jonathan stone's blog

. . . posts on faith and life

the hezekiah syndrome

Recently on the missionalcog blog there was a discussion about the lack of ‘youthfulness’ among our current constituency of ministers. Lots of great stuff was said. So, I would encourage you to check it out if you haven’t already. But I wanted to pick up on one particular thing. Keith Whitt, who confessed to being part of the ‘over 50’ group, listed several things that he saw as causes and/or obstacles to changing the current trend of the ‘graying’ of our ministers. One thing that he mentioned was this mindset: Jesus is going to come in our lifetime, so why worry/plan for future leaders?

I find this comment to be interesting, and I believe that it grows out of a dynamic that I too have encountered in our faith tradition. It is what we might call the Hezekiah Syndrome. Hezekiah was not a bad king, he did many good things. He ‘rated’ out much better than his father. However, he made one serious mistake near the end of his life (ironically, this took place during the ‘extra years’ of his life, after YHWH had heard his prayer and extended his life by 15 years). He allowed the envoys from Babylon full access into the treasure store, the palace, and the temple. He was sort of bragging about how YHWH had blessed them. When the prophet Isaiah brought a judgment from the Lord listen to his response:

Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah and said to him, “What did these men say, and from where have they come to you?” And Hezekiah said, “They have come to me from a far country, from Babylon.” He said, “What have they seen in your house?” So Hezekiah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing among my treasuries that I have not shown them.” Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the LORD of hosts, ‘Behold, the days are coming when all that is in your house and all that your fathers have laid up in store to this day will be carried to Babylon; nothing will be left,’ says the LORD. ‘And some of your sons who will issue from you, whom you will beget, will be taken away, and they will become officials in the palace of the king of Babylon.’” Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the LORD which you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “For there will be peace and truth in my days” (Is. 39:3-8).

I have heard accusations about there being a lot of ‘Sauls’ in leadership. Perhaps that’s true. However, what’s more concerning to me is that collectively we seem to be more like Hezekiah. We have seen some good things in our lifetime. We have seen miraculous victories. We have been delivered from enemies that were stronger than us, enemies that had us surrounded. And now, we have grown comfortable with the state of things. We have no concern about the future. We have no concern for what we are leaving our children. We are comfortable knowing that hard times await our children, for we are convinced that we will be able to continue in our personal ‘prosperity.’

I don’t think that this is so much an issue of age, though I suspect that anyone long in years faces this temptation. Rather, it is an issue of our mindset, our obsession with the present, and our misunderstanding of the future. In this way we seem an awful lot like adolescents. I work in a middle school, and one clear trait of middle schoolers is their inability to conceptualize the future. If, for example, you talk with them about graduating from a university one day, what they hear you talking about is going to high school (which they understand to be nothing more than four MORE years of middle school) and then going to a university (which they understand to be four MORE years of high school). In other words, their concept of the future is simply ‘more of this taking place then.’ Likewise, we tend to understand the church’s future in the same way. Any significant changes will either (1) come after we’re dead (and so we do not think it relates to us) or (2) come after some last minute rescue scenario when Jesus returns (and since He will do all the work we do not think that that relates to us either).

This is a gross misunderstanding of the role of our the future in our lives, of how our vision of the future is suppose to impact our present reality. Given Jesus’ apocalyptic teaching, Christianity has ALWAYS been a proleptic faith tradition. A prolepsis is simply a future event that impacts our present reality. It is an anticipation. An essential aspect of what it means to be Christian, as I understand it, is that we live differently in light of knowing how it all ends–we live proleptically.

The way we ignore the call to live proleptically is revealed in the way we ignore current trends. Proleptic people will take the present and ‘flash it forward‘ in order to imagine what scenarios our current decisions might be leading us into. Then they will take those scenarios and ‘flashback’ (analepsis) in order to figure out what needs to change in order to avoid the futures we fear, and realize the futures on which we hope and dream.

The trends we are currently ignoring might include childhood obesity, adolescent violence, global warming, water shortages, intractable conflict, to name only a very few. Do we not know that we are currently living tomorrow’s ‘backstory‘? I wonder what other trends we might be ignoring? And where those might lead us?

8 comments on “the hezekiah syndrome

  1. Robb
    March 31, 2008

    Everyone must have peace in their days, so they are not commenting on your post here. Thank you for dealing with the stuff you are dealing with here, Jon. All of it. I am grateful to find a place that seeks to struggle with it all and not just jet(tison).

  2. m.d. mcmullin
    March 31, 2008

    Just thinking on this a bit. It seems to me there are certainly many sons and daughters in exile even now. I think many are ready to return but are unsure if there is anything left for them. Where are Ezra and Nehemiah when you need them?

