A Long Distance Call

195157My manual is in the mail and I am strategically planning what tools I need. The project is a Ford 8n that will come in mighty handy as I build my arena. It hasn’t run for 2 years, but even when in weekly use, it wasn’t the greatest of machines. My mechanical expertise being limited, I’m fairly confidant that diagnosing, repairing, and rebuilding the tractor is something I can accomplish for two reasons: (1) I will have a manual in hand; (2) my uncle has fixed anything and everything that has an engine and a cell phone.

There is nothing like having an expert on the other end of the line.

If there was one statement that characterized Moses ministry as the leader of the Israelites (other than Numbers 12.3) would be Exodus 33.11: “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.” David had a heart after God, Abraham’s feet followed the Lord, Job had a covenant with his eyes, but Moses spoke with God like a friend, ‘face to face’.

Steps should be taken at this point to ensure that a proper view of God is maintained, for as of late, the idea that ‘God is love’ or ‘God is compassionate’ has made God out to be a weakened and soft being, who is to be befriended instead of feared. Don’t get me wrong, God is love and He is gracious, but He is also holy and just. Like the kids in Narnia who asked to pet Aslan were told, “He is not a tame lion.” There the metaphor was Jesus, but how often do we do the same with God.

This particular scene takes place at the Tent of Meeting. Set up just outside the camp, the tent was where people would go to inquire of God. I find it interesting that the Old Testament people who inquired of God were nearly universally answered. The exception was Saul, who two times did not receive an answer from the Lord. (1 Samuel 14, 28) When an inquiry was brought to God an answer followed. The responses came from priests, prophets, Urim, and dreams; each a method which God used to communicate with his people.

What is more clear than God’s answering, is the negative outcome when the Lord’s guidance is not consulted. In Deuteronomy 7, God explicitly commands the Israelites not to make treaties with the people of the land (7.2). As Joshua and the Israelites marched throughout the land, the fame and news of conquest spread (Josh 6.27). Word eventually fell upon the ears of the Gibeonites (Josh 9.3). They devised a plan; they put on worn out clothes, packed moldy bread, old wine skins and worn out sacks. They claimed to have traveled from a great distance and begged for amnesty amongst the Israelites. The men of Israel had their doubts about the origins of these people (Joshua 9.7) but heard their story.

The Israelites took note of their supplies but “did not inquire of the Lord” (Joshua 9.14) and made a treaty with them. The priests carried the written law of Deuteronomy (Deut 31.9) with them and they knew the importance of the words of the law and the song:

“Moses said: ‘Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you—they are your life…’” (Deut 32.46-47)

It is a fairly simple equation in the Old Testament. When the Lord is inquired of, He answer’s and obedience follows. And when the Lord is forgotten, disobedience ensues. The same pattern can be seen through my walk. Though I have not hired a priest, used Urim or Thummim, or tried to interpret dreams…how often have I ignored scripture, just as the community of Israel did with Deuteronomy. When decisions arise, scripture is always present but seldom consulted.

Moses set the standard in his relationship with the Lord. His discussions and inquiries (Ex. 33); his relationship and intimacy (Deut 34.10) are things that I once envied, until I realized that instead of meeting with God as though ‘face to face’, I have the Spirit of God living inside of me, speaking with me daily, and interacting actively on my behalf. It is strange to think that Moses would envy me, for even Moses’ call was longer distance than mine.

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Passing it on

Omaha Baptist Church construction done by all generations of men
Omaha Baptist Church construction done by all generations of men

From the Church you could see the rest of town.   The town was actually so small that they had another towns mailing address. You have heard of one-stoplight-towns, this was a no-stoplight-town. Still, our couple hours of time spent in that small town in Northern Missouri, changed my heart and my vision for what ministry could look like.

We had spoken at the Omaha Baptist Church’s Youth Weekend and the final session was to take place on Sunday morning for Church. My wife and I followed the students into the town with the rest of the students and pulled up to the front of a pretty good-sized church. With a couple minutes before Sunday school, Rich, the youth retreat leader, volunteered to give us a tour of the new addition. They were adding on a gym and new auditorium and a few class-rooms. I would find out why a few minutes later.

