Monday, January 17, 2011

A Fall to Grace

In modern English we use the word know to express many thoughts. As long as I can remember I knew there was a God, then one day I met Him and what I knew became more real. Very recently the things that I knew were tested. I am here tonight to tell you how that happened and how that testing propelled my hopes into reality. The reality that God Almighty loves me , and if He loves me then he must love you. Because he loves us--- he cares for us--- and because he cares--for us,, he helps us.

Those who know me will probably agree that I have a tendency to go off the deep end with things that capture my attention. By this I mean that I generally don't dabble in my interests, instead I dive into them. What you might not know is that there are very few things that I've ever wanted to do that I have not done. Normally to excess.

That behavior has guaranteed that my life, and the life of my family have normally been interesting and often exciting. That being said nothing could have prepared me or my family for the roller coaster ride of the last 5 1/2 months.

The morning of Monday August 9th started off as very common,-- there was nothing special about the day. Two weeks before I had begun in addition project on a house in Rumson. I didn't intend to strap on my tool belt but I had to keep the job moving, I had be the lead carpenter.

With the help of men that I hired on a daily basis we completed 90% of the demolition work and had framed out the new second-floor and roof system. All but one piece of plywood roof sheathing was in place and with the threat of rain and a nor'easter bearing down I was anxious to begin and complete the roof shingles.

While my three-man crew was carrying out whatever instructions I given them I sliced off a 3 to 4 foot piece of tarpaper stuck a slap hammer and a box of staples in my tool belt and climbed the 28 foot ladder onto the roof. For reasons that I cannot remember I went to the very top of the roof to tack down piece of tarpaper,, 30 feet above the ground.

I stapled the tarpaper down on one side and stepped over the ridge, as I bent down to begin stapling the second side I saw and felt the tarpaper begin to tare free from the roof. As my feet flew out from under me I heard myself say, "Jesus, please help me". Then time almost stopped. My life, as I knew it, was about to drastically change.

I grew up in a good home. In my preteen years I attended church and Sunday school with my parents-- I even sang in a church choir. However, by the time I was in my mid teens I decided that church and religion were a farce. I knew that God was real but I failed to see the evidence of Him in organized religion.

I was 15 when I first became aware of God's presence while skiing alone on a mountaintop in Vermont. I decided that God did not reside in churches but on the mountaintops. For the next eight years I avoided church, using my mountaintop experience as a justification.

In 1977 I attended a church service with my wife and a couple that God was using to introduce her to Jesus. I'm sure that I reminded Katherine as we drove to the evening service of my opinion that God was not in churches . I must have repeated my standing challenge, that God would have to touch me in a church, the way he had on the mountain top for me to believe. God tolerated and accepted my challenge. During the worship service the reality of his presence fell on me like a huge rock. I was so captivated by Him that I stood through the entire service. Fortunately, we were in the back row. The following week I responded to an altar call. The pastor asked me why I had come forward. I wasn't sure--- I told him “I want to be with Jesus”.

Within a year of my surrender to Jesus, Katherine and I sold our home and almost everything we owned. We loaded our two children into a beat up old Ford station wagon with a partly burned-out transmission and headed off for Dallas Texas to attend Christ for the Nations Institute. CFNI is a mission-based nondenominational Bible college started by Gordon Lindsay, an evangelist and teacher who came from the era of traveling tent ministries. We went there to know God more personally and in deeper way and to learn how to understand his word on our own.

The inspiration to head off to Texas came through a coworker that I was attempting to share salvation with one night, during lunch break. He asked me "how do you know ?" I had no answer for him. The fact is, at that point in my life the things that I thought I knew were all secondhand. I had not learned or read them for myself but I had been told them during a church service or Bible study. Please remember, my personality almost demands that I drop everything and dive in. Jesus had captivated my attention, three church services a week weren't enough --there was nothing else I could do. I didn't realize then that Church services, Sunday school, and Bible studies do more than just teach about God and his word, – they also build a sense of fellowship and community. I didn't understand yet that we learn, experience and share the love of Christ through close fellowship with one another. It's important to study and understand God's word but raw knowledge just become rules unless they are experienced through God's love.

For the next two and half years we were surrounded by the fellowship of other believers who shared our desire to understand and live in the kingdom. Every day, because of the communal intensity of the environment, we experienced his presence, His love and tenderness-- we witnessed God's miraculous powers in our family and those around us.

I knew the day that I committed to attend CFN I that God had called me to serve him. I didn't know how exactly or where but I was positive it wasn't in New Jersey. I used to boldly proclaim that I was never going back to New Jersey unless God drug me there kicking and screaming. That's exactly what he did. Once again God graciously and patiently tolerated then responded to my challenge.

