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:

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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.

 

Three Musketeers (part 2)

41855E78-5DFE-4CCF-A287-4C868050C67C“It was this fear that restrained him, so powerful is the influence of a truly great character on all that surrounds it. (40.59 – 40.60)” — Alexander Dumas

D’Artagnan was a young man whose dream was to join the Kings body guards.  When he goes to Paris, he is given the run around.  When he runs into a few of the Musketeers, unbeknownst to him, by challenging them each to duels. They end up teaming up to defeat the Cardinals guards who had interrupted their duels.

D’Artagnan befriends Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, the Three Musketeers.  Athos is a calculated man.  “Athos…never gave his advice before it was demanded and even then it must be demanded twice. ‘In general, people only ask for advice,’ he said ‘that they may not follow it or if they should follow it that they may have somebody to blame for having given it’” writes Dumas.  The strong, reserved, soft spoken leader.  He becomes a father-figure to D’Artagnan.

Unlike the Disney version, Dumas’ novel paints a more chaotic plot.  It’s not the Cardinal vs. the Musketeers in the book.  The Cardinal, near the end of the book offers D’Artagnan the commission and leadership he has been seeking from the beginning…all he had to do was sign on the line.  He paused as he left the room, weighing the results of his decision  and this was the thought that went through his mind: “It was this fear that restrained him, so powerful is the influence of a truly great character on all that surrounds it.”. The great character was Athos he was thinking of.  The influence was the decision not to sign the commission.  He knew that should he sign, Athos would renounce him.  Truly great characters change the actions of everyone around them!

Mark 9.2 begins with the words “after 6 days”.  What is the deal with waiting almost a week?  As discussed previously, Mark is a fast paced book.  And also discussed elsewhere, Mark is all about identifying Jesus as the Son of God.  His book begins with the statement: “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God…”(Mark 1) and climaxes with the Roman Centurion at the base of the cross exclaiming “surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15).  Right smack dab in the middle of the book, Peter makes the confession “You are the Messiah.” (8.29)  So there is the confession. 

Then Jesus begins to tell his disciples about his death.  He would do so in chapters 8, 9, 10.  Mark 8 serves as a tipping point in the Gospel.  It is the fulcrum that balances the entirity of the book.  The confession and the prediction are where the two purposes of Jesus come together.  His action and identity.  In Mark 1, Jesus declares: “I have come to preach.”  (1.38)  In Mark 10, Jesus says that he came “not to be serve but to serve and give his life up as a ransom for many.” (10.45)  The middle of chapter 8 begins a section of the book that serves as central teaching to Jesus’ ministry.

Finally, on top of the confession of Peter and the prediction of Jesus, there is the teaching of Jesus at the end of chapter 8.  The confession and prediction mean little if there isn’t anything that becomes of it.   Jesus reiterates that this is not just a teaching or a lesson, it is a pattern of life.  Jesus wants his disciples to know that it doesn’t end with his cross, but ends with ours.   “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8.34)

The whole book has been racing along and now all the information about Jesus that is needed has been communicated…then he hits the brakes for 6 days.  For an impatient man like Mark, I bet 6 days seemed like eternity.  If you have ever taught 6th graders or trained a horse, you would understand what Mark is doing.  Its called “think time”.  Letting the message sit and rest for a period, preventing overload of information.  If you have ever tried to teach someone how to play pitch, you know the look of overload.  So he takes a break.

Then the story picks up with the Three Musketeers.  They head up the mountain, alone, with Jesus.  Think of how many great moments have happened on mountain tops.

  • The Ark came to rest on Ararat (Gen 8.4)
  • Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac on Mt. Moriah (Genesis 22)
  • Moses was given the 10 commandments on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 20)
  • The Blessings and Curses came from Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim (Deut. 11)
  • David built his city, Jerusalem, on Mt. Zion (2 Samuel 5.7)
  • Elijah had a showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18)
  • Jesus gave his sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5)

Every ancient culture, the pyramids of Egypt, the Ziggurats of Sumer, the temples of the Mayans, the gods on Mt. Olympus for the Greeks, believed that Mountains were where man met with God.  So there is some theology wrapped up in their trek up the mountain.

