SPRH – Appolo 13

Square Peg in a Round Hole

How often are we trying to get things to “fit”, to work together, when they were never designed to do that? Sometimes we just have to make it work, re-engineer on the fly, and that’s fine, particularly in emergency situations. But do you remember how exhausting that movie is? Emotionally wrenching (Hanks does it again in Gravity, IMHO!) Who wants to live that way all the time?

Isn’t it preferable to engineer your life in such a way that things fit, comfortably, organically? And how great to have a community, a team of folks like in this clip, helping us to problem solve our way toward better living.

Plug into the community now.

GROW

This is a useful acronym for a basic process of coaching. You can use this with yourself, in a group where you are a member, and in coaching others.

Goal – What is the desired future state toward which you wish to move?

Reality Check – What is currently going on? What are the feelings, thoughts, actions that brought you to this present, and are keeping you here? What strengths and deficits are part of that picture.

Options for steps forward – What can I/You/We do to move from our present reality to our preferred future? What else? And what else? This is the brainstorming session of the process, where there are no silly, dumb or bad ideas. The more we limit ourselves during this phase, the less our prospect of reaching our goal with success and significance.

Will – “What will I do?” This is the place where I choose a path forward, from all the options identified above. Between “Options” and “Will” critical evaluations and discernment will be made. We also recognize that trial and error, failure and trying again are critical to the process of development.

Jeremiah 29 (NKGCV)

(The following is my own modified translation from Jeremiah 29, following closely the NRSV. NKGCV => New Ken G Crawford Version)

This text, I believe, is both central to our understanding of God’s call upon the church, and terribly misunderstood by congregations and especially when applied to individual lives. I invite you to read the text, and then I’ll explain why I think this is true.

4 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 8 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, 9 for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord. 10 For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.

11 For surely I know the dreams I dream for you, says the Lord,
dreams for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

Again, v 11 “For surely I know the dreams I dream for you, says the Lord,dreams for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” Those familiar with this passage typically know it with the word “plans” where I have translated “dreams.” The Hebrew is “Machashabah”  (thought, device, plan, purpose,invention) from “Chashab” which can mean “to plan” but also means imagine, consider, think upon, recon, and esteem. “Plan” is an unfortunate and limiting translation because of it’s concrete and specific connotations in our modern culture. We think of building plans, schematics, of a plan for a trip or event, that has every detail clarified and managed. By implication, then, this would suggest that God’s intentions toward us are similarly concrete, specific and managed town to the last detail. Two problems with this, biblically speaking: 1) The text is about “The People of God”, not about an individual or individuals; and 2) the scripture simply does not support the notion that God has every detail thought out in advance. If that were true, then our task would be to discern and follow every micro step in our journey. At any point in time there would be one and only one right and perfect place and way to be in the world, everything else would put us outside of God’s perfect will and plan for us.

Certainly there are times when the Spirit does seem to have a concrete and specific intention in mind for us, individually and collectively. Those moments appear in scripture as well – and they are the exponential exception, not the rule. Take the story of David, for example. We have dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of days accounted for in his life. This leaves the vast majority of days unaccounted for. This does not mean God was absent (“Where can I flee from your presence?” Ps 139:7) but rather that God’s presence is more like the wind that blows, as Jesus suggests (John 3:8). Some will counter with “All our steps are ordered by the Lord” (Prov 20:24). I would submit that we hear Proverbs in light of Psalms “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a Light to my path” (Ps 119:105) and understand that God’s Word and Spirit are leading and guiding us in the way of righteousness, but not micromanaging our choices along that way. Each day may present us with multiple good and right options for living our lives. Righteousness comes in fidelity to God’s spirit i the choosing, and in our commitment to the choices we have made, recognizing that each “Yes” also brings multiple “No”s. My yes to my wife means my no to that kind of intimacy with all other people. My yes to my children means my no to pursuing my own interests (and even what call I think God may have placed on my life) at their expense.

What of these dream then? How and when do they come? The context gives us those answers. God says, “Bloom where you are planted. Bless those around you, even if you see them as your enemies. For your blessing hangs directly on your willingness and actions to bless others.” So, while I am waiting for God’s dream to be revealed and fulfilled in my own life, I am to be faithful to the call of this larger context from Jeremiah 29. I am to to as Micah 6:8 direccts “Do justice together with God. Love mercy together with God. Walk humbly together with God. This is the whole of what God requires of you.” (NKGCV)

Passing the Mantle

Passing the Mantle. Generational Transitions. Transforming the Church. From Institutional to Missional.

Did you ever wonder about the origin of that phrase? We find it here in 2 Kings 2. Elijah passes the mantle of prophetic spiritual authority to Elisha.