After returning to New Jersey God blessed us with homes, good health and jobs, lots of jobs. Unfortunately, due to my own pride and callousness, we never became deeply connected to a fellowship of believers . Consequently there was no one who picked up the phone when we stopped showing up for Wednesday night and ultimately Sunday morning fellowship.

Left to fend for ourselves spiritually it was easy to drift away. God remained part of our lives but he was no longer central. When the normal everyday troubles of a young family came, as they always do, I ultimately would look back up at God and asked for his help. In his completely unwavering love he was always there, He always answered.

Luke chapter 8 records Jesus’ parable of the sower.
..“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.” …..

Jesus explains the parable starting in verse 11
..“The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

THANK GOD the seed that falls among the thorns does not die, our Lord is the perfect gardener. The certainty of God's love and our security in Christ is not based on our ability to be good or follow a set of rules. Our security and hope, yours and mine are based entirely on the goodness of Christ and the love of God Almighty. God is able, if we are willing, to plow up the hard ground, to remove the rocks and weed the garden because it is His will, His desire that we know him and be free to be transformed into the image of Jesus.

On August 25, 2005 I was buried alive 30 feet down as the result of a trenching accident. Almost all cave-in or trench accidents or fatal. The situation was so grim that the rescue workers, over hundred of them, didn't actually think that there was a hope of rescuing me. Some bystanders have told me that they treated it as a drill and a recovery operation. In fact they turned back the medevac helicopter that had been dispatched to take me to the hospital. With God's miraculous help I escaped that accident with nothing more than a scraped elbow. I foolishly interpreted God's grace as God's approval instead of running into his arms because of his miraculous intervention I blindly continued down my own thorn covered path.

Then the economy started to fall apart. The new housing market, where I made my living, went down the tubes. Over the years I had gone from doing odd jobs to be a senior purchasing manager of the world's third largest builder. To reduce costs the company chose to close down the central Jersey office where I was employed. Recognizing that I was about to be downsized took the offer to be CEO of a window company. I didn't seek God's guidance before making that decision. I should have, the company already in trouble and it soon lost its contracts and closed. There were too few jobs and too many good people available in the industry that I had worked in for the last 20 years. As a result salaries and wages went down drastically.

Against my wife's objections I formed a new remodeling company and went back into business for myself. This worked out well for two years and then the remodeling business drastically slowed as well. In 2009 the gaps between contracts grew progressively longer. All of the plans that I had so carefully formulated crumbled. Like quicksand, the more I tried the worse things became.
I thought we were over the hump when I was hired to build an addition on a house in Rumson. Then there was another addition project job, much closer to home. Between the two of these jobs 2010 was going to be okay, or so I thought.

In order to man the Rumson job I had formed a loose verbal partnership with another contractor. When the time came to begin the job the other contractor was AWOL. For many reasons, not the least of which were money and reputation, I was anxious to begin on time so I hired day laborers to serve as the necessary muscle and we began demolition. The other contractor would sort out whatever was going on in his life and return my calls any day, he didn’t. Demolition was completed and I put on my tool belt. We poured the footings, set the pillars, and framed the second floor deck. My 55-year-old bones were not enjoying it but this work is exhilarating and I was finding satisfaction in the fact that the job was moving forward. We were still on schedule.

We completed the roof framing and most of the roof sheathing on Saturday. The next day- Sunday- Katherine joined me as I captained the County pump-out boat on the lower Barnegat Bay. On Monday morning August 9th three strong young men helped me complete the roof sheathing.

The weatherman was predicting a nor'easter to hit the area in about four days. There was just enough time, to apply the roof shingles, hang the wall sheathing and watertight the addition, or so I thought.
The first words as my feet slipped out from under me were "Jesus please help me” then as I shot off the roof like a kid on a waterslide,, I hollered--, maybe screamed,-- to the neighbor “call 911”.
I fell accelerating to over 32 miles an hour. The concrete paved patio rushed up in slow motion for just over a second. I remember thinking, "this is really going to hurt", then blinding pain. We had been careful the week before to move the patio furniture to the backyard out of harms way before we began demolition. Miraculously the picnic table had reappeared on the patio. I don't recall seeing it that morning but the wreckage proves it was there.

The impact drove the ball at the head of my femur through my pelvis and broke my pelvis in two more places. My right forearm had multiple compound fractures, the bones in my forearm were shattered, both of my hands were broken, along with four ribs.--- One of my lungs had collapsed but I was alive and conscious.

The police officers that responded only minutes later were also the paramedics. One of them warned me before they picked me up, “were are going to have to hurt you”. He was right. I pleaded with them to give me something for the pain but they told me they couldn’t. There was some debate between them about what hospital they were going to take me to and during the trip they pulled over and stopped. I yelled to them “ make up your minds…lets get moving”, I didn't know how much longer I could hold on.

