When The Patriarch Falls

On a recent early morning climb, my friend Troll and I had just reached the summit of Bessie Butte, a 500-foot cinder cone near Bend. The view from the top can be majestic, but on this morning something was different. It seems an old friend had fallen. A tall, familiar Ponderosa Pine lay at our feet—undoubtedly succumbing to a ferocious windstorm three days earlier.

Our venerable old pine had been the tallest of a half dozen trees that had survived a fire almost two decades ago. The tree stood proudly for years until it was struck by lightning. From that point on, it began to die, becoming just a skeleton of what it had once been.

Even so, it stood taller than its peers… until it finally bowed to the wind.

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I am standing by the Fallen Patriarch with the sunrise igniting everything.

I felt sadness as we walked around it. Roots, long dead, were exposed in the recently churned soil. The old patriarch of Bessie Butte that had survived storms and fire and lightning blasts had fallen at last. For me it was a time of reflection about my own life.

Reading through the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua, I was impressed with how both books wrap up with an old patriarch challenging the next generation to finish strong. In fact, the entire book of Deuteronomy consists of Moses’ last words to the new generation of Israelites who had survived the 40 years of wandering.

In the pages of this fifth book of the Bible, Moses rehearses the exodus from Egypt, the amazing Red Sea crossing, the manna gathered fresh each morning and the military victories on the east side of the Jordan. After highlighting these acts of God’s faithfulness and power, Moses challenges the people to renew their covenant with God. Blessings would flow if they obeyed the covenant, but disobedience and a retreat to idolatry would result in severe discipline, even to the point of being exiled from the land.

Moses, the patriarch and oldest survivor, challenges the nation to choose life, before handing the baton to Joshua.

After the people renewed their commitment to God, with heaven and earth as witnesses, God called Moses to the summit of Mount Nebo where he would view the Promised Land from a distance. There on the summit, the old patriarch, weathered by 120 years, fell to the inevitable forces of time, just like that old Ponderosa on Bessie Butte.

The book of Joshua records the conquest and settlement of the Promised Land. The book closes with Joshua, nearing 110 years of age, calling the nation together to rehearse the miraculous ways the Lord had led them out of Egypt and through the wilderness. Joshua challenged them to put away all idols and renew the covenant they had made with God back in Moab. Hear Joshua’s final challenge to the nation:

“Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15, NASB)

The people renewed the covenant with, and Joshua recorded it in the book of the Law and raised up a stone as a witness to their commitment to serve only Yahweh. Joshua 24: 31, reveals the impact or legacy one person can have on succeeding generations.

“And Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua and of the elders who survived Joshua, and had known all the deeds of the Lord which He had done for Israel.” (NASB)

I wish that story ended like a classic Disney movie, “And they all lived happily ever after.” But, it doesn’t. The baton was dropped during the hand off to the next generation as described in Judges 2:7-10.

7 And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, who had seen all the great work of the Lord which He had done for Israel. 8 Then Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of one hundred and ten. 9 And they buried him in the territory of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. 10 And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. (NASB)

Legacy has always been important. Our lives are like a relay race with one generation passing the baton to the next. That hand off is the most critical part of the race.

Abraham had passed the baton to Isaac. Isaac to Jacob. Jacob to his 12 sons. Generations later, Moses passed the baton to Joshua who passed it to the new generation now living in the Promised Land.

Finally, Jesus passed the baton to His disciples. Paul charged Timothy to equip faithful men who would in turn equip other men. We, as Christ-followers today, must pass baton to the next generation. How are we doing?

Surveys of professing Christians in America reveal a general to severe ignorance of basic biblical truths. I can’t help but wonder…in our efforts to be politically correct, are we failing to pass the baton to the next generation? Have we taught our youth to study the Word and to apply it? Do they know what it means to be a Christ-follower? For that matter, do their parents understand?

I was reminded by the skeleton of that old Ponderosa that someday, perhaps soon, I will take my last breath. People may gather to remember my life and share anecdotes. The question will be, “What was his legacy? To whom did he pass the baton?”

Yes, this may seem a bit morbid for a blog post, but it is the fact of life! Someday, like that old Ponderosa, each of us will succumb to the forces of time. In the words of a song, “May those who follow after find us faithful.” Will they discover evidence of our faith in the things we leave behind?

Today, on Bessie Butte, scores of young Ponderosa pines are struggling to survive. Perhaps the day will come when old Bessie will again be reforested. I won’t be here, but if I was able to talk to trees, I would remind these saplings that once upon a time, a giant ancestor stood proudly on the summit daring the wind to blow harder.

Syd Brestel on Pastor resources

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