When Sunday school began, the preacher closed a divider that split the sanctuary off from an overflow room. In the sanctuary, one of the elders led nearly 50 men of all ages through the chapter of Kingdom Man that was assigned that week. In the overflow/kitchen area, a woman who has celebrated very many 29th birthday’s, led the women in their study of Kingdom Woman. My wife came out of Sunday school nearly in tears. “Older” women leading younger women in study is something that is very near to her heart. It was a church living out Titus 2.3-5.

My sermon that day was on the text I’m writing about today; the idea of passing on your faith and ministry. Here I was planning to encourage the people of Omaha Baptist Church to train the younger men and women for ministry and I find out that the young men put up the trusses for the building alongside the older men, the women were learning Sunday school from more experienced women, and their deacons and elders are in constant training to lead others. I HAD NO SERMON TO PREACH! They had already taken it.

The truth is: Ranching/Farming families and communities have few other options that pouring into the next generation. With 200 bales of hay in the field and a storm coming, a 10-year-old becomes a hand, not a kid. When the cows need brought in, sometimes the only help you have is family. There is a reason Tricia and I pray that our kids will want to rodeo. The kids we see at rodeos are self-reliant, hard working, and responsible. They were taught by their parents, grandparents, or whom ever, how to do things and accomplish tasks. Some of these kids are handier than I am.

Second Kings 2 captures the last moments of the relationship between Elijah and his protégé Elisha. Just as Moses was succeeded by Joshua, Paul was followed by Timothy, and Jesus commissioned his disciples, Elijah is handing off his ministry to Elisha. Elijah and Elisha are heading out from Gilgal. Elijah turns to Elisha and says “stay here”. Elisha says no. When they arrive at Bethel, after a meeting with the prophets there, Elijah went to Jericho. He told Elisha to stay there, Elisha said “no”. Jericho was the same story all over again: a meeting with the prophets there and high-tailing it out of town to the Jordan. Elijah say’s stay here, Elisha says “no”.

            “So the two of them walked on.” (2 Kings 2.6)

Life on the road was Elijah’s method. Three times here and how many other times during Elijah’s ministry did he chat, talk, prank, and teach Elisha on the road. “On the way” (hb. derek) was where the Israelites were to teach their kids (Deut 6.7; 11.19). God knew how to leverage a journey. Jesus spent most of Luke teaching “on the way” up to Jerusalem. The disciples were following him all over the Judean countryside soaking up his teaching along the way. Elijah is expounding things to Elisha on the way to wherever. This generation is a journey generation. They love stories, adventures, and action. They want to be part of the story and the best way to teach them is to invite them on a journey. They are looking for someone to “walk with”.

The second thing about this passage that stands out is the copying of Elijah by Elisha. When Elijah had reached the Jordan, he took off his cloak and struck the waters of the Jordan with it, dividing it into two. They walked across the dry bed of the river, and reaching the other side, Elijah asked Elisha what he could do for him before leaving. Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Elisha’s ministry would double the amount of miracles than Elijah’s, but that isn’t what he is asking. He is asking the question of inheritance. Elisha is asking for a first son’s share of his ministry, his name, and his work. The first son, the oldest, would get a double portion of a father’s possessions.

After Elijah was taken away and Elisha received the double portion, the Jordan stood between Elisha and the beginning of his ministry. Elisha removes the cloak that he had picked up from Elijah (he tore his own clothes), and marched back to the Jordan. He did what he saw Elijah do earlier, and struck the waters of the Jordan, dividing it to the right and left. In the same way Elijah worked, so Elisha emulated. This generation is not a watch-and-see generation. They want to be part of the work. They want to get their hands dirty. It looks like Jake shoin’ horses with his grandfather; Shanie and Kassie hauling stock with their parents; Blaine working the feedlot with his dad in Council Grove. The next generation refuses to sit the sidelines…they want to be part of something bigger. They are looking for someone to “do-with”.

