The River

8348378_web1_endangered-river-apr12-17_031817jk_005“The Mississippi River will always have its own way; no engineering skill can persuade it to do otherwise…”- Mark Twain

There is fewer things on this planet that has the force of rushing water.  A fall overboard on a white-water rafting trip will make this point abundantly clear.  Water carries weight, force, and power.  I remember watching my township redoing flood control on a creek.  They spent all summer, day-after-day, adding in earth-works, bends in the creek bed, and low-level dams.  Then we had 3 inches of rain in 2 hours.  The next day, the creek looked as it had in May.  All their work was for not.  The power of rushing water is incredible.

Ezekiel is a prophet of God.  Things in his life have not been going swimmingly.  He is writing during a period of Israel’s history known as the exile.  In short, it was a period of time after the King of Babylon had taken control of Jerusalem.  He took the nation of Israel, back to Babylon and kept them there.  It was in Babylon that they would live for the next 70 years.  Ezekiel is prophesying to his people from Babylon.  While Jeremiah is in Israel and Daniel is in the city of Babylon, Ezekiel is in the nation of Babylon prophesying.

“I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God…” (Ezekiel 1.1)

He is standing on the banks of the Kebar River when the visions of God come to him.  The picture is easy to formulate.  A morning devotion, a sunset quiet time, or just a random pause to take in the greatness of the river.  The Kebar isn’t the Amazon, the Nile, or even the Mississippi, but with desert on every side, it holds an intrinsic beauty that draws in an audience.  There is a reason the 4 major ancient civilizations all grew up on the banks of a respective river.  Ezekiel is taken to a place of worship.  In a foreign land and with little hope, Ezekiel is refreshed on the banks of the river.

He is refreshed by the word.  God has always been speaking and acting, but present circumstances have called God’s activity into question.  Ezekiel is looking around at his current conditions and has to be wondering how this can be God’s plan.  Forty times in his book this phrase occurs: “The word of the Lord came to me…” and the first time is right here on the river bank.  God meets with his prophet and gives his Words.   Sometimes, all that is needed is a word.  Where presence is desired, where physical contact is needed, it cant always be provided.  This is where a phone call, a note, a text, or a message is all that is needed to right the ship.  Ezekiel needed a word and God provided.

This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.  When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.  He said to me, ‘Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.’  As he spoke, the Spirit (hb. ruach) came into me and raised me to my feet…”(Ezekiel 1.28-2.2)

A word from God changed Ezekiel.  It refreshed him and restored him.  Staring across the banks (in my mind he is facing his homeland from the distant country that holds him captive), he meets with God and receives a word.  It has happened multiple times in my life, where a text message from an old friend can change the course of a week.  A verse of Scripture can have the same effect.

He is refreshed by his service.  God has a scroll in hand that had writing on both sides.

“And He [God] said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel…eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.”  So I ate it and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth. (Ezekiel 3.1-3)

Ezekiel’s mission has begun.  His objective is to speak God’s message to the exiles and their response is irrelevant (Ezekiel 3.11).  That’s not the case with most preachers.  A positive response is usually desired.  That is his primary method of communication to the people.  He proclaims judgement and announces judgement.  He recounts the history of Israel, their sin and unfaithfulness, in graphic and R-rated terms (read Ezekiel 23).  But he didn’t stop there.  Ancient prophets were not only preachers, but case-studies and actors.  They acted/lived out their messages at times.  Ezekiel did just that:

  • 3.25 — Tied with Ropes/unable to speak (Israel’s response to Ezekiel)
  • 4.1 — He drew a picture of Jerusalem on a tablet and then acted out a siege of it.  He lay on one side next to it for 390 days for the sins of Israel and 40 for the sins of Judah…oh and he baked over human waste (Prophecy on Jerusalem)
  • 5.1 — shave head and beard.  Burn it/cut it/scatter it
  • 12.5 — dig through the wall and leave (a picture of the exile)
  • 21.20 — Road signs for Nebuchadnezzar
  • 24.15 — his wife dies
  • 37.16 — writes the names Judah on one stick and Ephriam [Israel] on one stick.  Then he joined them together (reunification of Judah and Israel; God’s people)

So he has an odd ministry, but its refreshing.  He is energized by it.  He exclaims:

“May the Lord be praised in his dwelling place!” (Ezekiel 3.12)

The man that comes to my mind is a friend from a previous ministry.  His walk with Jesus was spotty at times and he had gone through a rough patch.  I saw him mowing at the church one day.  After much prompting, some cajoling, and some strong arming, the Spirit finally forced me to call him and ask him to help out with middle school youth group.  The man came alive serving some of the most obnoxious and trying kids.  They love him.  He came alive and was refreshed from his service in God’s kingdom.