I never passed out but the effect of shock must've taken hold on me, from then on my memory is sketchy. I remember pulling into the hospital parking lot and the doors opening on the ambulance.
Then the faces of Katherine and my parents, their voices trying to reassure me that I was going to be OK. I felt God's healing power move from my father's hand into me, I knew they were right.

I don't know if they shot me full of painkillers, if it was shock or if I just finally passed out---- I woke up 5 1/2 weeks later-- Katherine was there. I would find out that she was almost always there. Sometimes with my parents, my children, my sister, Pastor Gene. There was also a never-ending parade of caregivers and doctors.

Loved ones tell me that I seem to wake up from time to time during the coma, then I would slip away. On one occasion Katherine asked me if I knew what happened. I told her that I fell off the roof. She then asked if I knew where landed I answered “in the palm of the hand of God”. Today nothing could convince me otherwise, He caught me.

Statistically I should be dead. I have been told there were times when I was only a heart beat away from that happening. The doctors were amazed that I could have the injuries that I did but not damaged my spine or cracked my skull. Some of them even use the word miracle.

The Bible teaches us that God knows the beginning and the end of all things, he knew us each long before we were born, and He has numbered our days. He knew that I would fall off that roof. Two days before the accident He set the wheels in motion to help my wife and family cope with what was about to happen.
My parents had been spending the summer with us. Several days before the accident mom and dad left to visit my brother in Maryland. Their plans were to go from my brother’s house then return to their home in Myrtle Beach to collect the mail and check on things. On Saturday, August 7th my father told my mother that he felt that they should change their plans come back to our house. He couldn't explain why he just thought they should. Mom agreed and on Sunday they drove the five hours back to our house. Dad had heard from the Holy Spirit and because he listened,--- because he listened they were standing in the room with Katherine when the police called to tell her, “Mrs. Cash, your husband is alive”.
How great is our God that he cares for us so tenderly and with such detail?

I laid in a coma for 51/2 weeks while a host of people who love me prayed for me. My ability to stand here before you now quite literally is a result of those prayers --God’s love, His power, and His willingness to answer prayer. My wife, children, family, Pastor Gene, many of you and hundreds of people around the world – most of whom I've never met called out to God on my behalf.
Some have told me about their prayers but if I tried to repeat their stories I would completely fall apart.

Something very special happened while I slept I don't have a visual memory of it but I know- without a doubt- that God touched me. In some way at some point I was in his presence. I’m sure of this because of the things I said and felt and knew when I woke up. Katherine and my parents will tell you that I couldn't speak his name for weeks without weeping, I still do. That I would cry and talk for hours about how grateful we should be that God would allow us to just sit in the corner in his banquet room let alone sit down at the table with him. I awoke with a new understanding of how incredibly wretched I actually am and that it is only by his love and grace that I shouldn't be instantly destroyed. This is not some case of self-loathing but a realization of His magnificence.

My new understanding of my own need for God's mercy comes with the un-yielding assurance that his mercy exceeds my need. That His mercy is driven by His love. I have been captivated by the reality that the most powerful God, the creator and sustainer of everything that there is actually knows me. He knows each one of us and cares for us individually, his love and mercy are unchanging and more real than anything else.

I believe that God is healing my body. I would like him to do it instantly and I know he is able but I also know that God's ways are not my ways and his purposes are higher than my purposes. Too often I have been to cavalier about His love and been careless with His treasures. Perhaps my limp will remind me of the truth?

Along the New Jersey coast there are boardwalks built over the dunes to give visitors access to the beach. I had a vision of one of those boardwalks during one of the long sleepless nights at the hospital. Along with the image came the thought that it's up to me to cross the Boardwalk to get to the beach, to get to the ocean- I love the ocean. I have choices; I can stay at the beginning of the boardwalk and never cross the dunes because the Boardwalk seems too long or too difficult. If I decide to cross the Boardwalk I can choose to look down and be distracted by the broken glass and empty beer cans or I can step over them, I can lift my eyes and look at the ocean, He calls to me. I could also choose at any time to sit down and stay where I am on the Boardwalk -- to just look at the ocean in the distance, but- I love the ocean, He calls my name and I am compelled to keep moving across the Boardwalk over the dunes, to the beach, to the ocean--- to Him.

The blessings I have received and witnessed from my fall far outweigh the cost. People turned their faces to God on my behalf and found him in the process. Lives have been changed, priorities reordered and relationships restored.

This isn't pleasant, this is life.
I don't know what any of you are going through but I'm sure you have your own obstacles, things to overcome, and a Boardwalk to cross. The obstacles are inevitable and the Boardwalk-- well it's really there to help us get were we need to be. So tonight I want to invite each of you,,,, come to the beach…. step over the obstacles,,, and fix eyes on Jesus. He never said it was going to be easy he said “he would never leave us or forsake us”