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Showing posts with label #Prophecy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Prophecy. Show all posts

25 August 2016

Prophets in the bible: Read their books!

Wanna know what prophecy sounds like? Read what God’s prophets wrote.

The Prophets /ðə 'prɑf.əts/ pl.n. Biblical writings by and about God’s Spirit-inspired messengers.
2. [In Christian bibles and book order] Books in the Old Testament primarily consisting of prophecies. Usually Isaiah through Malachi.
3. [In Jewish bibles and book order] The second major grouping of the Hebrew scriptures: Books written between 1000 and 400BC; Joshua through Malachi.

Sometimes I refer to “the Prophets,” and I admit this can be confusing to Christians who grew up Jewish. To Jews, “the Prophets” are the middle part of their bible—Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and the 12 minor prophets.

But to Christians, “the Prophets” are the prophetic literature. Isaiah, Jeremiah (and Jeremiah’s book Lamentations), Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Some of us throw in the New Testament book of Revelation, and others throw in the apocryphal book of Baruch.

And for too many of these Christians, these are flyover books.

Yep. Just like snobs on the east and west coasts assume the middle of the United States consists of irrelevant “flyover states” which one needn’t bother to visit, many Christians figure these books needn’t be read. ’Cause they were written to the ancient Hebrews, not us. And they’re too confusing. Too filled with hard-to-interpret visions. Too weird. Not relevant.

The Prophets, they figure, have only two functions; only two reasons why we bother to publish bibles including them. First of all, they’re full of predictions that Messiah was coming. So they point to Jesus. So we keep ’em for the Messianic prophecies, in case anybody isn’t sure the Prophets did foretell Jesus’s first coming.

The other is because they also foretell Jesus’s second coming. They foretell the End Times. So “prophecy scholars” mine ’em for their End Times prognostications, for stuff that fill in the blanks in their timelines.

Otherwise, these books are considered a hard read. So Christians don’t read ’em. We read the books we consider relevant: The New Testament. The Old Testament origin stories, or tales of great biblical heroes. The psalms, for the poetry. Proverbs, for the wisdom. Song of Songs, for the smut.

But not the Prophets. Otherwise you’d have to learn about the historical context these prophets were talking about, and that’s way too much homework for your typical Christian’s taste. Plus they’re a bummer, ’cause they’re full of condemnation and God’s wrath. So, as I said, they’re skipped. Mine ’em for proof texts, but otherwise skip ’em.

This attitude is incredibly short-sighted of those of us who wanna hear from God.

These prophets heard God. You wanna know what God sounds like? Read the Prophets. You need to hear what God’s legitimate messengers sound like.

10 May 2016

Elisha’s double portion.

No, it’s not about getting twice as much as your predecessor. Just your fellow heirs.

2 Kings 2.9-10

The first time I heard of the idea of “the double portion,” it was in Sunday school, in a lesson our overeager youth pastor taught us about the eighth-century BC prophet Elijah of Tishbe, and his apprentice Elisha. On the day Elijah got raptured, he and Elisha had this conversation:

2 Kings 2.9-10 KWL
9 This happened when they crossed the river:
Elijah told Elisha, “Ask me to do for you, before I’m taken from you.”
Elisha said, “Please assign the double portion of your spirit to me.”
10 Elijah said, “You ask for a serious burden.
If you see me get taken from you, it’s yours.
If not, it’s not.”

Elisha, our youth pastor explained, requested twice the spirit of Elijah. Double the anointing. Double the power. And after he watched Elisha ascend to heaven, he got it—as proven by the fact Elijah performed seven miracles in the bible, but Elijah performed twice that number, a whopping 14. True, one of ’em took place after Elisha died, when a corpse came back to life after touching his bones. 2Ki 13.21 But it totally counts.

Some years later I became Pentecostal, and I heard the charismatic spin on this interpretation: Elijah didn’t just get twice Elijah’s spirit, but twice the Holy Spirit. ’Cause the Spirit inspired 1Pe 1.21 and empowered 1Co 12.11 the prophets. No, this doesn’t mean there were two Holy Spirits knocking around inside Elisha. It means the Spirit empowered him to be twice as mighty as Elijah. Twice as miraculous. Twice as prophetic.

