Wednesday, August 15, 2012
A DANGEROUS JOB
“The priests, the prophets, and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the temple of the Lord. He finished the address the Lord had commanded him to deliver to all the people. Then the priests, the prophets, and all the people took hold of him, yelling, ‘You must surely die!’” (Jeremiah 26:7-8 HCSB)
Perhaps you have seen Discovery Channel’s reality television series, “Most Dangerous Jobs.” These vocations can be hazardous to your health! A list of the top ten most deadly lines of work are:
1) Commercial Fisherman
3) Airplane Pilot
4) Farmer and Rancher
5) Mining Machine Operator
7) Sanitation Worker
8) Truck Driver and Deliveryman
9) Industrial Machine Repairman
10) Police Officer
There was another dangerous job in ancient Israel—being a prophet! Few wanted to hear them, many were upset by them, often they suffered and not a few were slaughtered.
People did not line up to apply for that job. There were no volunteers, just those who were drafted. God had to call you. He put His Word in your mouth. To stand and speak for God might be deadly. The burden of the ministry of the Word was heavy indeed, and not just because of audience reaction. The prophet knew that, ultimately, if he got the message wrong, it carried grave consequences for the congregation who followed him down a path to destruction and the messenger would answer to the Master for his disobedience and the consequent blood on his hands.
Being a preacher today can be dangerous, also. Just ask Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, currently with a death sentence hanging over him, imposed by the Islamic government of Iran. His crime is labeled, “apostasy against Islam” due to His preaching of Christ. There have been many men of God who walked into a pulpit a messenger for God and were carried out a martyr for God.
It is dangerous work.
No wonder the late evangelist, Vance Havner, once branded the church today, “A non-prophet organization.” Though the price of preaching the Gospel in America today is not as costly as for some dear servants of God in other lands, it is seldom profitable and sometimes painful business.
Over thirty five years ago, I sensed God calling me to preach, and after some period of wrestling with knowing His will for me, finally gained the conviction I needed to announce that call to the church. Joyfully, I surrendered on Homecoming Sunday during the invitation time. Afterward, we did what good Baptists often do—eat! There were numerous encouraging commendations from church members for me and expressions of prayers to be offered for my wife and me as we pursued ministry.
I basked in the glow of surrender and the “atta boy” pats on the back—until my pastor, Raymond Shumpert, and his wife sat down after the meal with us—and rained on our parade! They were thankful for our obedience to God, but wanted to warn us that this path would be steep, rocky and filled with rejection and disappointment. My wife, Marilyn and I listened respectfully, but did not appreciate it particularly, and afterwards dismissed it quickly.
That was our naïveté!
They were right.
I will never forget my Homiletics Professor, Dr. Kenneth Ridings, verbally slapping a roomful of young preachers by announcing to us on the first day, “If you can do something besides preach, you need to do it!” He actually extended an invitation to get up and leave the room! Nobody did—but many of those seated either never became pastors or started and have since dropped out. Of those who heard him make that shocking statement, I can only think of two of us who remain in vocational ministry today. Granted, a couple of classmates have retired and a few others have died, but a large number have been lost to the attrition due to the difficulty of the task.
Don’t get me wrong. There are blessings abundant in serving Christ. It is incredible grace that He would choose to use a wretch like me. I have rewards here and look forward to those hereafter. But, faithfulness to stand against evil and speak up for righteousness will grind you down, break your heart, make you weary and get you wounded. It is a yoke of iron you wear around your neck. It is only going to become heavier unless the course of our country changes profoundly.
Jeremiah experienced it first-hand. How he suffered at the hands of those he loved! He was marked by grief—and it could have been avoided, if he had just looked at caller I.D. when God called, and refused to answer.
Not really. There is a worse fate than being a preacher, and that is being defiant to God who calls us! Dr. Ridings, went on to say, after a significant pause, “But if you can’t do anything besides preach, then preach!”
I can’t do anything else. It isn’t that I am incapable of doing something else, but that another line of work would be a fist shaken in the face of God, ingratitude to the sacrifice of Christ, an affront to all those who have faithfully stood in the pulpit and faithfully proclaimed the Gospel across the ages and still do today.
Had we asked Jeremiah in his era, if he enjoyed being God’s messenger, he would have looked at us like that was the stupidest question he had ever heard. But, if we could enter heaven today and ask him about his ministry, he would shout, “Glory to God! I am so grateful I could suffer for His name!”
There is a price for preaching now. There will be a wonderful payday someday!
Years ago, I heard Dr. W.A. Criswell, tell a story about a missionary couple who devoted themselves to serving Christ in Africa.
They were worn down physically, financially struggling and emotionally drained after years of faithful service in sharing Christ, now retiring and returning to America. It so happened, that President Theodore Roosevelt was on the same ship. He had been to Africa on a big game hunt. As the ship docked in New York City’s harbor, the reporters were there to take pictures and document his exploits, crowds cheered and bands played as the President arrived from his safari.
Nobody was there to greet the missionaries. They shuffled off the ship in obscurity—no fanfare—dragging one battered old trunk behind them—their life’s possessions. They would not reside in the White House, but a dingy little apartment. That night, the man sat, sulking. Growing more bitter by the moment, he complained to his wife, “Here we have served the Lord faithfully. We have sacrificed so much. The President has just gone hunting and look how he is recognized. Nobody noticed us. No one cares. We come home and it doesn’t matter.” His wife was kind, yet firm in telling him, “Your heart is not right. You need to get alone with God and talk to Him.”
The old Gospel veteran did. He told God, “Look, the President comes home and see the reception he received! We have served you and we come home and see how we are rewarded!” Then the Lord spoke to his heart, “But, you’re not home, yet!”
Another Professor of mine at Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute used to bless my heart. His name was Walter W. Willingham and Dr. Willingham would sing in chapel,
“Oft times the day seems long,
Our trials hard to bear;
We’re tempted to complain,
To murmur and despair.
But Christ will soon appear
To catch His bride away;
All tears forever over,
In God’s eternal day.
It will be worth it all when we see Jesus;
Life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ.
One glimpse of His dear face all sorrow will erase,
So bravely run the race till we see Christ.” (Esther K. Rusthoi)
[Exactly 36 years ago, on August 15, 1976, I preached my first sermon at Victory Baptist Church, Asheville, N.C., only a week after announcing my call to preach]