Now, an obvious direction to go with this text would be to address the issue of the need for the former generations to let go of the mantle of authority so the next generation can take it up. I could simply say, “See there, you can’t hold on forever. Eventually you have to let go and allow the next generation to assume the leadership roles.” This is probably true. Well, undoubtedly it is, as eventually the former generation will pass away, either to “rest with their fathers” or to be “taken up by a whirlwind”. In any case, you can’t take it with you, and you can’t stay here.

In the text, we see that more is going on that simply Elijah needing to let go. To fully appreciate it, we need to back up a few chapters into the preceding book, specifically 1 Kings 19. There we find Elijah reach the pinnacle of his prophetic ministry, and then shortly after he begins to struggle with fear and doubt. His work will draw to a close. As John the Baptizer said generations later of Jesus, “I must decrease so that he can increase.” It is like the fade-out / fade-in between songs on the radio or scenes in a movie. For a brief time you can hear or see both – there is a merging and comingling of elements. As one builds in strength and power the other declines until the former is gone and only the new remains. Our text today marks the end of that liminal transition phase between one and the other.

In 1 Kings 19, the LORD directed Elijah to anoint Elisha as his prophetic successor, which he does with no fanfare or ceremony. Elijah simply strides past and tosses his own mantle across Elisha’s shoulders and keeps walking. When Elisha comes to inquire, he is sent packing with the abrupt words, “What have I done to you?” In other words, “Listen, kid. I did what God asked, so now leave me alone. I don’t know what God will do with you, but I have work to do.” Instead, Elisha slaughters his entire plow-pulling team of oxen (the foundation of his secular work), holds a BBQ for the community, and takes up the nomadic journey as assistant to Elisha. That’s it then. No turning back now.

Then, obviously skipping over important stories, we arrive at today’s text. The end is nigh, and everyone knows it. You can just tell sometimes, can’t you? Intuition, or the Spirit? When people are about to die their demeanor changes. This even happens with an animal like a beloved pet.  They may become anxious, but hopefully the reverse – shifting into a posture of deep calm. Resignation, not in terms of giving up the fight, but like a restless child finally sinking into the arms of a loving parent.

Elijah knows his time is short, and so do all the prophets. We see them repeatedly telling Elisha – “your master is leaving.” Each time the curt retort, “I know, shut up!” Why this response? Does he not want to think about it? Is he frustrated because they are stating the obvious? Does he take these pronouncements as an indication that these other prophets doubt Elisha’s ability to truly pick up where Elijah leaves off? We don’t know.

And Elijah for his part seems tense as well. Three times he tells his companion to remain behind while he travels on. Again, why? Does Elijah want to spare his young friend the trauma that may come? Does he simply want some time to himself, to prepare mentally and emotionally and spiritually, to be alone with God before the end?

This exchange between the two men mirrors that at the beginning of their relationship. Elijah is God’s agent, but God is really the actor here. God called Elijah, and chose Elisha to succeed him. God is the one who anoints for ministry, though he uses our hands and voices to accomplish it. And Elisha, for his part, is persistent, resisting the rebuffs and insistent that only one path can he follow.

What if Elijah’s push-back is a thoughtful and strategic move? Perhaps he is doing what we later see Jesus do repeatedly. In the church we often want to sugarcoat discipleship, making it as easy and painless as possible. The result is people who have a low level of commitment and a low threshold for pain. Not so with our two friends. Elijah challenges Elisha to fully commit, as Jesus does with the apostles, the rich young ruler, the Samaritan woman, and so many others.

I think the relationship between these two men does have something meaningful to tell us about the transitions happening in the church today. There is a passing of the mantle that will happen, whether we embrace or resist it.

  • God is the prime mover throughout. Everything we do at its very best is simply our acceptance, response, and participation in God’s unfolding work.
  • There is always someone who came before us. All of us are at some point the recipients of what others have built and passed on to us.
  • The transition takes place over an extended period, during which there is mutual learning, give and take, conversation, community, sharing in life and ministry together. Both are fully committed to the process. Leaving or quitting is not an option.
  • There is tension, on both sides. The ones who came before may become frustrated and resist the process at times. The new ones coming in need to be persistent. Likewise, the new ones may be frustrated with how slow change happens. The elders need to be patient with that youthful exuberance.
  • The old and the young, the Builders and the Millennials , the Elders and the Youth, the Institutionals and the Emergents – they make the journey together or not at all. Elisha walks all the way with Elijah, always honoring and respecting what his elder has done, what he represents and has to teach. Elijah allows Elisha to walk with him to the end, even crossing the river with him.
  • The next generation asks for and receives a blessing from their forebears.

Whatever the church will become in coming generations will be crippled unless we can learn these lessons. We need to find ways to embrace one another, young and old, even with the very real frustrations. The traditional, established and institutional church needs the new, young, creative, emerging and Missional church, and vice versa. The mantle will be passed, eventually. God willing, it will happen in a full embrace by all parties, with celebration and hope. If this happens, rather than a diminished spirit the next manifestations of the church will receive a double portion, will have twice the tangible impact and spiritual influence.