When the reached the summit, Jesus was transfigured before them.  Essentially, he started radiating.  There isn’t a whole lot more to this word than what comes to your mind at first.  He became really shinny.  That’s when two other men showed up: Moses and Elijah.  Neither were unfamiliar with mountain top moments as seen above.  The list above, however, left off two very important moments.  The first being Moses’ Mt. Sinai experience in Exodus 34.  The second was Elijah’s Mt. Sinai moment in 1 Kings 19.  I will deal with each in turn.

Exodus 34 recounts a 40 day stay atop Mt. Sinai by Moses.  The purpose of this ascent was two-fold.  Primarily it was to make good on God’s promise to Moses in the previous chapter to show him His glory.  Second, it was to renew the 10 commandments and the stones Moses had broken in anger the first time he was up on Sinai.  God meets Moses and “passes by” him making a statement about his identity.

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” (34.6-8)

This meeting has been discussed more elsewhere, but for the purpose of this piec it can be said that Moses met God in Sinai.

On the same mountain, many years later, Elijah stands after a 40 day journey (1 Kings 19.8).  He too meets with God.  He is exhausted standing and speaking for God against a corrupt royalty and a stubborn nation.  He had wished for death before coming to the mountain (19.4) but now he has a hearing with God where he offers his complaint.  He says that he is the only faithful one in Israel and that won’t last long if Ahab gets his way.  So God responds:

“Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” (19.11)

And God did so in the following verses.  He wasn’t in the wind or the earthquake or the fire, but in the subsequent whisper.  There it is again; the idea of God “passing by” which brings us to Mark 9.

Peter and the guys are frightened by the dazzling sight before them.  Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are talking in front of them.  So Peter speaks up while scared.  He wants to build shelters for them.

God ends up speaking in verse 7, putting a halt to Peter’s idea, with His statement: “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

The two men on the mountain with Jesus are no strangers to mountain top moments.  And with each of their encounters there was the presence of the Lord and the voice of the Lord.  Mark 9 has God speaking and God presence, through and in the person of Jesus.

The Three Musketeers were shown Jesus identity as the Son of God and his relationship with God.

And once again they were told to keep it quiet (Mark 9.8).

 

Leverage: Suffering (Part 1)

Lois Lowry’s book, The Giver, is about a predictable community.  They have no colors, no seasons, no cars.  They have no weather, no poverty, no wealth.  They just “are”.  Population control, job placement, family placement, medicines for everything conceivable, and food rations.  The collective memories of all time are held by one person, for the purpose of providing wisdom to the council of Elders who runs the community.  People have the memories from their life, but nothing of history or anything outside of their own community.  Jonas, the protagonist of the story, is chosen by the Elders to have the Job of Receiver.  He is selected to get all the memories from the Giver, to hold.  He starts out with memories of sailing on a tranquil lake, a ride on a sled down a snowy hill, and a tour of the Serengeti.  But the Giver had promised him that the job would hurt.  All he had were positives.  One day, Jonas reminded him of this promise and the Giver sent him back on the lake…for a sun burn.  Then it was the memory of the broken arm from another sled ride.  Again, it was the Serengeti, but with a tusk-less, bloody, elephant, an abandoned calf, and poachers.  Jonas was the only person in the community who now knew what it was to suffer.

