Some may wonder why I would chose a passage in Isaiah for this essay; the very first essay. Also, some may wonder why I write such hard essays. If you have read beyond this one, you know that each one probes pretty deep.
My role in the church has become that of a confronter, a forth teller, a prophet. Yes, I know many, many people are self appointed confronters. I am not one of those. I do not like what I have to do. Friends can testify that I agonize over these essays. I have been formed into a prophet by pain. I have no special status. I have no new revelation. I do have, however, views of old revelation that can challenge you to become an active disciple; a participater in God’s plan.
I chose Isaiah, because he is the towering figure of the Old Testament prophets. He gives more insight into the Father’s plans than almost any other prophet. He is also the prophet I most identify with.
No, I am not a towering figure. Indeed, too many portions of my life look more like felled trees than anything else. In Isaiah, however, I find a man that I think saw things as I have come to see them. He was heart broken by the realities that he saw around him (as I am), but where Jeremiah emoted about these types of things, Isaiah thought about them. I think very deeply about most things in life. It is a side-effect of childhood abuse. My sense is that Isaiah also digested deeply what God shared with him and what he saw his fellow Israelites doing. I believe Isaiah sucked meaning from life as I seek to.
When I look at the messages of the American Evangelicals around me, I am distressed. (In this age of the Internet, TV, radio, rapid travel, etc., “around me” is quite broad. I am not speaking of just the message of people local to me, but of people hundreds and even thousands of miles away.) What distresses me is the frequency in these messages of what Dietrick Bonhoeffer called cheap grace in his seminal book “The cost of Discipleship”
“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
So often I hear Evangelicals so eager to convince people of God’s wonderful love (which is indeed wonderful) that they deceive the newly saved on the cost of discipleship. Discipleship is expensive. It is extremely expensive. The newly saved need to be slowly introduced to this reality. It cost chunks of who we are – surrendered and destroyed beliefs, lost hopes, death of dreams, deeply disturbing emotions – to be a disciple. The extraction of those chunks is painful. Salvation was free. We pay in pain to be disciples. That payment is called sanctification.
Sanctification seems hellishly expensive,…until we are far enough along to reap the benefits.
I believe people need to know this. We lose people from the faith, because they think the hellish expense is unique to them. It is not unique to them. Anyone who pursues discipleship is in for very rough times. Why will we not tell them this? We, as Evangelicals, routinely nice people in the back. We are so nice that we cheapen what Christ did. Yes, he saved us. In doing that he started a counter-offensive against Satan.
Someone has to be the hard man. The man or woman who does this is willing to be a prophet; to take the truth of the war to the saved. A prophet in my meaning is a forth-teller. Someone, empowered by God’s gifts to present expensive grace; true grace to God’s people. The grace that requires,…requires…change. This is generally a man or woman who has suffered enough to recognize the horrors of the niceness deception.
Being hard means holding people’s valued things up and saying, “Really? Have you really thought about this. This thing you value is a horror, not a beautiful thing. You need to think through this deception and what it does to you and those you love.”
Being a hard man means telling people that Christ brought a war into focus in their lives at salvation. The war was always there. Prior to salvation, we were behind enemy lines with an enemy whose tactics are founded on deception. His deceptions extend to us and make it easier to ignore the war. Sidelining us via deceptions limits the expansion of the Kingdom. With our salvation, the war comes into our inner world. The deceptions and deceit Satan’s minions direct at us becomes more intentional and insidious. The war for who you are is well and truly on.
I have been made into such a man who confronts these things. It took decades of pain, confusion and wrestling to make me this man. Being a prophet is not an honor. It is definitely, definitely not something to seek. Being a prophet means failing. It means knowing you are going to fail and knowing deeply the consequences to those who reject you.
Prophets are the pointy end of the spear. They carry the unwanted message to people committed to avoiding truth and if the prophets are like Isaiah, they experience the message in full and living color. Prophets get sent to people who will not listen in order to carry to these folks unpleasant and painful messages.
Who wants to do that? To start out knowing you will lose? To experience mourning over others when they refuse to listen. To look in people’s eyes as they blithely deny the consequences of rejecting you and your message as a prophet.
I tried to convince God before I ever began writing this blog that it was pointless. No one would read beyond the first essay. I was wrong.
Isaiah accepted the role of prophet, then learned what he signed up for. He signed up to confront the powerful and lose, to challenge the masses and be ignored, to see with God’s eyes and be heartbroken. Isaiah learned and learned deeply the expense of grace. Yet, Isaiah’s losses are our gains. Christ quoted from Isaiah frequently. Why? Isaiah participated in the plan.
That is what I am trying to do. That is why what I write is so hard. Participation is hard, because it is discipleship. I am participating. Please participate as well.