And y’know, had one of Elisha’s students made this same request of him, theoretically this guy could’ve received twice Elisha’s anointing. Elisha did 14 miracles; Elisha’s successor could’ve performed 28 of them. And if this successor passed a double-portion anointing on a third guy, that guy could’ve done 56 miracles. And his successor, 112 miracles. And so on, and so on.

A thousand generations later, devout descendants of Elijah’s anointing and Elisha’s double anointing, could potentially perform so many miracles, they’d do ’em by accident. Sneeze in an elevator, and everybody steps out totally cured of their allergies. Fart and everyone’s gastroenteric problems are gone. And so forth.

How sad, this Pentecostal lamented, that people didn’t have the faith to keep pursuing this “double portion anointing.” They could’ve doubled the miracles in the world with every successive generation.

How sad, I’ve learned since, that people keep repeating this old Christian cliché. ’Cause it proves they’ve clearly not read the other parts of the bible, which clear up precisely what a “double portion” is. Heck, they’ve probably heard it explained before, but some mental disconnect keeps ’em from applying it to the Elijah/Elisha story.

27 April 2016

How do you know you heard from God?

“I just know” isn’t gonna cut it.

Let’s say I’m talking with a Christian friend about the time she had to make a great big decision. Like where to go to college, whether to move to Chicago, whether to buy her house, whether to marry her husband, whether to quit her job. You know, the usual life-changing, life-rearranging decisions which make people wanna ask God for advice, because since he knows the future, maybe he can steer us in the right direction.

So after my friend made the request, but before she made the big decision, she drops the inevitable, “Then God told me….”

Me. “Okay but how’d you know it was God?”
She. “Well I just knew.”
Me. “Just knew? How could you ‘just know’? Because it felt like God?”
She. “Exactly.”
Me. “Well, fine; I can work with that. So what’s God feel like?”
She. “Oh, he’s indescribable.”
Me. “Yeah yeah; we all know the Chris Tomlin song. Now try to describe him.”
She. “I just felt an incredible peace about my decision. That’s how I knew it was God.”
Me. “I know what you mean. I feel an incredible peace after the barista hands me my morning coffee. But I’m pretty sure that’s not divine revelation. Describe him better.”
She. “I just wasn’t worried about my choice any longer. I knew I made the right one.”
Me. “You stopped worrying, so you figure God turned off the worries. And if you were still worried, it’d mean you didn’t make the right decision. God uses your worries to point you the right way.”
She. “Yes.”
Me. “What about those people in the bible who worried God wouldn’t come through for them? Like Abraham. The LORD seemed to be taking too long to give him a son, so he borrowed his wife’s slave and put a baby in her. Ge 16.1-4 Shouldn’t God have turned off his worries?”
She. “Abraham should’ve had faith.”
Me. “Abraham did have faith. Three different apostles used Abraham as an example of great faith. Ro 4.9, He 11.8, Jm 2.23 But great faith or not, Abraham was anxious about what God was gonna do, and decided to jump the gun. God wasn’t directing Abraham at all through his worries. His worries were totally his doing.”
She. “God would’ve taken them away if Abraham had only asked.”
Me. “You don’t think Abraham asked? Obviously he asked, ’cause God told him more than once he’d have a son, and he didn’t mean the slave-woman’s son. God even took human form and visited Abraham personally, so he could promise him again. Ge 18.1-15 Why go to those lengths when all he’d have to do is turn off Abraham’s worries?”
She. “Abraham wouldn’t let God turn them off.”
Me. “Because Abraham was in total control of his worries.”
She. “Yes.”
Me. “Kinda like how you’re in total control of your worries, and whether they’re on or off has to do with you. Not God.”
She. “Right. Wait… no. You’re trying to mix me up.”
Me. “Nope. Just trying to point out emotions aren’t the Holy Spirit.

05 April 2016

The prophet Jesus of Nazareth.

Part of following Jesus is using him as our example of how to prophesy.