He is refreshed by the message.  A simple word from God can change Ezekiel, but a good message changed a nation.  Ezekiel is full of pretty graphic, doom and gloom messages.  He doesn’t mince words when it comes to the sin and judgement on Judah.  But he doesn’t stop there.  He finishes the story.  In chapter 37, he is carried to a valley where a great battle had taken place; white washed bones lay covering the floor of the valley. A question is posed to Ezekiel:

“Son of man, can these bones live?” (Ezekiel 37.3)

Ezekiel claims ignorance.  Then the Lord gives him instruction.  The word comes; then the service, “prophesy…”.  God gives te message to Ezekiel.  The command is for the bones to re-articulate, tendons and muscles to reattach, and flesh, reappear.  At his command, the bones followed.  Yet there was no “breath” in them.  Again God commanded Ezekiel to prophesy and “they came to life and stood on their feet–a vast army.” (Ezekiel 37.10)

The key verse in this section is verse 11, where it reads:

 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. (Ezekiel 37.11-12)

The hopeless and homeless people of Israel will rise again.  They can have hope in the promise of God that they will someday return home.

It is fitting that there is one Hebrew word that stands in the midst of all three of these main passages.   The word is ruah.  It can be translated as wind, breath, or spirit.  In Ezekiel 2.2, “the Spirit” raised him to his feet.  In Ezekiel 3.12, “the Spirit” lifted him.  Finally, in chapter 37.1-14, the word is used 10 times beginning in verse 1, where Ezekiel is brought out to the valley “by the Spirit”.  The Spirit is providing the refreshment.  Ezekiel just has to drink it in.

What the Spirit is doing for Ezekiel, Jesus has done for us as well.  In John 4, a woman comes to draw water from a well and Jesus has a conversation with her.  He asked for a drink and she was taken aback.  Jesus answered her response:

If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. (John 4.10)

Water and the Word.  Jesus, the Source of Life, is speaking with a Samaritan woman.  She is standing by the river needing a word from God.  Jesus goes on:

Everyone who drinks this water (the well water) will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.  Indeed the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4.13-14)

Stagnant water is dead water.  River water is flowing, refreshing, and restoring.  This woman came to get dead well water and left with a “spring of water welling up to eternal life”, Jesus.

Finally, in John 7.37, Jesus is at the festival.  On the last day he is teaching the people.  He says:

Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.  By this he meant the Spirit…(John 7.37-39)

Ezekiel was not only refreshed with the word of God, but by his service and his message.  Jesus gives hope because of his message.  He promised victory over death.  He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14.6)  If this message is believed, there is no greater source of hope in the history of this world.

But this message must go somewhere.  Rivers flow.  “Rivers of living water will flow from within them.”  For those that believe his message, rivers will pour out of them.  It is service, the mission, to take this message to others.  And just like in Ezekiel’s case, this service can be a refresher.

Ezekiel’s book begins in despair, but ends in worship.  Late in his prophecy, in the next-to-last chapter of his book, he writes speaking of the river flowing from the Temple:

Then he led me back to the bank of the river.  When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river…Swarms of living creatures will live where the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live…Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river.  Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail.  Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them.  Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing. (Ezekiel 47.6-7, 9, 12)

Come to the River for healing.

The Cave

Gollum-Smeagol-smeagol-gollum-14076878-960-403“It came to me. My own. My love. My own. My precious.” –Gollum

Deep below the Misty Mountains lay a cave.  In the cave lived Gollum, one of the River people.  Many, many years back, he obtained a Ring.  It was one of the Rings of Power that was dolled out amongst the races of Middle Earth in J.R.R. Tolkein’s Trilogy, The Lord of the Rings.  Gollum now held the most powerful ring in his hand.  Immediately, the power consumed him.  Quickly, he began to both love it and hate it.  It warped his mind, body, and spirit.  It drove him to seek shelter in the cave below the Misty Mountains where he lived in the darkness for many years.