Suffering is just one universal experience that we all face on this earth.  Everyone will sit beside a hospital bed and watch someone they love dying.  All of us will feel the sting of betrayal from a close friend or family member.  There is no escaping the touch of natural disasters, cancer, abuse, and hatred.  The result of all of these being suffering.   Throughout Scripture I have traced 6 reasons why suffering comes our way:

  • Bad Decisions: Genesis 3.  In Genesis 1-2, God creates everything and it was “good” except for the woman who was “very good”.  They live in the Garden where God takes care of them.  And in this garden, they live out the purposes that God has for them.  The one stipulation, “Don’t eat from that tree!”  But they disobeyed God and every (and I mean every) purpose given to man and the earth was marred by that decision.  Eve wanted to rule over Adam and Adam now has to plant Round-up Ready soybeans because weeds are taking over his garden.  Man has fallen in his relationship with God and the Earth is under the same curse of death.  Cancer is mutated cells, tornadoes tear apart cities, fires destroy communities because we live in a fallen world.  People lie to one another, betray at the drop of a hat, abuse and neglect, because of decisions made.  We hurt one another and we have been hurt by one another.  All because of decisions.
  • Bad Community Life.  It’s one thing to be hurt by a stranger, but what about by the Church.  In Numbers 11, the people of God are wandering around in the wilderness.  God has been feeding them manna and quail every day for 40 years.  Still they think back to the fish and fruit they ate in Egypt.  Sure, they were slaves and all, but it was like Golden Corral back there.  Who wouldn’t trade a life of slavery for a good spread.  So they complained to Moses.  Moses says to God concerning their complaints: “They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.” (Numbers 11.13-15)  If you have attended Church at some point in your life, I am will to bet you were hurt by someone.  I have too long of story to tell about my own hurt right here.  The truth is that I have also been the one doing the hurting.  But before we give the Church a bad name, it happens anywhere you have groups of people.  Rodeo Associations, PTO, Bible Studies, the Elks Club…not too make light of Scripture but Matthew should have written: “Where two or three are gathered…there will be division.”
  • Bad Enemy.  First Peter 5.8 describes Satan as “prowling around like a lion.”  Job saw that first hand.  If you remember the story, Job had it all.  The family, fame, fortune, integrity, and everything a man needs to live a full life.  Then Satan met with God.  The NIV says that God asked Satan to look at Job’s life.  The Hebrew, on the other hand, would indicate that Satan was already watching Job’s life.  Gods question was this: “Satan, why have you set your heart of Job?”  Satan wanted to destroy Job.  Satan took everything from Job, save 3 friends and his wife, which wasn’t necessarily a good thing.  And in the midst of his suffering Job writes: “May the day of my birth perish, and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’ That day—may it turn to darkness; may God above not care about it; may no light shine on it.” (Job 3.3-4)  There is a very real enemy.  For years I discounted his presence.  I am one of those people who believes that you get hang nails from dry cuticles, not from the devil, still, C.S. Lewis words in The Screwtape Letters ring true.  The Demon Screwtape is talking to his nephew Wormwood and advises him this:I wonder you should ask me whether it is essential to keep the patient in ignorance of your own existence. That question, at least for the present phase of the struggle, has been answered for us by the High Command. Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves…I do not think you will have much difficulty in keeping the patient in the dark. The fact that “devils” are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you.”
  • Bad Events.  Elijah was the prophet when Ahab was the King.  Ahab, with the help of his wife Jezebeel, built altars to foreign gods, had an open exchange policy with any cult religion, and then began to purge their country of prophets.  Elijah looked around and left. (more on that here)  On the way out of town, resting under a tree “he asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’” (1 Kings 19.4)   It is not hard to look around at the events of the world and realize the suffering that is coming as a result.  Gas attacks in Syria, drug wars in Somalia and Mexico, human trafficking and human rights violations in Qatar and to what end: a billion dollar soccer stadium for the World Cup.  A sports celebration of World unity.  Events of the day can bring suffering.  9/11, Challenger, OKC bombing, JFK, MLK, and this list doesn’t end there.  
  • A Good Message.  Jeremiah was preaching the words that God had given him to speak and act.  In Jeremiah 19, God had tasked him with the purchase of a clay pot.  He was to then take said pot and throw it down and break it in front of the people.  Then say: “just like the pot I just broke, so God will bring another nation to break you!” God, like Drago from Rocky IV says: “I must break you!”  As a punishment for their rampant idolatry, God is punishing their sin by sending them into Exile.  The message doesn’t go over well and the people are a tad upset.  A priest takes particular offense to the message and had Jeremiah beaten and thrown in the stocks (Jer. 20.4).  Jeremiah was preaching the message God had given him and now he is locked up.  Jeremiah laments to God this: “Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought my father the news, who made him very glad, saying, “A child is born to you—a son!” (Jer. 20.14)  Have you ever been serious about sharing your faith with someone and it cost you a relationship?  Maybe you shared an opinion with some friends and now things are awkward?  It could be that you took a Godly stance to an issue and things are no longer the same?  I am not comparing, nor calling what we in America go through as persecution, especially in light of the hundreds of thousands being killed every year for their faith in the Middle East or locked in prisons in China and North Korea.  I am, however saying, that when a concerted effort is made to let people know what we believe, there will be pushback and it may lead to suffering.


