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What will happen? What will we do?

A conversation with Jude, particularly a specific question, really put a spotlight on the season we have been in as a family. Last Saturday we were making breakfast for our kids when Jude said, “Daddio, now your Mamaw and your Daddio died right? And now Mama’s Nan died, right?” “Yes,” I replied, “They are dead now.” Then he asked the question: “Daddio, what will happen to me and Kate when you and mama pass away. What will we do?” I gave the best possible answer I could. It was an answer about how everybody’s time on this earth comes and then goes and about how he is a child now, but he will not always be a child. One day, it will be his turn to take care of his own kids. It will be his turn to be the Daddio. There is no manual for how to explain the passing of time and the passing of generations to your 5-year-old. Anyways, I really do not think my particular answer is as important as the question.


What will we do when they pass away? What will we do when those who have been the leaders, the servants, the faithful parents, and believers pass away? This is a question that the people of God are continuously asking. Actually, it is a question every people must continuously ask themselves. What will happen when this leader, this servant, this prophet, this priest, this pastor, this generation of faithful people pass away? These days, we are spending a lot of time dwelling on this question.


On January 10th, my dear Mamaw (grandmother) passed away. What can I say? There is not enough space to describe the faithfulness of her life and the influence it has had on me and entire generations of my family. We stood in the kitchen, we wept, we prayed, and we decided that nothing was more worthy of investment than family. Certainly, Mamaw is one of those faithful people that inspire the question: “What will happen now? What will we do?” So, Jude and I made a very difficult journey to Tennessee to say our final goodbyes. Then, on February 18th, we got the call that Katie’s Nan (grandmother) had suddenly passed away. I have loved my wife since I was 16 years old. I have loved who she has loved and I have been loved by those who have loved her. I am grateful for Nan’s life and love. She also inspires the question. Again, we prayed, we wept, and made the same decision. This time we all went to say our final goodbyes. Again, the journey was difficult but we are so grateful for the family and friends who helped us financially and supported our decision. It was good to be with family, but we also felt an urgency to return home, to the place of our calling. All the while we continued to ask, “What will happen now? What will we do?” A faithful generation passes.


We returned to a season of holidays here in Bulgaria. First, we celebrated the 3rd of March, which is the Day of the Liberation of Bulgaria. This is a day for Bulgaria to celebrate their identity as a nation, the sacrifice that so many made for the existence of this nation, and the great leaders, servants, teachers, men, and women who belonged to faithful generations who have shaped and handed down this country to the Bulgarian people today. It is a holiday that begs the question: “What do we do now? What happens now that faithful generations have passed away?” Then, on March 8th, it was the International Women’s Day. It is a day to celebrate the faithful women, teachers, doctors, pilots, politicians, artists, mothers, friends, daughters, and grandmothers who have been a great influence in our lives. Thousands make their way to the cemetery to lay flowers on memorials, they go to churches and light candles, and many more simply sit in moments of silence and ponder the great faithfulness of these women, and ask that question, “What do we do now? What will happen when they pass away?”


Then, a few weeks ago I opened my Bible to the lectionary scripture from 2 Kings chapter two. It was the story of the passing of the mantle from Elijah to Elisha. If you have not read this story in a while, I suggest you have another look. It is incredible. It is a story of the passing of a generation. It is the story of the passing of a faithful friend, a father, a priest, a servant, and leader. What will we do when they pass away? This is what is at the heart of this story. There has never been a follower of God more faithful than Elijah. When Elijah became the religious leader of God’s people he was, perhaps, the only faithful follower of God in all of Israel.


Elijah had a very difficult life. He had to serve God as several evil kings and queens ruled over the country. These people persecuted Elijah, they isolated Elijah, and tried to drive him away from their country and his God. But Elijah was faithful. Elijah discovered the presence and faithfulness of God in hunger and in plenty, in suffering and in rest, in the thunder and in the whisper. God was with Elijah through it all and Elijah was faithful to God!


Do you know any people like this? Do you know any people who have been faithful to God? These days (especially if you are in the United States) we hear lots of stories about corrupt people, immoral people, bad leaders, and selfish servants. But does anybody tell the story of the faithful leaders who have taught us how to follow God, how to hear the voice of God in every season and in every way, and then have been faithful in following God in many difficulties. Are we any good at telling these stories? I fear we have become better at storytelling the former than the latter.