Caves are not destination places.  They are not places that people want to end up.  They are dark places.  They are wet places.  They are cold places.  When people ask: “why don’t you duck hunt?”  I simply tell them this: “I can be wet.  I can be cold.  I refuse to be both.”  Life has cave moments.  In 1 Samuel 22.1, David is in a cave.  He escaped (hb. malat) Saul’s pursuit at Gath and fled to the cave of Adullam.  At least in Gath, he was living in a city (albeit a foreign city under guise as an insane person).  I assume it was a non-extradition city.  Saul had a long reach and David ran.  The land of Israel is littered with caves and hide outs.  Like an outlaw, David finds one and is on the lam.  While there, just like he did to pass the long nights out in the field shepherding and just like he did in the Palace of Saul, he journaled.  He composed songs, poems, acrostics, and worshiped.  Scripture contains a few of these moments that reveal some truths about caves.

David enters alone (1 Samuel 22.1).  David went into the cave by himself.  There are very few exceptions in Scripture where people enter caves with others and some of those are questionable.  Obadiah hid 100 prophets in two caves, but with a nation and a king who is trying to exterminate them, there was probably some loneliness.  Just because there are people there, doesn’t mean isolation can’t set in.

“No man is an island, entire of itself;

every man is a piece of the continent.” — John Donne

Caves are a reminder, that the inhabitant is in it alone.  His journal reads:

“Look and see, there is no one at my right hand;

no one is concerned for me.

I have no refuge;

no one cares for my life.” (Psalm 142.4)

David is isolated.  Loneliness is an epidemic in America.  As of 1 January 2018, Facebook had 214 million US users.  Those that are 18-24 years old numbered 39.4 million.  Those that were over the age of 65 numbered 21.1 million.  Yet a 2016 article on independent.com stated: “a study in 2014 found 18-24-year-olds were four times as likely to feel lonely all the time as those aged 70 and above.”  Double the number are connected to the world and yet they are 4 times as likely to feel alone.  In the same article, Heather Saul observed, “humans were built for companionship, not to be alone, at least according to the growing body of research on the effect of social isolation has on health.”  I think I’ve read something like that before…Genesis 2 perhaps?  “It is not good for man to be alone.”  The “research” is affirming what God had said all along.  David’s family would eventually arrive, but for a time, he was isolated.

David is on the run.  Saul has been after David for some time now.  Twice he’s thrown spears.  He’s chased him into foreign territory.  Saul will not rest until David is dead.  Saul has tried to trap him: “When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who watch over my way.  In the path where I walk people have hidden a snare for me.” (Psalm 142.3)  This is directly from David’s prayer journal.  But he escaped the traps, the nets and the pits (Psalm 57.6).  Then there was the chase.  David prays later on: “Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need; rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me.” (Psalm 142.6)  I’ve harvested coyotes two ways: 1) trapping; 2) shooting from the back of an ATV at 45 mph.  It couldn’t have been a more different experience.  David was the coyote.  He’s seen it all.  He says in his song, in Psalm 57, that it has been a “hot pursuit” (57.3) and that he is now amongst men like “lions” and “ravenous beasts” (57.4).

The main word in both of these passages is refuge (hb. machseh/chaseh).  Four times in the two Psalms (57 and 142) refuge is mentioned.  They are related words with the same base.  Machseh is used in Psalm 142.5: “I cry to you, Lord; I say, “You are my refuge…”  Of the 20 times its used in Scripture, 12 of them are in Psalms.  The reason is the desperation that comes through the pens of the song writers.  These are desperate men in desperate situations.  Refuge is not requested, it is required.

