This is a special post. I was able to get a copy of the video of the Father’s Day message I delivered June 19th at Curtis Lake Church in Sanford, ME, “Luke…I Am Your Father!” Based on 2 Kings 2:1-18. It is a message on spiritual fatherhood: the importance of being a spiritual father (or mother) and the importance of having a spiritual father (or mother). We often make discipleship so complicated. The favorite New Testament picture of discipleship is parenthood…it’s being a spiritual father or mother to someone, teaching, showing, and incarnating God’s love to them so that they can love God and others better and help others do the same. You can say a lot more about discipleship than that, but it is that simple. The video turned out pretty good so I thought I would share it with you.
One note about it, the movie clip that you see at the beginning of the message went wonky in the presentation—the audio and video were out of sync. It was very funny and afterwards I joke on it. In the video presented here, it works fine.
For those of you who think I have a face made for radio, I have included the text below.
Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two (2 Kings 2:12, NIV).
One of my spiritual gifts is being able to see spiritual truths in science fiction and fantasy films. I’m going to demonstrate that this by sharing a clip from The Empire Strikes Back.
For those of you who have not seen Star Wars, let me set this up. A young Luke Skywalker happens across a couple of droids who get him into a whole heap of trouble. He is saved at the last minute by an old man, Obi Wan Kenobi, one of the last Jedi Knights. Afterwards, Obi Wan invites Luke to join him on a quest to save Princess Leah from the clutches of Darth Vader, a Jedi gone to the Dark Side of the Force and who was responsible for the death of Luke’s father. He tells Luke that he too, could be a Jedi like his father and offered to take him on as his last disciple. To make a long story short, Luke agrees and goes with him and ends up on an adventure that exceeded his wildest dreams.
In the process of rescuing the princess, Obi Wan and his nemesis Darth Vader meet and Luke sees Darth cut down Obi Wan right in front of him. Darth killed his father, and now Obi Wan.
In the sequel Luke ends up fighting Darth Vader.
Let’s look at what happens.
OK, that’s not the real point.
The real point is this: Was Darth Vader Luke’s father? Yes, he fathered him. But was he his father?
The father figure throughout the original trilogy was Obi Wan Kenobi. He was the spiritual father to Luke…and quite literally so as he was a spirit for most of it.
Star Wars is fiction, but spiritual fathers are not. When you dig into the meaning of discipleship in Scripture, it is not long before you realize that discipleship is patterned after parenthood. To go and make disciples is to go and be a spiritual mother or father to someone you relate to as a spiritual son or daughter.
What we have in 2 Kings 2:1-18 is a great picture of spiritual fatherhood, of discipleship.
The chapter opens with the news that Elijah was going to be taken away in a whirlwind. Elijah, Elisha and all the other prophets were going good to the Jordan River where this was going to happen.
When they arrived at the Jordan, Elijah removed his cloak and struck the water with it, the waters parted and they crossed over together while the rest of the prophets stayed at a distance.
Once there, Elijah asked, “What can I do for you?” Here he is at the end of his life, he is about to be taken away but his concern is not for himself, but for Elisha. I am about to be taken away, but is there anything I can do for you? As Elisha was committed to staying with his mentor until the end, Elijah as committed to spending himself for Elisha as long as that privilege was allowed him.
Elisha does not ask for wealth, or success, or honor, but for a double portion of his spirit. He wasn’t asking for twice the power Elijah had, he was asking to be seen as his first born, in that culture the first born always got a double portion of the inheritance. He wanted to be Elijah’s successor as the leader of the prophets of Israel.
Elijah knew that what he asked for was a good thing, the right thing, but he also knew it was not his to give. Only God could give it. So he says, You have asked a difficult thing…yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.
They continued to walk and talk together along the Jordan, until suddenly a fiery chariot came between them, took Elijah into it, and in a whirlwind carried him Home. As the chariot rode the whirlwind heavenward, Elisha is overwhelmed and in verse 12 he cries, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And then we read, And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.
Here we see two important things:
- Elisha twice calls him “father.” Elijah was not his earthly father. Elisha left his father when Elijah had called him to be his disciple.
- While Elisha literally watches him go up to heaven, knowing without a doubt that his spiritual father was with his God, and that in seeing him go that his request for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit had been granted, he still rents his clothes in grief. Losing Elijah was a painful as would be losing his earthly father.
Elisha looks up and sees that Elijah’s cloak had fallen from him as he was taken Home, the same cloak that Elijah had placed on him when he called him to be his disciple. In placing it on Elisha he was saying “God has told me to anoint you as my successor, He has told me that I must prepare you to wear this cloak when I am gone.” I am sure seeing it, holding it, feeling it, smelling it brought back that and other memories.