Jesus of Nazareth is a lot of things. Christ/Messiah/King of Israel, and King of Kings; rabbi/teacher and wise man; savior and healer; God incarnate, and second person of the trinity; and rumor has it he’s particularly good at woodcarving. But listed among these job titles and abilities is prophet. He shares what God told him. Arguably, he never taught anything else. Jn 12.49 That makes him a prophet.

Problem is, every single time I teach Jesus is a prophet—but I fail to refer to him by the usual job titles, “prophet, priest, and king,”—I get blowback. Lots of Christians feel the need to point out he’s not just a prophet. Well duh. He’s all those things I mentioned in the first paragraph. And he’s a prophet.

And the funny thing is, I don’t get this reaction when I teach Jesus is our head priest. Or Jesus is our king. Or Jesus is our teacher. It’s only when I state Jesus is a prophet. What’s up with that?

It’s about despising prophecy. 1Th 5.20-21 The average Christian doesn’t think very highly of prophets.

Some of it’s because they’ve met too many cranks who claim to be prophets, but they’re fake, or they’re sloppy and get it wrong. Or they’ve seen too many nutjobs on TV talking about the End Times, making wild predictions which will never happen, and making the rest of Christian biblical interpretation look foolish and stupid.

Some of it’s because there’s a large number of Christians who believe in cessationism: God turned off the miracles back in bible times, and that includes prophecy. So all present-day prophetic ministries are no different from fortune-tellers and psychics. Calling Jesus a “prophet” invokes ideas of those phonies, so it’s not a compliment.

And to be fair, some of it’s because pagans have no problem saying Jesus is a prophet—but won’t call him Lord. So they wanna make sure I’m not going that route myself.

In the end it’s usually, “Okay, Jesus is a prophet. But he’s more than that. He’s better. Call him something better.”

Remember: Just as Jesus’s behavior is high above the behavior of any of us would-be followers; just as Jesus’s fruit is far more abundant than that of the people who claim allegiance to him; just as Jesus’s character is way more consistent than people who claim to be Christlike; so he’s a better prophet than any and every Christian prophet. Even the good ones.

18 February 2016

Wanna become a prophet?

Like prayer, prophecy isn’t complicated. It’s just our doubts—and our own voices—get in the way.

There are two misconceptions about the word “prophet.” One’s a minor problem; the other’s huge. Small problem first: What a prophet actually is.

Loads of people assume prophets are the same thing as prognosticators: People who know the future, or who can predict it really well. Pagans think this, which is why they treat prophecy like psychic phenomena. And cessationists think this: “Prophecy,” to them, is all about being able to interpret the End Times. It’s why all their “prophecy conferences” consist of End Times goofiness instead of actual prophets talking shop.

True, God talks about the future quite a lot. Be fair; so do we all. “That’s on my schedule for tomorrow,” or “I’ll do that in the morning,” or “Can’t wait till Saturday.” Like us, God either talks about what he’s gonna do in the near future, or the soon-coming consequences of poor choices: “Stop doing that; you’ll go blind.” Since the future comes up so often, people, including Christians, assume prophecy is mostly about foretelling the future.

In fact one of the ways we test a prophet is by making sure any statements about the future do come true. Dt 18.22 And by that metric, we should probably stone to death most of the people who hold those “prophecy conferences.” But I digress.

A prophet is not a prognosticator. A prophet is simply God’s mouthpiece: Someone who heard God, and is sharing with others what God told ’em. That’s all.

When you pray—you do pray, right?—and God speaks back to you, usually it’s information for you. Sometimes it’s information for others. “Remind your husband I love him.” Or “Warn your daughter her so-called friend is gossiping about her.” Or “See that guy at the bus stop? Wave hi.” Or “I have just one word for your father-in-law: Plastics.” Whatever messages God wants us to pass along to others, that’s a prophecy. When you pass ’em, you’re a prophet.

Thought you needed some Isaiah-style vision, with seraphs and thrones and God calling you to the job? Nah. It’s been known to happen. But it’s far more common God’ll just tell you something, and see how you do with it. And if you do well, he’ll do it more often. And if you don’t, he won’t.