Monday, August 15, 2011

Freak Show: The mysterious floating ax head! Part 2

Just a little recap from Part 1.  We're looking at 2 Kings 6, the story of the mysterious floating ax head.   Lenny (not his real name) accidentally loses a borrowed ax head into the Jordan River and totally freaks out.  Elisha hears him screaming, comes to find out why, and when he learns about the mishap, he asks where in the river the ax head fell.  Lenny points to the place, Elisha cuts a little stick and throws it into the water, and a the entire band of prophets watches, the ax head mysteriously floats to the top of the water so that Lenny can retrieve it.  End of story.

Clearly this doesn't happen everyday.

I read this story, and I wonder: Why does the author include this story in a chronicle of kings and prophets?  What does he want us to know?  What does he want us to think or do?

More than that, what does this story tell us about God?  And what does it tell us about the role of God in our lives?  Does it even matter?

I suppose there are a lot of ways to answer these questions.  Honestly, right off the bat, it tells me that God can do anything, that's he not bound by physical laws.  God can make ax heads float.  He can divide rivers.  He can make water spring out of a rock.  We see all those things in Scripture.  It also tells me that God cares about details, like borrowed axes and finishing buildings.  Jesus tells his disciples that God pays attention to sparrows and even numbers the hairs on our head.  Psalm 147 tells us that God knows exactly how many stars are in the sky--and that he has names for them.

So we don't need the story of the floating ax head to come to these conclusions and that makes me think that maybe I need to look a little more closely and see if there is some other thing I can learn from this story.

For that reason, I'm going to go back to the beginning of the story, to the part where the prophets tell Elijah, "This place is way too small.  We should find a bigger place."

This is kind of cool.  It means that God's at work, growing this band of prophets.  They used to fit in the building and now they don't.  God's got a plan.  He wants to restore Israel.  He wants to call them back into fellowship with him.  He wants to use Elisha and each of the prophets to do that.

And that's where I start seeing connections between that story and the one God is writing today, the one that includes you and me.  Just as God loved the people of Israel and desired a relationship with them, God loves us and desires a relationship with us.  The thing is, like the people of Israel, we gravitate toward doing our own thing.

What is God doing in your life?  Are you growing?  Are you changing?  Is he giving you a new vision or dream for the future?  What does that mean? Are you at place where you need to move to a bigger place?  And what does that look like?

The prophets sought godly counsel, from Elisha.  What about you?  Have you prayed about this new vision?  Have you talked to godly people and asked them for counsel?  Asked them to pray about this new endeavor?    And what kinds of challenges does this new dream present?

A dear friend set out to become a lawyer and found out practicing law wasn't quite what she imagined.  A missions trip to Fiji gave her a new dream and God opened doors for her to serve as the director of Give Clean Water.  She loves her work, but she's totally dependent on God for her finances now.

A friend of mine has a new dream for ministry.  It's one that he never had before, but now that he's thinking about it, he's super excited.  God is showing him all kinds of things he can do.  And now that he has this dream, he wants to move right away.  At the same time, the move is pretty risky.  He's got a job.  He's well accepted.  Not everyone believes he can succeed in this new dream.

Another friend was in a long-term relationship, and she knew that God was asking to pursue Him instead of the guy she had been with for about five years.  Although they were both Christians, she knew that she was putting her guy friend ahead of serving God and that God was asking her to step out in new directions.  It took her more than six months to obey, and four weeks after making that decision, she still struggles with sadness and loss.

A few years ago I stepped into a team that added creative elements to sermons and gave me opportunities to write.  I grew tons, and then God closed that door and I found myself making copies, filing paperwork, typing memos, and setting meetings.  I wondered what I had done wrong.  I felt like I was going to suffocate.  God had made my place small so that I would move to a new place, but I didn't know what to do, where to do.   I "accidentally" found the Rhetoric and Writing masters at State. All my life I've felt two calls--writing and teaching.  With this program, I would improve my writing and I would get to teach at the college level.

I knew immediately that I needed to chase after this dream, but at the same time, I was petrified.  What if I didn't get accepted?  What if I failed?  What if I couldn't get a job afterward?  What if God didn't come through for me?

That's kind of where I am now.  Graduated.  Looking for work.  Waiting for one or two or three colleges to say, "You're exactly the person we want to teach our students!"  So far--nothing.

