You Will Pass The Baton Someday—So Do It Well!

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

When a man or woman of God dies, or departs, nothing of God dies or departs—it carries on. When the work of a great and godly person is finished, we need to realize that the beginning of another great man or woman will start—and hopefully carry on in even greater power and with even greater impact because of how their predecessor set them up. Instead of ending, God desires ministries to transition; to enter new phases of development and effectiveness. That’s God’s way, and Christians would do well to learn that truth. Ministers, moms and dads, and leaders of all kinds would do well to adopt the certainty of baton passing as one of their chief aims in life, and when the time comes, to passing that baton well.

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Kings 2:9-14

When they came to the other side, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken away.” And Elisha replied, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit and become your successor.” Elijah replied, “You have asked a difficult thing. If you see me when I am taken from you, then you will get your request. But if not, then you won’t.” As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father! My father! I see the chariots and charioteers of Israel!” And as they disappeared from sight, Elisha tore his clothes in distress. Elisha picked up Elijah’s cloak, which had fallen when he was taken up. Then Elisha returned to the bank of the Jordan River. He struck the water with Elijah’s cloak and cried out, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” Then the river divided, and Elisha went across.

As from the beginning of our experience with Elijah in 1 Kings 17, to now at the end of his life, the ministry of this prophet of fire has cast an impressive spiritual shadow over Israel. We have been with him through a variety of dramatic experiences, particularly in 1 Kings 18-19. We have been with him on the heights of Mt. Carmel, both literally and spiritually, to the depths of his despair beneath the broom tree in its aftermath. We have stood with him when he courageously confronted evil King Ahab then fled in fear when the king’s wicked wife, Jezebel, threatened to end his life in the same manner he had ended her false prophets’ lives. We sat with him in the silence of the Cherith Brook and saw the miraculous provision of God as ravens fed him breakfast, lunch and dinner, then felt his despair and disappointment with God when the Almighty dried up the very brook he had given him. We have seen him call down fire from heaven on sacrifices and soldiers, yet we have seen him depend on a widow just to stay alive.

And in every place, under every circumstance, God has proven himself faithful, consistent, and encour-aging to Elijah. Now, appropriately, the end of his life and ministry will be just as dramatic as the rest of it was as God will again prove himself faithful to his prophet. Elijah will be taken up to heaven in a blaze of glory, something most prophets and preachers dream of but never experience. That glorious swan song belongs to one, and one alone. Elijah.

Now as we have come to know Elijah, we have also found him to be a bit temperamental. He is testy, he is fearsome most of the time, and he is radically devoted to speaking the word of the Lord to people, prophets, priests and potentates. But what we have never found him to be is warm and fuzzy. Prophets of his cut of cloth never are—and probably they shouldn’t be, given what they are called to carry out.

Yet at the end of his life, we get a glimpse at Elijah’s softer side, spending his final days on earth, knowing the Lord is bringing his chapter to a dramatic close, caring for the school of protégés he is leaving behind. (2 Kings 2:5-9) But not only is the prophet caring for his young men, he is caring for the work that God gave him to do. He wants to pass it on in the best way possible. He wants it to live on, stronger than before. He knows the work of God is not done, not by far, so he sets up his successors in the best way possible.

You see, when a man or woman of God dies or departs, nothing of God dies or departs—it carries on. When the work of a great and godly person is finished, we need to realize that the beginning of another great man or woman will start—and hopefully carry on in even greater power and with even greater impact because of how their predecessor set them up. Instead of ending, God desires ministries to transition; to enter new phases of development and effectiveness. That’s God’s way, and Christians would do well to embrace that truth. Ministers, moms and dads, and leaders of all kinds would do a God-honoring thing to adopt the certainty of baton passing as one of their chief aims in life, and when the time comes, to pass that baton well.

Now what is true in the realm of spiritual leadership is true in the realm of all leadership—parenting, mentoring, business ownership, etc. The truth is, we will all pass the baton someday, and it will likely come sooner than we were expecting. So think through how you will pass it so that those who follow in your shoes can take a double portion of your leadership.

A double portion—now that is a mysterious request Elisha asks of his mentor, Elijah. What was that all about? In reality, Elisha was asking to be the heir of Elijah’s ministry. Literally, that phrase referred to the designation as rightful heir. It is the same phrase that is used in Deuteronomy 27:17 when Moses instructs that a father must “acknowledge the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has.”

