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

How non-supernatural Christians define prophecy.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 November

How non-supernaturalist Christians confuse the gift of exhortation with the gift of prophecy.

In the scriptures, a prophet is a person who hears God and shares his messages with others. Anyone can hear God, so anyone can become a prophet, and since every Christian has the Holy Spirit within them, Christians especially can become prophets. It’s kind of our birthright. Ac 2.17-18

However. In popular Christian culture, particularly among Christians who have their doubts or fears about miracles and the supernatural, “prophecy” has been redefined. To these folks, prophecy still totally refers to sharing God’s messages with others. But as for hearing that message directly from God… well that’s not part of their understanding. Either ’cause they insist God doesn’t do that anymore, or ’cause they seriously downplay anything supernatural about the way Christians get God’s messages.

So to them, a “prophet” is anyone who shares God’s truths. They read ’em in the bible, preach the bible, and voilà they’re a prophet. Or they heard these truths from another preacher, shared ’em with others, and that makes ’em a prophet too. Basically every Christian preacher and teacher is a prophet.

To some, what especially makes ’em a prophet is the message. If they radically stand up for God, over and against a culture which doesn’t care about him, or wants to water him down into something inoffensive and powerless, that’s what makes ’em prophets: They’re hardcore. Prophets aren’t just any teachers, but teachers of revolution. Of revival. Of profound, God-seeking change.

To others, the active ingredient is their effectiveness. ’Cause loads of Christians preach radical change. But if these preachers’ messages actually get people to radically change, they must have a gift!—and, they presume, it’s the gift of prophecy. God granted them the power for their words to make a difference. God made ’em really good public speakers, like Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. Isn’t that all prophecy is?

What these alternate definitions have in common is that exhortation makes the prophet. If you preach God’s message—maybe radically, maybe effectively—you’re a prophet.

Why I have a problem with these alternate definitions: Prophets don’t act that way in the bible. They heard God. Samuel’s first prophecy wasn’t radical change but judgment, and it clearly didn’t convict Eli to change his behavior.

1 Samuel 3.10-18 KWL
10 The LORD came, stood, and called, same as usual: “Samuel. Samuel.”
Samuel said, “Speak. Your slave hears you.”
11 The LORD told Samuel, “Look, I’m doing a work in Israel which everyone will hear of.
Their two ears will turn red with shame.
12 On that day, I do to Eli everything I said about his house, start to finish:
13 I told Eli when I judged his house for always, for its corruption.
He already knows: His sons made themselves unholy, and he didn’t stop them.
14 So I promised Eli’s house: Can it make atonement for always,
with a mere sacrifice and offering for Eli’s house’s sin?”
15 Samuel lay down till morning. He opened the door of the LORD’s house.
Samuel was afraid to present the vision to Eli.
16 Eli called Samuel, and said, “Samuel my son.” Samuel said, “Look at me.”
17 Eli said, “What was the word to you? Please don’t hide from me.
God do it to you, and do it again, if you hide the word from me—
all the word he told you.”
18 Samuel told Eli the whole message, and hid from him nothing.
Eli said, “He’s the LORD. He does what’s good in his eyes.”

Yeah, I know; various Christians will insist all the meanings and definitions of miracles and prophecy and revelation got changed between bible times and today, or between Old Testament times and New. It’s rubbish, but popular rubbish. Samuel was identified a prophet because Samuel heard God. Not because of what he said and how he said it. Solely because of how he got what he said.

If your “prophecy” isn’t the product of hearing God, ’tain’t prophecy.

“But in these last days”… prophecy stopped?

by K.W. Leslie, 25 October
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Hebrews 1.2.

In the New International Version, the book of Hebrews begins like so.

Hebrews 1.1-2 NIV
1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

The English Standard Version translates it similarly.

Hebrews 1.1-2 ESV
1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

Other translations also present the similar idea: In the past God spoke through the prophets, but in the present he speaks through his Son.

So the argument goes whenever cessationists wanna insist God doesn’t speak through prophets anymore. Prophets, they insist, are an Old Testament phenomenon. A bible-times office. Not a present-day position; God doesn’t do that anymore. Like the Muslims deem Muhammad, Jesus is the last and greatest and final prophet. The title the NIV adds to this passage even says so: “God’s Final Word: His Son.”

