Technicolor Prophecies for Troubled Times

Technicolor Prophecies for Troubled Times

King Josiah ruled Judah during difficult times, in some ways similar to ours. Innocent blood was shed in the streets. Assimilation into kingdoms of the world unleashed a trifecta of horror: injustice, idolatry, and immorality. Immigrants were ignored. The poor suffered. Scripture’s ancient words were long forgotten. Babies were killed. Holy things were malformed into the image of foolishness and folly. [1]

Good was evil. Evil was good, and destruction was moving in.

It was enough for God to shake a dish at. “I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down.” [2] He’d had it.

So he sent some prophets to speak truth through the buzz of Beelzebub’s lies. Prophets, plural. God did not send one individual to forthtell his justice to the nations. He sent multiples because the people who needed to hear the message were diverse.

Josiah was a 26-year-old king without any Sunday school felt board formation. He’d lived a noble, sheltered life of privilege. Shaphan the secretary was literate, but it’s doubtful that servants like Asaiah were able to read and they may have come from far off nations with life stories drastically different than that of a Jewish priest like old man Hilkiah. There were women in Israel who spent their days weaving for Asherah who may have never heard the stories of the ribbons in Miriam’s tambourines. [3] There were valley people, mountain people, city people, and country people. An entire nation of diverse people lost God’s vision.

An entire nation of diverse people needed to see what God saw in technicolor clarity. Their lives depended on it. So God sent more than one prophet to reach more than one demographic.

I once preached a sermon on the prophet Elijah. It was inductive, and in good Craddock style, “The story was the point.” An eccentric hellfire and brimstone preacher named Eli was run out of town. Eventually, he found himself alone at the top of a mountain in Appalachia, depressed, and broke. He didn’t know what to do but die. Then God reached out to him in a small breath of wind. “I’m not done with you yet, Eli! I’ve got someone I need you to mentor.” My sermon journeyed to this point: In order to hear God, sometimes you have to reach your wits’ end and get quiet.

Some members appreciated a sermon where the entirety of it was a parable about an old man in their Blue Ridge Mountains. It helped them connect and apply the ancient stories.

Others were less impressed. Heretical was the word, I believe.

But this was just fine because another church leader preached on Jonah 2 shortly after. His sermon was deductive. Good ole’ three points and a poem about Jonah’s sojourn in the belly of a fish. He stayed close to the text. He told the audience what he was going to say; he said it, and then summed up what he said. His point: In order to hear God, sometimes you have to reach your wits’ end and get quiet.

Those same people who were completely befuddled by my sermon had their cataracts removed by his.

God needs more than one prophet to reach more than one demographic.

You never know who will preach at Courtyard, where I serve. There’s the zany, extroverted housewife who’ll preach on Esther’s holy yes a couple of weeks from now. The thoughtful veteran who tackled grace in Rom. 5. A retired minister who brought new life to 1 Cor. 13. Men and women, those with theological education and those without. American, immigrant, young, old, rich, and poor. The pulpit is open.

As a result, God’s word reaches more than one demographic.

An open pulpit isn’t a small church necessity. Nor is it a progressive church’s shtick. It’s a means of grace God has always used to get a diverse group of people to see what God sees in technicolor clarity.

There were at least three prophets working in the time of Josiah’s reform—Jeremiah, Zephaniah, and Huldah. They were different.

Jeremiah valued tradition and sought reform. He was open with his emotions but wasn’t much of a writer. He had friends do that for him. [4]

Zephaniah is more elusive. He was a poet and more of a one-issue guy with an emphasis on destruction. He loved to use animals in his illustrations. Owls especially. [5]

Then there’s Huldah. Her reputation preceded her. She didn’t feel the call to perform street dramatics like Ezekiel. No, she waited for people to come to her. And they did—even high priests. She was bold and unafraid to speak the truth concisely and clearly. [6]

Recently I was perusing the classifieds for church of Christ pulpit ministers, and here is one that accumulates recurring sentiments from several:

X church of Christ is seeking a full-time pulpit minister with a degree in biblical studies. Ideally, he will be a middle-aged man, married, with children, and deeply dedicated to the Scriptures. He will be responsible for preaching, teaching, guiding the flock with the elders, instituting outreach ministries, and converting the lost with zeal and enthusiasm. This man will have the ability to lovingly connect with saints of all ages. In sum, we expect the candidate to be able to show the relevance of the Bible’s message in today’s diverse culture.

In case you missed it, that’s a man who is gifted in exhortation, teaching, and evangelism. A scholar in biblical studies and church growth. A prophet—able to communicate the vision of God to old people, young people, and in-between people. To prophesy the relevance of the word to progressive people, conservative people, black and white people, rich and poor people. With “zeal and enthusiasm,” of course.

That’s a tall order for one person.

An open pulpit, however, would help do what so many churches rightfully want: to show the relevance of God’s word in today’s diverse culture.

Yes, open pulpits are scary. That housewife might out-preach you. The Holy Spirit is powerful like that. That retired businessman might talk about how we’ll die and fly away one day, and never once mention a new heaven and new earth. [7] People might “amen” someone else’s sermon though they never “amen” yours, or laugh at the millennial’s preacher stories while yours get a scowl.

So what?

None of these ego-centered concerns seemed to bother the prophets of Josiah’s time. Jeremiah wasn’t threatened by Huldah. Zephaniah didn’t critique Jeremiah. Huldah didn’t fear for her job in the face of Zephaniah’s powerful owl poetry.

Instead, Judah was formed.

The lesson applies today. The combined voice of a variety of preachers polishes the pulpit to reflect the fullness of Christ’s Word to a broader demographic. Look out at your assembly. You might be surprised who has a, “Thus sayeth the Lord,” just waiting for an invitation into the pulpit. And you might be surprised who needs to hear it.

[1] The Israelites participated in infanticide as worship to Molech, and King Ahaz convinced priest Uriah to build a new altar that looked that the neighbor’s. See 2 Kings 16.

[2] 2 Kings 21:13.

[3] 2 Kings 23:7.

[4] Jeremiah was probably from the priestly family of Abiathar, who were known for favoring tribal traditions and values. He also wrote Lamentations, and his friend, Baruch, served as his scribe.

[5] Zephaniah’s name means “the Lord has hidden,” and very little is known about him. The book is all about impending destruction, save the final six verses. The book is short, but it mentions animal dung, horses, screech owls, hoot owls, desert owls, ravens, snakes, and lions.

[6] 2 Kings 22.

[7] At Courtyard, a church leader reads the sermon manuscripts of those who grace our open pulpit to protect against errant theology in areas of essentials. But in non-essentials, liberty.

Ministry Spotlight: Drew Baker and ElderLink North Carolina

Ministry Spotlight: Drew Baker and ElderLink North Carolina

Eco-Justice and the Book of Psalms

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