But notice how Elijah responded to the request: “You have asked a difficult thing, yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise not.” What is Elijah saying? In effect, he is saying, “I cannot grant you that, only God can. But if God permits you to see his power and his presence when I am taken, it will be a sign that he has granted your request.”

Obviously, Elijah thought Elisha was special and would make a great successor, but he knew that only God could choose the heir to his ministry. Likewise, when new leaders are chosen to replace a pastor, a chairman of the board, a teacher, or a boss, we need to be careful to allow God to designate that person. While we need to do the best baton pass we can, remember that it is God’s role to chose who takes the role, and it will then be up to that new leader to run worthy of what you have passed on, and worthy of their new calling before God.

Yes, you will pass the baton. The time for that will get here sooner than you can imagine. So start anticipating it now, then do your best when the time comes for whomever takes it from you, the race will be theirs to win or lose.

Going Deeper With God: What are you doing to prepare someone to take your spot—as a mom or dad, a business owner, the leader of a ministry, or in whatever arena over which God has given you influence? Give that some thought today, and revisit it regularly. When the times comes, I hope you will do it well.

Man Up!

ThanksLivingThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Gender is under assault in our culture: manhood is emasculated, femininity ridiculed or clownishly sexualized, and childhood obliterated. Christians need to stand against that demonic doctrine by offering living proof of the Creator’s brilliance in designing us male and female, and by giving our children the path to grow into biblical manhood or womanhood in loving, protecting, nurturing, stable homes where God’s Word is honored.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Kings 2:1-4

When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son. “I am about to go the way of all the earth. So be strong, act like a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go and that the Lord may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’”

Most of the commentaries you read on 1 Kings 2:2 skip over the line, “act like a man.” There are likely many reasons for ignoring it, but in the modern era where great energy is expended and demands are made to neutralize gender difference, my guess is one of those reasons is that pastors and theologians want to avoid any hint of political incorrectness.

But if God is unchanging—which I believe, and the Word of God is true—which I believe, and if scripture speaks with relevance, sensitivity, grace and fairness to every age and culture, including ours—which I believe, then what about this line? Did God through King David just tell the king-elect, Solomon, to “man up”? Yes he did! The Apostle Paul said similarly in 1 Corinthians 16:13,

Be alert, stand firm in the faith, act like a man, be strong.

Now if you use a modern thought-for-thought translation of the Bible, like the NIV or the NLT, which I think are wonderful options for reading God’s Word, they leave out the phrase, “act like a man.” As an aside, that is why it is not a bad idea when you study a passage to compare translations, like the ESV or the HCSB, which are excellent word-for-word translations (see https://www.biblegateway.com as an excellent online option for side-by-side Bible translations). But the point I want to make is that in the Greek text, the word for man is there—it is andridzomahee, which most definitely refers to masculinity.

So does the Bible recognize gender differences? Yes—God made us male and female, and we are to celebrate God’s design. No matter what a our crazy culture insists on today (believe me, it will be different tomorrow, and worse!), God’s Word is unchanging, perfect in all its way, and will lead us to “prosper in all you do and wherever you go,” as David said to Solomon. God has built in to humanity differences that are existential. If you don’t believe me, just hang out with me while my little grandsons are at my home. Boys are very different, intrinsically, from the little girls my wife and I brought into this world.

But does the Bible promote male superiority? Not a chance. You will never find that in scripture, including here, and if you do, you are fundamentally misreading God’s Word—and that misreading is a grievous error. It just so happens that in the two instances I’ve quoted where men are told to “act like a man,” the conversations happen to be with men. If the speakers were talking to women, they would say, “now act like a woman.” Similarly in scripture, sometimes people that are being childish are called out for “acting like a child” or “acting like an infant.” Nothing more is meant to be read into the author’s words. Simply put, men are called to biblical manliness in the sense that they are to courageously and confidently pursue the mission that God has assigned them. That is what it means to “man up.”

So what were David and Paul saying to the male listeners standing before them at that moment? Simply this: the walk of faith to which you are called is not for the feint of heart, so be courageous; put on your big boy pants and do the right thing. If you do, God will bless you. If you don’t, you are going to get run over. If you won’t, then get out of the way.

