Transparent bowtie  She started singing solos and choir numbers in the 1950s. She even organized her own group, The Gospelaires, with her sister and her Aunt Cissy Houston, while still in high school. By the early 60s her pop music took her to the charts in the US, UK, and Australia. Her recordings turned away from gospel music for nearly 40 years until her 2008 album titled Why We Sing.

Perhaps when she sang “Promises, Promises” in 1968, Dionne Warwick revealed some of the challenges life brought her way.

Oh, promises, their kind of promises, can just destroy a life

Oh, promises, those kind of promises, take all the joy from life

Oh, promises, promise, my kind of promises

Can lead to joy and hope and love

Yes, love!!

I find myself all mixed up in promises from time to time. My various cultural interactions give different kinds of promises. For example, university gave me different promises than the media and politics. The economy makes promises. Family and friends make promises. Media and books make all kinds of promise. The church makes promises. God and the Bible make promises – of course saying, “I hear God’s promises to be…” might be more accurate than saying, “God promised this …” Like Ms. Warwick, I too want the kind of promises that deliver “joy and hope and love; Yes, love!!” I think I hear an echo of a preacher’s sermon from I Cor. 13:13 in the refrain.

Faith somehow gets misplaced in the promise jumble.

Ms. Warwick was right, such promise jumbles bring destruction and despair.

Acts 7’s record of Stephen’s sermon and the sermon’s consequences take me through a long meandering journey of promises. The journey goes through both the Old Testament and the Gospels. God promised Abram land and family. Then He gave the patriarch “no inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot.” He gave more promises even without land and without a son.

God also promised the unborn family would be mistreated pilgrims for 400 years.

Promises, promises …

Stephen artistically tells the story through the patriarchs, Moses, Joshua, David and Solomon. Sometimes God delayed the promises. Sometimes Egyptians seemed to eclipse the promises. Sometimes Israel turned from the promises.

I am sure the crowd clapped their hands, swayed to the orator’s cadence, and uttered an occasional “Amen” as they considered their collective history. Then the preacher turned prophet. The ancestors persecuted the prophets. The current generation joined in the bloodletting. Our behavior can handle finding fault with the past as we arrogantly state how the current generation would have done things differently if we were ‘back then’.

Mob rule took over the collective consciousness as they began to “gnash on him with their teeth”, shed their outer garments at Saul’s feet, and gather stones. The crowd fulfilled the deacon-cum-preacher-cum-prophet’s words. The prophet died for speaking what he saw.

The prophet died for explaining why the people had received the fruit of “Oh, promises, promise, my kind of promises”.

I do not know if prophets have a much easier path in today’s world. For some reason, we draw back from being told what we cannot see. Perhaps our individualistic society makes this challenge even more significant. If God wants to speak, then surely He will speak directly to me rather than through a prophet like He did in both Old and New Testaments. Surely the 21st century is not like the first generation of the church. Surely we always see, hear, and obey without the prophet’s voice.

Promises, promises … my kind of promises…

We still do not like prophets in our home town. We would rather get on a plane (or YouTube) and see what a prophet has to say someplace else. Prophets sometimes seem like a carnival act. We stare at them with fascination and pray they do not speak to us. When they do, we show our teeth rather than our tears.

I think we still have prophet martyrs today. I know some personally. We cannot get away with stoning them, so we find an excuse to send them away. Life can be much simpler without prophets irritating us with ways we need to live more faithfully. Why must these prophets speak so when we have not received our full inheritance or while we experience our Egyptian abuse?

I wish I could finish reading Acts 7 and say, “See how they hated the prophet then? I know I would be different. After all, I want to hear God’s voice.” I can’t. I’ve lived in my “promises, promises” too many times. And I have seen too many prophets walk away with broken bones and gaping wounds.

Does it have to be this way?

I think I need to pray.


Dear Jesus,

Oh, Lord! My sins nailed You to the cross! And most of those sins came since I received the Holy Spirit nearly 50 years ago. Forgive me for rejecting Your prophetic words when You deliver them in the Word, in Your still small voice, or from the raspy larynx of a prophet.

Forgive me and my people for making the prophet so hesitant to speak. Forgive us for the wounds we contribute to the road map of scars the prophets already carry on their bodies, their minds, their spirits, and their families. Have mercy. Have mercy… on us and the prophets.

We stone prophets for being right, and we stone them for being wrong. Forgive us Lord!

I do want Your promises rather than my understanding of those promises. I do want ears that hear through whatever voice You choose to use.

I repent of times I have stifled the occasional prophetic word in my own throat. I did not want any more teeth marks on me either. I must confess I am afraid to speak for You. What if I am wrong? I’ll be rejected, and rightly so. What if I am right? Well, I still might be rejected.

Please, Lord, trust us with some more prophets! We need them in this day. How else will we know to turn from our own promises to those higher promises – those more demanding and more comforting promises – that come from You?

Finally, Lord, please bind up the wounds of our prophets. Heal **, Oh, Lord, heal ** I pray. He only wanted to speak for You! I know he is often awkward around others – how could he not be with the eyes and heart You gave him? Comfort his spirit today even as You open his eyes and ears yet again. I pray You never close His eyes even when he asks for it. I pray we never close his mouth. Do the same, I pray, for Your other faithful prophets. We need them.

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done … even when You speak it through the prophets.

In Jesus’ Name I pray,

Amen


Thank you for taking the off-road hike (sorry, not a walk) through Acts 7. If you got this far, then you probably have a few bruises from the climb. I appreciate your company. I do not think I can learn to hear from prophets by myself. I pray you long for their voices as much as I do. Our world needs us to hear the prophets’ voices.

God bless,

Jim

 

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