It is a universal problem.  The only way to leverage it, is to view suffering through the crimson colored blood, the black darkness of a closed tomb, and the vibrant light of the morning sun as it shone on the rolled away rock.   Because Jesus went to the cross, laid in the grave, and then left his tomb empty, hope can be born from the womb of despair.  

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

Keeping Things In Check

One hundred and fifty years ago, the cattle boom was taking over the western United States. Cowtowns were popping up across this state as thousands of young men were joining crews to push longhorns up to them. The wore their boots, chaps and hats. Rode good horses with good saddles and gear. They carried lasso’s, wore spurs, and trailed the cattle. Now 150 years later, the descendants of these men, in much the same fassion, use/wear/pack the same gear to do the same goal. Though separated by many years, they look the exact same and their stories are very similar.

The same repitition in the history of the cowboy is often seen in scripture.

David and Ahab were two men with the same story. Both men took something that didn’t belong to them. Both men unjustly dealt with the rightful (and righteous) owner. Both men needed a prophet to show them the errors of their ways.

When Ahab was in his palace in Jezreel, he saw something he wanted. In the same way that David spied Bathsheba bathing and desired her (2 Sam. 11.2-5), Ahab saw a vineyard that would suit his purposes well and wanted it (1 Kings 21.1-2). When Naboth refused to give up his garden, Jezebel went to work. Jezebel came from a culture where the King took what he wanted from the people, but the King of God’s people was to serve and lead the people. Jezebel arranged for Naboth’s death, and just as it did in Uriah’s, a letter was the catalyst.

With Naboth (and Uraiah) out of the way in shady circumstances, the King is free to enjoy the spoils free of guilt and remorse. God, however, would not let them rest with their immorality. He sent Nathan the prophet to David (2 Sam. 12.1) and Elijah, our hero, to confront Ahab. (1 Kings 21.17-19)

“So you have found me, my enemy?” It is amazing what a guilty conscience can do in the face of confrontation. Elijah has gone from his troublemaker (18.16) to now his enemy (21.20).   With Elijah before him, Ahab understands that his actions are contrary to what God desired and he is going to take it out on the messenger.

Confrontation is hard to do for a people who are called to ‘love one another’ (John 13.34-35). Amongst Christians, confrontation is often neglected. We don’t confront one another concerning our attitudes, actions, hypocrisy, or theology. We refuse because, as our logic goes, “it is more loving to let them go.” Now, hear me in this, I don’t think we should go out and confront everyone and everything, but Elijah and Ahab have history. Ahab is in a place of leadership, and Elijah in a place of holding him accountable.

Every one of us need a few Elijah’s in our lives, because every now and then, everyone of us is an Ahab. Nathan came to David and pointed out his sin. Elijah came to Ahab and showed his. Who is it, that you will listen too, who will point out the sin in our lives that we overlook. Sometimes sin becomes too common, sometimes its hidden to our own eyes, and sometimes we don’t even notice it…regardless, there is someone who sees the problem, the effect, or both and can call us on it. Elijah is that for Ahab. Nathan for David.