I do agree Jesus has the last word on every controversy, disagreement, or discussion among his followers. He’s our Lord, so of course he has final say.

But what this title implies—and what cessationists totally mean—is prophecy stopped: There are no more prophets. We’re done with that. We don‘t even need them; we have a bible. That’s all the revelation we’re gonna get from God; he doesn’t see fit to add to it; and we’d better not claim we have further revelations from him. (And when they interpret what the bible means, and insist we gotta live by their doctrines, somehow them adding their 2 cents to the bible doesn’t count as further revelations.)

Doesn’t matter that there are New Testament prophets, particularly John of Patmos; doesn’t matter that Paul encouraged the Corinthians to prophesy; doesn’t matter that Christian history is dotted with prophets. Their proof text for why there aren’t prophets any more—one of many—is how the very book of Hebrews begins by saying God used to speak through prophets, but in the last days it’s just Jesus. And then Jesus got raptured to heaven and doesn’t talk to us anymore. And while the Holy Spirit might’ve permitted just a bit of prophecy in Peter and Paul‘s time, once those guys finished writing the New Testament, the Spirit stopped talking too.

Thing is, the whole basis of this argument hinges on one little word in their proof-text: “But.” In bible times God spoke through prophets, but now it’s just Jesus. Do we find this word in every bible translation? Nope.

WYCLIFFE: “…at the last in these days he hath spoken to us by the Son…”
GENEVA BIBLE (includes it in verse 1): “…in these last days he hath spoken unto us by his Son…”
KJV: “…hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son…”
ASV: “…hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son…”
CSB: “In these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son.”
DARBY: “…at the end of these days has spoken to us in the person of the Son…”
ISV: “…has in these last days spoken to us by a Son…”
MEV: “…has in these last days spoken to us by His Son…”
NASB: “…in these last days has spoken to us in His Son…”
NET: “…in these last days he has spoken to us in a son…”
NKJV: “…has in these last days spoken to us by His Son…”
NLT: “And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son.”

Obviously that’s not every translation. A number of translations include “but,” though you’ll also notice an equal number of ’em have not. Including the oldest English translations.

’Cause cessationists, and those who lean in that direction, added “but” to the bible. And in pinning their arguments to the word they’ve illegitimately inserted into the scriptures, are they riding that “but” hard.

Prophetic dreams… and whether you had one.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 October

Of course God can speak to us in dreams. But he hasn’t spoken to us in every dream.

When we sleep, we dream. Not all of us remember our dreams; I seldom do. Psychiatrists have all sorts of theories as to why, and a really popular one is that our brains are sorting out all the memories we haven’t yet processed… and because the brain is designed to recognize patterns and find meanings in the meaningless, it sorts the memories by turning them into a narrative. The narrative won’t always make sense. Doesn’t actually have to.

I believe (though I won’t claim this is infallibly true) the reason some of us hear God speak to us in our dreams, is because God’s voice is one of the unprocessed or under-processed memories we had during the day. We weren’t really giving him our full attention at the time. But we did hear him. Our subconscious picked it up, at least. And once we’re asleep, as every subconscious memory is getting dredged up and looked at, of course God’s voice is gonna be in the mix. If not take center stage, ’cause we know God should take center stage.

I’ve found many other Christians share this experience: “Prophetic dreams” are simply when God’s voice comes up in our usual dreams. That’s why whenever I have such a dream, I’m a little annoyed with myself: It implies I wasn’t paying enough attention to God during my waking hours. Gotta get better at that.

But that’s only one sort of prophetic dream. For some, prophetic dreams are full-on prophetic visions. Same as God would show you during the daytime, but instead he decided to interrupt your dreams and do it then. Because that’s what he prefers with certain people.

