Perhaps I’m splitting hairs, but recently I’ve come to the realization that subtle differences can make a large impact on the way we view something or someone. Besides, I’m in good company. Jesus has been known to say, “You have heard it said. But I tell you…” The Pharisees and Sadducees had their own very specific and unmovable understanding of the Law of Moses. (Similar, perhaps, to the political parties of today?) Along comes Jesus with a fresh understanding of the Law, based not on legalism but rather, on character: the Fathers character. Looking at something from a different point of view can radically alter our understanding of it. That’s what happened to me.
Several years ago during pre-service prayer I very clearly heard, “I am not the God of the second chance. I am the God of new beginnings.” It was one of those God moments where I knew that I knew that the Holy Spirit wanted to break through and make a point. It has stayed with me all these years as I’ve struggled to understand what that means and what the implications are in my relationship with Him.
I began by trying to understand the differences between a new beginning and a second chance. After all, aren’t they basically saying the same thing? Don’t both speak of a fresh start?
I found that chance, in its purest form, speaks of fate, the luck of the draw, the roll of the dice. Statistically, it’s 50/50. It’s “…the absence of any cause of events that can be predicted, understood, or controlled.” It is impersonal, detached. That does not sound like the Father. He is anything but impersonal or detached. The very fact that He is a person removes the ‘chance’ factor.
OK what else may chance imply? It can speak of opportunity. For example: a job offer from an old classmate you haven’t seen in years, an investment opportunity from a start-up company, a cancelled appointment giving you the time to catch up on some unfinished business. We are given opportunities every day, and they can be monumental or insignificant. They can be created by us or given to us. They can be purposeful or accidental. They can be relational or impersonal. It’s safe to say, “opportunities happen!” But what does second chance communicate?
A second chance is always given by another. There is history inherent in it. It carries weight or debt. An abusive boyfriend gives his girlfriend a ‘second chance’. The husband gives the alcoholic wife a ‘second chance’. The boss gives the chronically late employee a ‘second chance’. There is a sense of control, authority or dominance. “I give you.” You have the right to choose, yes, but it’s tainted, stained by the past. You did this but I’m going to give you a chance to be different this time. Different according to my rules, according to my expectations. Good or bad, there is baggage in the person giving the second chance and baggage in the one it is being given to.
God, on the other hand, says He as a God of new beginnings. He has said, “I will do a new thing”. According to the law of first mention, creation is foundational to the concept of the God being all about new beginnings. Out of chaos He created something entirely new. It was fresh, clean, and untarnished.
What does that mean for us personally? He rewrites our history, gives us a fresh start. Isn’t that the very definition of adoption? He gives us a new name, a new family? He makes us a new creation! What about forgiveness? He does not hold our sins against us. He chucks them into the sea. He is very intentional, very personal. Condemnation, debt and baggage are not in His vocabulary. He has nothing to do with fate or chance.
Some might say, “What about Jonah? Didn’t he get a second chance? ” My answer to that is ‘no’. God had a mission for Jonah. Jonah had personal issues with that mission. But God had a plan and Jonah was an integral part of it. God is not in a hurry. As Banning Liebscher says, “…the Lord will get me where He wants to get me, when He wants to get me there and how He wants to get me there”. Jonah’s call, the storm, the whale, the prophecy, all of it was part of God’s plan for Jonah and Ninevah. There was no ‘second chance’ involved because God completed His plan just as He intended.
Both second chances and new beginnings give us a do-over. Both are given from relationship. But, they start from completely different places. Second chances start from a place of failure. A new beginning, well, from a clean slate, just as if it never happened.
What if we could truly grasp the freedom and intentionality that comes from a God that gives us new beginnings? Past that is dead and gone, sin that is no longer held in debt against us. Who could we become? How would it change the way we view God? How would it change the way we view each other?
A Gift to Remember
Not long ago, Harold Camping had quite energetically predicted a date that would be the day of the Lord’s return, the Rapture as it is called, and yet we’re all still here. Twice, he did that!
Apparently, he missed it.
We've all seen similar situations: someone stands up and declares "Thus says the Lord" and then misses it. It didn't come about as the prophet declared it would.
Holy Spirit keeps drawing my attention back to that issue: the prophecy was wrong. And he keeps asking me this question: What's the difference between a false prophecy and an inaccurate one? What is the difference between a false prophet and an inaccurate one?
Think about Baalam, son of Beor, the famous false prophet of Numbers 22, the man with the talking donkey. While not using the label “false prophet,” the NT castigates him as such (see 2 Peter 2:15, Jude 1:11, and Revelation 2:14). And yet, pretty much every single prophecy he declared was fulfilled.
The false prophet spoke true prophecies.
