I cant believe Im writing this…

1082032382but I just got a serious lesson in manhood from reading “the Wizard of Oz”.  My sister loved the movie growing up, so I always assumed it was more of chick-flick movie more than anything.  I realized that was shallow and completely arbitrary, but its true.  Sorry, if my shallowness and presupposition offends you.  I picked up the book in a used book store on a whim and began reading today.  If you haven’t read it, let me warn you: “IT IS MUCH DIFFERENT FROM THE MOVIE (in a very weird and creepy sort of way).”  I became fascinated as the story written in 1900 so effectively diagnosed men in Church 114 years later and my journey as a man in the Church…please let me explain.

Dorothy’s well known companions, the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion, are rather unknown.  They arrive in the story and move forward without any background.  The book, however, tells their stories as they are introduced to Dorothy and join in her travels

The Scarecrow was made by a farmer and taken out the field.  As he explained to Dorothy, “the old crow comforted me, saying: ‘If you only had brains in your head you would be as good a man as any of them, and a better man than some of them.  Brains are the only things worth having in this world, no matter wheter one is a crow or a man.”  The scarecrow struggled with his worth and purpose because he was unable to think and dwell on life.  His lack of brains and experience enslaved him to the pole on which he perched.

The Tin Man told his story when he joined the travelers.  As a woodsman, he had given his heart in love to a munchkin girl who lived with an old woman who refused to let her leave.  The old woman employed the services of the wicked witch of the East to stop the Tin man from marrying the girl.  The witch caused the woodsman’s axe to slip as he was cutting wood, chopping off both legs, both arms, his head, and finally dividing his chest.  Luckily, the muchkin Tin smith was able to make him a body of tin, but sadly not a heart.  As he was chopping wood one day, a rainstorm came in and he rusted in place.  During the year prior to Dorothy and the Scarecrow’s arrival, he had plenty of time to think: “It was a terrible thing to undergo [rusting in the woods], but during the year I stood there I had time to think that the greatest loss I had known was the loss of my heart.  While I was in love I was the happiest man on earth; but no one can love who has not a heart…”

The cowardly lion’s story as he was the last to join the band, goes like this:

“I suppose I was born that way [a coward].  All the other animals in the forest naturally expect me to be brave, for the Lion is everywhere thought to be the King of Beasts.  I learned that if I roared very loudly every living thing was frightened and got out of my way…It is my great sorrow, and makes my life very unhappy.  But whenever there is danger my heart begins to beat very fast.”

Poor thing…he’s a coward.

For the Scarecrow it was brains, for the Tin Man it was a heart, and for the Cowardly Lion it was courage.  For me it was all three.  As I grew up in the Church, I realized I had no brains, no heart, and no courage.  My ability to think “christianly”, with a Theistic worldview, and deeply about scripture was non-existent.  As a young man my faith was about as deep as one of those plastic pools people put on their front lawns.  I had given my heart away and lacked the understanding of heart issues to the point were I was unable to connect with God in worship and unable to connect with others.  Men don’t care about things…no crying, no emotion.  When issues arose, battles needed fought, and people needed protected, I turned into the cowardly lion because I understood that to be a Christian man, I needed to be nice and non-confrontational.  Christian men are door mats because after all Jesus did say “turn the other cheek.”  The idea of what it means to be a Christian man has been so largely misunderstood that we might as well follow the yellow brick road with Dorothy.

It needs to stop with this generation.  The young men in our churches need to find their brains, keep their hearts, and develop the courage to battle in this world.  I was blessed to be given a mind by older men who displayed a diligence in study, the purpose of doubt, and the gift of answers.  My heart was rekindled by examples of worship and service.  Passionate men showed me that injustice needs to be fought at all times and that it takes courage to do so.

While serving in the church I saw many men (especially leaders) who had fallen into the role of scarecrow, tin man, or lion. Sadly, I to became a part. But if I have learned anything, its that manhood is a journey…not the yellow brick kind, but definitely a journey. We as men need to commit ourselves to feeding our brains, keeping our heart, and stoking our courage. The only thing that can do that is not Oz, but a growing relationship with the man, the Lord Jesus Christ. His example, his ministry, his teaching will change life itself. I am convinced it will give us brains, keep our hearts, and enflame our courage.


