May 12, 2012

An Octave Too High For Human Ears

My Greek professor Dr. Wesley Smith once told me to read The Prophets from Abraham Heschel. I didn't understand then what he meant. I have finally had the opportunity to read both volumes. I know now why he told me specifically why I should read this tome. This is a book that speaks to every person that is called to preach or teaches is not just about the Old Testament prophets either. This should not come as a surprise as prophets were not so much forth-telling the future as they were exhorting men and women to return to God by revealing God's truth to them. Speaking, yelling, spitting out words to spiritually dead and spiritually deaf people that did not realize they were spiritually dead or spiritually deaf. It is only when these people did not respond to the exhortation that the prophet would tell them what awaited them in the future in terms of God's wrath and punishment for disobedience (foretelling). They are the thunder and lightning that comes on the storm front...a warning to those within earshot of what is coming. They're the heralds of a message few want to hear. Those that don't want to hear their words wish only to silence them.

I will note a few ideas that jump out to me in startling manner as I read through this awesome tome. They spoke/speak to me profoundly. The path of a man of God is a lonely trek. Perhaps worse even for his wife and children. The theologian will spend many a sleepless night pained by the behavior of man. In the act of thinking about man, he will think immediately of God. They're inseparable. Am I calling myself a prophet? Oh good grief no! What I will say is this. Anyone that is compelled by the Spirit to expound on the word to all people will relate to what Heschel has to write. They will relate to it on an intimate level. A painful and piercing level.

The world needs people to tell it the truth, not more smooth talkers that tell people what they want to hear. We live in a time when the leaders and scholars are world-smart but spiritually stunted and morally dead. We live in a day when a majority of the self-proclaimed religious leaders are nothing more than prideful charlatans. We live in a day of propped up prosperity and an illusion of gain while we drowned in debt because of our greed. We live in a day when princes and kings (politicians and leaders) are scoundrels and rogues and judges are agenda driven and corrupt. They acquit the guilty for a payoff and deprive the innocent of justice. No good can come of this and the days are evil. One needs only read Amos 5 and Isaiah 2 among other passages. Scoffers scoff and mock the righteous. The foolishly brazen godless are unfazed by their impending doom. Words like mine only solicit more scoffing and ridicule at the Lord's expense. They have made a covenant with death and the pact is sealed with brimstone. The rebellious world in its headlong race to disaster remains unmoved and obstinate. Only an irrational person hits the gas pedal when heading for a cliff.

"Turn back! Turn back!" Screams the speaker [all the while the wicked gleefully race towards oblivion's edge]

Some are compelled to teach, preach and speak the truth...even when it hurts. I would like to tell you things that will make you feel good…but instead I am compelled to tell you the truth...even when it hurts you and me. I am not here to build your self-esteem or your ego,  I am here to tell you the truth of the Word and let it do what it may-burn, pierce your soul, make you wince. It builds you up or tears you down. I am only a mediator or mouthpiece for the Gospel as it has be commanded since the beginning (Matthew 28:19-20). It is not my call to edit the Scripture. It is to convey it as honestly as I can. The less of "me" or "I" that I put into it, the more of "it" I convey. "It" being the Scripture, "It" being the mind of God as revealed in Scripture.

"I preached … as a dying man to dying men" ~Richard Baxter

Preachers, men of God''s persuasion and calling. Always under the tension of petitioning men to return to God that either do not know Him or have overtly rejected Him. It is the paradox of God spurned. A God that implores people both through His word and His chosen messengers to return to Him in such a sublime and humble manner...never forcing the issue, always leaving it a matter of choice. But these very same people God calls, fail to practice any introspection. Never once examining themselves to see the sin or actions that has brought God's wrath down upon them. They only blame God or the messenger of the Word. They mock and sometimes kill God's messenger. And why not? They killed His Son too! All the while the preacher or prophet stands before God pleading in behalf of man while simultaneously standing before men pleading on behalf of God. A person torn between two places and constantly under tension. Man spurning God inevitably leads to God spurning man (Romans 1)

Dr. Wesley Smith knew what awaited me. He had been there as a preacher/teacher. I as a preacher/teacher I am teaching people to come back to, or stay with God. To repent and turn their face to God before judgment comes. In this day and age and culture, the message of the Gospel is unpopular. This is the message- The Gospel. Therefore as messenger of the Gospel, the messengers of God...will be rejected. They rejected Christ. So they reject us.