God said he’d speak to his prophets in their dreams, Nu 12.6) especially once he poured out his Spirit upon all Christians. Ac 2.17 Hence lots of Christians have dreams where God shows up and has a talk with you. Same as he did with Abraham, Ge 15.12-16 Abimelech, Ge 20.3 Jacob, Ge 28.10-15 Laban, Ge 31.24 Solomon, 1Ki 3.5 and Paul. Ac 18.9 Other prophets, like Daniel or Jesus’s father Joseph, spoke with angels.

And others had prophetic visions. This’d be like when the Egyptian pharaoh in Joseph’s day dreamed of fat and skinny cows, Ge 41.1-4 when a Midianite raider dreamed of a loaf of bread knocking a tent over, Jg 7.13 when Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon dreamed of an oddly-made statue knocked over by a rock, Da 2.31-35 or when Daniel dreamed of the End Times. Da 7 These dreams needed to be separately interpreted, so sometimes the dreamers called upon a prophet who could get the key to the dream from the Holy Spirit. Other times the dreamers had the dream explained by angels. Either way they recognized the messages in these visions came from God.

Here’s the problem: A lot of Christians wanna be prophets. (As we should!) The usual way we do this is by listening to God, then sharing with others what he told us. This takes the ability to tell the difference between God‘s voice, and any of the other voices (usually our own) in our heads. This especially takes faith and boldness. Not every Christian has the wisdom to pick out God’s voice, nor the backbone to share it.

So what’s the way easier way to try becoming a prophet? Remember your dreams, pick ’em apart, then try to play connect-the-dots interpretation with them. “I had a dream, and I think it means this. So… isn’t that amazing? Isn’t it profound?”

No. Stop that. It’s annoying.

“Before I formed you in the womb…”

by K.W. Leslie, 12 July

Jeremiah 1.5.

May as well state my biases up front: I’m prolife.

In the United States we use this term to describe a person who doesn’t approve of aborting a pregnancy. Depending on the person, we either want the practice discouraged, banned outright, made a crime, or even made a capital crime with death penalties all around. Which goes way too far for me, because I’m prolife in the proper sense of the word: I don’t want anybody to die. Not just fetuses.

The real problem with abortion is a society which claims they care about women and motherhood, but they only care about self-supporting women and mothers. When women get pregnant, hadn’t planned on it, and don‘t know how they’re gonna have the time or money to raise a child, society’s response isn’t, “How can I help? Whatever you need, just ask; I’m there.” It’s usually condemnation: “You should’ve expected this.”

No moral support, no financial support, no personal support; God forbid we suggest government support. So the pregnancy is turned into a massive burden… and the easiest way out of the burden appears to be abortion. Social Darwinism turns into actual Darwinism.

You honestly want abortion to be gone, or at least rare? Start supporting women. Start caring for the needy. Love your neighbor. Don’t be one of those hypocrites who only care about fetuses, but not about women struggling to raise kids. Rant over.

So. In conservative Evangelical churches, it’s kinda taken for granted we’re prolife. Most of us are. But not all; you can kinda tell who’s not, by how much they squirm in their seats whenever the speaker starts to condemn abortion.

Me, I start to squirm whenever they misquote bible in support of their cause. I’m pretty sure “Thou shalt not kill” Ex 20.13, Dt 5.17, Mt 5.21 does the job just fine. But prolifers feel we gotta quote other verses to defend our worldview. Any verses which suggest “a person’s a person, no matter how small” Horton Hears a Who! and actually references a fetus, is trotted out as “proof” God considers them people.

This bit from the first chapter of Jeremiah in particular. For some reason, I hear people quote it in the NIV more so than the KJV. I suspect it’s because the KJV uses the word “belly,” which isn’t clinical enough for ’em.

Jeremiah 1.5 NIV
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“See?” prolifers will point out, “God knew us before we were born.”

Um yes, but y’all need to read that verse again. It says Beterem echorkha vebeten/“At [a time] before I formed you in [the] womb.” Not when God formed Jeremiah in the womb; before.

The verse is about foreknowledge, not fetuses. God knew Jeremiah before God created Jeremiah.

Discernment isn’t prophecy.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 May

If it looks like the science of deduction, or carnival mentalism, ’tain’t prophecy.

Here’s a bit from “The Red-Headed League,” a Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle.

