I used to work in the oil field. It is a unique industry, and it offers plenty of life lessons. One lesson I’ll never forget is about the hazards associated with the detection of hydrogen sulfide. An oil well, say, down in South Texas or South Louisiana, can give off a deadly poisonous gas called hydrogen sulfide. Whenever that distinctly discerned poisonous gas comes out of that wellbore, you have seconds to react. If you fail to do so, you will become very sick, possibly pass out, and then . . . well, this is the instruction I was given,
“When you smell rotten-eggs at the well site, boys, you are smelling a poisonous, corrosive, flammable gas that is hydrogen sulfide. This hydrogen sulfide will kill you in no time flat [a bit of an overstatement, but deck-hand oilfield supervisors are like Army drill sergeants; you don’t argue with them over nuance]. If you get to the point where you do not smell hydrogen sulfide and its noxious rotten-egg aroma, it’s already too late. So, listen and live: You smell it. You get out of there. ‘Cuz if you stop smelling it, I will have to go in and haul your ugly carcass out of there—feet-first! And that will just mess up my day. Don’t be that guy!”
That got my attention. Big-time.
Now, many years later, here is the lesson that I learned from those dangerous days: sin is like the rotten-egg smell of hydrogen sulfide. Whenever you smell it, you have to get out—and I mean NOW. If you linger after you have detected the odor of the poisonous gas of sin, you will quickly get to the point where you don’t smell it. That is, as Kansas sung, “the point of no return.” Let us say it like this,
“If sin becomes tolerable, judgment becomes inevitable.”
And by the time you stop sensing that rotten-egg smell, it will be too late. You will be trapped by sin. You’ll be snared by the devil. Somebody just may have to go into the scene of the incident and pull you out feet-first. I have seen the carnage of those who ignored the rotten-egg smell of sin—sometimes camouflaged by the smell of sweet perfume or the fateful flattery to an ego in need. You’ve seen it or heard about it: a middle-aged man, “misunderstood” by his wife, ignores the warnings of heightened sensations for a pretty woman who has made herself available and understanding. An accountant smells the rotten-eggs of rerouting a few extra dollars into a private account. But the smell goes away after the second or third time he fudges the numbers. Their consciences are seared. And they are lulled into a false feeling of safety. By the time I am called in, the casualties lie at the scene of the sin like rusting old machine parts at an abandoned well site.
Now, the good thing is this — and this is why I am so thankful to be a minister of the gospel — Jesus Christ can and will walk right into the poisonous environment of sin and do what no human being could ever do. He can get you out alive. Even if you are lulled in to a death-sleep by a lethal dose of sin. Jesus saves.
Turn to God with every fiber of your being, with every area of your life. Leave no corner of your soul unguarded. Could it be that there is a poisonous gas, rotten-egg smell somewhere in your soul? If you detect it — that is, if you recognize a conscience that has been pricked, a “Spidey sense,” if you prefer, that has been aroused to danger — quickly call out to Christ in prayer. He hears the cries of the sin-sickened soul and answers with salvation. How did Jesus’ brother put it?
“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7 ESV).
And as our Lord Jesus cast the demons out of the Gadarene, that poor Man of the Tombs, so, too, our blessed Savior will cap-off the uncontrolled and raging flames of a life “blow-out” through the power of His righteous life, His sacrifice on the cross, His resurrection, ascension, coronation, and through the antidote of his royal presence.
Sometimes, I think back on the several occupations I had before God called me to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ, and I ask, “Lord, what good came from this?” And it always seems that the Spirit of the Lord speaks to my spirit to affirm, “Hear what the Spirit says to the Church.” I take that to mean, among other things, that the Spirit is speaking to me and I need to listen. The experiences of one’s life, even the bad experiences, are never wasted if the lessons of God’s Word are harnessed. When by the power of the Spirit, we bring our experiences to the dock with theological reflection and critical thinking, the result can be a decisive turn-around.
“So, Lord, what can I do with the lessons from that time before I followed You?”
A cross-shaped conscience responds:
“Take it, reflect upon it, distill the gospel from it, capture and bottle the essence of the lesson. Carefully apply the essence of Truth, pastorally, on the festering wounds of My people that they may be comforted and that they may be healed.”
This is my prayer for you.
I pray that your little foray with me into the oildfields—slimy water mocassins, mean old derrick hands, monstrous mosquitoes, stinking polecat mixed with dirty diesel, and black swamp-water notwithstanding—will save you from the heartache of sin or resuscitate you from the hydrogen sulfide of a sewage-spewing Underworld that Christ has defeated.
Listen and live.