Along the same lines, chasah, another Hebrew word for refuge, is used 37 times, with 25 of them in Psalms.  Again, desperation begs refuge.  Psalm 57 uses this word twice.  “Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge.  I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.” (Psalm 57.1)  David employs the image of a mother bird hovering over her nest.  Its not the first time.  He quoted his great-grandfather, Boaz, in speaking to Ruth: “May the Lord repay you for what you have done.  May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” (Ruth 2.12)

The refuge of God takes many forms.  It was wings, as was mentioned before (also in Psalm 61.4; 91.4).  It was a “shield and horn”, a symbol of God’s power (1 Samuel 22.3; Psalm 18.30; Proverbs 30.5).  It was a rock that a man could tether to (Psalm 18.2;62.7; 94.22).  Refuge is the strong tower and fortress that fortifies the soul (Psalm 61.3; 91.2; 94.22).  A place of refuge is a reoccurring theme in David’s journal.  He is distressed and exhausted; on the run and growing weary.  He needs refuge.  It is fitting that “Adullam”, the cave where he is hiding (1 Samuel 22.1), means “refuge” in Hebrew. (Brown, Driver, Briggs 726)

David is worn out.  No one enters the cave at a high point in life.  The cave lies at the end of a long and arduous journey.  David’s been on the run.  He’s acted insane.  He’s been among enemies.  He has dodged spears.  He is physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausted.  “When my spirit grows faint within me…I have no refuge.” (Psalm 142.3-4)  The Hebrew verb “faint” (‘atap) is in an unusual conjugation.  It is in the hitpael stem, meaning it is to be understood reflexively.  David is “growing faint” because of himself.  Elsewhere this verb is translated “ebb away” (Jonah 2.7).  The picture is made clear.  David is wasting away because of the chase, the stress, and the isolation.  He is left in the cave to think and “grow faint”.

But there is another side to this prayer and this song.  For all the things going wrong, David trusts in this: God does his best work from caves.

“Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;

let your glory be over all the earth…

My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast;

I will sing and make music…

I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;

I will sing of you among the peoples.

For great is your love, reaching to the heavens;

your faithfulness reaches to the skies.” (Psalm 57.5, 7, 9-10)

empty-tomb-yellowFast forward 1000 years or so.  Joseph of Arimathea brought Jesus to a tomb.  They were caves back then.  Where they sealed the entrance with a stone and they left him alone.  His chase was over.  The people, the Romans, the mob, had been after him for a year.  Finally, the situation proved fruitful and they crucified him.  He had been chased down.  Jesus was exhausted from all night trials and physically spent.  He had endured the cross and the suffering.  He was worn-out.  And he finds himself in the cave.  But his road to the cave was understood in the same way that David understood his: God does his best work from caves.  Three days later, Jesus would emerge from the cave, overcoming all that it stood for.  Like David writes in Psalm 57.8:

“Awake, my soul!

Awake, harp and lyre!

I will awaken the dawn!”

That dawn, Sunday morning, was welcomed with an empty cave!

 

The Mountain Top

mountain top“Not all those who wander are lost.” — Gandalf

Gandalf wrote these words in a poem to Frodo.  The poem is called “The Riddle of Strider”.  The poem is vital to the narrative of the Fellowship of the Ring as it gives Frodo confidence to trust the Ranger Strider (who is yet to be known as Aragon).

The plot of the book is a journey, a quest, to a mountain.  The mountain is Mount Doom.  The travellers were an unlikely group: four hobbits; two men; a Wizard; an elf; and a dwarf.  An odd traveling party and a weird collection of travelers.  In their care was the most powerful ring on earth, “the One Ring”.  They must avoid the evil that seeks it out and the evil within the power of the ring.  Only the fires of Mordor at Mount Doom can destroy it.

Mountains and power.  Mountains as a destination.  Mountains at the center (Middle) of Earth.  Elijah made his trek alone, without a ring, but a mountain still stood out at the center of his story (or should I say the apex of his story).  But there is more to this story than lets on and this is not a series of mountain top moments.

Great things happen above the clouds.  Edmund Hillary in 1953, reached the summit of Mt. Everest and in doing so conquered the tallest mountain in world.  He didn’t find gods living there.  In ancient times, gods were thought to dwell on the mountain tops.  Massive ziggurats, ancient temples, rose from the plains of Babylon.  Mt. Olympus towered over Greece, housing Zeus and his compatriots.  The Mayans had their pyramids that poked through the jungles of Mexico.  Bipin Shah, in his article published on academia.com, observed on page 15:

image

Some spelling aside, his point is accurate.  Ancient minds associated God/gods with the mountain tops.

