt bank, and cleared an area about the size of sheet of plywood. The area has boulders and dirt and rocks, mostly rocks. I pulled the weeds, loosened the soil and spread the seeds then began to carry water out to it. 2 gallons at a time, 3 times a day. So far, this year, I’ve carried about 300 gallons, 2 gallons at a time. The result? As of this week I have had 2 wild mustard plants grow, then the gophers ate the roots. Then two other unidentified weeds grew up, the gophers got those too. I had 3 zinnias grow to a height of about 2” before either birds or rabbits devoured them. I have one lone plant, hunkered down in between the cleft of two rocks. I think it is a zinnia. It has yet to bloom. I have planted hundreds of seeds, two different times I planted wildflower seeds, 3 or 4 different times I planted zinnia and marigold mix of seeds from my garden at home. Since my overarching goal is to get exercise the lack of results of the weeding, watering and watching hasn’t deterred me. I keep planting the seeds and watering. A couple of things that I could’ve done differently is to amend the soil with some organic matter, improve the chances of water retention and ease the fight of those little seeds trying to break up through the hard ground as they germinate. I also could have terraced the soil so the water that I sprinkle wouldn’t run off. Both things are part of what God is telling me to do with the people that are in my life, my friends at work, he keeps saying to me, “prepare the soil”. Prepare the soil to receive the seed. If we go back to our bible story we remember that the seed is the word of God, the soil is a person’s heart.
In John chapter 4 we read about the Samaritan woman who was saved and then Her entire village heard and received the message that day.
1 Corinthians 3:6-9New International Version (NIV)
“6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.”
We might all be familiar with Romans 10, especially 8-10
“But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: 9If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”
Then Paul goes on to say…
“11As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”’
Then he adds the go and do, the call to sow and water, to tell our story of the Good news….
“14How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!””
The principle has been the same from the beginning of creation. Prepare the soil, sow the seed, water, water, water, water some more and then water again, wait for the tender shoots, then guard and tend and watch over the little ones, and water, and weed and water some more. We may never see the harvest from the seeds we sow but it’s our job to sow any way. To water anyway, and watch, and wait, and maybe find more ground to sow. There isn’t any shame in reseeding, again and again and more seed and then in another place and/or in a different way.
Then we come back to God’s instruction to me.
Prepare the soil. On a farm, plowing is one of the first things to do. It’s hard work. The steel plow, the cutting implement that turns the soil over is one of the wonders of the industrial age. It made the difference being able to farm larger and larger plots of land.
In Hosea God says through the prophet,
“Sow for yourselves righteousness;
reap steadfast love;
break up your fallow ground,
for it is the time to seek the Lord,
that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.”
Jesus said in Luke, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
In Jeremiah God says through the prophet, “For thus says the LORD to the men of Judah and to Jerusalem, “Break up your fallow ground, And do not sow among thorns.”
I am here today because people in my life kept planting seeds in my heart. Then others watered those seeds and still others cared for me as I developed as a believer.
I pray today that we would all begin to look around at the fields with an eye to the harvest. But we would also continue to plant seeds and water the seeds and care for the tender new plants so that there can be a harvest.
What is Jesus waiting for? Why hasn’t he returned yet? He is waiting for the full number of those who will believe in him to be saved. We can participate in that by continuing to build Gods kingdom one believer at a time. Today is a good day to start.