Wiping the tears from his eyes, Elisha took that cloak, stood up and walked back to edge of the river Jordan; and as Elijah had done in the hour before, called out to God and struck the water with it, and the waters parted and he walked back on dry ground to the company of prophets waiting on the far side.
The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha, they cried, and they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. Elijah was gone, but this miracle proved that the God of Elijah was with them still, and that He had chosen Elisha as Elijah’s successor.
Elisha was in one sense still the spiritual son of Elijah. In taking his cloak to be his own, in striking the water with it in the same manner, in calling on Elijah’s God, and taking his place as the leader of the prophets, Elisha was showing he was going to continue living for God in the same way and manner that his spiritual father had done.
But in another sense he was no longer a son, but a father. He would now be the head spiritual father to the prophets. Now it was his turn to take on disciples and raise spiritual children of his own.
That cloak, once placed symbolically on him by his spiritual father was now given to him again by God the Father. And the significance of it was palpable. What was promised in Elijah’s throwing it over Elisha’s shoulders years before was now a reality.
Here’s the main point: Like Elisha, we need spiritual fathers and mothers who teach us what it means to live for God through Christ. What I want to focus on today is the blessing it is to be a spiritual father or mother, and the blessing it is to have one.
It is a blessing it is to be a spiritual father. Back in 1 Kings 19, we find Elijah at the lowest point of his life. He was alone, depressed, hunted, and wanted to die. He begged God to take his life. He had nothing left to live for. He believed he was a failure.
God tells him that he was not a failure, that he was not alone, in fact there are 7000 people who have not forsaken God, and He tells him to go find Elisha son of Shaphat and to anoint him as his successor. He tells him to take on a disciple, to be a spiritual father one last time.
What a blessing that was! God gave him a spiritual son to remind him that he was not alone, that he had God’s blessing, and that God would continue to speak to His people after Elijah was gone.
I have been learning that people are one of the great therapies of life. When things look like they are falling apart, going all wrong, when feel that we have failed, and feel all alone, like Elijah our first response is to retreat inward, to question ourselves, and even question God. Like him, we long for God to come in storm, earthquake, and fire and turn things around. But God does not often respond in mighty acts and divine reversals. Rather He more often quietly calls us to come alongside another to help, to guide, to serve. And soon we find that in helping them, in being fathers and mothers to them, we are helped too.
What a difference being a spiritual father made. At one point Elijah had given up and fell asleep praying for death to come. Now, even knowing his time is at hand, he is not looking for it anymore, but spends every last moment talking, training, preparing, his son. To be a spiritual father or mother is a great blessing.
It is a blessing of having a spiritual father. The greatness of the blessing of having a spiritual father or mother is seen in two ways.
First, it is seen in his answer to Elijah’s question, “What can I do for you?” Elisha was in a position to ask for anything. But what he wants is to have a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. He wanted, more than anything, to be like Elijah.
What a great blessing it is to have such a person in your life. Someone who the Spirit of Christ shines so clearly that to be like him or her would make Christ’s Spirit shine brighter in you!
Second, it is seen in Elisha’s response to losing him in 2:12, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!”…Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two. Elijah was no casual acquaintance. He was dear to him. He was such a blessing to Elisha that seeing the singularly angelic ascension of his father and the assurance of his blessing were eclipsed by the pain and grief over the loss of his spiritual father.
This past October 16th, was the 7th anniversary of the Homegoing of my spiritual father and mentor Charlie “Tremendous” Jones. I have never met anyone who was more wise, more fun, or more thankful than him.
- You will be the same person you are today five years from now except for two things: the people you meet and the books you read! Hang round thinkers and you’ll be a better thinker, hang around workers and you’ll be a better worker, hang around givers and you’ll be a better giver, hang around a bunch of thumb-sucking-complaining-griping-boneheads and you’ll be a better thumb-sucking-complaining-griping-bonehead!
- You don’t give to get something, you give because you have something. If you give something to get something, you’re not giving you’re trading. What you get when you give is a greater capacity to give.
- I hear people say I put God first. Don’t talk to me like that you thumb-sucker! Who are you to put God first? He is first whether you like it or not! You don’t put God first, you realize He is first and you quit putting Him way down the list when you realize He is first no matter where you put him.
…and I have never met anyone who loved God as well as he. And I mean every word, I am not speaking in hyperbole. He was, without a doubt, the best man (and by “man” I mean person) I have ever met. I really can’t express how much influence he had on me (and Mandi too) over the 6 years I was his spiritual son.