First Kings 19 tells of one account where Elijah met God on the mountain top.  The mountain top is where a closeness to God is felt.  It is where His power is on display.  The mountain top is where His voice is so clear that it is nearly audible.  It is a place where His direction is as clear as lines on a map. A couple things stand out about Elijah’s Mountain top.

First off, no one begins on the mountain top.  This story actually begins in the desert. With all that was happening around him, Elijah fled to the wilderness.  It began as a day. Burnout set in that night.  He asked God to take his life! (19.4) He’s not the first man in Scripture to ask this.  He is tired and worn out.  An angel woke him and made him food.  Then he was sent on a 40 day and night journey to Mt. Horeb (19.8).  This journey was straight through the desert.  Moses traveled across the wilderness with his flocks prior to meeting a burning bush that called himself Yahweh.  Moses, before reaching Sinai, traveled through the desert.  Before the blessings and cursings at the end of Deuteronomy, the Hebrews wandered in the desert for forty years. An intimate relationship with God doesn’t materialize automatically.  It doesn’t arrive in the present.  It has a past that has roots in the desert.  A mountain is on described in height by its relationship to sea level.  So it is true with Spiritual mountain tops.  Our closeness to God is often understood by how far away we felt in the wilderness.

Second.  No one leaves the Mountain top unchanged.  When the power of God is on display, be it in a changed life (yours or another’s) is seen, addiction overcome, healing taken place, or worship felt, lives are changed forever.  Once a mountain has been summitted, that can never be taken away.  The accomplishment that I feel having climbed three fourteeners is something that can never be taken from me.  Elijah arrived on the mountain in need of change.  He had wished for death on his journey and he arrives complaining.  Twice he tells God about his resume and his complaints.  God decides to show Elijah His power, His glory, and His identity.  On the same Mountain that He showed Himself to Moses many years prior, He is on display for Elijah.   In the wind, the earthquake, and the fire, He wasn’t seen.  But in the gentle whisper, from behind Elijah’s cloak, was God.  A beautiful picture of the Almighty juxtaposed by the All-compassionate.  The softening of Elijah is on display.  When a prayer life is dynamic, Bible study transformative and discipleship is authentic, life changes.  Mountain tops change us.

Finnally; no one gets to stay on the mountain top forever.  Normally the phrase “it’s all down hill from here” is a positive one implying that it only gets easier from now on.  Not the case with mountain top moments.  Everyone has to come down from the summit.  There will be days ahead where prayer seems unheard, study seems empty, worship is uninspired, and discipleship is undirected.  Even Jesus came down from his transfiguration on the mount to a seizing boy and failing disciples.  No one gets to stay on top forever.  Elijah’s story actually takes place between two mountains.  First Kings 18 takes place on Mt. Carmel.  It’s a showdown between Elijah in the blue corner and the 450 prophets of Baal.  The question: “whose God will answer?”  The stakes: life.  Elijah of course wins.  Then he out-runs a King on a chariot for miles.  He is jazzed up.  Any athlete will tell you that adrenalin will mess with you.  But now he has caught the attention of the King and queen.  Elijah was afraid?  I have written elsewhere that I feel this verse is mis-translated.  I don’t feel like rehashing the argument here, but I do feel that Elijah looked around to see everything he had worked for go for naught.  But God redirects him.  Command 1: “Go back to the desert!”  Really?  No one leaves the mountain top to go to the desert.  Command 2: Annoint Hazael, King of Aram.  A pagan ruler?  Command 3: Annoint Jehu, King of Israel.  Adulterous Israel? Command 4: Annoint Elisha, your successor.  “You mean it’s over?”  This seems the opposite direction we need to head.  But it is God showing Elijah that no one stays on the Mountain top.  The mountain tops challenge and sustain us, but most ministry happens when things aren’t going great.  Elijah has work to do and it isn’t done in the rarified air of the summit.