Maybe God is showing you dreams of mission trips.  Maybe God has laid it on your heart to begin leading a Life Group or joining children's ministry.  Maybe he's given you a vision of a new ministry that doesn't exist yet.  

Maybe your vision, like mine, is completely unrelated to the church you attend?  That doesn't mean it's not connected to God's vision for your life?  Maybe God is showing you that you that you're in an unhealthy relationship and you need to end it? Or maybe it's the opposite.  He's asking you to commit to someone through marriage, and that scares you,  Maybe you've been laid off from your job and God hasn't shown you what's next.  Maybe you're getting a job transfer and you have to move.

Moving to a new place always involves risk.  That was true for the Elisha's prophets, and that's true for you.  They start building the structure, cutting down trees, and suddenly the ax falls into the river.  My friend with the new ministry dream?  He's been told he needs to wait for a year, and that news is totally devastating.  My friend who broke up with her boyfriend? She struggles with sadness and loneliness.  And I've already told you  about myself.   I don't have any jobs so I have to do something.  What's next? Writing?  Submitting articles?  More education?

A few years ago, Newbreak opened a new campus in Santee, and about 160 people committed to the new place.  The church asked my husband, Duane, to serve as campus pastor, and we were super excited to move out to Santee.  The church grew quickly at first, and then people left for one reason or another.  They quit coming to church altogether, or they moved to another campus.  As each service got smaller and smaller, it really did feel like the ax head had fallen into the river and we were stuck, unable to step into the promise God had given to the church.  Were we mistaken?  Were we doing something wrong?

In each of these cases, we set out to the new place God shows us.  We're cutting down trees, well on our way of moving into new buildings with room to grow, and then the ax head falls into the river and, like Lenny and the prophets, we're stuck.

What do we do now?  Do we go back to the old place?  The place that's too small?  That's not always an option.  Even when it is, we have to ask ourselves:   Are we ready to chase after the dream God gave us, even though that dream seems like it has sunk to the bottom of the river?  Are we ready to chase after that dream even when we don't quite know the outcome?

In our story, Lenny panics when the ax head falls into the river, but his friend and mentor, Elisha comes running.  Elisha asks, "Where did the ax head fall?"  Lenny points to the spot, Elisha cuts a stick and throws it into the river, and the ax head mysteriously floats to the top so that Lenny can pull it out and the team of prophets can finish the building.

Just as God raised the ax head from the bottom of the river, I believe God wants to resurrect and restore dreams he gave us, dreams that have been lost or forgotten.  I believe God wants to do the miraculous so that we know it's God at work and not us.

When I struggle with my dreams, I'm like Lenny.  I panic.  I get anxious.  First I call out to God and ask him to do the impossible.  And then when I'm about to give up and walk away, I do like Lenny and call out to friends who are willing to cut a stick, throw it in the water and ask God to do the impossible.

God wants to build a relationship with all of us.  He wants us to see his power and his strength.  He wants to show us that he is God.  He is able to defy the laws of nature and make ax heads float.  In fact, he wants to show us his power so that we rely on him and not on ourselves.

Whatever it is that has sunk to the bottom of the river in your life, he can raise it up.  He can make it new.

So what has God asked you to do?  What changes is he asking you to step into?  What challenges have you encountered?  Has your borrowed ax head sunk to the bottom of the river?  Do you need God to raise it up? Who are the people in your life that can join you in prayer, asking  God to do the impossible?

Right after I heard this sermon, my friend Nancy told me she's great at cutting sticks and throwing them into the water.  When my faith faltered, I knew I could count on Nancy to pray for me.  We really do need each other.  Who is counting on you to throw a stick in the river and pray for a miracle?

Honestly, I've got more questions than answers, and I'm not sure that's a great way to close out a blog post.  It does seem like the more we walk with God, the more challenges we experience, the more likely it is that we will need him to do the impossible.  I'm okay with that.  Mostly.

Incidentally, the little church in Santee is growing again.  We know it's God and not us.  We're still depending on Him.  And all those other stories I relayed?  All of us are still watching God bring the ax head to the surface. 

You might be reading this and saying, "No, I'm good right where I am and God hasn't asked me to do anything crazy or new in a long time.  I don't need any miracles."  I don't know your situation, and maybe everything really is good, but if I knew you well, I might ask you if you are growing right now.  Only you can answer that question.  

1 comment:

Joy G said...

great post. Funny I should read it. I feel a stirring going on BUT I have NO idea whats being stirred, if that makes sense???