Exodus and Apple Crates
I am a seminary drop out. I was a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY for the fall semester of 1995. As brief a stint as it was, it was probably one of the greatest semesters of my educational experience. Yet, I think I was experiencing the symptoms of edu burnout at the time. My girlfriend, who later became my wife, was back in Chattanooga with all my friends. I missed her a lot. I missed them too. To add to the confusion was a stubborn possibility first introduced to me by Ms. Helen. What if I became the pastor of Lantana Road Baptist Church in Crossville, TN?
The confusing part is that I had no desire to become a pastor. I had been around the Baptist church long enough to know that the ministry of shepherd is a high headache ministry. The horror stories that often circulate about churches only served to confirm that I had rather die in a fighter jet than in a business meeting. Looking back at it, I know God was calling me to serve as an under-shepherd in the local church. Toying with the chaplaincy was the manifestation of my fascination with the power of jets and my disdain for church conflict. I wanted flight not fight. Yet toward the end of my first semester in seminary, I knew something was not right. I needed answers.
I took some time to share my inner struggle with my Spiritual Formations professor, Dr. David Gushee. He is a foremost Christian ethicist. Surely an ethicist would know the right thing to do. He counseled me to seek the Lord, to spend some serious time in prayer and Scripture reading. As a student at SBTS you read books and write papers. There is little time to pray. Dr. Gushee gave me the locations of four or five places within an hour or so of the city that served as avenues of escape and closets of prayer. I chose the Huber Farm in Starlight, Indiana.
The Huber Farm is a country getaway for city folk. You drive there, pay an arm and a leg to ride on a tractor out into a field and pick stuff that you have no idea how to grow. It makes you feel earthy and you go home with some killer apples and a pumpkin. As a seminary student I did not have an arm or a leg to pay so I simply parked my car and walked, tractorless into one of the apple orchards. I went far enough that I would not be found, but close enough that I could still hear the tractor tour so I would know which direction to walk back to my car once the mission was complete. I found two empty apple crates. One would serve as a chair, the other as a desk. There I would meet with God.
I felt impressed to read the Book of Exodus. If you have ever read Exodus you know that it is The Ten Commandments movie for 20 chapters. After that it is a field guide for Tabernacle building. On a scale of 1 to 10, chapters 1 - 20 are 10+. Chapters 21 and following can be sub zero. The tension here is that in looking for guidance from God I read the first 20 chapters and got nothing. The prospects of knowing what to do next were not looking good for chapters 21 and beyond. But I sat on the apple crate and continued to pray and read earnestly desiring to hear from God.
It is hard to discern whether you should sign up for the Spring semester of seminary or pursue the pastorate of a small church in Tennessee when you are reading about holy tent pegs and curtain rods. It seemed as if reading the first half of Exodus went quickly. The second half slowed to a snail crawl. The longer I sat in the orchard the less tractor I heard. The shadows were growing longer and the orchard tours were wrapping up for the day, but I continued to read. It was not until chapter 40, the final chapter, that I got the Word I was looking for.
“Then the cloud covered then tent of meeting and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. . .Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.” Exodus 40:34, 36-38
Some guys sitting on the same apple crate would have interpreted that as a Word from God to stay. I took it that it was a Word from God to go. Either way the point of the chapter is that whatever you do, God must remain in the lead. There is no descent empirical way for me to explain how I knew going was right, but I knew, so I did.
I sent my very thin resume‘ to LRBC. I didn’t hear from them for a year. In the meantime the Lord moved me and dropped me on the seat of a riding mower in Cartersville, GA. God had transferred me to a new seminary class that met on a zero turn radius Toro. It was there that God prepared me for the pastorate with a crash course on humility and golf course maintenance.
(image of apple crates from http://elboinaverde.blogspot.com/2010/10/musgrave-orchards.html )