What Should We Do When the Prophets Are Wrong

We should not despise prophecy, but we should test everything, focus on what is good and reject evil.

“When the prophet of the Lord arrived, King Ahab asked him, ‘Micaiah, shall we go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or not?’” (1 Kings 22:16)

I continue to process the events of the last year, and my reading through Scripture will sometimes call those things to mind. One of those ongoing events involved former President Trump and all the evangelical support he received regardless of whatever he said or did.

There were evangelicals who defended every word and action. Their support was unwavering, and prophets even prophesied that he would be reelected.

Obviously, they were wrong.

The unwavering support and relentless defense of Donald Trump troubled me greatly from before he was elected in 2016. I wrote often about it. The prophecies that he would be reelected troubled me even more.

They didn’t trouble me because of the thought that Trump might be reelected. Whatever God will do, He will do. If God wanted Donald Trump to be President for another four years, so be it. God establishes authorities. (Rom. 13:1)

The prophecies troubled me because Paul says we should not despise prophecy. (1 Thessalonians 5:20) We need to take prophecy serious. In that vein, I was troubled that I could be dead wrong about my assessment of Donald Trump and of what God is/was doing in our time.

I wrote about the Sons of Issachar who “understood the times” in an attempt to think, pray and write through it. The people who were saying that Donald Trump would be elected were claiming to be like the Sons of Issachar. They claimed to know what God was doing, and they were one hundred percent behind Donald Trump who they claimed was God’s man for this time.

I was personally concerned that I had it all wrong. I am not a prophet, and I don’t claim to be one, though I feel sometimes that I have a prophetic bent in me (whatever that really means). I would not, however, and do not call myself a prophet.

I don’t predict things.

Not that predicting things is all the prophetic gift is about. I don’t think it is. I think the prophetic gift is about speaking the mind of God. It may include speaking the mind of God in a particular moment, to a particular person or people, or not. It may include speaking God’s mind and heart generally.

I believe people who preach can be prophetic in their preaching. There are teachers, and then there prophetic preachers.

Prophecy may (at times) be predictive, but I think it is more about speaking God’s mind and heart than the ability to predict things. For whatever reason, though, people are really interested in predicting things and knowing the future.

In fact, we seem to be obsessed with it. The disciples asked Jesus many times about when the end would come. Jesus said it wasn’t for them to know the day or time. Still, they pressed him.

Throughout history are examples of people claiming to know the end times. Though, many people have predicted days and times, they have all been wrong. Of course, someone might someday be right, so people to continue to try.

Not that I think we should. Jesus said we wouldn’t know. I take him at his word.

We see this same kind of preoccupation with wanting to know the future in the Old Testament. I recently read the story of Israel’s King Ahab and Judah’s King Jehoshaphat coming together to attack the City of Ramoth Gilead that once belonged to Israel. This story has something to say to us today, I believe, on the subject of prophecy.

Continue reading “What Should We Do When the Prophets Are Wrong”

Apologetics: What It Means for Our Speech to Be Seasoned with Salt

The phrase, “seasoned with salt”, alludes to the words of Jesus that we should be salt and light to the world.

I have been impressed over the last few years about the need for Christians to be gracious, always, when addressing people, especially people who do not believe in Christ. Maybe I have been so impressed because of the many examples on social media in which people “defending” Christ or Christian values are anything but gracious.

The direction from Scripture is clear. The following two passages are instructions on how Christ followers should relate to outsiders:

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Col. 4:5-6 (ESV)

“[A]lways being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” 1 Pet. 3:15-16 (ESV)

I believe God wants is to take these instructions to heart!

I have seen so many examples of ungracious responses from people purporting to defend the Christian faith and values that it seems to me we are failing generally on this point. We seem to be failing to put on Christ and to display his character to the world, and our failure is having an impact. It’s just not a good one!

When people display godly character in their conversations they really shine. When we aren’t gracious, “seasoned with salt”, gentle and respectful, we risk eclipsing the message of the Gospel by our demeanor. The world needs to see Jesus lifted up, but we may be blocking their view.