In the book of Acts, we meet the prophet Agabus, who is received and treated as a true prophet of God. By contrast, his prophecies, though accurate in general, missed some key details; more importantly, the point of the prophecy (to go to Jerusalem or not) completely missed what God had been speaking to the apostle.
The true prophet spoke inaccurate prophecies.
It is clear that the old method of judging a prophet – if his prophecies come to pass, he’s a true prophet, but if his prophecies do not come to pass, he is a false prophet – is a complete failure, at least by Biblical standards.
It appears that Baalam was judged a false prophet, not for the accuracies of his prophetic words, but for his loyalties. He spoke words that were nominally from the heart of God, but his loyalties were mixed. From my perspective, it appears that in addition to serving the Yahweh, he was also moved by his desire for honor and for money (see Numbers 22:15-18). Baalam may have been living in the warning that Jesus gave thousands of years later: “No man can serve two masters.”
By contrast, it appears that Agabus did not suffer from a divided heart.
Agabus was not a false prophet, just an inaccurate one. He got most of the revelation right (Paul would be arrested when if he went to Jerusalem), and he got most of the interpretation right (though it was the Romans who arrested and bound Paul, not the Jews), the people missed the application (“Paul, don’t go!”).
I have witnessed the ministry of people who had a wonderful heart, but missed most of the details in what they were saying, and missed the conclusion. They were bad prophets, terribly inaccurate. But they were not false prophets. There was no motive other than obeying God in their heart.
As I’ve been meditating on these things, I have begun to suspect that it is the heart, not the words, that determine whether someone is a true prophet or a false prophet. If we are motivated by the need for fame, we cannot be moved by God alone. If I change what I say in order that offerings won’t be hurt, we may need to ask some hard questions. (Note: I am not addressing HOW a word is given, or even how it is worded: wisdom has much to say about that. I’m addressing the WHAT of the word that is being given.)
This may be the biggest danger: If I declare a true word, but fame or fortune come as a result, then whatever seeds have lain dormant in my heart will sprout quickly and reveal the condition of my heart. If I speak a prophecy without the need for fame or the lust for money, but fame and money come, the seeds of that need for fame, the seeds of the lust for money, if they were present in my heart, may sprout and grow and flower and bear fruit.
Harold Camping prophesied what time has proved to be an inaccurate word. It is self-evident that his prophesy has brought both fame and fortune to SOMEone (all those ads cost money!).
But is he a false prophet? Or is he merely a bad prophet, an inaccurate one?
This is a time when I am thankful for the apostle’s wisdom: “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.” (Romans 4:4) I am thankful that I have no responsibility to judge Harold Camping, no responsibility to train him, no responsibility to make him stand. He has another Master who has both that responsibility and that ability.
I watch trends in the prophetic environment of the
I observe that there are a goodly number of prophetic words that are relatively generic “comfort, edification and encouragement.” There’s a second group of words that can be described as speaking to our destiny, our calling, perhaps even our future in the Northwest. And there are some words that are spoken to the region that invoke images of natural disasters: earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis are prominent in them. (This is not an exhaustive list, of course; these are the three main categories; see the NWP website for a more complete list.)
The first group (“comfort, edification and encouragement”) is pretty easy to understand, and it’s not hard to respond to them.
The second group (speaking to our regional destiny) is also straightforward: not complicated to understand, though an appropriate response to these may be a bit more complex.
It’s the third group (invoking images of disasters) that I’m going to focus on here. How shall we respond to images of disasters in prophetic declarations over our region? Many of these declarations include an additional emphasis on the concept of judgment, which I’ll address later.
I propose that there are five basic possibilities for interpreting these disaster prophecies:
1) The prophet made a mistake. (Here is one example.) This may be a false prophecy (the work of serving the wrong God, or serving with a wrong heart) or simply a bad prophecy (it was a good attempt, but they missed it). For whatever reason (and that reason may or may not be important to discern), the prophecy was in error. Frankly, there’s a whole lot of this going around. Remember Harold Camping?
2) It’s a personal word. I recently read a testimony: a prophet declared an earthquake coming to his region in two weeks. Three weeks later, his report was that he must have missed the timing on the earthquake, but could I pray for him? Everything had gone haywire in his personal life for the past week.
I’m of the opinion that the vast majority of what God speaks to any of us about is for ourselves personally, and most of the rest is for our congregation or community of faith. Only a tiny portion is for the greater region or nation. Prophets who think everything they hear is for the nations may be deluded.
3) The prophecy is a metaphor. (Here is one example.) We’re not really discussing natural disasters; we’re talking about an event that’s coming in another realm than the natural (Spiritual? Economic? Political? Social?) that does now, or will at some time, involve some of the effects that a natural disaster involves: this may include upheaval, rapid change, troubles, etc. As an example, God has been speaking to the prophetic community in more than one region about a move of God that’s coming, and he’s consistently been using the metaphor of a tidal wave.