IMG_0935A few years back, I walked into a Walmart a few steps behind a young black man.  He had cut firewood with me and put up fence earlier that morning and we were stopping by after I had bough him lunch.  As any 8th grader would, he wanted to race me to the door.  He won by a few steps and walked in first.  His hood was up.

The door greeter told him to take his hood off.  Ordered was probably a better word.  He shot back a quick response and refused to take the hood of his sweatshirt down.  The greeter approached him as I quickened my pace to reach his side.  You could tell there was going to be a situation, so i grabbed the young man’s arm and pulled him to the right to have a discussion with him.

What I told him was this: “He lives his life in a world that doesn’t fully understand who he is.  Its unjust to ascribe fault…its no ones fault.  Everyone has prejudices and ignorance’s its everyones fault and no ones.  When asked by an officer, an older person, anyone of any color, he is to comply.  Unfair or unjust…that will be determined by breathing people later.  Sadly, he will live much of his life under suspicion because he is both a man and black.   (I nearly felt the tears welling up at this point)  I will stand by you if you feel you were unjustly treated, unfairly corrected, profiled, abused, or assaulted, but you have to be alive for me to stand with you!”

Six months later, driving through a rougher part of town with him in the passenger seat, I was pulled over.  The Officer approached my truck, we had a discussion, and I gave him my licensee.  A few minutes later, the Officer returned and explained that a truck similar to mine had been stolen earlier in the day and he was just making sure my truck wasn’t it.  I shook his hand, said “thank you sir” and went about my way.  The young man went off about how the officer had no right to pull me over, that I was too nice to him, and that I should have gave him a piece of my mind.  I pulled the truck over and tried to teach him another lesson.  I said:

The officer approached a dark, unfamiliar vehicle, in a rough neighborhood with no backup.  He had no idea what was happening in our truck.  All he knew was that one like it had been stolen.  Unjustly or unfair…it doesn’t matter.  If you are ever in this situation, keep your hands out in the open, keep calm and do WHATEVER they say.  The time to fight is NEVER then.  I care too much about you to have something horrible happen because you wanted to prove a point.

The death of Michael Brown in Ferguson hurts my heart so much because in this case I see Adonis, Daleon, Nysir, Calvin, Malachi, JJ, Larry, Dawud, Don’yell or Eric.  All young men that I have had the pleasure of speaking with, coaching, and working alongside.  When I see Michael Brown’s picture, I see the face of these young men.

I know many officers as well and they are some of the best men I have ever been around.  I would go to bat for any one of them.  I would trust their judgment and their decision making with my life.  So where does that leave us?

Of the two people who fully know what happened, one is dead and the other is on leave and has given his testimony.  I struggle on both sides of the fight but I have hope because…

In ministry, I have made so many mistakes, but my proudest moment, the thing that i constantly am reminded of and will always be moved by, is the investment in the lives of the boys above by men like Nick Ward, Officer Brad McCarter, Teacher Clark Boatright, and Jason Hildebrandt.  These are white men, men who have much in common with Officer Wilson of Ferguson, who were investing their time, lives, and resources into young men who have much more in common with Michael Brown than any of us.  I watched these men love and take care of their students.  I watched these students love and open up to their sponsors.   Wednesday night became my favorite night because of these two worlds colliding…and both leaving changed.

To you men (both young and old), I am forever grateful!

God, please be with the people of Ferguson and the family of both Michael Brown and Darren Wilson

Chasing a Career and/or Calling

“Did you ever look around in your life and say, ‘How did I get here? And furthermore, where am I?” — Baxter Black

This is how Baxter Black, cowboy poet, begins his book Cactus Tracks & Cowboy Philosophy.  His story of how he arrived at cowboy poetry is both simple and complex.  In short, he got fired but kept up his previous engagements and in his words “the phone just never stopped ringing.”  He is by far one of my favorite authors and writers.

“Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about mission statements!” — Peter Gibbons, Office Space

If you have never seen the movie Office Space, Peter Gibbons is stuck in a dead-end data job that he hates.  The plot of the movie show him becoming the worst employee ever; yet, still getting promoted as others who work hard are laid-off.  Peter’s speech above is the rallying cry for him and his friends.  The movie ends with him happily shoveling the charred remains of his building (a fire set by a different disgruntled co-worker)…but he’s happy doing that job.

“West Philadelphia born and raised…out on the playgrounds where I spent most of my days…chillin’ out maxing relaxin’ all cool…shootin’ some bball outside of the school” — Jimmy Fallon as Neil Young performing the theme song to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (click here)

I love watching Jimmy Fallon.  When I watch his show, I am amazed at his talent, giftedness, and passion all came together into this one career.  His entire show is based around what he does best.  I watch and think, “man I would love to go to dinner with this guy because he seems so real on TV.”  He’d have the Taco Bell people rollin’ (yeah that is where we’d go) and we would just hang out…because that is what his show is about: hanging out!

How does a job/career like these come about?  A place where calling, passion, giftedness, talent, and contentment all combine into a 40+ hour week?

The sad thing that struck me this week was that the search will never end.  No matter where I look, how many W-2’s I turn in, or where my pay comes from, there will always be aspects of a job that is not fun.  If someone tells you they “love everything about a job”, chances are they are lying too you.  There are many jobs out there where people love 99% of it, but it still ain’t a 100 (unless you’re running a candy store in which case you are the exception and not the rule)!

Understanding the greater purpose at work is part of the discussion too.  God created us to work!  Figuring out the best, most effective way to serve God and others through 9-5 life is a challenge in and of itself.  God also created us men to serve and provide for our families.  I could drop everything now (first I would set my computer down) and go preach to the homeless, adopt every orphan, or go clean wells in Africa, but at some point collectors will be finding my wife and she will be one of the homeless that I am preaching too.

So all that to say, careers/job/callings are synonymous for the lucky few amongst us.  I hope to join your ranks someday, but until then, I will continue exploring the very thing that my second grade teacher told me as I turned in a poster with about 10 careers on it for “what I want to be when I grow up day”: “You are a confused yet ambitious young man”.  Thanks Mrs. Ritchie.

Pharaoh’s Heart of Hedge

Penny Dog, a stack of hedge, and a dulled chainsaw
Penny Dog, a stack of hedge, and a dulled chainsaw

Hedgerows criss-crossed my grandpa’s farm when I was growing up.  He used to tell me, as we were checking cows, that a row of hedge trees, planted close together, was the way they would fence in livestock before barbed wire was invented.  I didn’t believe him.  I just couldn’t see how a row of trees would ever keep cattle in or out.  That all changed when I had to make my way through one, cut firewood, or track down a deer hidden in its thorny sanctuary.

For those of you ranching outside of Kansas, I just now learned that hedgerows are a Flinthills/Eastern Kansas thing to begin with.  The reason is that barbed-wire was not prevalent til the late 1870’s-1880’s, around 30 years after Kansas was settled.  Before the arrival of barbed wire, Kansans chose to “fence” in their property with hedge rows.  Oklahoman’s didn’t open up for settlement until after barbed wire was widely available so they fenced off their property with the wire.  Hedgerows are few and far between down in Sooner land.

But when barbed-wire came onto the scene hedge found another use: fence posts.  They will outlast any other wooden post by 30 years and mature quickly.  Every 20 years or so, the same hedge row can be harvested for posts.  The only draw back is attaching wire to them.  The old joke used to be:

Q:  What’s the difference between a hedge post and stone post?

A:  Its easier to drive a staple into a stone one.

Hedge is hard.  Hard enough to bend steel.  A staple or nail will be turned back by the orange hardwood.  Nothing pierces easily, it dulls chainsaw chains, and protests against drill bits.  It is unyielding, stubborn, and hard.

