For our Sunday evening adult Bible Study I’ve been taking questions and doing my best to provide – if not answers, at least insight. One question concerned whether ‘prophecy’ is still a function of modern Christianity and if so, what does it look like. My methodology always begins with a linguistic definition of the term. We all carry ideas of what words mean but we often find, upon examination, that our ideas are a little hazy. It is crucial for us to understand what Biblical prophecy is and isn’t before we start to include or exclude any prospective modern examples. But very few tasks are as simple as we’d like them to be. We have to look at the various words from the languages of the Bible (especially the Old Testament) which we translate as ‘prophet’ and decide whether all those words are really talking about the same thing. If our English translations have conflated different ideas into a single term, the difficulty of our task multiplies exponentially. Accordingly, in this vocabulary study I will examine only such terms as are applied to several different individuals we would recognize as ‘prophets’.
What would prophecy look like today?
*A public as opposed to private exercise
*An exercise for the sake of those who already believe rather than a more evangelistic enterprise
*A heavy or weighty ministry – carried as something of a burden
*A message/ministry planted by God inside the prophet and possessed of sufficient internal pressure that it must be delivered (flow forth)
*A ministry by one who has been given to see a clear vision (of the future or of the present situation) and must communicate that vision to those who cannot or will not see.
Note: this is the beginning, not the end of a methodology for defining and recognizing prophecy. But – the better we can define what we’re looking for, the more likely we are to recognize it when we see it and the less likely we are to be fooled by counterfeits. I may return to this topic in a future blog. In the meantime, I will add only one question and one statement.
Question: What would be the differences between ‘prophecy’ and ‘preaching’?
Statement: If an alleged prophet makes a prediction – it had better come true and there is no batting 500. Harold Camping is out.
The price of scrap is up! For the last few loads I have taken in, general scrap brought $180 per ton (9 cents per pound). Naturally, appliance is a little less, prepared steel a little more, electric motors a little more yet, and following the scale up through, low grade copper wire, power chords, various grades of aluminum, radiators, batteries, brass, and copper till you hit number 1 clean copper at upwards of $3.00 per pound. So, a little load I took in today (only 840 pounds of scrap, 1 electric motor, several bags of aluminum cans and a bucket of cleaned brass) netted $144. This may not sound terribly exciting to you but not so long ago that same load would have brought no more than $40 – most of that from the brass. When the pandemic impacted industry negatively and piled that on top of our trade difficulties with China, the price of general scrap fell to $30 per ton – all the other prices indexed accordingly. For what it’s worth, the highest prices I have seen over the years (right before the cash for clunkers program came along and flooded the scrap market) was $235 per ton or just short of 12 cents per pound.
As we are not able to store large amounts of scrap at the church and we didn’t want to suspend the program, we never stopped taking it in (except for when the scrap yards closed entirely!) It is always harder to revive a ministry that stopped. While neither I nor the Corps of Scrap Dummies (they chose that name for themselves) are the type to object to hard work, I can tell you that it is considerably less fun to take scrap in at $30 per ton than it is at $180 per ton! I mean, we believe in keeping materials out of the landfills and in helping people get rid of unwanted metal items, but there is just something about rewards.
I object to the ‘Prosperity Gospel’ in the strongest possible terms. The point of Jesus’ atoning death and hope filled resurrection was not to fatten my pocketbook. I do not mean to say that God is unconcerned with the prosperity of His people. But I cannot find the promise that we should all be millionaires and I can find the warnings about the dangers of being millionaires (needles eyes, bigger barns, treasure/heart co-location et al). But my objections to the Prosperity Gospel do not at all mean that I miss the Biblical emphasis on rewards. Like when Jesus preached to the poor and persecuted about how great their reward would be in heaven or to the humble givers about how even a cup of water given in His name would not lose its reward. Or, as per Revelation 11:18 – when the time comes at last to reward the bond servants of God.
I know the promises about the righteous not begging for bread but there’s a lot of territory between not having to beg for bread because you can’t work or can’t find work and being independently wealthy past the need of having to work at all! And somewhere in there, peace and love and righteousness must be reckoned as reward enough for the time at hand and eternal life in the world to come as more than just recompence for all.
I am not complaining about people who have money and I truly admire those who can have great wealth without it ruining their spirit. More, I greatly appreciate the ministry many have made possible by their wealth. Nor was I just whistling Dixie when I said it was more fun to take in scrap at $180 per ton that at $30 per ton. But we never quit taking in scrap. In the end, whatever passes before then, I will be thrilled just to hear – ‘Well done thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joys of thy master.’
I have always loved trees. In my childhood, much to the dismay of the adult population in general, I loved to climb trees. What else were they there for?! Well, as it turned out, adults had funny ideas about the answers to that question. They valued trees for such silly reasons as –
Right up into my young adult years, I never saw a tree I didn’t want to climb – all the way to the top if possible. There was this tall tulip tree on the high ground of our farm and when you got way up to the top you could look down on all the buildings, the county road and the tops of the trees in the lower woodlot all while swaying pleasantly in the breeze! There were some catalpas in my maternal grandparents front yard which measured the years of my growing by how far up into them I could get at the time. There were many other individual trees I could mention but you get the picture.
The problem, as hinted at in the opening paragraph of this post, was escaping adult supervision. Almost every really good climbing tree grew in the territory of an adult who would end up standing on the ground below LOUDLY insisting that I get down before I fell and killed my fool self – a thing I never did. Well, obviously, I never killed myself. But I never fell either. I have never fallen out of a tree. I have always thought that if I should fall out of a tree and hit the ground, someone else would have to climb back up and retrieve my fingers because they would still be up there gripping bark. I have one aunt – who didn’t even own the stupid tree – who would nevertheless stand below with an egg turner insisting I come down so she could whip me for climbing the tree in the first place. I never found that to be extremely strong motivation for coming down and, it turned out I was correct in thinking my aunt was not, despite her threats to the contrary, coming up to get me.