Some things to remember when confronting and accountability is needed:

  1.  The message is given in love. The moment we feel attacked our defenses go up and we begin to make excuses, deflect responsibility, deny the event, or shut down completely. But if the message is given in love, approached with care, and bathed in compassion, we are much more open to correction.  As Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4.15: “…speaking the truth in love…” grows us up in Christ.
  2. The sin is given its due. Occasionally in our confrontations, in effort to be more loving or merciful, the sin, and its full effect, is never spoken of. Elijah points out to Ahab; “you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord…you have provoked me [God] to anger and have caused Israel to sin.” (21.20-22) The sin was pointed out and the effect was made known.
  3. The goal is repentance and reconciliation. David composed Psalm 51 after meeting with Nathan. Ahab tore his clothes, put on sackcloth, fasted, and humbled himself before God. (2 Kings 21.27-29) When Christian’s approach each other, correct each other, and hold each other accountable on doctrine, sin, or life, the goal of the meeting needs to be repentance and/or reconciliation. This is the ministry that Paul gives us in 2 Corinthians 5.19-20.

So what about you? Do you have someone in your life who adequately see’s who you are and where you fall short? Is there someone to celebrate with you when you are victorious? Is there someone who cares about you enough to confront you? If you don’t have that, look for it? Search it out? Because every one of us makes mistakes and falls short, sometimes we even know, but Ahab and David needed someone to help them out, and each became a better man for it.

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?

Brokenness and Failure: Elijah’s Mountain Top

IMG_1516Farming is a patient endeavor. Three out of four years in high school, I planted a very good hobby garden. Tomatoes, Corn, Asparagus, and Broccoli were my crops of choice. I worked hard to till the ground, plant everything in rows, keep it all watered, and even took care to cross pollinate a little bit (I saw a youtube video on it). Every year I was met with success except for one. That year I discovered 13-13-13 fertilizer. If corn grew fast on its own…why not help it with 40 lbs of fertilizer. I burnt my corn crop to a crisp. Sometime we try to force growth. When something isn’t going well, we blame ourselves, we try to hard, or we press to make it grow. Has your influence or ministry ever not gone the way you wanted it too? Elijah’s ministry wasn’t and it nearly broke him.

When we last saw Elijah, he was sleeping in a cave, which is never a sign that things are going well. He is fresh off of his 40 day-night journey from the Northern Kingdom to Mt. Horeb (Sinai) in lieu of a threat by Queen Jezebel. (1 Kings 19.1-2) From this lone cave, on an isolated mountain, miles from his home, Elijah and God exchange words.

 “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

I am a firm believer that God asks some questions just to hear us answer. It has nothing to do with Him not knowing the information, but with us acknowledging our thoughts and understanding of the situation. (see Gen 3.9) God knows about Elijah’s journey, his mountaintop moment at Carmel and his desert prayer (1 Kings 19.4).   God knows why Elijah is here, He just wants to hear him say it.

“I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” (1 Kings 19.10)

These are cutting words. Scripture is shady on the tone with which Elijah is speaking his reply.   I always assumed it was a whinny tone. “God you just don’t get it…I served you and this is how you are going to repay me.” My interpretation rests solely upon the reason Elijah is on the run in the first place…he was afraid. (1 Kings 19.3) The problem lies in the word that is translated “afraid”.