In Exodus, Pharaoh’s heart was often described as hard [hb. hazaq], heavy [hb. qasa], and unyielding [hb. kabed]  Just as the years of growth, layered tightly together, makes the hedge hard, so the years of growth, experience, and theology grew together on the heart of Pharaoh.  When Moses tells Pharaoh to let his people go Pharoah’s heart became like hedge. Four times Pharaoh made his heart hard, twice it was observed to be hard, and 4 times it was the Lord who made it hard.

Pharaoh was the King of Egypt, the incarnation of Re, the creator of the world, and the keeper of ma’at, the peace and order of creation.  Pharaoh was like Hank the Cowdog, chief security officer and keeper of order on the ranch.  The ten plagues, was God messing with the divine order.  It was, as I put earlier, an arm wrestling match between the Lord and Pharaoh.  God is showing the Pharaoh that he is really in control.  When Pharaoh died, it was believed that his heart would be placed on a scale.  Opposite the heart of Pharaoh would be the feather of ma’at.  Should Pharaoh’s heart bring down the scales, judged as too heavy, weighed down by unrighteousness and disorder, it would be fed to a waiting demon Ammut, who looks like the dogs from the Hunger Games.

In the story of the Exodus, the ten plagues act as a picture of judgement upon: 1) the nation of Egypt for their mistreatment of the Hebrews; (2) the officials of Egypt who are using evil powers to replicate the work of God; (3) Pharaoh and his egotistical view of himself and his power; (4) the gods of the nation.  God is acting as judge over all of these entities.  Every time the Lord mentions how hard, stiff, heavy, and unyielding the heart of Pharaoh is, the picture of divine scales is flashing in the mind of the reader.

The heart [hb. leb; eg. ib] meant so much in the ancient near east.  We think of it as a box where our emotions are kept, but the ancient cultures saw it as so much more.  They saw it as a place of resting, like a shelf, chair, or table.  But on these things rested their intellect, will, logic, sense, wisdom, understanding, intelligence, attention, intention, disposition, manner, will, wish, desire, mind, courage, lust, self, and thoughts.  The heart was so much more than what we think.  Pharaoh’s heart was so much more than just his feelings, it was everything that made him Pharaoh.  Thus, the wrestling match, the arm of the Lord and the arm of Pharaoh, becomes a battle of the heart as well.

The plagues beg the question: will Pharaoh’s heart stand up to the judgement of the Lord?  How will the Lord judge the heart of Pharaoh?  The answer: heavy, hard, stiff.

When God speaks to our heart, when He calls us to act, when He begs us to attention…to what condition does He find our heart?  When we look into the face of the orphan, the widow, the homeless, the down and out, the least, is our heart like hedge?  When the direction that God is leading and going and acting unfolds before us, will we be the one whose heart has become like the Osage Orange that dulls even the sharpest chains?

Arm Wrestling and Crying in my Cheese Fries

A couple years ago, a couple friends and I were setting at Cheddars restaurant after a rodeo. We noticed this large, behemoth of a man setting at the table next to us. Lucas told me to challenge him to an arm wrestling match.  With my upper body strength, I will never be in position to challenge someone. The way I see it, there is just too much time involved to make myself look anywhere near a normal weight for someone my height (plus it is embarrassing when you are straining to bench press 80 lbs down in the gym, when surrounded by guys who have no purpose in life other than to lift heavy things that don’t really need to be lifted). This guy would have killed me. I decided that it would be advantageous for me to back down from the challenge. You can call it cowardice. You can call me a panzee. I don’t care, what am I going to do fight you? I backed down. Then the idea was purposed (I believe by Brownie, but can’t be quoted) that I should arm wrestle the waitress.