Elijah runs to mountain top because that is where he needs to meet God.  In the desert, dependence and trust is learned.  On the mountain top, intimacy and power is revealed.  Our mountain top moments happen at times when we most need to see the power, feel the presence, and drink in the intimacy we can have with our God.

 

O Henry!

imageWhy can’t I have a root beer?  Actually, I do have 6 bottles of my 2nd favorite Root Beer, Buckin’ Root Beer, chilling in a cooler for the young men in the Church.  I drove down to Mass Street Soda in Lawrence, Kansas, a gourmet soda and root beer shop, to get the best root beer in the world and the only place in Kansas to get it.

I asked the owner/operator where it was located in the recently moved store and I was met with these stinging words:

“I’ve been black balled!”

He proceeded to tell me that it was virtually impossible to get Winehard’s Root Beer in Kansas anymore.  A little history is needed here.

Henry Winehard’s emigrated from Germany in 1856 at the age of 26.  He worked his way across the country working for different Brewers.  After 6 years, he opened up his own brewery in his own town; Portland in 1862.  His brewing was phenomenal; his leadership was unique.

  • When bars in town faced hard economic times, he began buying bars.
  • Portland, 1887.  The city built a new fountain downtown.  Henry offered to pump beer through it.  Fear of rowdy horses by the city nixed the idea.
  • In 1891, he figured: “If my workers make the beer, they should share in the beer!”  This is when he made Henry Winehard’s beer free for its employees.
  • $1.175 million was offered to buy the brewery.  That was 1892.  He turned it down.

Henry died in 1904, but the brewing persisted.  Beer was still their passion, but Prohibition halted production 10 years later. His sons-in-law, Paul Wessinger and Henry Wagner, faced the 19 year Prohibition, due to the 18th Ammendment, with vision and clarity.  While they continued to produce beer under the table, they took on a legitimate side with the production of Root Beer, which they called elixir.  Once Prohibition ended, in 1933, they continued the root beer recipe.

This is how the rich taste that bless many outside of Kansas came to be.

Here is the issue.  Weinhards had always been a regional operation, serving the north-west portion of the United States.  It had always been a struggle to subsist in the national beer market with the likes of Budwiser and other market giants. In 1999, Miller Coors bought Weinhards out.  They continued production of the Root Beer but changed distribution policy.  They only distribute to beer distributors.  Two issues.  1). Mass street is not a beer distributor.  The owner once had a deal with the company, but It has since changed. 2). No beer distributors in Kansas or Missouri are willing to bring in Root Beer.

This is why I can’t drink my Root Beer.

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A decent number 2.  From Jackson Hole Soda Co. “Buckin Root Beer”

 

The Desert

 

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In 1803, at 3 cents/acre, President Jefferson doubled the size of the country with the Louisiana Purchase.  Jefferson spoke of its “immense and trackless deserts”.  Major Stephen Long (no relation) in mapping the purchase in 1823, labeled the region of western Kansas/eastern Colorado as “the Great American Desert”.  It was a lack of timber and surface water that earned the country its name.  It’s was and still is a hard place.

Earlier this year the Kansas Governor declared a drought emergency across all 105 counties of Kansas.  It’s been years since the Southwest part of the state has felt rain.  It truly is the Great American Desert.

When we think of desert, the image of camels, sand dunes, and sidewinders.  But the Hebrew term is more of a scrub brush wilderness.  Much more like the brush of Arizona than the dunes of the Sahara.  This is where the men of the Bible were made.

What them there was irrelevant.  Jesus was “led” there by the Spirit (Luke 4.1).  David fled there from rebellion (2 Sam. 15.23).  Elijah fled in depression (1 Kings 19.3-4).  Moses arrived first because of shame.  He killed an Egyptian for mistreating a Hebrew (Exodus 2.11).  Then when he broke up two Hebrews fighting, they questioned whether he would kill them as well. (Exodus 2.14)  Moses had become “known”. (Exodus 2.14)  When shame becomes known, men flee.  So Moses fled to Midian.  He became a shepherd, where he tended flocks throughout the desert.  Moses has always been a man of the Mountain.  He met Yahweh there (Ex. 3-4).  He got the 10 Commandments on the Mountain (Ex. 20).  There was the Blessings and Cursing’s on the two Mountains (Deuteronomy 28-29).  Finally, he died atop Mt. Nebo. (Deut. 34)  He was the Man of the Mountain, but he was a man made in the Desert.