2For years I searched for someone who would “walk-with-do-with”. I looked for a mentor to capture that vision, to lead and train me to become the man I wanted to become. For years the Church let me down in that aspect. I had some mentors, Phil Maddux and Doug Aldridge, who poured into me and taught me these things, but since leaving college have been without someone like that. Someone to “walk-with, do-with”. Christians, we need to teach this vision in church. We need to implement this vision in our own lives. We need to learn from the ranch and farm, where the next generation needs to learn to ropes. Within the city limits, it’s a little harder to find and do, but it is possible. Take a kid shopping, to the bank, to the park, wherever, but take them. Include them, show them and teach them. Walk-with-do-with. Its how Elijah trained Elisha, and its how the Church needs to train its youth.  Take a lesson from the ranch and lead our students and younger people from our experiences.

The Making of A Mentoring Relationship

Leading the Next: Elijah Call’s Elisha

IMG_2146The first time I felt grown up I had a hay hook in my hand. My family was putting up some brome on Grandpas farm and needed another person, no matter how skilled. Upon arrival I was put up on the hay wagon directly behind the baler. Grandpa kicked it in high gear and we stacked bales upon bales. I don’t recall how many I put up myself but it wasn’t very many. I was 10 and poor help. We pulled the full hay rack into the barn and began throwing it into the loft. It being my very first time, I doubt I accomplished much. But I do remember the lesson I was given on using a hay hook. On the fly I was shown how to operate a sharp, bent piece of steel. How to stick it into a bale, pull back on the handle and lift with your leg. That lesson changed me forever. As a 10 year old in somewhat rural America, a hay hook, and the skill to use it is a rite of passage. From then on, I wasn’t as much of a liability to work, as a partner. Not so much a space filler on the hay crew, but a hand with a purpose.  The same could be said of Elisha when Elijah got a hold of him.

Elijah’s brokenness was assuaged with God’s message that his ministry would outlive him; that his work was not in vain; and he would be instrumental in bringing up the next in line. He is instructed to anoint the next king of Aram (Hazael), the next dynasty of Israel (Jehu), and the next prophet in line (Elisha).

Elijah took these instructions seriously. He went from the Mountain of Sinai and found Elisha with his hand to the plow. It is fitting that he was preparing the ground for planting, because that is what his life will be about.

The prophets, especially at this period in the history of God’s people, are much less harvesters than stump pullers. Elijah has been engaging opposing worldviews for a majority of his ministry, preparing the ground. Looking back on the ministry of the prophets, they spent more time confronting sin and morality than they did “planting” seeds of righteousness. Much more time was spent attempting to remove and displace the idolatry and evil in the kingdom, than talking God’s plan for the nation. Elisha spent his days prior to ministry, making hard ground suitable for planting and in ministry, attempting to make hard hearts suitable for planting. 

As Elisha is plowing, Elijah runs up to him, throws his cloak around his waste, and runs off. Elisha forsakes his oxen and plow, and chases down [hb. rus] Elijah. The same word [rus[is used of Elijah out running Ahab (18.46) down the mountain. Elisha, filled with similar passion and excitement that Elijah displayed, catches up quick. Elijah gives him permission to say one last good by to his family and work. He kissed his parents, burned his plow, and feed the people his oxen.

“Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his attendant [sarat].” (1 Kings 19.21)

What Elisha was excited about, I cant say exactly, but I think this verse hints at it. Today we use the words “servant” and “attendant” synonymously, but in hebrew there seems to be some difference between servant [‘ebed] and attendant [sarat]: Elisha is said to have become Elijah’s attendant [sarat[ which conveys the idea of: 

  • Partnership. Elisha and Elijah from this point on were partners in ministry. Elijah had more experience and took the lead, but Elisha had come alongside him in ministry not behind him in ministry. Take for example Joshua. He was a servant [‘ebed] of the Lord (Josh 24.29; Jud. 2.80, but an aide [sarat] to Moses. With Moses, Joshua stood alongside him as he stayed on the mountain 40 days and nights (Ex. 24.13ff.) and wouldn’t leave the tent of meeting as Moses and God spoke (Ex. 33.11). When Moses did ministry, Joshua was beside him, learning and doing. I think Elisha reveled in the idea of being a sarat, not just an ‘ebed.
  • Purpose. In the OT servants performed any number of odd jobs, but attendants performed only the highest of tasks. Three times sarat is used of articles used for worship in the Temple (Num 4.9;2 Kings 25.14; 1 Chron. 6.32). Numerous times sarat is used of the Levites “assisting” in worship led by the priest. Elisha understood that Elisha was calling him to a live of purposeful service in worship to God. This was not the kind of intership where Elisha will be mailing out 5,000 postcards, or filling 10,000 waterballons, but a chance to do dirty-hands, front-line ministry.