Any guy who has been in this situation knows that it is a no win situation at this point. There is no way to gracefully beat her; because if you do you will be labeled a jerk. However; if you let her win, the five guys surrounding me will never let me live it down. As it was, they had all of their cell phones out recording the grudge match. Behind our table there was a table of a couple guys who had been at the restaurant the entire time we had been there. I had lost count of the number of margarita’s and beers that their table had consumed, but it was well over the amount that any self respecting adult should partake of in public. One of the guys at my table turned to them and informed them that I would be arm wrestling the waitress. The leader of the group (I deduced that he was the leader by the fact that he was the first to speak, the most drunk, and the most incoherent) began to speak to me in what sounded like a garbled, Cajun accent. Sure enough it could have been simply a southwest Missouri accent, but he was so inebriated that your guess is as good as mine. This man began threatening me with embarrassment should I lose. He threatened to hang me upside down from the rafters, like a piñata, if she was to beat me. This would be where my nickname from him would come from. For the rest of the night he would refer to me as piñata.

The waitress made her way over to our table and promptly informed us that she was having a rough night. She was responsible for all of the tables on the patio, which judging from the quality of the people that I had observed there, seems to have been quite the ordeal. While sitting at our table she let us know that she had a lot of pent-up rage from the night. This posed a few serious problems for me: (1) She was kind of scary. (2) The rage that she was carrying was soon to be allocated in my direction. No clear cut solution presented itself, so I proceeded on with the match. We grabbed hands. Just as our hands met, moron #2 from the drunken table walked over and placed his hands on top of ours. He had appointed himself referee. Suddenly this had become serious with a referee and the paparazzi made up of all of my friend’s video taping with their cell phones. We have the hecklers, meaning the drunk guy that is affectionately calling me “piñata” at the top of his lungs. Servers and bus boys are taking breaks to watch, and I wasn’t sure, but I think I heard it announced over the intercom. The referee, who now has my hand and her hand in a death grip, has made it clear that there was no backing out now.

I really felt good about my odds. That is until I heard the word “go.” As opposed to letting go of our hands and allowing us to fairly arm wrestle, he slams mine and her hand in the direction that she was aiming for and declared her the winner. It was over in less than a second. If you were to look really closely at the video tape, you can see glimpses of him helping her out. But the tape hides it quite well. I am not lying to you here. I was cheated. Now without any pride, and any dignity, I stand before a broken and dejected man. For I know that I was cheated and am unable to prove it. All that was left was for me to do was to cry in my cheese fries.

In the middle of the book of Exodus begins an arm-wrestling match between Yahweh and the most powerful man on earth.  The powerful hand of Yahweh against the hand of Pharoah.  It has been argued that Moses, in his composition of the book of Exodus and the rest of the Pentateuch, borrowed this idiom, “the hand/the arm of ___” from Egyptian grammar.

The phrase “the hand/arm of Pharaoh” began during the Middle Kingdom (1970-1800 B.C.E.), according to the study of inscriptions and hieroglyphs.  This would have been during the time of the patriarchs and into the time of Joseph.  One pharaoh, Apophis, of the Hyksos dynasty, perhaps the dynasty that “did not know about Joseph, who came to power”, made his prenomen of “Re is the Lord of the Strong Arm”.  It is of no coincidence that the first time the hands of Yahweh are mentioned it is Exodus.

“…But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him.  So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians…” (Exodus 3.19-20)

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh, because of my mighty hand he will let them go, because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.'” (Exodus 6.1)

So it is the hand/arm of Yahweh in a grudge match with the arm/hand of Pharaoh of which they say:

“He is a mighty man who achieves with his strong arm…” — Hymn to Senusret I

“Great of Power, Mighty of Arm” — Thutmose II

“No my majesty made an occasion of victory with my very own arm.” — Thutmose III

“His father [the god Amun] gave victory to his arms.” — Thutmose III

“Amenhotep…who smites foreign rulers of the far north, he is a god whose arm is great.” — Amehotep II

For many years, through many rulers, the motif of Pharoah’s strong and outstretched arms and hands is central to his idenity as Pharaoh, both in Egypt and spreading through the Ancient Near East.  Starting in Exodus 3 the match begins and the reader is drawn into the suspense, asking “whose arm will prevail?”

The answer would be clear chapters later…the Hebrews walked out of Egypt with “hands raised high” [Ex. 14.8; “boldly” in the NIV] while the Arm of the Lord held back the Egyptians (Ex. 15.16).  The true power, power over creation and nature, power over kings and rulers, power over life and death, was held in the hand and arm of Yahweh.

