Christianity in Colter’s Hell

Mountain man Colter believed Cody County had the stirrings of hell with the hot steam rising from deep within the earth. But some think that this area on the eastern side of Yellowstone National Park, America’s first, is one of the most beautiful places in the country. For the FBF conference, held September 18-19 in this secluded area of the Intermountain West, John Vaughn showed up in boots, shiny buckle, and cowboy hat. Rick Cross appeared somewhat casual (meaning no tie) in the entrance of Wapiti Valley Church; but he still wondered where there would be Internet access, understanding that in the eight-hour drive from Longmont, Colorado, he was in a different world. And Ed Nelson, stooped over at 83 years of age but with a big smile and twinkle in his eye, remarked, “This is almost as good as Colorado.” Seeing these guys, I just knew that the two days were going to be fun. Forget the political hobnobbing of an old FBF echelon of long ago. I looked forward to the real fellowship in Colter’s Hell along the Shoshone River.

Our trip to Wyoming from Idaho proved memorable. Evangelist Monte Leavell drove from Eagle, Idaho, to pick up Tom Knauf in Twin Falls and finally myself in Idaho Falls. From my church building, we headed up toward West Yellowstone, through the 2.2 million-acre park, and then out the east gate on to Cody. I don’t know which was more exciting–seeing the coyotes, buffalo, bull elk, bald eagles, waterfalls, bubbling geysers, and Yellowstone Lake; or listening five hours to brother Tom’s hair-raising, gun-toting ministry stories. Tom is one of those guys who could write a stupid man’s necrology without blinking an eye. But he was a nice enough guy to buy lunch for both Monte and me.

Cody, Wyoming, is a place you will never forget. Indian medicine. Gunfighting. The Buffalo Bill Historical Center. Modern ice climbing on 1,000-foot frozen waterfalls. And world famous rodeos. If you want a saddle, go to Seidel’s Saddlery. President George Bush picked up a high quality, western belt from Keith Seidel. And you can purchase a beautiful horse saddle for $30,000. Sound like a deal? Who needs an SUV? Terrible gas mileage. Anyway, Monte and I dropped in on Keith for a chat in his upstairs office. Surely, I will never forget Keith’s dad, Harvey Seidel, with his style of preaching and fiery KJV conviction when the Seidel family lived in Idaho Falls when I was a budding teenager.

Pastor Bud Wells of Wapiti Valley Church picked Isaiah 40:31 as the theme verse and tweaked two words in the verse to contextually fit the West–“Mount Up.” He questioned all the men, “What do you do when you get bucked off a horse? The answer should be that you get back on by God’s grace.” Bud admitted his own tenuous fellowship with other men in days past, but he noted in retrospection, “Iron can’t sharpen iron unless it touches iron. God has been changing my heart.”

Qualifying as a “hoary head,” Ed Nelson, ordained 60 years ago this month, preached two times. He titled his first message, “The Crippling That Crowns” from Genesis 32, directing our attention to the protection of God, the persistence of the flesh, and the power of the saints. Drawing application from the ol’ heel grabber, Jacob, Ed Nelson preached to us that “we have got to quit our scheming, our planning, and walk in the Spirit. We have no power to accomplish anything in our own strength.”

In Nelson’s second message, he brought us to Paul’s ministry in I Thessalonians 2, sharing three more points: 1. The persistence of the ministry, 2. The purpose of the ministry, and 3. The passion of the ministry. As Nelson sprinkled in quotes from John R. Rice (“You got to get people lost before they can become saved”), memorized poems, and personal burdens and illustrations, I was blessed.

John Vaughn also preached Monday and Tuesday. Monday evening, 1 Peter 1 anchored us in the omniscience of God (He knows what is ahead) and the omnipresence of God (He controls what is at hand). I had read Vaughn’s book, More Precious Than Gold, during past days, but listening firsthand to fiery trials that his family went through 28 years ago riveted me to my church chair. His daughter, Becky Vaughn, tells the story in her own words through the publicized gospel tract, “Hidden Treasure.”

Really, who is going to be so hardhearted in America to throw this tract back in your face? You can pick up large quantities of the tract in various languages through the American Tract Society or Hidden Treasure.

