In my previous blog, THE RIVER HAS MOVED, we saw the profound image of the Choluteca Bridge in Honduras. When Hurricane Mitch came through the area in 1998, the resultant flooding washed away the roads to the bridge and, when the waters receded, the Choluteca river had changed its course. It no longer flowed under the bridge rather had charted a new path alongside it. The bridge was left structurally sound but with no function. It didn’t bridge anything anymore.
As we find ourselves in the emerging stages of life after (and with) Covid, the Choluteca Bridge can serve as a metaphor for what many of us might be facing. The river has moved. Things have changed. Not everything is where we left it back at the start of 2020 when we found ourselves rapidly responding to the impacts on our work, family, communities, ministries and organisations as the pandemic swept the globe.
My writing ended with two questions
- How has the ‘river moved’ in your life, family, organisation, work, or ministry?
- What might you need to do differently as a result?
In this blog I want to offer two further metaphors or imagery as we consider our response to these questions.
In Mark 2:22, Jesus says shares this metaphor “No one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”
Historically, wineskins were made from the hide of an animal, such as a goat. Partially fermented wine was stored in them. As the fermentation process continued it would produce gas that expanded the wineskin and stretched it. After the wine was consumed, to try and repeat this process using the same wineskin would be impossible as the hide was not elastic enough to stretch a second time. Instead, the fermentation process would likely split or pop the wineskin.
There are many ways this metaphor can apply to our lives – Biblical scholars often speak of the need to create new structures and new institutions, to not be rigid in holding to patterns and processes of the past but to be flexible, adaptable and stretch-able like new wineskins. But we must also acknowledge the challenge that Jesus was bringing not just to structures and systems but to us! To people’s hearts and minds. That we would submit ourselves to be new vessels for God’s mission and work. That we would be positioned ready to sustain future growth and change, elastic enough to allow for His Spirit to stretch and shape and mould us.
UNDERSTANDING THE TIMES
The Biblical story of David and Goliath is well-known. The Israelites, under King Saul, were in a battle with the neighbouring Philistine army which has been going for about 40 days and was at a bit of a standstill. The Philistines had a giant on their side (like, a literal giant who was over 9 feet tall!) and he was big, loud, strong and scary! He could lift more in a single battle weapon than most of the Israelite army guys weighed! He had been taunting and intimidating the Israelites to come and fight him. The prize was that the winner would have the entire losing nation as their servants. The Israelites were so scared they were going to lose and the people of God would go into servitude that they didn’t even send anyone to try and fight him.
David is a young boy who comes to the battle line to bring food for his older brothers. He’s not a soldier. He hears Goliath mocking and ridiculing the Israelites and he’s wondering why the people of God are so afraid. “I can do this! God has rescued and protected me in the past – he can surely equip me to beat this guy!” (You’ve gotta believe the Israelites were feeling slightly mocked and taunted from within at this point! The teenage boy, David, had more faith than all of them put together!)
King Saul approves David going to fight Goliath and the Biblical account tells us that “Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armour on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. “I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So, he took them off.” (1 Sam 17:38-39
The picture here is of a still-developing young boy with an ill-fitting armour. Perhaps the helmet wobbled on his head and fell in his eyes and the breastplate reached to below his knees. They would have been weighty and cumbersome. Not what he was used to wearing out in the field as a shepherd, and not something he felt comfortable to wear to battle.
Physically and metaphorically, Saul’s armour was the old while David is a picture of the new. David was a new kind of warrior preparing for a different kind of battle. We know that in the end David took Goliath out with a well-executed swing of his sling shot – hitting Goliath between the eyes – the only unprotected part of his body. Felling him and allowing David to come close enough to execute him with his own sword (with the fairly gruesome detail of chopping his head off that is usually rushed over in the kids books and definitely not included in the illustrations!).
If God is doing a new thing, if we are looking to new frontiers, to different parameters of war, to a whole different battle ground – the old armour might not do the job.
As we look ahead to 2022 and beyond, we need to consider a whole new way of facing what lies before us. What has changed? How have dynamics altered? What new strategies and ways of thinking does it require of us? Might the old armour not only not serve purpose (after all, David didn’t need to protect himself from anything, did he?) but might it actually impede future progress? I can’t imagine David’s rock slinging might have been so on target if his helmet was slipping from his head and the heavy tunic was restricting the movement of his arms.
In 1 Chronicles 12, we see an older David who is king-in-waiting while the wheels are starting to fall off Saul’s Kingship. A band of men begin to assemble around David. All sorts of groups offering various battle equipment and fighting skills. Then, in verse 32, there were 200 chiefs from Issachar. The description of their contribution is that “they understood the times and they knew what Israel should do”.
As important as any tactical or practical offering is the ability to see what’s happening and respond accordingly. To know the lay of the land. Who is the opposition, what are our assets, what’s the goal, what’s the best strategy, what’s changed, what’s required, who is best, how is best, when is best?
And so we add to our previous question as we consider what we might need to do differently as a result of the changes that have taken place around us.
- What are we doing to allow God to renew and refresh us to be receptacles of the new wine, the new thing that He might want to do in and through us?
- Do you understand the times? Have you taken inventory to really know the new lay of the land so as to know what to do in response?