One of the things that scripture tells us is at the heart of Elijah’s faithfulness, is that he had chosen someone to teach, someone to influence, someone to love and invest in, someone to show how to follow God. Elijah chose Elisha. It seems that Elisha grew to love and depend on Elijah and Elijah grew to love and depend on Elisha. In this story we discover that, after years of faithful living and leading, God is going to take Elijah from the world into heaven. Elijah’s time is over. So, he and Elisha begin the journey to that place where they will say their final goodbyes.


The journey started in Gilgal. Gilgal is a very important place. It is a place that would immediately remind any Jew that God is faithful generation after generation. This is where Joshua commanded the people of God to pile up stones after they had crossed the Jordan river, so their children would see them and ask those really deep “what and why” questions. Then, there would be an opportunity to tell their children stories of God’s faithfulness. That pile of stones would still have been there for Elijah and Elisha to see and remember that generations pass away, but God is always present, always faithful.


So, Elijah and Elisha begin the journey away from Gilgal. However, along the way we discover that not once, not twice, but THREE times Elijah tries to get Elisha to abandon him on the journey. But, for Elisha, this is simply an opportunity to show his faithful friend how much love and loyalty he has for him.  You see, as they journey from Gilgal to Bethel, from Bethel to Jericho, and from Jericho to the Jordan River, walking the more than 60 miles, Elisha declares again and again, “I will not leave you. I will not leave you. I will not leave you.” We can see the love and faith that connects these two men.


Do you have somebody like that in your life? Do you have somebody who is on the journey with you, someone who loves you, someone you have invested in, and who would say, “No matter how far, no matter how difficult, even if I do not know what is ahead, I will not leave you.” I think we all need a person like this on the journey with us in life, and especially on the journey with us to God, to Christlikeness.


Even as they journey, they pass large groups of prophets. Now, we believe that during his lifetime Elijah had started schools to train and prepare prophets for life and ministry. Stop for a minute and consider this. Can you imagine? Elijah was once the only faithful servant of God. Now, as his life on earth is ending, he is followed by ONE close, devoted, loving friend and he passes MANY other people preparing for a life of ministry and faithful service to God as a result of God’s use of Elijah’s life and faithfulness. In his lifetime this has happened! Talk about a legacy that is deep and wide.


Finally, they arrive at the Jordan River. The rolled-up mantle or cloak that Elijah uses to part the waters reminds us of Moses parting the sea, and Joshua parting the Jordan. They with their staffs of wood, and he with his makeshift staff of cloth. As we read this, we begin to realize that Elijah is really only here because Moses was faithful, because Joshua was faithful, and because each generation was faithful to have an Elisha to pass the mantle to. Each generation must discover and lead a follower to becoming faithful. That is a fundamental part of faithfulness.


The mantle is passed down. Even as Elijah is preparing to go into heaven Elisha asks for a double share of Elijah’s spirit. This is a way of saying that Elisha wants to inherit the power and the ministry of Elijah. The double share always belonged to the oldest son. Elisha literally considers himself to be a son to Elijah, and is willing to receive all the responsibilities, the passion, the love, and the ministry for God that Elijah has shown. He wants a double share! Even as Elijah is lifted up into heaven, Elisha takes up the mantle and begins the great work that his friend left behind.


I know this has been like a Bible study instead of a blog, but I have received so much help. In the most difficult time in my life, it seems that when I plead with God to speak to me and help me, he most often gets me in scripture for a good conversation. I would not trade the world for our conversations. I am thankful for all the trouble our Lord has gone to in order to lift up my face to see him more. This is such a powerful story that drives us to ask important and difficult questions, and accept important things about life. Am I like Elijah, like Mamaw, like Nan, like my father, like all the faithful who have passed away? Am I being faithful and serving God even when it is difficult? Am I discovering God in every season, in the pain and the plenty, in the thunder and the whisper? Do I have an Elisha? Is there somebody following me as I follow God? When it is my turn to pass away, will someone consider me a father and say, “I want a double portion of his life!”


What happens now? What do we do now? We take up the mantle the way Elisha did and follow Elijah’s, Mamaw’s, Nan’s, Dad’s, and every faithful person’s example, because generations pass away. One day (maybe sooner than we like to think) it will be our turn to pass away. What will happen then, when we pass away? Will our faithfulness be deep and wide? Will an Elisha stand beside us asking, “Can I have a double portion of that life?”


I believe there will be more stories of faithfulness to be told. What will happen? What do we do now? Let’s get busy being faithful and, as the scripture says and mightily, “contend for the faith that has been entrusted to God’s people.” (Jude 1:3)


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