“Beyond the obvious facts that he has at some time done manual labor, that he takes snuff, that he is a Freemason, that he has been in China, and that he has done a considerable amount of writing lately, I can deduce nothing else.”

Mr. Jabez Wilson started up in his chair, with his forefinger upon the paper, but his eyes upon my companion.

“How, in the name of good fortune, did you know all that, Mr. Holmes?” he asked. “How did you know, for example, that I did manual labor? It’s as true as gospel, for I began as a ship’s carpenter.”

“Your hands, my dear sir. Your right hand is quite a size larger than your left. You have worked with it, and the muscles are more developed.”

“Well, the snuff, then, and the Freemasonry?”

“I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you how I read that, especially as, rather against the strict rules of your order, you use an arc-and-compass breastpin.”

“Ah, of course, I forgot that. But the writing?”

“What else can be indicated by that right cuff so very shiny for five inches, and the left one with the smooth patch near the elbow where you rest it upon the desk?”

“Well, but China?”

“The fish which you have tattooed immediately above your right wrist could only have been done in China. I have made a small study of tattoo marks, and have even contributed to the literature of the subject. That trick of staining the fishes’ scales of a delicate pink is quite peculiar to China. When, in addition, I see a Chinese coin hanging from your watch-chain, the matter becomes even more simple.”

Mr. Jabez Wilson laughed heavily. “Well, I never!” said he. “I thought at first that you had done something clever, but I see that there was nothing in it after all.”

“I begin to think, Watson,” said Holmes, “that I make a mistake in explaining. ‘Omne ignotum pro magnifico,’ you know, and my poor little reputation, such as it is, will suffer shipwreck if I am so candid.”

So you saw what Holmes did there; he does it in most of his stories, and it’s kinda what he’s known for. He looked the guy over, noticed details, made deductions—and the fellow reacted as if Holmes was a mind-reader. Or a prophet.

This form of deduction is called cold reading: An analyst comes into a situation cold, with no prior knowledge of the situation or the people. (If the analyst already knows a few facts, it’d be a hot reading.) The analyst reads the clues, makes the deductions, and surprises everyone who hadn’t noticed the same clues. Detectives, like Holmes, do this all the time. So do doctors, psychologists; anyone who’s learned to notice these details.

Psychics too. If you’ve seen the TV shows Psych or The Mentalist, that’s precisely what the protagonists do. One’s pretending to be a psychic, but was trained by his dad to observe everything like a detective; the other quit pretending to be psychic in order to help detectives. (You’d think the detectives on these shows would know what’s going on better than they do, but the show writers have more fun in making ’em a little bit dumb.)

And fake prophets do it too.

“…But what if that message is from the devil?”

by K.W. Leslie, 17 November

On psyching ourselves out of sharing.

In my early days of learning what God’s voice sounds like, from time to time an idea’d pop into my head, and I’d wonder—as one should—whether the idea was mine, God’s… or Satan’s.

I kinda blame my Fundamentalist upbringing. Y’see, there were a number of people in that church who insisted God doesn’t talk to people anymore, and anybody who claimed to hear from God was really hearing Satan. The effect is it makes a lot of Christians really wary of prophets. And, because the Holy Spirit actually does speak, really wary of listening to God for themselves.

So I’d be at a bus stop, and the idea’d pop into my head, “Go tell that person ‘God bless you.’ ”

And my knee-jerk reaction would be, “Is that God’s voice, mine, or Satan’s? After all, what if that person’s really anti-God right now, and my ‘God bless you’ prompts some sort of angry tirade? What if that person’s a cult member who sees this as an opportunity to try to convert me? What if…? What if…?” and so forth.

Okay. Back away from the Fear for a moment, and consider this rationally: Why on earth would Satan want anyone to be blessed? And thanks to my paranoid knee-jerk reaction, this obviously ain’t my idea.

Simple process of elimination: God wants this person to hear, “God bless you.” Not necessarily because it’ll have a profound impact on them (although in my experience, sometimes it does). Or an impact on ’em yet. But more positivity in the world? More grace? More love? What’s the problem?