    As far as prolepsis, this seems to be a luxury our church can no longer afford. I posted a while back on my blog (titled: Deus Ex Machina) about the machinations of institution and denomination that have rendered our church unable to do anything but pray for survival. The machine must be maintained and this maintenance costs us the ability to proact.

    We must oil all the squeaky wheels. At the end of the day there is neither time nor energy for flashing forward.

    The present has taken our church hostage and the future will be someone else’s problem (if we are still around for a tomorrow).

  3. Jonathan Stone
    April 1, 2008

    Robb, ha! That’s funny!

    Thanks for the ‘encouraging word.’ My hope is that I can do some small part in creating some space, and encourage the creation of more space, in which we may honestly explore our faith. One of the reasons that I rejected the church (and God) for so many years is that the environment got so constricted that it was suffocating. Jesus said we must become like children in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. And well, children love few things more than wide open spaces (thank you Dixie Chicks)!

  4. Jonathan Stone
    April 1, 2008

    Mike, you’re words are powerful, even poetic! It really ‘captures’ our current mindset.

    Unfortunately, the church cannot afford to NOT be proleptic. I made the practical application of being proleptic as ‘trend analysis.’ However, the roots of that concept are apocalyptic. We endure hard times because we understand that the ‘vision of the end’ is real and true, and that inspires us to resist the powers that be and relinquish our lives to the Lord, knowing that even death holds no power over us, for the end of the story is good news. If the church really faces death we do not need reformation, rather we need an apocalyptic vision that will enable us to live life in light of the ultimate end.

  5. jason
    April 2, 2008

    Jon, congrats on being my first response to a blog- ever. It may be a difficult thing to be proleptic when we see the past as the pinnacle of our effectiveness. Many times in ministry it seems the immediate task in front of me is so urgent,and mixed with the fact I cant afford to fail on too many levels, it is safer to “do things the way we’ve always done them”. One question though- How do we teach/train ourselves and others to develop this ability to “think forward”? I’d be interested to read where you think we could start making changes that would bring the best results for the future.

  6. Jonathan Stone
    April 3, 2008

    Jason…and congrats to you too. You’re the first person to lose his bloginity on this site!

    Seriously, thanks for posting, and I’m glad you asked this question!

    I came across the term proleptic/prolepsis when studying the Apocalypse. It’s an apocalyptic concept, and in short I think that our problem is that we are not apocalyptic enough–we fail to live our lives in light of THE END. I need to explain a bit. But let me set the stage with a couple of real basic concepts. There’s a pattern that we see in Scripture that might be characterized something like this: then things get real critical, it’s time to fix our eyes on the Big Picture. Perhaps that’s why apocalyptic visions (and literature) tended to pop up under severe persecution.

    One of my favorite Big Picture passages is Eph. 1:18-23. What we see is that “all things will be summed up in Christ” (v. 10). Everything that we do has purpose in as much as it lines up with HIS calling and HIS inheritance (v.18). His calling is to be seated by the right hand of God, above all authorities in this age and the age to come (v. 20-21). This calling is sure. His inheritance is “in the saints” (v. 18). We live our lives for the sake of seeing Him ‘lifted up in all the earth,’ and seeing sinners become saints, thus adding to His inheritance. In THE END, it will be all about Him!

    Now, I deal a lot with college students. And college students are typically hyper-concerned about questions surrounding the purpose of their life. They want to know what major to choose, what spouse to choose, what profession to choose–and ultimately they want to know their calling. This can cause quite a bit of angst in many college students. So, whenever I have the opportunity I like to challenge them to consider that those things do not ultimately matter, because all they really need to know is if their life is lining up with the ‘high calling.’ Our reward is to know that we are, and will be, seated with him and thus share in His inheritance (2:6). I know that is very simple, but I have found that helping students focus on this Big Picture, helps to settle them down and begin being more…well, Christian.

    I’m sure that none of us ministers needed that lesson…ahem. Anyway, I think that a similar shift needs to happen in the lives of ministers and the lives of local churches. We need to make our big things little, and our little things big. If we continue to make the ‘safe’ decisions that you referred to, it is only because we in fact do not truly believe that these things need to change, or we do not care that they change, like Hezekiah. The reality is that the ‘safe’ decisions are not safe at all. They are, in fact, deadly dangerous. But again, focusing on the dangers will not lead us out, only the Big Picture (which is Jesus) will lead us out. That’s why we ‘fix our eyes on him’ (Heb. 12:2) and let this ‘high calling’ vision do its job on ‘opening the eyes of our heart’ (Eph. 1:18).