How often do we forget that?  In times of election and politics, cancer and divorce, hubris and pride?  The arm wrestling match between the Lord and Pharaoh ends the same way today…with Yahweh holding the upper hand and Pharaoh crying in his cheese fries.


Research for this article came from:

Hoffmeier, James K. “The Arm of God Versus the Arm of Pharaoh.” Biblica. vol. 67 (1986)

Currid, John D. Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Baker Books: Grand Rapids, 1997)

Old Men

I am constantly reminded that I am not as young as I used to be.  Every time I get up in the morning an my wife hears my knees, ankels, and lower back situate themselves for the day with the accompanying cracks and pops.  I realize when I flank a calf, dig post holes, or just get out of my truck.  But I know that getting older is just part of the deal and that everyone has to go through it.  It doesn’t mean Im happy about it but some day’s I see things that bring a little relief to it.

I was in the gas station today in Lewistown, Montana when a guy came in wearing a hat bearing the insignia of a local ranch, a thermal shirt, and wranglers that had seen better days.  He was on a mission to get his daily Mtn Dew, during his break from checking cows for the afternoon.  When you have a couple hundred cows on a couple thousand acres, checking cows takes a while.  He approached the counter with his 20 oz when he shot me a glance.

“Never seen you in here at this time before.”  He said.  This comment began a short conversation about his work, his ranch, and his life.  And when he walked away, I felt compelled to ask him his age.  This guy rises at 5, runs a couple hundred cows, fixes fences, inoculates his herd, and does everything else before dusk, at the age of 72 years old.  I do none of this at my age.  Maybe there’s hope.  Maybe I could get that tough.  This man measures the year by sale day…his 67th one that he can remember.  At his age I probably wont remember my 5th birthday either.

As I recalled the conversation, I felt a sickening feeling at what I accomplish at my age.  I felt a wonder at all the droughts, floods, blizzards, and economic collapse he has watched from his ranch.  And I felt a certain adoration for the life he lived which brought to mind this scripture:

“Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life.” Prov. 16.31

(Please don’t tell him I noticed the tufts of gray hair under his hat…at his age he could probably still take me.”

Proverbs 16.31

Father’s and Men

DSCN2705The headline had caught my eye: “Do modern dad’s get enough credit?”

A click or two later, I was making my way through a maze of hyperlinks and had 10 tabs of articles open on my computer screen.  Each held an article or website devoted to dad’s being dads, books about being a dad, tips for being dads, and even satirical fatherhood memes.  It was a lot of information to undertake.  One article even gave me a facebook group for dad bloggers.

For those of you who have spent any time reading on this page (thank you so much by the way for spending a slice of your day reading this stuff), you know that manhood and men’s ministry is near and dear to my heart because it is waving to us as a society, church, and culture in the rearview mirror.  I love talking with men about becoming men, issues we as men struggle with, and learning how to best follow the ultimate man, Jesus Christ.

I clicked on the group for dad bloggers and asked to join.  I told them of my background and what I liked to do and the ministry I felt most called too.

They responded back with a single question: “Are you a dad?”

I answered back “no” and was banned from joining the group because “the group was only for dads”.

But what if manhood preceded fatherhood?  I know this, when I am dealing with middle schoolers, toddlers, or college students (all very similar at times with attitudes and actions) and my manhood feels challenged, when I question myself or feel they are questioning me and my authority, I fall far from the standard that Jesus calls me too.  When the area of my greatest insecurities about being a man are put on display by students, is when my largest failures come.  So what if we trained men to be of integrity, to know their identity, and to understand their mission, before they were fathers, would some issues be warded off?  I think so.  Wouldn’t we all become better husbands, fathers, sons, employee’s, bosses, disciples, and leaders if we became better men?  I think so.

I greatly hope someday to be a father…but I know that I have much growing as a man to do first.  But thankfully I have guys like Clark, Chad, Brad, Brant, Sparky, Greg, Randall, Josh (pictured here) and Tim, who all have help me realized that before fatherhood needs to come manhood.