His first stay in the desert was all about training.  Before he led a million Hebrews out of Egypt, he led a bunch of sheep in the wilderness.  The primary image of God and his people is that of shepherd.  Jesus used the metaphor extensively.  God trained his men as shepherds.  There were Abraham’s flocks and David the shepherd.  Jesus made it clear that his ministry was patterned after the vocation of a shepherd.  Before he could lead men, he led sheep.  It was a training ground.  Finding water, finding food, leading a flock, directing a massive and stubborn group…these were all skills that Moses obtained in the desert.

calvin-hobbes-test-anxiety-290x300In his second stay, the desert was a place of testing.  A little needs explaining before tackling the testing that Moses and the Hebrews went through.  I have written much more about this elsewhere, so I wont dwell too much on it here.  Test’s conjure up images of entrapment and anxiety like Calvin.  As if the Instructor or Teacher has stayed up well into the morning trying to come up with a single question that will trip up their students.  The Hebrew understanding was less about entrapment and more about revelation.  The test was to reveal what was in the hearts of God’s people.  The test didn’t go well.

  • Before they get out of Egypt: “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that brought us to the desert to die?” (Ex. 14.11)
  • Three days into the Desert of Shur: “What are we to drink?” (Ex. 15.24)
  • Forty-five or so days in, in the Desert of Sin: “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt!…but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” (Ex. 16.1-3)
  • At Rephidim, between the Desert of Sin and Desert of Sinai: “Give us water to drink!” (Ex. 17.3)
  • In the Desert of Paran: “Our hardships are too many!” (Num. 10.11-13; 11.1)
  • In the Desert of Paran: “If only we had meat!” (Num. 11.4)
  • In the Desert of Paran: “If only we had died in Egypt!” (Num. 14.2)
  • In the Desert of Zin: “We have no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates.  And there is no water to drink!” (Num. 20.5)
  • In the Desert of Zin: “There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” (Numbers 21.5)

The revelation of their hearts was abominable.  Sin rose to the surface when all luxuries are removed.  Their rebellious nature was on display when desert testing ensued.  I bet the same pattern takes place in your life?  When things are drying up around and stress comes, the ugliness of my heart is brought forth.

In both cases, it was a place of trust.  It was the place that inspired the Sons of Korah to pen the famous lyrics:

“As the deer pants for streams of water,

    so my soul pants for you, my God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

    When can I go and meet with God? (Ps. 42.1-2)

Training and Testing does not take place in cozy places and affluence.  We grow and discover in places where and when things aren’t going right.  We learn dependence when we have too.  Deuteronomy 8 says:

“Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands…Your clothes did not wear out and you feet did not swell during these forty years…He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions.  He brought you water out of hard rock.  He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you.” (8.2, 4, 15)

All these things God did in good favor in order to show His provision and His sustenance.  He did this to show that He can be trusted.  God promised long ago to take care of us.  It’s an agreement called a covenant.  Only in the desert, where life is a struggle, do we learn what it really means to trust.  

I am trying to further embrace my trust in Him here in the desert.

Shame and Failure

ShameEveryman deals with things between two extremes.

Some men, can deal with life fine.  They remain unstressed, balanced, connected, and adjusted.  Others, not so much.

For some, trepidation comes and they crumble.

Some men, like Washington Irving’s character Rip Van Winkle, deal with things by avoiding them.  He hunted squirrels, shared gossip at the town square, and walked in the woods, all the while his farm fell apart, his wife beckoned, and kids wore worn out clothes.

Some get angry, like Stan Lee’s character the Hulk.  When things go awry, his anger is on display.  His exposure to gamma ray’s caused him to have a short fuse and when trials come he falls apart.  It is no coincidence that one of Saul’s defining characteristics was his anger.