Well, other than me. Most of the time my long lists of “What if?…” meant I’d talk myself out of doing anything. Humanity’s usual practice is to avoid risks, to listen to that self-preservation instinct, even when it’s cranked too high, and the devil’s poking at us to crank it even higher by inserting ridiculous worst-case scenarios into our minds.

But y’see, our unwillingness to act, our willingness to listen to the Fear, is what kills growth in our ability to hear God. Because if we’re not gonna listen and follow, the Holy Spirit’s not gonna bother to give us instructions. And that’s most of what he tells us. Not little feel-good nuggets of wisdom, suitable for sermon topics and happy thoughts. He wants obedience. Same as always.

So how do we break this cycle of hearing, but holding back?

It’s best we get prepared. Figure out the appropriate reaction to when the Spirit drops something into us. Then follow that—instead of our knee-jerk worries which lead us to do nothing.

“Prophecy scholars”: Neither prophets nor scholars.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 November

I’m Pentecostal. So whenever I see an notice or ad for an upcoming “prophecy conference,” they tend to refer to prophets. Actual prophets. Meaning people who’ve learned to listen to the Holy Spirit—and thereafter share with others what he’s told them. True, some of ’em practice some really iffy methods of identifying his voice. But when Penecostals, charismatics, and most continuationists refer to prophecy, we literally mean the same thing we see done in the bible by Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Simon Peter, and Paul of Tarsus. They heard God; they shared what they figured he told ’em; that’s prophecy.

Outside Pentecostal circles—though not far outside Pentecostal circles, ’cause from time to time it gets in here—is a whole other type of “prophecy conference.” There, they aren’t at all talking about hearing God. They mean predictions about the End Times. They’re throwing a conference ’cause they wanna tell you what they think the apocalypses mean.

Um… didn’t God deliberately make those visions difficult to interpret, their details near-impossible to pin down, lest people try to make their own plans for the future which do an end-run around him? Well, insist these “prophecy scholars,” not really. ’Cause they were able to figure ’em out. They got a system!

Yep, figured out how to connect the dots. They were more discerning, more clever, more devout, more studied, more fervent, than all the other Christians before them. All the supposedly level-headed folks who insist we’re not to bounce to conclusions based on coincidence and fear-based illogic: They’re wearing blinders. Wake up, sheeple!

So come to their conferences. Pay the admission. Buy their books. Donate to their ministries. Subscribe to their websites. Hire them to preach at your churches. ’Cause they’re not giving away their teachings for free, y’know. They gotta pay the bills.

Anyway if you ever make the mistake of going to the conferences, led by “noted prophecy scholars” (many of whom you’ve never even heard of, unless you or your church have already blown hundreds of dollars a year on their stuff), you’ll notice their definition of “prophecy” is precisely the same as that of pagans. In other words, prophecy isn’t hearing from God; it’s about predicting the future. It’s only about the future. And, warn these guys, it’s likely the near future!

Well okay, they’ve been claiming that for the past two centuries. But unlike their prophecy-scholar forebears, their interpretations are gonna be correct. ’Cause discernment, cleverness, devotion, study, yada yada yada.

Prophesying your own issues.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 August

Funny how a lot of prophecies particularly apply to the person sharing it.

From time to time—in bible studies, church, conferences, prayer groups, what have you—prophets get up and say a little something which “God laid on their heart,” which is Christianese for “God told ’em.”

Or at least they think God told ’em. They were listening to their consciences, which is probably the easiest way to hear God. When we become Christian, the Holy Spirit gets to work on our consciences, growing good fruit in them, fixing our attitudes, poking us there whenever we misbehave. For some of us, it’s our most regular form of communication with him; we’re used to it. Many prophets have learned to listen to our consciences, in case any tugs we might feel are messages from God.

So let’s say a prophet detects this idea in there: “Someone’s not so sure she believes in God. She has doubts.” Sounded to them like something the Holy Spirit would say. So they take it and run with it.

“I feel in my spirit,” they’ll say (this’d be Christianese for “I think”), “there’s someone in this room who’s not sure whether she even believes in God anymore. She has days when she can’t even feel God’s presence. She’s struggling. I just want everyone in this room to know God is real. He cares about you. And if you wanna come forward we’ll pray for you, and pray that God show up in your life. For you to feel his presence.”