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. John 15:18

Do not be surprised by this rejection if it is your lot to carry the message. Rejection is normal but it is not final.

Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you. 1 John 3:13

Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:13

What we should be surprised about is if they accept us. That means they are either of God, being drawn by God or we ourselves are lying and not telling truth of the Word.

I must tell the truth even if it comes off harsh, but I must sympathetic to God. God's glory and honor is at stake. Our natural inclination is to have sympathy for man, that's the easy part...but what of God's glory in a world that will not even acknowledge Him? What of God who is so often invisible from humanity's standpoint...spiritually under the radar?

The burden of a preacher and a prophet: They have empathy for man but they have the consideration for God. They were/are people who heard God's voice and could not remain silent about it. God's voice breaks spiritual eardrums.  

The prophet never just tells stories, but etches the reality into the minds of men. His worship is truth telling, singing is not their vocabulary. Beseeching is first and then admonishing is last resort. People rarely listen to God of the men of God so it always comes off as admonishment. The pictures that comes from their mouths do not just throw heat they sear themselves into our mind. Their words are tattooed on our soul. The preachers/prophets job is to teach truth clearly enough to allow people understand their responsibility and make them realize they are accountable.  They do not preach self-pity, self-esteem or a perfect life with abundance but rather a path of suffering and reward at the end for obedience. The delivery of their words are not often embracing us but rather challenging and sometimes provoking...sometimes they slap us upside the head. The prophet and preachers words should startle us in their clarity and truth. They set us off balance as they are rooted in the word and the natural man is not. So to us of the natural sinful realm, they come off as an affront.

The prophet is human, yet he employs notes one octave too high for our ears.  ~Abraham Heschel

For years I was told I was too harsh. I was told I need to tone down my "act" or I would attract no one to the faith. Those people were meant to reach other types of personalities. This is not the way God made me. I am made to aspire to an attentiveness of holiness. To remain as attuned to the smallest nuance of wickedness so as to crush it like a parasite. To me it is not a matter of how close I can get to sin and still get away with wayward behavior. For me it is an issue of running the other way and avoiding it completely the minute I see it. Scared? No...sensible. Otherwise I am not tempted to abuse grace which is so prevalent in our churches by people that misunderstand their position in Christ. Yes, we are saved and once we are saved we stay that way. This does not give us a license to sin with no fear of reprisal (Romans 6:1-2). Besides, if we sin on a regular there is a good possibility that we might not be the Christians we think we are (1 John 3:9). A true preacher realizes that behind every Christian freedom lurks a sinister entrenched sin waiting to be abused. I must warn and steel myself against even the faintest inkling of divergence. Stay the course on stormy seas.

As my wife often tells me, I am a "fixer" not necessarily a person that can remain passive in the face of something I know is wrong. Justice screams out at me from within and often erupts into words on the surface. I must speak or the Spirit in me convicts me to project outwardly anyway. As Jeremiah said...

“But if I say, "I will not mention him or speak any more in his name," his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” ~Jeremiah 20:9

And so this fire will continue to burn within until I have no bones left to burn. What will remain will be what is wholly acceptable to God…nothing more.

“If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. ~1 Corinthians 3:12-15

“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them.  But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.  Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things,” says the Lord Almighty. ~Malachi 4:1-3

We are now entering days of wrath and hardly anyone notices. Behold. The Day of the Lord comes and it comes like an incinerating bolt of lightning upon the heads of the wicked. Repent and seek the face of God. There will be many surprised people that day. Many who thought they did just enough or were in God’s good graces and were not. Its not about what you do, its about what He has done on your behalf. There are two sides and one of them is the wrong side. Whose side are you on?

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