Some isolate and retreat.  When a line to gain is drawn and they fall short, they withdraw.  Harper Lee, in To Kill a Mocking Bird, has a scene just outside of the courthouse where Dill has passed out.  Along comes the town drunk, Mr. Raymond, who always carries with his a bottle in a brown sack.  A sip from the bottle in the sack revives Dill.  Upon questioning, it is discovered that the bottle in the sack is a Coca-Cola.  The man doesn’t care about his label, the reputation, or the town.  Let him be; isolation.

Some achieve and advance, like Ernest Hemmingway’s depiction of the Old Man in The Old Man and the Sea.  Over 80 days has passed since he landed a fish.  The dry spell drives him farther from shore than ever before.  He was going to fish harder and deeper than ever before.  It’s a tragic tale about a driven man.

Some men are adept at all of them.  I am one of them.

What people don’t know is the shame that men carry around with them.  This last weekend, my alarms didn’t go off and I overslept for sunrise service.  I awoke to two church members knocking on my door.  I felt nothing but shame.  On the day that celebrated Jesus’ overcoming death, I could not let him overcome my shame.

A few months ago, when I took a new position and moved.  Upon arrival, 4 men were assembled at my new house to unload my one chair, microwave, and two boxes of books that my broken foot had allowed me to pack.  I repeatedly told them that I didn’t have anything to unload, but they insisted on being there to help me unpack.  I pulled up and 1 min later we were done.  I had wasted their time.  I was mortally embarrassed because I was a failure and I felt nothing but shame.

At the end of October, after years of hearing how I was accident prone, a klutz for lack of a better term; I broke my foot.  I have multiple capable and handy uncles who can do all things building, constructing, and mechanically. I have never been labeled with them.  I enrolled at Washburn Tech to try to learn a skill that would give me real world knowledge that could be of use.  Not much real-world application is drawn from parsing Hebrew verbs.  So I went to class…and got my foot rolled over by a semi-truck.  I failed and felt nothing but shame.

At the end of December the previous, after my Birthday date at Fuzzy Taco’s in Lawrence, I sat on our bed when my wife of 3 years informed she was leaving me for the night.  I was shocked.  The next day, it turned in to a week; and after the week, 3 months. I drove to Lawrence the moment she told me on the phone.  I disappeared.  Ignored calls from everyone.  Went to my parent house to find her sitting with Mom.  Her last words to my Mom:  “Divorce was not an option!”  Nov 9: we divorced.  I had failed, and I felt nothing but shame.

The summer prior, after getting off work, something was said about my building or fixing something.  I had been on the road for 6 weeks straight and when I wasn’t on the road, I was at working at the grocery store.  The fight started late that night but the dagger came early.  She told me about having to call other husbands to help her do things.  I wasn’t there to do things for her.  I couldn’t do things for her.  I got angry and slept at my parent’s house.  We had a brief conversation on facebook messenger.  I was a failure and felt nothing but shame.

Earlier in the summer, I was having radiator problems on my red Dakota pickup.  It had 222,000 miles on it.  I replaced the hoses and it still blew up.  I hoped on my bike stormed out on my wife and the dog and rode my bike 12 miles to Meriden.  I was supposed to be at a Rodeo Bible Camp and they were blowing up my phone.  I couldn’t do anything.  I came to a bridge and jumped.  The pool off water was deeper than I reached and I splashed down after a 20ft free fall.  Dried off, I rode to my parent’s house.  We took my wife’s car to camp.  I dropped my off at camp and went to the Pilot gas station to gas up.  My card was declined.  I had no money.  I transferred some from my parents account (sad hugh!)  It got me to camp. I went to camp that night where they donated me a truck.  It was an unwarranted gift.  Now I was a man who was unable to provide a means of transportation.  I feel like a failure every time I set foot in that truck and I feel nothing but shame.

I have crawled into a whiskey bottle, tried suicide, depression pills, counseling, and everything in between.  The shame that started well before I left Central Park has always been around.  It seems daily that something comes up that reminds me that “I’m not adequate!”.  Case in point: I pulled into our Maundy Thursday service on Wednesday (four days prior to oversleeping), and someone pointed out the rattle of my broken muffler on a truck I couldn’t afford.  A reminder of all the shame.  I had heard the rattle and checked the engine that afternoon but didn’t see the muffler.  Shame!

Jesus took that to the cross I know, but its hard to grasp or should I say, let go of!