We are at a time in our culture where maleness is being emasculated, femininity is either put down or clownishly sexualized and childhood is being obliterated. As Christians, we need to stand against that demonic doctrine by offering living proof of the Creator’s brilliance in designing us male and female and then giving us the path to grow into biblical manhood or womanhood through the process of childhood in loving, protecting, nurturing homes that honor God’s Word. We will be going against the grain if we live out this orthodoxy, but it will be the only way to save our kids and our culture. And it will take from us, male and female, what both David and Paul called forth:

Now man up!

Yes, man up, and put mature courage on display before a watching world!

Going Deeper With God: The best witness to God’s design in a culture that has “exchanged the glory of God” for caricatures of the divine design (Romans 1:23) is to display through your daily life God’s ideal for human beings. Today, with God’s help, being living proof of an all-wise Creator.

Silence Is Not Golden

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Having difficult conversations is a skill that parents must develop if they are to do a great job of bringing up their children to be well-adjusted, responsible adults. To balance words of rebuke and admonishment with words of encouragement and direction is one of the most difficult things to master, but it can and must be done. To a large degree, the future of the child depends on how skillfully the parent speaks the truth in love.

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Samuel 14:28

Absalom lived two years in Jerusalem without seeing the king’s face.

It is easy to put figures from history on the couch and analyze all their problems. When we do, however, we never have all the facts and nuances that went into why they did what they did, and playing armchair psychologist with their lives will lead us to a pretty dismal cure rate. As Henry Louis Menchen said,

Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.

Having said that, let me take a shot at analyzing David’s parenting technique of isolating his misbehaving son, Absalom, which from our vantage point now looking back several thousand years was horrible. Absalom was King David’s favorite, his pet. The young man was handsome and winsome, and people loved him. His attraction quotient was off the charts. He was also as devious, sneaky, and self-serving as the day is long. When his half-brother Amnon forced himself sexually on Abalsom’s sister, Tamar, Absalom was furious—understandably. And when their father seemed to turn a blind eye to what Amnon had done, Absalom fumed, and secretly plotted.

When the time came, under the guise of a family celebration, through an intricately planned trap, Absalom murdered Amnon and avenged his sister’s rape. Absalom then fled Israel and lived in exile for a couple of years under the protection of a friendly king. In the meantime, again turning a blind eye to what his son had done, David pined for his favorite child. Ultimately, through some skillful mediation, Absalom was allowed to return home to Israel.

But his ongoing punishment was the silent treatment from David. The king refused to speak to his son for two years. In fact, Absalom couldn’t even be in King David’s presence. And it was during this time that Absalom, now seething from his father’s silence, began to secretly foment the rebellion that would lead him to usurp his father’s throne. It would be a rebellion that would divide Israel, lead to the deaths of thousands of soldiers, and ultimately lead to Absalom’s own death and David’s deep and abiding grief.

Now for the analysis: In hindsight, banishing the young man from king’s presence was probably the worst thing the dad could have done for the son. Punishment yes, but silence no. In this case, the judgment was not redemptive; this was not discipline—a form of discipleship that has the goal of restoring the one being punished to a better place. This was done out of anger, frustration and embarrassment.

How much better would it have been for king David to bring Absalom close to himself and help the self-absorbed young man learn about selflessness and serving from the man who truly understood what it meant to shepherd his people? Rather, David’s silent treatment allowed what had already been festering in Absalom to now grow even more rapidly. If Absalom was narcissistic before, he was now a narcissist on steroids.

Having difficult conversations is a skill that must be developed by parents if they are to do a great job of bringing up their children to be well-adjusted, responsible adults. To balance words of rebuke and admonishment with words of encouragement and direction is one of the most difficult things to master, but it can and must be done. As the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:15-16,

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

A key piece of a parent’s own maturing process is to courageously and confidently speak the truth in love to their children. As Paul said, this is the only way for our family—our children—to build itself up in love.

If you are a parent, or a mentor to a young person, I plead with you: learn how to get this one right. To a large degree, the future of your charge depends on how skillfully you speak the truth in love.

Going Deeper With God: Learning to speak the truth in love is a very challenging skill to acquire. But the Lord will help you if you ask, then commit to it. So ask!