Thereafter, five or six girls come forward to be prayed over. And sometimes one or two guys who don’t care which pronoun was used: They’re kinda feeling that way too, and also want prayer.

Okay, time for the analysis.

Everybody doubts. Those who don’t, either had such a profound God-experience they don’t doubt anymore, ’cause they used to doubt, ’cause everybody doubts. Or they’re in heavy denial, which ain’t good. In any event, skip a rock into a crowd of Christians and it’s a safe bet you’ll hit a doubter. So we don’t actually need the Holy Spirit to inform us, “Hey, there’s a doubter in the room.” Maybe we need him to remind us, but not inform us. But get up in any large meeting, prompted by the Spirit or not, and declare, “Anybody have doubts? Come forward for prayer,” and people’ll come forward for prayer. Because everybody doubts.

And because everybody doubts, why’s “Somebody has doubts” sitting in this prophet’s conscience, waiting to be heard? Because the prophet has doubts. That’s a message for them. Since we humans are far more alike than not, it’ll also work for many of the people in the room. But we humans tend to have some really serious blinders on when our consciences are talking to us about ourselves.

So nine times out of ten, you know who’s really going through the struggle with belief and doubt in the room? Duh: The prophet.

The next dozen times you hear prophets get up and declare something, ask yourself, “Say, does this message also apply—if not primarily apply—to the person giving the declaration?” And y’know what? It almost always will.

Sometimes prophecy encourages. Sometimes not.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 February

Too often, wannabe prophets insist prophecy and encouragement are one and the same. They’re not.

When Christians teach about prophecy, one of the more popular verses we throw around is this one:

1 Corinthians 14.3 NIV
But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.

’Cause if prophets are looking for a mission statement, Paul and Sosthenes provided us a convenient one-line description. Prophecy is for the purpose of strengthening, encouraging, and comfort.

Sometimes they tighten it up just a little bit: Which of those three words can encapsulate the other two? So these prophets will see it as their particular mission to strengthen… and less so to encourage or comfort. Others, to comfort… and not so much strengthen and encourage. What I encounter most often are the prophets who wanna encourage. Wanna get Christians all confident and excited about our role in God’s kingdom, and wanna give us nothing but encouraging messages which’ll shove us forward.

Trouble is, there are certain self-proclaimed prophets who claim anyone who encourages Christians—regardless of whether they directly heard from God—is a prophet. It’s ’cause of the cessationists. They don’t believe God talks to anyone anymore; at most he “talks” to them through the words of the bible, and makes us feel really good about what we just read. To them any preacher who teaches on God’s word, who disciples Christians, and who persuades people to give up sin and repent, counts as a prophet. Of course once you redefine “prophet” to mean someone who doesn’t have to hear God, it’s kind of a problem. Not to them, but certainly to everyone else on the planet—who might incorrectly believe prophets only predict the future, but are at least pretty sure prophets gotta hear God.

Anyway, this idea that encouragers are the same as prophets, has trickled into way too many continuationist churches. I’ve visited charismatic churches which no-fooling teach every time we encourage another person, we’re “activating the prophetic.” Supposedly every time we encourage one another, we’ve opened a door for the Holy Spirit to step through, and start giving us revelation and directing our words.

Since God has free will, he’s under no obligation to do any such thing. If he doesn’t care to speak through me—’cause the only reason I’m trying to “activate the prophetic” is so I can show off a little, and God prefers his prophets to be humble—he’s not gonna. Hence all I’ll say are bunch of encouraging-sounding things. They’ll sound nice, but won’t be God. They’ll feel nice, but feelings aren’t God either. At best they’ll be harmless, benign. At worst, they’ll lead people astray, just like they got King Ahab ben Omri killed. 1Ki 22.6, 23

Whereas actual prophecy? Never harmless. Always powerful and mighty and effective, ’cause it’s the word of God. He 4.12 “Benign” is never a word we ought to hear describing God’s prophets. They—we—had better do way more than merely encourage.