4) It is a literal, but conditional warning. (Here is an example.) We already know that some promises are conditional; some warnings are conditional as well. Not long ago, there were some credible prophetic warnings of natural disasters in my region. Several prophets in the region judged them to be both literal and true, but heard Holy Spirit saying that since we are heirs and representatives of his Kingdom in our region, we had the authority to change what was in our future. We met together, cancelled that particular future, called another, more appropriate future into being, and cancelled our own disaster preparations. The deadline passed without event.
I believe that prophetic promises fit in this category as well: when God promises a move of the Spirit, it’s appropriate for us to pray that event into the region. King David did that here.
5) And it may be a warning about a literal, physical event. (Here is an example.) God may be warning his children in order to take specific action (as here and here). Ancient records teach us that the prophet Agabus warned the church of the Roman destruction of
I believe that specific warnings for specific individuals are not particularly uncommon – they’re part of God leading his kids. But legitimate prophetic words prophesying literal, physical disaster appear to be remarkably rare. (That rarity may be a characteristic of this kind of word, or of the season we’re in, or it may only be rare in the particular group of prophetic warnings I’ve personally been seeing recently.)
When Christians prophesy foolishness, or when we misunderstand what God is saying and talk publicly about it, the people of God look really foolish (see here). As a result, God and his Kingdom look foolish, and (presumably) hell rejoices. May I suggest that this may not be the best use of prophetic gifts.
It’s time to take up the subject of judgment. In the past few weeks, I personally have heard perhaps a dozen prognostications of disaster on this region or that region which have declared that God is judging the described region for certain sins, though the particular sins under judgment seem to vary, depending on who’s making the declarations. As I take these to prayer, I’ve been reminded that God is not, in this day, doing the “judgment through nature” thing that Old Testament prophets were known for.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that God is not doing judgment right now. Since this is not the topic of this article, I’ll quote a few supporting verses and move on:
Apparently, this is a season (“dispensation” for the theologically inclined) in which God’s agenda is about reconciliation rather than judgment. Smiting people is not on his to do list right now.
Here’s where I’m going with this, and I have the same hopes for two groups of people. I’m hoping that these will be heard by those among us who are hearing and seeing images of disaster, judgment, destruction from God, and by those of us who see or hear prophetic words or declarations of disaster, judgment or destruction.
May I suggest that we exercise 1 Corinthians 14:29: “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.” It’s interesting that “judge” in the Greek is the root for the word used as the “gift of discernment” in 1 Corinthians 12:10: the command is to discern the prophetic word. The word means to “separate thoroughly,” and includes the concepts of discriminating and deciding what is good and what is not.
Discerning the prophetic word is a requirement of any prophetic word shared publicly, and that includes words declared in public meetings, but it also includes words released in email, on blogs, on Facebook, or by Twitter: just because we are not in the same room where the prophetic word is first spoken is no excuse not to obey the direct command of scripture: prophetic words are to be discerned, judged.
I would also counsel us to consider soliciting wise discernment, judgment, of those prophetic words which we judge are strictly for our own lives and not to be released publicly. Several times, I’ve taken what I’ve been hearing from God personally and submitted it to prophets and other mature believers whom I trust. Sometimes they’ve affirmed what I’m hearing; other times, they’ve helped me fine tune or re-interpret what I was hearing.
Note also that there are two Greek words for “others” (as in “let the others judge”): one refers to “others of the same kind,” and in this case would refer to other prophets. But this verse uses the other word: “others of a different kind,” and would extend the responsibility of judging prophetic words beyond just “other prophets” to “All the other believers who are hearing [or reading] the prophecy are responsible for discerning – discriminating and deciding what is good and what is not – the prophetic word that is given.
The days of a prophetic word being unquestionable are over, if indeed they ever existed in any realm beyond the minds of the lazy or uninformed. Let me say it more directly: There is no such thing as a prophetic word that is beyond questioning, and anyone who insists that their words cannot be questioned should be treated as undisciplined children in the community of faith: they are part of the family, and they’re kind of cute sometimes, but they need to learn discipline before they’ll be able to contribute meaningfully to the community.
There is one more issue to be identified before leaving the topic: the discernment includes the necessity of “discriminating and deciding what is good and what is not.” I believe that a fairly substantial portion of the un-judged prophetic words circulating around right now are mixed: a good portion of the original revelation was legitimately of God, but the interpretation of that revelation was not correct.