These two reasons, I believe, are why Elisha can outrun Elijah. For these reasons, Elisha would burn his oxen and plow. The chance to be caught up and swept up in life changing ministry and the adventure of following God in daily service alongside a passionate leader, is what brought excitement to the life of Elisha.

Elijah was anointing a partner in purposed ministry. This is an opprotuinty that many in younger generations would leap at and get excited for. There are many who have been disappointed in the past because their preparation for ministry involved purposeless busy work, the understanding that they were not partners but projects, or their voice and opinion didn’t matter. The next generation of leader wants to partner in ministry; do significant work; and lead alongside. With that being said, who are you partnering with in ministry today? What younger man or woman, are you involving in your sphere of influence, your ministry, or your service? Who are you pouring into, giving responsibility too, and training to serve, worship, and lead?  These are the things I hope to convey to my bullfighting protege above, my students at Robinson, and the men I get to pour into every week.  Who are you bringing onto the crew?

Ahab’s Anger

IMG_1560Water makes a lot of people tense. In a region of the country that ebbs and flows with cattle and corn prices, water makes people nervous. In the paper today, an article caught my eye about the state of the Ogallala Aquifer, an underground reservoir that lays under 8 states including the western part of Kansas. To summarize: It’s drying up and it has been for years.

Early Explorers called western Kansas the Great American Desert. Now that desert is covered in corn, beans, milo, and other crops. These crops needed water that the desert couldn’t provide. Wells were sunk into the largest reservoir in the nation and the crops thrived. Now it’s depleting, which is making farmers and ranchers in western Kansas nervous.

A long time has passed, three years without rain or dew in the land of Israel. The word of the Lord says to Elijah: “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain.” (1 Kings 18.1)

The lack of rain was taking its toll on the land and its King. The King is not happy that a severe famine gripped Samaria (another name for the Northern Kingdom). Crops were a total loss. Animals were dying. Grass was scare. The King, inorder to preserve his herds, had to find some forage. He took his second in command, Obadiah, out to search for pasture. They came to a crossroads and went opposite directions through Israel looking for feed in every field, spring, and valley.

As Obadiah is searching, he runs into Elijah. Obadiah recognizes Elijah from years back and asks if it’s really him. Three years is a long time to be gone. Ahab has been searching high and low for the one guy who can end this drought. Now he shows up in front of Obadiah and he doesn’t really know how to respond.

Obadiah thinks Elijah’s trying to get him killed.

 “What have I done wrong, that you are handing your servant over to Ahab to be put to death?” (18.9)

Ahab has been desperately searching for Elijah like that dude in Moby Dick was searching for his whale. If Obadiah shows up and claims he found him, Ahab will not be happy. Then if Ahab goes to get him and he isn’t there (Elijah is prone to being swept up and away), he will be killed for that too (18.11-12). The outlook doesn’t look good for Obadiah.

The faithfulness of Obadiah is on display throughout this story. Twice it mentions him saving God’s prophets from the destructive hand of Jezebel. The story depicts him as a devout believer, a trusted servant to Ahab, and faithful servant of God. His life is now on the line because of one of the Lord’s prophets.

Elijah’s answer changes his mind.

“As the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, I will surely present myself to Ahab today.” (18.15)

Elijah isn’t off the hook. Ahab is a little bit upset with him as well. But Elijah and Obadiah understood one thing very well: The word of the Lord is to be followed and obeyed. Despite the danger involved, the people against it, or the counter-cultural bent of it, the word of the Lord is meant to be followed. This whole interaction, and its subsequent life threatening outcome for both, started with the command in 1 Kings 18.1: “Present yourself to Ahab…” Ahab’s frustration at the drought and by proxy Elijah, darkens this command from the Lord. If I’m in Elijah’s shoes, I wouldn’t be real happy to see Ahab’s face.

When it comes to the difficult commands of the Word of God, I strive to be more like Elijah. Following despite the repercussions. Bill Hybles once said, “Faith is not belief in spite of evidence, but obedience in spite of consequence.” Elijah and Obadiah’s faith in this interaction is what is put on display. Where my faith fails is where theirs shines brightest.

