Dealing With New Evidence

There’s a principle that we all deal with. When we discover new evidence about something that we already have an opinion about, we are required to re-evaluate our opinion. If the new evidence contradicts what we believed before, then we probably need to change our previous opinion.

It happens in movies: Throughout the movie, you’re led to believe a particular opinion about one of the characters (perhaps “the butler did it!”), but at the end of the movie, new evidence is revealed, or old evidence is shown in new light. All of a sudden, everything changes. My favorite for this was The Sting. When they got up off the floor, it floored me! I realized that I had seen things wrong, interpreted things wrong. And suddenly, I understood previous bits of the movie in a whole new light! Suddenly I understood the characters completely differently.

I saw Philadelphia Story recently. Throughout the movie, Clark Gable’s character looked like a troublemaker, but in the denouement at the end, it’s revealed that he did it all out of love. Suddenly, I understood Mr. C.K. Dexter Haven completely differently!

It happens in TV shows: Well, it did when I watched TV, anyway. In the old courtroom series Ironsides, Raymond Burr’s character did that every week. Barretta, a slightly less antique show, did the same thing. I imagine that many crime shows use this pattern regularly.

It happens in real life: We interpret the news one way, but then something happens that reveals that maybe things aren’t the way the media spun it the first time.

It happened in the Bible: Throughout the Old Testament, we were shown evidence that suggests certain things about the nature of who God is: what His character is like, what moves Him, what’s important to Him. But the New Testament is all about the denouement: Jesus himself is the new evidence, and it reveals a whole lot more about God, and reveals Him more clearly than we’ve ever seen before. And suddenly, I understand previous bits of the story in a whole new light. Suddenly, I understand God so differently, so much better.

For example, throughout the Old Testament, God seems far off and aloof, not really interested in hanging around the human race; after all, He keeps sending prophets to lead them instead of coming Himself. But in the New Testament, we see God in human form walking the streets of a subjugated city in order to be among humankind. Maybe He’s not really far off and aloof! Maybe that’s not a good picture of Him.

The stories of the Old Testament, the way that they were told and re-told and translated, and interpreted through countless pulpits, suggested that God rather enjoyed smiting people; a lot of smiting sure went on in those stories, and sometimes they’re described as God’s actions, and other times, the perpetrator isn’t really identified, but everybody “knows” that God did it, because “that’s what God is like.” (Compare 2 Samuel 24:1 with 1 Chronicles 21:1 for one example.)

But in the New Testament, Jesus, the “God in human form,” the “exact representation of the Father,” who “always does what the Father is doing,” never smites a single person, not even once. And it’s certainly not like he doesn’t have the chance! Rather, he reveals a God who not only turns the other cheek, but lets himself be murdered rather than smite a few deserving Pharisees. The God that Jesus reveals is not a smiter, isn’t eager to judge, always brings healing and life abundantly, and never brings death or destruction. We had understood him wrong before, but now, we have new evidence.

We’ve found ourselves in an interesting place. We have lots of evidence – and I’m going to call it inferior evidence – about who God is and what He’s like. And we have, in some measure, allowed that evidence to create or to inform our opinion of who God is and what He’s like.

We know better now, or at least we should. We have been given better evidence, been adopted into a better covenant. The evidence we have now, in the person of Jesus, and in our own relationship with God, tells us that the wrathful, judgmental, distant smiting God of the Old Testament is not a true picture of who God is. We have better evidence than that now: if we don’t believe it, then it’s our own fault that we’re deceived.

A Prophet's Failure

Here’s the saddest story in the life of the greatest prophet in the Old Testament. It’s from 1 Kings 19. This is where Elijah fails. As sad as it is, we can learn some lessons from him to help us in prophetic ministry today.

[Elijah] traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.

And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  

When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”  

The LORD said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.  Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet.  Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu.  Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel--all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”

Elijah had some reason to be afraid: Jezebel had threatened to kill him. Of course, this was right after he had called fire down from heaven, killed 450 false prophets, and ended a devastating drought in an afternoon’s prayer, so how much threat was she really?

Father has schooled me from this passage a number of times.

First, he contrasted Elijah on Mt Carmel (1 Kings 18) with Jesus feeding the 5000. Afterwards, Elijah takes on two more big and demanding projects: first, he prayed in a rainstorm, and second, he ran from Mt Carmel to Jezreel, ahead of a chariot (that’s a marathon distance!). Then he collapsed in a depression, and ended up in a cave whining at God.

By contrast, when Jesus had fed 5000 men (plus women and children: maybe 15,000 to 20,000 people), he dismissed the crowds, sent the boys home on a boat, and went up into the mountains to pray all night. Think about it: if the Son of God needed to get with God to get recharged after ministry, what makes us think that we can keep running?