Assuming that God is serious about the way we should respond to outsiders who don’t know Christ, what does it mean to be gracious? What does it mean to season our speech with salt? What does it mean to provide a defense with gentleness and respect?

Continue reading “Apologetics: What It Means for Our Speech to Be Seasoned with Salt”

From Atheism to Faith: The Story of Mary Jo Sharp

“I really didn’t have a view of God, and I wouldn’t have thought to gain one or why a person should want to gain one. It just wasn’t on the radar”

Mary Jo Sharp grew up in a secular home. Her parents didn’t go to church, and her community in Portland, Oregon was post-Christian. She didn’t know people who claimed to be Christian.

She was aware of Christianity in culture, but her father was a “huge Carl Sagan fan”, and she was influenced by his love for science, outer space and nature. She was influenced by a materialist worldview from a young age. It was the theme that ran through the TV shows her father would watch.

Her parents didn’t go to church. She was raised on nature and science shows that were steeped in a materialist view of the world. “This was the background that formed my view of reality,” says Sharp, “I really didn’t have a view of God, and I wouldn’t have thought to gain one or why a person should want to gain one. It just wasn’t on the radar”

She says she didn’t know that the materialist view – that all that exists is in the material realm – is only one view and philosophy on the nature of reality. She says, “It’s just what I was exposed to.” She didn’t know any other way to view the world and reality.

The Christians she knew seemed “nice and innocuous”, but things she saw on television turned her off. She also was influenced by a cult at a compound in her area that attempted a bio-terrorist attack on nearby cities, using salmonella to poison people. Therefore, she says,

“I had a lot of misgivings about what religion was, who God is or was. I didn’t understand what religion was for. it seemed like the kind of things people did because they were raised that way, and I wasn’t.”

Mary Jo Sharp was an atheist from as young as she can remember, and theism to her was the normative. She had a good life. Her parents loved her. She loved science. She loved music. She had no needs that might drive her to religion for comfort.

Her primary exposure to religion was in the myths of ancient religions. She says, now, that she had a kind of “chronological snobbery”, believing that she was more “progressed” than other people who still had vestiges of a religious faith. She felt her family was better than others who still clung to religious myths.

There was no crisis in her life. “I had it together,” she says, and she saw herself as a good person, but she was becoming aware of the wonder of the world that caused a subtle tension in her materialist view assumptions. She felt a wonder at sunsets and mountain ranges and music that she couldn’t explain on the basis of her view of the world as a product of random and meaningless matter and energy.

Things were about to change for her when a person she respected in her life gave her a Bible. She “didn’t receive it well”, but the timing was fortuitous because of the subtle questions that were occurring to her.

She didn’t have a source for answering these questions. She didn’t have philosophy in her background. Public schools were not teaching critical thinking or how to tackle the big questions of life.

Though she didn’t react well to the gift of a Bible, she read it, and she says, “I was really caught off guard because it wasn’t what I expected.” She was experienced in reading mythology from the Samarians, Greeks, Egyptians and Native Americans, but “As I was digging into the Bible, it was nothing like that…. It sounded more report-like.”

She realized, of course, that some portions of the Bible are poetic, but other portions of the Bible, like Luke, read like reports of factual things. Those portions of the Bible include many details of places, times, people, happenings, etc. On reading Luke, in particular, she recalls, “It sounds like he was just trying to report what was going on.”

That “shook” her because the Bible seemed to be written by people who were just trying to convey what happened. It didn’t read like myth with the primary purpose of conveying moral lessons.

Continue reading “From Atheism to Faith: The Story of Mary Jo Sharp”

Rising Up To Honor Christ Who Saves!

“[I]n your hearts honor Christ as holy….”