What One Question are you striving to answer today?

Wes Jackson
Wes Jackson

There are men who live a more focused life than others. For some people, everything they do revolves around one issue, one problem, one goal, or one purpose. I admire those people; people who fundamentally change the way the world thinks. Wes Jackson (1954 graduate of Seaman High School, my high school) is one of those men. The problem that he is working on can be described like this: soil is a non-renewable resource that is being exhausted every time a plow is taken to ground. Wes would argue that our dependency on farming over the last 10,000 years has led to our fossil fuel dependency, global warming, and overpopulation. The second issue is that our current crop production and yields are not enough to keep up with our ever-increasing world population.   We will need to double the amount of crops and yield by 2050. Wes Jackson and his Land Institute has made it his mission to solve both of these issues in his lifetime. Starting in 1976, Jackson set out to pattern crop production after the prairie. Looking at the way the prairie sustains its self and is constantly producing, Jackson wanted farming to take those patterns and emulate them. For almost forty years now, he has been working on cross breeding grains and crops in order to remove the plow from our farm lands. By looking for the genes that provide for great annual yields and genes that cause plants to grow perennially, he can protect farmland from run off, emissions from tractors, and soil loss due to plowing. For 40 years now, Jackson has pushed forward farming and agriculture around the world because of his research. Hybridizing and crossing different types of crops…and you thought your job sounded fun. I wonder how many kids want his job when they grow up. It may not be exciting, but Jackson is a plodder. He knows his purpose, he is committed to his work, and he wakes up every morning devoted to finding an answer.

As you read through the end of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, the last 40 years of Moses life was focused on leading a group of former slaves from bondage to freedom. When God calls him from the burning bush in Exodus 3, he is given this manifesto:

“I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorite, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go, I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3.7-10)

Moses life goal, his purpose arrives to him when he is 40 years old (Acts 7.23) and he becomes Wes Jackson. But what was he in the 80 years prior?

He certainly wouldn’t be a jr. achievement advisor. After 40 years of being taught the history of Egypt and the knowledge of the greatest civilization on earth at the time, a possible heir to the throne of Egypt, he threw it away by killing an Egyptian and fleeing his own people to Midian (Acts 7.23-29). Midian wasn’t a destination place; it was a choice of exile for Moses. Midian was where Moses went to forget himself. The next 40 years was spent as a shepherd, learning to lead a group of really dumb animals, and learning all the things that the school of Egypt didn’t teach him. Now at 80 years old, an ordinary bush became the kick in the pants for Moses.

The last 40 years would be day-in-day-out devoted to the purpose of “serving God by leading His people out of Egypt to the Promised Land.” The previous 80 years was spent in preparation of “serving god by leading His people out of Egypt to the Promised Land.”

I admire people like Jackson and Moses; men who devote their lives to solving problems, creating solutions, and leading those around them to do the same. But often times, I find myself where Moses was in the desert chasing sheep; nothing seems to be moving forward, nothing seems new. The future is so far away, and nothing was built on the past.   I wonder if Moses ever felt like the pause button was hit on his life (he didn’t even know what a pause button was!)? I wonder if he enjoyed his anonymity? Hindsight being 20/20, Moses would need these experiences as shepherd and the lessons learned in Sheep Herding 101, to survive the book of Numbers. There are experiences in the book of Numbers that I’m sure he would look back to his time with literal sheep with fondness and jealousy, wishing he could have that time back.

So where are you journeying right now, at this very instant? Everyday Wes is one step closer to prennial crops with annual yield amounts…what mission are you on?  Do you have a clearly defined purpose? When your feet hit the floor, do you know the direction your toes are pointed? What question are you striving to answer today?  Or are you like me, living in the land of the shepherd, not knowing how long this phase will last, but hoping and praying that this learning will someday be utilized towards one goal, one purpose?

Answering yes to one or the other doesn’t make you a better or worse follower of Christ?  Nor does it make you closer to God?  It simply shows the different parts of the journey we are on.  Everyday contentment and everyday joy, I believe transitions us through the stages as we journey.  What question are you striving to solve today?