The hebrew word wayyare, could be the word for “afraid” or it could be a verbal form of the word ra’ah, meaning “to see”. The NIV has a footnote at the bottom of the page acknowledging the ambiguity in the translation. If the word is read as “saw”, the passage, and the character of Elijah, takes a different direction. A character sketch of Elijah does not produce a man who runs from a challenge. He has already confronted Ahab twice (17.1; 18.16ff.), 450 prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18.19), and a crowd of people who were living unfaithful lives to God (18.21), without cowering. Now he is going to go AWOL because of some harsh words from Jezebel? But if we read it as “saw”, instead of a fearful man, running to save his skin, we see a man who for three and a half years battled to force of Ba’al, and to keep his servant, Jezebel, from claiming a victory in the name of Ba’al by executing the prophet of Yahweh, Elijah ran. He saw that “he was no better than his ancestors” (19.4) because in the same way that they had ultimately failed in their attempt to return the nation’s hearts back to God, he too was unable to sway the leadership of the nation and by proxy its people.

Elijah’s problem was his short sightedness. He thought that the ministry was done with him. He understood God’s work in pursuing His people, continuing His communication with His people through the prophets, and those remaining faithful shrinking. Elijah was broken because he saw the end caused, in his mind, by him.

So his statement: “I have been very zealous for the Lord…” can be understood as a statement of failure and disappointment, instead of a whinny accusation towards God. Elijah, stuck in a cave on a far away mountain, is feeling the sting of a ministry that he views as a failure. Brokenness is overtaking him and he expresses that notion to God.

“Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord for the Lord is about to pass by.” – God (1 Kings 19.11)

In a story reminiscent of Exodus 33.21-23 where the hand of the Lord covers Moses as He passes by, God gives Elijah the same experience. Moses in a time of questioning the ministry God has put him in (Ex 33.15-20), is allowed to view the presence of God. Elijah, on the same mountain and in similar fashion is shown the presence of God.

A great and powerful wind tore apart the mountain…but God was not in it. An earthquake shook the mountain…but God was not in it either. Fire rained down, in the same way it had at Carmel…but God was not in it either. After the suspense was sufficiently built, the Lord spoke to Elijah in a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19.11-13). Elijah put his cloak over his face and proceeded to have the same conversation with God as earlier. This time God speaks to Elijah’s brokenness.

“Go back the way you came…” In the next few verses, God’s answer is simple: “My redemption of this world, doesn’t end with you, Elijah!”  Elijah is given a to do list:

  •  Anoint Hazael King over Aram. Ben-Hadad current king of Aram has been an agitator for years…God says: “His reign is over…and I’m still God.”
  • Anoint Jehu as King of Israel. Jehu will be the only somewhat good King in the Northern Kingdom’s history (2 Kings 10.30-31) and he will bring judgment on the house of Ahab (2 Kings 9-10)…and God will still be working.
  • Anoint Elisha as your successor as prophet…he will continue to speak, communicate, and pursue his people. Elisha will do even greater miracles than Elijah by the power of an active God.
  • I reserve 7,000 faithful…”you aren’t alone Elijah. I’m still at work.  I was at work before you came along and I will be at work long after.”

Have you ever felt like you were failing in ministry? Ever felt the brokenness and isolation of following God? Maybe your influence isn’t have the effect you thought it would and your service to others is not being received like you hoped. It could be that you hit the end of your rope, pouring yourself out for the sake of others and for God, but you just don’t see the return? The shame is suffocating and weariness sets in.

You are in good company. Elijah finds himself miles from home, on a lonely mountain, in order to see that God is in charge and God directs his ministry. Elijah thought he was a failure until God showed him what He was doing behind the scenes.

There is nothing more demoralizing, shameful, and guilt-ridden than feeling like you let God down in ministry….BUT nothing more liberating, healing, and grace-giving than realizing you were never holding Him up!

Elijah was learning what Paul expressed in 1 Corinthians 3.6-7:

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow”

As you influence, pour into, disciple, and love others, avoid the mindset of Elijah that believes that God’s work started with you and ends with you!  Avoid the pressure that Elijah put on himself to be the reason for the success of God. Be thankful play the part you do, be a solid link in the chain, be diligent in your leg of the relay, refuse to pass judgment on your work, and let God take care of the results.