Most Christians, especially those who like apologetics, are familiar with the exhortation in 1 Peter 3:1 to “[be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you….” I read this verse today, but the beginning of verse stood out for me today:

“[I]n your hearts honor Christ as holy….” (ESV)

Perhaps, this phrase stood out to me today because of my recent experience at a gathering on a bright, sunny and warm day. We were outside with neighbors, enjoying the turn of good weather, and I was very relaxed.

It was Easter. I had gone to church, but the poignance of the morning service had washed out in the sunlight and warm breeze of a lazy day. I wanted to hold onto and appreciate the significance of the day, but the pleasure of spring after a long, hard winter absorbed my attention.

I am reminded as I read 1 Peter 3:15 today that holiness means being set apart. A more literal reading of the Greek phrase might be as follows:

“Sanctify Christ in your hearts as Lord….”

The Greek word translated variously in different translations as honor, sanctify, reverse, worship, set apart, consecrate, dedicate, is ἁγιάζω (hagiazó). It means “to make holy, consecrate, sanctify”. It comes from the adjective, hágios, which means holy. It is a verb that means to make holy, consecrate, sanctify or to dedicate separate.

Thus, Christ is not simply holy. He is holy, of course, but we have to make Him holy in our hearts. We must actively participate in honoring, revering, consecrating, sanctifying and making Christ holy in our hearts. This is not a passive stance; we are called to be active participants in the process of making Christ holy and set apart in our hearts.

I was troubled in my heart the evening of our lazy Easter day. I went to bed troubled. I woke up troubled. I am still troubled.

This verse focuses the light of God’s word on my troubled heart: I was not actively participating in the holiness of Christ in my heart. I was a passive vessel after church the rest of that Easter day. I was passive, not active, in my heart to honor and revere Christ as Lord the rest of that day.

I am not beating myself up for this. Christ is my salvation. He alone is my hope. His gift of salvation is freely offered to me. It’s nothing I can add to, nothing I must strive to hold onto, and nothing in which I can boast.

Yet, my heart is troubled when I fall short of honoring Christ for what He has done for me.

I am not troubled for having enjoyed the day. All good things come from God. The warmth of spring after the cold of winter is a reminder of God’s love for us. We do well to enjoy the blessings of God.

We shouldn’t enjoy the blessings of God, however, as we are often tempted to do, in place of God from whom all blessings come. It’s easy, especially in the good times, to embrace the blessings while relaxing our embrace of God from whom those blessings come.

I believe I have been troubled because I failed in my heart to honor Christ well during the rest of the day after the morning church service in the way that I wanted to – in the way my heart desired to honor Christ, who died for my sins.

As I write this, I realize the danger of being the Pharisee here. I could beat myself up. I could do penance and scrub the outside of this tomb I call my body. I could polish it up so that my appearance to all who see me is whitewashed, but I would do nothing in the effort to drive out the darkness in me that would rather settle into the comfort of a lazy day than keep Christ sanctified in my heart.

Or, I could simply recognize that I need Christ all the more for having succumbed to the laziness that resides still within me. Christ is the Author and Perfector of my faith. Not I. So, I submit in writing this to Him who saves me to work in me to will and to act according to His good purpose.

The spirit in me aligns with God’s Holy Spirit to cry, Abba! Father! Save me from this heart of sin! Save me from the sin into which I so easily settle.

Stir my heart within me to rise up and honor Christ who saves me!

Who is Among the Prophets? A Lesson in Prophetic Things

A study in the contrast between Saul and David

“And it came about, when all who previously knew him saw that he was indeed prophesying with the prophets, that the people said to one another, ‘What is this that has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?’” (1 Samuel 10:11)

I wrote recently about King Saul and the question, which became a proverb, “Is Saul among the Prophets?” The oddity of Saul prophesying is implied in the question, and was apparently a significant enough point that it comes up not once, but twice in the narrative of Saul’s life. (See 1 Samuel 19:23-24)

Prophesying was out of character for Saul. He wasn’t known as a spiritual man, and he didn’t even make a great king. Yet, he was God’s chosen man to be Israel’s first king.