Remember the prophet who declared “an earthquake coming to his region in two weeks,” but experienced an upheaval in his own life instead of in the region in that time frame? It’s my opinion that the prophet saw the original revelation clearly (an earthquake is coming in two weeks), but mis-interpreted the revelation (assuming a physical earthquake in the region, rather than a metaphorical earthquake in his own life), and therefore his application was wrong (he had urged everyone to prepare for death and destruction, when a more appropriate response would have been for him personally to prepare for change and upheaval in his own life).
If I could speak to those who speak prophetically and those who hear or read prophetic words to judge the prophetic words carefully: consider and decide: is this a true revelation? Is it from God? Is it speaking to me/to us? Is it correctly interpreted? Is the application consistent with God’s heart? Then receive that which is from God, and reject that which is not.
Even a dumb old cow knows enough to eat the hay and spit out the sticks.
Freaky Physical Reactions
- Why do they do that?
- Is that God?
- Can they control that?
- Are they faking it?
- That can’t be good for them, can it?
- That’s not going to happen to me, is it?
- Some folks react because God is touching them; it's involuntary, like touching a live electrical wire.
- Some of them, God isn’t touching them physically, but he’s working on their emotions, and their physical manifestations are simply a symptom of God addressing and healing deeply rooted emotional wounds.
- For others, it's psychological: they need to feel like they're part of what's going on, or they need to feel loved. For some of these, it's marginally voluntary: they may not know whether they can control the physical reaction.
- Others are moved socially: everybody is doing this; I need to fit in, so I should too: their reaction is voluntary, though the thinking behind it may not be.
- Some may be manifesting because their resident demons are freaking out.
- And there are mentally ill persons among us, who are legitimately reacting for their own reasons, real or imagined.
- I leave out those who are mockingly “faking it.” I actually haven’t ever met such people, and though I imagine they exist, I have difficulty imagining them sticking around without fitting into one of the other categories.
- Why doesn’t somebody stop that?
- That is not God! That can’t be God!
- They could control that reaction!
- They’re faking it!
- That can’t be good for them!
- That’s not going to happen to me!
- The critics are an easy one: their fruit is bitterness, judgment, and anger. That doesn’t sound like it represents God well. Therefore, I decline to partake of this fruit.
- The curious observers are easy as well: they manifest genuine hunger, honest questions, eager anticipation, or legitimate confusion. They are willing to listen to testimony and teaching on the topic, but will judge both by what they’ve seen. Most of these onlookers will become participants before long. These characteristics (these fruit) seem to reflect God’s character well; they fit well on his children who are growing and learning. I find this to be very nice fruit.
- The fruit of those who manifest is harder to classify, because it’s so varied. Some, like my friend the sound guy, have an honest encounter with God and get up changed. Those are easy to discern: that’s God! But some seem to have an honest encounter with God, but develop a fixation on the encounter, missing the God whom they encountered, and these seem to be less changed. I find good fruit in some people, and less desirable fruit in some others.
This God that you and I follow is an interesting fellow.
Some time back, he went through a lot of work, starting with, “Let there be light,” and then using that light to make the sun and the moon, to make planets and stars, then to make plants and fish and antelopes and woodpeckers, and finally to make a species of beings – we call them “human beings” – in his own image. “And,” he said, “It’s really good!”
And God worked hard enough during those six days of creation, that when he was done, he – God – had to rest, for a whole day.
And when he had finished this amazing work of creation, what did he do? What did he do with this thing that took six days of God working to create?
Why, he went for walks with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day, of course.
That was the
And God said, “It’s really good.”
And that’s been a priority for God ever since: that we’d be close friends with him, and we’d be close friends with each other.
And you know the story: Adam & Eve sinned, and our race fell out of close relationship with God, but God had a plan to deal with that – a good plan, but it was an expensive plan. And through Jesus, we have a way back to close friendship with God.
And God still says, “It’s really good!”
For thousands of years, humanity related to God through Moses’ Tabernacle, and later through a
Both tabernacles fell into disuse over the centuries. And God has not chosen Moses’ Tabernacle, the place with tradition and history, as the model for New Testament worship. He chose to restore David’s Tabernacle, the place of informal intimacy, and he specifically emphasized that this was the way we relate to him: intimately, personally.
In these New Covenant days, God has completely affirmed this value. When the Son of God stepped into space and time as a human, he called a some human beings and “He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons.”
Clearly, their efficacy at preaching, healing the sick and casting out demons came from being with him.
I love how Jesus described our relationship from his point of view. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
Jesus considers you and me to be so precious, so alluring, that he sold everything – in Bible terms, “He laid aside the prerogatives of his deity,” and became one of us: God became human – so that he could have that intimate relationship with us again. We are his treasure!
And that’s been our foundation for doing anything worthwhile ever since. We’ve been saying it this way: “Ministry flows out of relationship.” Relationship with God. Relationship between us.
Without that, the best we have to give, is just us. Without an intimacy with God, there’s nothing supernatural to give.