Friday, May 14, 2010

The Word of the Lord is Upon Me

The Lord works in mysterious ways our puniness to reveal...

Recently, my wife and I were confronted with just how MUCH redundant STUFF we have in our lives. We are currently divesting ourselves of stuff saved as a hedge against the collapse of society. (Do we really NEED three camping stoves if civilization falls....?) We decided to downsize our library. First to go is the rack of books we never read, so of course I have to read some of the ones I no longer remember, like Philip Yancy's "The Bible Jesus Read".

Yancy is referring to the Torah, basically the Pentateuch, plus Job, Psalms, Proverbs, the Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, the Major and Minor Prophets, with such commentary as the Scribes and Pharisees had written. Yancy likes the prophets, major AND minor, because they are weird. Weird gets the job done.

The Charismatic movement brought the gift of prophecy into the mainstream. A person can hardly attend a fundamentalist Christian service any more without someone announcing "Oh My People" and whatever the Lord has to say about the workings of the church. There is even an approved way of delivering the prophecies of God these days. It was probably true in the Old Testament times, too, although the Approved Prophecy Method was undoubtedly different then.

I know for sure that people were unnerved whenever I would prophesy, because the Word of the Lord, when it comes upon me, is almost always conversational. But prophecy is SUPPOSED to be unnerving. Supposed to get your attention. Word of the Lord as double-edged sword, etc.

Not everyone agrees that there is a new dispensation of prophecy. For people who don't crave the Second Work of Grace (or the "In-Filling of the Holy Spirit", depending on what your Protestant leanings might be), the gift of prophecy is something that stopped with the Apostles. To claim that God has a Word for the congregation is to usurp the role of the pastor and to put ones-self in danger of involuntary psychiatric therapy.

So let me illuminate: when the Word of God comes upon a person, it really is disturbing to the prophet. For one thing, the prophecy is subject to the prophet.

1 Corinthians 14:31-33
(New International Version)
For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.
The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets.
For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints

So the prophet has to decide whether this word has to be given RIGHT NOW or whether it can wait until Brother Verbosity has finished preening over the success of the bake sale. The Word of the Lord rests on the prophet until it is delivered, leaving the prophet in a state of elevated awareness, a peculiar anxiety that both sharpens the senses and confuses perception. It is not something one would seek, even if the prophet were given a place of honour in the community. AND, a properly-trained prophet knows that what s/he has to communicate is FROM GOD, so having the responsibility to decide when (or whether) to deliver a communication from the Creator is daunting, humbling, and a bit crazy-making.

But the gift of prophecy is not a specialty practiced only by the partly schizophrenic members of the congregation. The Word of God can rest on anyone. King Saul, when he was pursuing David for the purpose of murdering him for no good reason, fell into the company of the school of prophets and began to ecstatically proclaim the Word of the Lord. He was the anointed of the Lord, so he could manifest the Gifts of the Spirit despite his being a compleat douchebag.

In fact, Saint Paul, who has pride-of-place in many Protestant denominations as the Apostle-of-Choice (Saint Paul is the one who said that women should shut up and wear hats in church, a scripture that has needlessly kept able women out of the pulpit for centuries) ALSO told us that we should ALL desire to prophesy.

1 Corinthians 14:4-6
Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. 5
I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.

Now, that is a heavy burden to put on the Church, that everyone should experience the dry-mouth-heart-pounding-migraine-headache-cold-ball-of-lead-in-the-stomach feeling that accompanies the mantle of the Word of the Lord. Paul was a strange duck, impatient, critical, opinionated and inflexible, but he wasn't cruel enough to want the congregation freaking out with anxiety. He wanted people to have joy in their lives. Could it be that Paul was saying that edification of the Church is the responsibility of every member of the Church and not just the Pastor? Paul wanted everyone to achieve the maturity needed to interpret the revelation and deliver the message at an appropriate time.

Hebrews 5: 11-14

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

Corporate worship is meant to evolve. We get comfy with our formulaic orders of service. During my brief foray into ministry, I was sort of shocked to discover that even evangelical churches have a hidden liturgy.

Example of Formulaic Evangelical Order of Service:
1) Inviting bouncy music to bring people in from the lobby
2) lots of complex chords to evoke emotional involvement
3) repetitious musical chanting of simple truths to draw people away from their worldly thoughts
4) Praying in the Spirit
5) Praying in English
6) Announcements
7) Anthem / performance
8) Offering
9) brief prayer with maybe some prophecy
10) sermon
11) traditional hymn
12) spontaneous praying/singing in tongues
13) more prophecy
14) bouncy music to remind congregation why they came to church
15) benediction
16) Starbucks

It is very human of us, even our clergy, to want predictability in our lives. But God doesn't want us to be comfortable and complacent in our worship.What God wants is not temple services and burnt offerings, nor pomp-and-ceremony, nor bouncy music and political correctness.

Micah 6:7-9 (NIV)

Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

The Word of the Lord is upon me. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

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