Saul wasn’t king for very long before God made it clear to Samuel, the prophet, that we rejecting Saul as king and would be replacing him with another man – a man after God’s heart. (1 Samuel 13:14) From this (and the narrative of Saul’s life itself), we know that Saul was not a man after God’s heart.

So why did God make him king?

Perhaps, it was an object listen in what happens when we reject God. Remember that the people demanded a king like the other nations around them. They were rejecting God in demanding a king, but God told Samuel to give them what they wanted anyway. Perhaps, God chose a king for them who was like them – not after God’s heart.

Perhaps, God wanted to demonstrate for the people that their desire for a king was a bad idea, so he gave them a bad king. Maybe. But then he gave them “good” kings (David and Solomon). They also had many worse kings!

I continue to mull over the uncharacteristic event of Saul prophesying (twice!) and the apparent fact that it was so out of character for him. It wasn’t what he said (we don’t know what he said), but the fact that he prophesied at all that was is noteworthy.

Further, it seems that Saul wasn’t a willing mouthpiece either time he prophesied. The second time, he went looking in Ramah for David to kill him. David was hiding there from Saul. When Saul got there, though, he was overcome by the Spirit of God and began prophesying with the prophets there – “day and night” Saul lay naked and prostrate on the ground.

God stopped Saul from killing David by overcoming him with prophecy. Strange! Is it not?

In the previous article on the subject of Saul prophesying, I drew the conclusion that the prophecies are not the story here: the story here is the heart of the man (whether it be Saul or David).

Samuel prophesied that Saul would be made king, but Saul didn’t embrace or internalize the prophecies told by Samuel. Saul’s life would have been different, perhaps, if he had stepped up to the kingly anointing he received. Instead, he deviated from God at every turn.

Samuel’s prophecies did come true, but the end result was less than one might expect. Saul did become king, but he was a lousy king, and he certainly was not a man after God’s heart.

Saul wasn’t even king for long when God told Samuel He was taking the kingdom away from Saul because of Saul’s bad decisions. Samuel was led by God to David, who was merely a shepherd boy tending his father’s sheep, and anointed him to become king long before Saul ceased to be king. (1 Samuel 16:12-13) This happened before David rose to fame by killing Goliath. (1 Samuel 17)

We might imagine that something as momentous as this anointing should be followed immediately by the act of making David king, but it wasn’t so. David simply went back to tending his father’s sheep!

David wasn’t even part of the army that was mustered to face the threat of the gathering Philistine horde. He was still tending his father’s sheep and running errands from his father to his brothers as they prepared for battle.

The Philistines faced off with Saul’s army for 40 days. All this time, David went back and forth between tending his father’s sheep and taking supplies from his father to his brothers. (1 Samuel 17:14-18) David wasn’t supposed to be there the day he faced off with Goliath, except that he was delivering supplies.

Remember that Saul responded reluctantly to the anointing Samuel gave him and hid when Samuel came to announce the kingship publicly. David’s response to the anointing by Samuel seems to be even less robust than Saul’s response! David simply went back to tending sheep.

We know David didn’t lack the faith to rise to the kingly anointing, though, because of what happens next. David was bringing supplies to his brothers when he hears the taunts of the giant, Goliath. When David saw that no one was willing to stand up to the Philistines, David rose to the occasion.

David’s faith in God led him to stand up to the giant, Goliath, in the face of the huge army of the Philistines! Thus, we are right to conclude that David wasn’t shrinking back from the anointing, as Saul did, when he went back to tend his father’s sheep.

It’s also worth noting the curious focus on Saul prophesying in this narrative, while we read nothing at all about David prophesying. This is curious, first of all because Saul was an unlikely prophet. More importantly, we know from the Psalms that David was prophetic! Jesus quoted David’s words that prophetically anticipated the coming of Jesus, the Messiah! (See, for instance, Psalm 110)

So, what does this have to do with prophecy or with having a heart for God? I will get to that, but first there is more to the story….

Continue reading “Who is Among the Prophets? A Lesson in Prophetic Things”