I will jump to the end for a moment and say that at age 63 I don’t climb as many trees – though it is not yet out of the question – and, I admit, I have come to love and value trees for all those adult reasons that seemed so meaningless to me back then. But along the way to my current position, there was a definite turning point. About the time I turned 14, adults (at least a certain class of them) seemed to change their minds about the advisability of my climbing trees. And those (mostly of the female persuasion) who still considered tree climbing dubious, at least let their forbiddings settle down to forebodings – by which I mean they might stand by and fuss and wring their hands and predict imminent death, but they quit howling for me to get down out of the tree.
If I lost you, let me clarify. Say a tree needed trimming or topping. Or, say a tree needed felling but it needed cabled first so it could be pulled away from a house, fence, power line, etc. Or, say there was an old-fashioned pear tree with fruit growing well out of reach from the ground. If the adults affected by these or other similar circumstances didn’t have immediate access to a bucket truck, they needed someone to CLIMB THE TREE. They needed someone who wasn’t afraid to climb way up to the top or shinny way out on a high limb. They often needed someone sure enough of himself in a tree that he could hang on with one hand while working a hand saw with the other. They needed someone who could climb trailing at least a light line which could be used to haul heavier cables or chains up to the fastening point. My popularity in this capacity lasted decades. It is only in the last couple of years that I have pretty much given it up. The last tree of any size I climbed, topped, cabled and felled was a sixty-foot fir at a restaurant owned by friends. The tree was crowded between a street, power lines, buildings and the restaurant sign with only one possible path for safely falling and it needed to be topped before it was short enough for that path. I attracted much attention on that occasion from passersby on the city street – all the females in the cars no doubt taking up the old pastime of writing my obituary in advance.
I have been a river rat almost all my life. One of the keener memories from my early childhood stems from the thousand or so times our family drove across the White River bridge entering Martinsville, IN (the county seat and nearest big (we thought so then) town where items not available at the little mom & pop establishments that dotted our township could be had. Whatever we kids were doing before we got to the bridge (singing, playing, fighting) I would disengage to stare longingly over the concrete railing at the mystery of the river winding away to the south (or the north as we left Martinsville). I would, of course, as my knowledge of local geography increased, find out where the White River went. It crosses the entire state, longwise and on a diagonal, starting as a tiny creek up in the northeast corner and becoming pretty-big water well before emptying into the Wabash across from Mount Carmel, Illinois. There are lots of bridges on the White and all these years later I still never cross one without looking wistfully up or down stream. Of course, now I’m looking at something more familiar. As I became a young teen I learned the publicly accessible fishing sites in our area and caught a lot of fish out the White River. Then, my father and I took an overnight canoe camping trip on the White (Indiana maintains public access sites about every 25 miles and camping is allowed below the high-water mark.) From that trip forward, nothing else would do. There are no bridges on the White River between Waverly, Indiana and Mount Carmel, Illinois that I have not canoed under and very little in the way of promising camping sites along those 200+ miles of water where I have not pitched a tent. (North of Waverly there are lots of dams and power generation facilities that take a lot of the fun out of canoe camping. Between Waverly and Mount Carmel there is only one dam and two power generation facilities – and the occasional gravel dredging operation.) Dad, siblings, friends, my wife and my own children (not yet born at the time of that first trip) have all been my companions on various legs of the journey. I’ve learned a lot about rivers in the process, how the channel changes over the years, how islands come and go, how some houses built too near the river come and go! I have become pretty sufficient at steering a heavily laden canoe through snag forests where the river has relocated trees that used to be growing on the bank. I have practiced the methods that allow for paddling a canoe short distances back upstream when needed. I have learned how to slice across the current on sharp bends and (usually) to recognize in advance where the bed of the river is significantly tilted across a curve so that the river negotiates what looks like a ‘C’ as though it were a ‘Z’ – trust me, it’s subtle from a distance but if you miss it, rounding the bend is complicated considerably. All these things are questions of current or flow. Everything on a river is.
So, on various legs of my river journey, I have put in some time thinking about that old life question of going with the flow or against it. Naturally, going against the flow is a lot more work and takes much more time and every time you try to rest for a moment – all your progress is undone. But there is a sense in which we as Christians must resist the flow of earthly culture and wisdom. This not only makes for hard paddling, it seems, if the context is only here and now, so futile.
Going with the flow is obviously easier – for a minute or two. Since all those dead trees are swept along by the current, the current inevitably pushes us along to the exact spot the tree ground to a halt against the rising riverbed. Nor is it just the snag forests. The current is always easy going for just a while before throwing us up against a boat breaking, man drowning obstacle. If we don’t resist the current at all, our journey will be short. In the end, what washes to the sea consists of wrecks and corpses. Still, resisting the current even enough to steer downstream, you still end up eventually at sea – in a canoe. Hmmm.
I know it’s all metaphor – but metaphors are helpful. I have finally come to the conclusion that the only way to avoid being washed to one ruinous end or the other is to cross the river. Every one of my trips ended with placing my foot on shore. Crossing resists the current but is headed not for the sea but to the other side. Again, it’s a picture – and yet, life as a crossing is not a new idea and if the river in consideration is the whole flow of earthly culture and wisdom – the only escape is to set foot on the opposite shore.
I’m going there. 2020 was quite an exercise in current related hazards and I do not know what will come up in 2021 but with Christ as my companion I will make the crossing.
Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Minister of Indian Run Christian Church