I remember in the spring of 2008 taking some men that I was discipling out to his guest house for the weekend. Half way there he called me and told me that his cancer (he had had it for a while, but it had gone into remission) has come back and had spread throughout his body. “Isn’t that great news Dan! I’m almost done here! I’m going home to Jesus! Now that might be terrible news without Him, but all news is good news in Christ!” All news is good news in Christ. But that was not what it felt like. I remember the sick feeling that came over me in the van. I knew that that weekend would be the last time I would see him this side of Heaven.
Charlie was not taken to heaven by chariots, nor was I with him when he died. But I know how Elisha felt, for my heart was rent too and I cried “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!”
You can tell who your spiritual fathers are because they leave their mark on you. I wear bow ties like he did (in fact the one I am wearing was his). But it goes much deeper than that. I soaked up his wisdom, adopted much of his humor, mannerisms, and even his speaking style. Those that knew him, see him in me.
Do you have such a spiritual father or mother? Someone who shows you how to live for God through Christ? Someone who helps you discern how to conduct yourself in the truth and respond in grace as you go through the highways and byways of life?
Have you asked God who He wants you to take on as an Elisha, who he wants you to throw your cloak round?
The church is full of men and women, boys and girls who are for all intents and purposes spiritual orphans who feel like the young Luke Skywalker, struggling to figure life out, hoping for an Obi Wan Kenobi to be a spiritual father to them. There is a great need in the Church for spiritual mothers and fathers who are willing to pass their faith on to them, to teach about God and what He has done, to show what it means to live for God through Christ in how we work, in how to relate with people, in how to deal with problems and disappointments…to show what faith looks like in practice so that they can mature and grow to the point where they can be spiritual mothers and fathers themselves.
It is a wonderful thing to hear the Gospel, to have the Spirit descend on you and open your eyes to the beauty of the Father, the love of the Son, and the grace of the Spirit. When that happens there is a love and joy created in us that longs to learn and to grow in knowledge and practice. But if we find ourselves always the son and never the father (or daughter and never the mother) we are missing out on one of God’s greatest blessings: becoming a spiritual father or mother. Do you know that? Are you acting on that?
Spiritual fatherhood requires that we be a good example, and not only in thought but in practice. Paul says in Colossians 3:12-14 (NIV), Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Living for Jesus is just as much caught as it is taught—perhaps even more so. If we are not clothed ourselves in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; if we do not bear with each other and forgive one another as the Lord has forgiven us; if we are not clothed in love, we will not be successful at growing mature sons and daughters.
I can tell you from personal experience that parenting is a real commitment. It requires a serious investment of your time. My girls need me to be with them. I need to make time for them. I need to be available to them when they need me. When they are sick or hurting I have to alter my schedule to care for them.
Spiritual parenting is not that much different. Those God has given us as spiritual sons and daughters need our time, they need our care. They need our prayers when we are not with them. They need access to us. Because of that you are never going to be able to have that many at any one time. Just like parenting our natural kids, at times it is going to inconvenience us. At times it is going to be messy. At times it is going to get downright confusing.
You can’t be a spiritual father or mother to everyone, in fact at any given time you can really only be to a few. Elijah had Elisha. Paul had Timothy and Titus. Jesus was God, and He only had twelve! But look at their legacy! We are here because of them.
To those of us who have spiritual fathers and mothers, do we know that we are expected to grow up? The spiritual son or daughter that never becomes a parent to someone else is the spiritual equivalent of the thirty-something person living in their parents’ basement. It means there was a failure to launch! We will always need spiritual moms and dads in our life, but at some point we need to get to the point where we cease being only sons and daughters and become fathers and mothers.
It is a great blessing to have such a person or persons in your life who are willing to be spiritual parents. Be careful not to make them more than they are. They are not enough. They will never be enough. They were never meant to be. Only Jesus is enough, and when you have Him, you will always have enough. Spiritual fathers and mothers do not want you dependent on them, they want you dependent on Christ. They may serve you as a father or mother to their last breath as Elijah did to Elisha, but in the end you need to grow up and be the next father, to be the next mother.
Coming to worship each week is important. Attending Bible studies is good. Listening to good preaching is helpful. Reading your Bible and spending time in prayer each day is a discipline all Christians need to cultivate. But none of these replace the need—the need—to have a spiritual father or mother. The last thing Jesus said to His disciples was not
- “Go to church.”
- “Join a bible study.”
- “Listen to good teaching.”
- or “Make sure you keep your daily devotions.”
The last thing He said was, “As you go, wherever you are in the world, make disciples, be spiritual fathers and mothers.” Let us do what He said.