Tuesday morning, Vaughn’s second message was in Psalm 46. He led us to the safety of the great Refuge (permanent, personal, and powerful), to the living water of the River, and to the unchanging authority of the Ruler. Just listen to some of the pithy statements from the president of the FBF. “If God made you, He can sustain you.” “The measure of defeat is the measure of self-reliance.” “I need a God not just to save me from the penalty of sin but its power.” “We are not in charge. We never have been.” “When we are under His authority, we are under His protection.” “We have nothing to fear.” “The LORD Tsebaoth ‘imanu in us, with us, and working through us.” To be honest, I felt humbly but absolutely invincible in my God after John’s message from this choice passage in Psalms. Move over Martin Luther. I was ready to do battle for the glory of God and to lovingly seek to help lost ones escape the fierce clutches of evil. The psalm compels me to glorify the Ruler of all, the Commander of the Heavens. The divine message is the balm of Gilead for postulating fear.

To mention just a few other highlights, I loved bunking down at the King’s Ranch. The early sunrise set the mountain escarpment on fire on the other side of the Wapiti Valley. I enjoyed the Dutch oven breakfast. I felt right at home, seeing men in Levis and western shirts. I liked the use of cowboy hats as offering plates. And I laughed at the humorous words of cowboy melodies by The Circuit Riders. It was great meeting SI poster Scott Bothwell for the first time. (Hey, we need The Circuit Riders in Idaho during late spring or early June in the summer of 2007 to enhance a fellowship and outreach time with our church. I have a perfect place, the Powell Ranch in Roberts, Idaho, directly on the trail of one of the greatest mission fields in America, the “I-15 Idaho/Utah Corridor.” I want to hear “The Bloodwashed Band,” “Sheltered in the Arms of God,” “Life’s Railway to Heaven,” “Sweet Beulah Land,” and “Look for Me.” I have some cowboys in my church who would absolutely love it!)

I relished the sharing of other ministries and upcoming conferences. Brad from Biblical Ministries Worldwide exhorted us about churches for the deaf being planted in California. Daniel York quickly testified of wonderful opportunity through his two-year mission stint in China under C.A.M.P. Tom Knauf discussed the ministry of 777 Ranch. Bud Wells said two years from now, the FBF Wyoming satellite meeting is to be at First Baptist Church in Cody. Ahhhh, it is good seeing Independent Baptist churches mingle together in fellowship in that town and through the valleys. Ninety-seven-year-old Clarence Eldridge was a hoot! And Rick Cross encouraged us all about attending an upcoming January FBF meeting in Colorado. The theme will be Christian humility. As we practice “iron sharpening iron” on various issues like wine drinking, forms of worship, etc., earnest humility is key, isn’t it? There must be humility in our personal conviction over tensile biblical issues.

Personal words by Rick Cross to me in the foyer still linger strong in my heart, even days later. Anytime I see this guy (three times so far), my heart just instantly clicks with his yearning heart for God. So I shared with him about a custom-designed conference next year that beloved brother Aaron Young of Grace Baptist Church in Elko, Nevada, and I have cooked up to take place at Red Cliff Bible Camp, June 11-12, 2007. Frank Hamrick is coming out here; we are blessed to use this godly, 70-year-old man as our foremost speaker for what I am calling a “God-Focused Whetstone of the West.” And we will be privileged to come alongside him with our own teaching sessions, hoping to humbly explore as men all of our inward, heart ambitions for life and ministry in the radiant, loving light of the supratemporal, supralogic, Triune, self-existent One. God must be everything in what we think, say, and do. This is our passion. It must be.

When I was talking with Rick, he shared the illustration of a pupil that came to his master seeking knowledge. The master waded with him out in some water and then held the pupil’s head under water. The pupil was still at first but as the time ticked by, he began to thrash under the surface. The master then yanked his head out of the water. While the student was gasping for breath, the master said, “You must desire knowledge as you would air itself.”

Do we have an utterly singular gasping for God? Is He more important to us than our breath?

Monte Leavell told me that outside Cody, Wyoming, on the east side of Yellowstone, there is a place called Hell’s Half Acre. Likewise, just outside Idaho Falls, Idaho, on the west side of the park, there is a huge lava mass called Hell’s Half Acre. But in the midst of this wilderness area, God has brought forth new creation. And as new creatures with new hearts, we cry out, “O GOD, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; to see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary” (Isa. 6:1-2). By His marvelous effectual calling, Christianity is alive, even in Colter’s Hell. And may the magnification of God’s glory out here grow in the hearts of people as the flaming sun fills the valleys.

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Todd Wood is pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He received his B.A. in Missions, M.A. in Theology, and M.Div. from Bob Jones University. But more than anything he hungers for the A.I.G. degree affixed to Apelles (Rom. 16:10). Todd and his church family, Berean Baptist Church, will be sponsoring the upcoming church planting conference (Sept. 25-27), “Is There Not a Cause?”

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