Watchmen

This past summer my friend Christian gave unto me every writer’s dream — a crazy story. Not just a crazy story: a multilayered bonanza of bizarre bonkers so delightful my typing fingers tremble at the possibilities. It’s like when you attend a good buffet (Costco) and can’t make up your mind what to taste — there’s so much to sample. However, before I reveal this masterpiece … a bit of background.

In late June, my friend, a husband/father/pastor, broke his C2 vertebra in two places, along with his wrist. The near-fatal accident involving some heavy machinery nearly paralyzed him. Thanks to good medical care, and the goodness and grace of God, he lived to enjoy his family and help grow God’s family. This story was featured in the local newspaper, where readers should have responded with a hearty “amen” and a personal challenge to make the most of our lives and loved ones … except it doesn’t end there. If it did, that would be normal, and functional, and life prefers to avoid such extravagant luxuries.

Instead, after appearing in the local newspaper, my friend recounts:

A voicemail that I received today gets some kind of award. I haven't yet determined what, but it deserves one. After a cordial greeting, he proceeds to say, "... But the fact is that your accident would not have happened if you had not been wearing that Babylonian garment which tried to kill you." At this point, he has my undivided attention. He continues, "A Christian should never wear shorts. Especially exposed to the public in the daily newspaper for all to see your legs, but we all make mistakes and God gave you a warning." At this point, I have mixed emotions. He concludes, "... To avoid blood on my hands, I had to say what I said … .”[1]

While the crisis of Babylonian short-wearing certainly deserves undivided attention, my attention is drawn to that last line: “to avoid blood on my hands … .”

This phraseology, as well as a dozen variations, alludes to a passage from Scripture:

“So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul" (Ezek. 33:7–9, ESV).

Far be it from me to disparage accountability. Yet I often find among those who enjoy a good rebuking in the name of the “watchman” a tendency to do so out of a spirit of self-preservation rather than the Spirit of God.

Jesus exhorts us to love God and our neighbor (Mark 12:30–31), and Paul reminds us to bear each other’s burdens and “out honor” each other (Gal. 6:2 and Rom. 12:10). Even old Zeek was appointed to watch over the House of Israel — not just himself. If my only concern in becoming a “watchman” is to make sure I don’t end up in hell, then I have missed a vital nuance of what it means to be a watcher. Until someone else’s perceived folly affects me at the level of sadness for their sake — not my own — I am not fit to watch anybody but myself.

The danger of embracing the identity of the watchman is the assumption that I possess 20/20 prophetic vision like Ezekiel. Instead, I’m usually just another Pharisee decked out in robes of self-righteousness thanking God I’m not like the sinner I think I see (Luke 18:13). One of the classic litmus tests to assess a potential all-seeing watchman is to consider if this person ever catches someone doing something right. If not, there is a good chance they have something stuck in their eye — an eyelash, a contact or a piece of wood perhaps (Matt. 7:4–5).

Conflict resolution and radical accountability from friends are necessary for spiritual well-being — but we must keep vigilant for wandering watchmen looking for an opportunity to save their own souls by discouraging others. Much can be said of a rogue caller who cites benign fashion choices as a reason for God to take the life of a young pastor, husband and father; however, I will restrain my typings and allow my friend’s words to point us in the direction we should go:

“I pray we will be led to the precious truth of a loving, compassionate God as revealed in the life of Jesus. Read the gospels, study the character of Jesus, and let its truth guard your heart.”

Amen.

[1] Christian Martin, Facebook post, July 19, 2015.

October 17, 2015 / Perspective
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