    Practically speaking I think that our eschatology gets in the way. We have been taught that things will basically spin out of control as we approach the end of the age. However, we completely ignore the teaching that while all human solutions and systems will begin to darken and die, there will be a simultaneous dawning of light that will ‘wake the sleeping giant’ of the church (see Eph. 5:14). To use a very visible and recent example, consider Hurricane Katrina. All of the human solutions (most notably FEMA) failed miserably, and a catastrophic cost. However, at the same time the church was, generally speaking, so much better prepared to handle the situation that even the media was applauding their work. If we are approaching the end of the age, we can be assured that these types of catastrophes will continue, and even increase: “There will be signs…upon the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves (sounds like Tsunamis and hurricanes and climate change), men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world (Luke 21:25-26). So, I think the church has a future in disaster relief!

    We have always been an apocalyptic faith tradition. The problem is that our apocalyptic teaching has been rooted in fear. But it’s too late to live in fear now. We are living the future that has come. Now it’s time to lift up our eyes in hope of the only answer there will ever be. As we turn to him we will see Him, for the veil will be taken away (2 Cor. 3:16). As we see Him we will become like Him (2 Cor. 3:18). As we behold Him we will fall in love with Him. As we grow in love we lose all fear, for perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). And perfect love is what will bind us together. And when we are one the world will believe that He is the Son of God (John 17:21).

    Christ is our King and the church is His bride, which means that the church is our Queen. I think that the simple and powerful vision of who Christ is, and who we are (that is together as the church), and are called to be, is what we are missing. Second to that, we need to simply be good stewards and managers in light of that vision. We tend to think of righteousness as morality, but nearly half of Jesus’ teachings on righteousness have to do with managing money. Our greed, overindulgence, and wasteful practices are a huge blight on our testimony to the world. These are some of the reasons that the world thinks that we are hypocrites. We are waking up to the fact that we shouldn’t be a jerk to a server in a restaurant after church on Sunday. But we are still out of touch with how poorly our stewardship hurts our credibility. A Christian who does not value, say recycling, has not yet caught the Big Picture vision. So, I think we back up to this basic vision of Christ, contextualize that into a world filled with catastrophe and pain, get serious about doing our part to grow in stewardship (environment, consumption, money, resources, management, etc.), and start living our lives for the sake of something bigger than ourselves, namely a hurting and dying world. I know it’s hard to believe this at times right now, but the church will be the most glorious thing on earth when Christ returns. Obviously the Lord has some serious plans in waking us up and transforming us into His glory between now and then, I just happen to believe that the time has come.

  7. jonathanstone
    May 7, 2008

    There’s some great stuff in here!

  8. corum deo vida
    May 7, 2008

    i remember studying this passage with Rickie and being majorly pissed. I wanted to smack Hezekiah. what a cop out? what a shame? what a lousy father.

    some time after i was studying Luke and came across this passage (which, i think, puts some great perspective on the whole generational thing:

    “But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”
    Luke 7:35 (NIV)

    it is a fascinating passage, no? the wisdom of our faith will not be proved by our statistics on our monthly reports but by our children! the context is really interesting as well–Jesus has just called his current generation a bunch of whiners that condemned John the Baptist for his monasticism and then turned around and condemned Jesus for his excess.

    also, on a personal note i connect to your sentiments. i remember sitting with a leadership person at a coffee shop pouring my heart and begging for some help, some wisdom. at the same time a VP from Lee walked in and this leader was so eager for that person to see them that for the next 10 minutes they made no eye contact with me or even heard me at all. i wanted to scream (!) and weep. i wanted to shout,”hey, right here in front of you, i am your future. that person over there has power but is not your future!” needless to say we aren’t really in relationship any longer. politics was far more important to that person than it is for me.

    i wonder, if we really understood that the wisdom of our generation will be proved by our children would we seriously change our approach to ministerial training and our ministry for that matter. (side note–if we really value children and family and wisdom being passed from one generation to another perhaps the COG method of jerking overseer’s (and other state leaders) kids from their homes every four years should change? as well as their schedules that requires them to be away from their children 80% of the time. just a thought.)

    you were talking about some of this in another blog–something about not just wishing those old guys would just retire to make room for the new–what if, instead, we partnered new ministers with more seasoned ones? they could co-pastor or be team pastors which seems so much more healthy than having one lone ‘senior’ pastor, at least to me it does 🙂

    kindra

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This entry was posted on March 30, 2008 by in intergenerational, sustainability, trends.
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