The first lesson: when you’ve spent everything in ministry, don’t go do more ministry; get alone with God, and let him minister to you; debrief with him. After that, go walk on the water through the storm to the guys in the sailboat that’s swamping in the storm: miracles are easier then, and prophetic people work in the realm of the miraculous.

 “…I am the only one left,
and now they are trying to kill me too.”
The second lesson that he emphasized was this: whenever our prayers sound like Elijah’s prayers sounded in that cave “…I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too,” then we’re in a very bad place. That’s a really good time to shut up, to stop arguing with God, and to listen. It’s a good time to let angels minister to your spirit. But it’s really NOT a good time to talk.

Elijah kept talking, and God let him talk. Then he asked him the same question again (that might not be a good sign), and Elijah gave him the same self-pitying answer: “…I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too!”

God gave Elijah some assignments: go anoint some people. Notice that he’s sent to “anoint Elisha … to succeed you as prophet.”  Elijah is being fired as the prophet of Israel, and if we can count on the context, he’s being fired because he won’t leave the place of self-pity. From this day forward, Elijah never was the prophet he had been before; he wasn’t completely left out, but he wasn’t involved in any history-making events ever again.

My point is not to bring fear that we’ll get fired as a prophet. My point is that when we start seeing ourselves like the tree in this picture, that we’ve gotten into a place where we can’t minister well. We need to shut up and sit still and let Father speak into our souls. In this place, we really need to NOT declare things from self-pity, not from hopelessness or fear or discouragement. In this place, we need to stop speaking until we can speak life. 

This has been a heck of a season. A goodly number of people I know in the prophetic have been involved in big things. We need to learn the lesson of Jesus, and head up the mountain, not back into ministry.

And a goodly number of the prophetic people I know are as drained as Elijah was. (Some are on both lists.)  In this place, we need to stop speaking and let him speak to us, until we can speak life again. 

Questions For God

It seems that God has selective hearing, at least when it comes to some of the questions his children ask. 

I have never known him to answer any question that begins with the word “Why?”  “God, why did this happen?” "Why didn't you do that?"

I’m getting tired of questions that don’t get answered, so I’m going to ask smarter questions. 

There are two questions that show up in the the second chapter of Acts that seem to work pretty well. 

In Acts 2:12, a crowd, amazed and perplexed, asked “What does this mean?” That led to a supernatural sermon by Peter-of-the-Foot-in-Mouth, where he answered that question remarkably well for “an uneducated fisherman.”  

An hour later, in response to that sermon, they asked, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Peter answered with a spontaneous altar call and 5000 of them came to faith. I suspect they got their question answered real well.

I’m reminded of one more verse that’s critical for getting questions answered. John 7:17 says, “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” If we are not willing to commit to doing what God says – even before he answers the question – then it is far less likely that we will even get the answer to the question. 

“Yes, Father. The answer is ‘Yes.’ Now what was the question?”

Are You a Light? Or a Reflection? And Which is Better?

Years ago, Barry McGuire (if you remember him, you’re a hippy! Or you used to be.) taught about the difference between the sun and the moon.

Some people are like the sun: they are a source of light, of revelation. Others are like the moon: they have no light in themselves, but all they do is reflect the light of others. Be a light, not a reflection. Be a voice, not an echo. (see Matthew 5:14)

Sounds good doesn’t it? And the message is good: have light in yourselves. Sounds good. It reminds me of Jesus’ words, “Have salt in yourselves.” (Mark 9:50) and it reminds me of Paul’s words (1 Corinthians 3:2) and the author if Hebrews (Hebrews 5:12) to learn to feed ourselves on solid food.

Recently, I encountered this photo of the moon. And as I admired the beauty that God hid there, he whispered to me, “Look how much is revealed in the reflected light,” and I understood that I had (yes, again!) over-simplified things.

And (yes, again!) he schooled me: without reflected light, we’d never be able to see. The only thing we see directly is when we look at the sun, or directly stare at a light source (and even most manmade light sources use reflected light heavily). When I look at your face, I don’t see the glow of light coming from your face, I see reflected light, from some irrelevant source, bouncing into my eyes, onto my retinas, and showing me what you look like and, if I know you, who you are.

Really, that’s a whole lot of our goal: to reflect Jesus, isn’t it? So maybe being a competent reflector is not such a bad idea. Specifically, he pointed out to me how much more detail we see here in the reflected light of the moon than we ever would staring directly into the sun: often people see Jesus better reflected off of a real human being than trying to look directly at him.

But beyond that, I still believe that “Be a light yourself!” is a valuable exhortation, but for other reasons: unless someone nearby is a source of light, many people would still be wandering in the dark. If you’re with people who don’t have a whole lot of direct revelation, then it would be awfully easy to wander off the path and they’d never even see the edge of the cliff. 

Of course, even better is to hang out with a bunch of people who each have light in themselves, lighting things up for each other, for those around them. That way, the path is very well lit with no shadows, and each of us can see both people and the challenges of our environment clearly.