Intercession: Praying for others… and answering for God.

by K.W. Leslie, 31 January

It’s not just a prayer ministry. It’s prophetic too.

INTERCESSION /ɪn.(t)ər'sɛs.ʃən/ n. The act of coming between one person and another, on the behalf of one (or both) of the parties.
2. The act of praying on behalf of another.
[Intercessor /'ɪn.(t)ər.sɛs.sər/ n., intercessory /ɪn.(t)ər'sɛs.(sə.)ri/ adj.]

Praying for rulers is one of the many forms of intercession, or the more redundant “intercessory prayer.” It’s when we try to help somebody out, by praying for or with ’em. Sometimes because they asked us to pray for them, but of course they don’t have to: We’re talking with God, they’re on our mind, we bring ’em up.

There are a number of Christians who’ve made intercession their particular ministry. They don’t go out and physically or financially help the needy: They pray for them. Sometimes for legitimate reasons: They can’t physically help, or haven’t the authority, or haven’t the finances. So prayer’s all they can do. True in a whole lot of cases.

Then there’s the illegitimate reason: They do have the means and ability, but they don’t wanna help in any of those other ways. And prayer costs them nothing. So it’s stinginess disguised as piety. Pretend faith, ’cause real faith is expressed by good deeds. Jm 2.14-17 I could go on, but that’d be its own article.

But it brings up another point: Intercession doesn’t begin and end with making other people’s requests known to God. It’s also a prophetic ministry. Y’see, God talks back.

Remember, the usual definition of intercession is when we come between one person and another. In prayer, we come between the person with the request, and the Almighty who can answer the request. You know, like any good priest does. But if we don’t listen for God’s answer—for his solution to the problem—that’s not intercession. What kind of intercessor only listens to one party?

So if you wanna be an intercessor, good for you! But if you think all an intercessor does is make prayer requests, you got another think coming. Intercession usually means you are part of the way God answers prayer.

Prophetic interpretation: “God told me it means this!”

by K.W. Leslie, 25 January

Sometimes the Spirit explains his scriptures. Other times prophets just don’t wanna do their homework.

I’m writing this article under the Prophecy category, but I should warn you: It’s not just prophets, wannabe prophets, and fake prophets who try to pull this stunt. Y’know where I first encountered it? Among cessationists, of all people.

Yep. All of ’em figure they have the very same Holy Spirit as the authors of scripture. Which they should, if they’re Christians. Since the Spirit inspired the scriptures, the Spirit should also be able to clue us in on what the scriptures mean.

Cessationists claim God doesn’t prophetically talk to people anymore. So what’s the point of ’em having the Holy Spirit? Well, they think he’s here for only two reasons:

  1. Confirm we’re going to heaven. Ep 1.13-14
  2. Illuminate the scriptures.

Illuminate means “light up,” and depending on how much the cessationist will permit the Holy Spirit to do, they figure either he lights them up so they can understand the scriptures, or lights the scriptures up so they can be understood. In essence they figure the only reason God the Holy Spirit is in their lives, is so he can make their bibles work. But they absolutely won’t refer to this process as prophecy… even though it totally is. Hey, if God’s speaking to us, and giving us stuff to tell others, that’s prophecy.

Anyway, they’re not wrong. One of the many things the Spirit does is inform us what he meant when he inspired the prophets and apostles who wrote the bible. That’s cool. You won’t find too many Christians who have a problem with the concept. That’s because I haven’t yet got to the actual problem.

And here it is: They take this idea of theirs about what the bible means, don’t bother to confirm it really did come from the Spirit, nor confirm it to be true, get up in front of other Christians, and proclaim, “This is what it means. And I know, ’cause I got it from God.”

Yes, it skipped a step. We’re supposed to confirm prophecies, folks. That means when we get an idea about how scripture oughta be interpreted, we bounce it off other Christians. Ever heard of a bible commentary? Totally counts as confirming it with other Christians. So do bible handbooks, bible dictionaries, and sending emails or making phone calls to real live bible scholars. If you got it in your head “This means that,” go find out whether this means that. Otherwise the devil’s gonna realize, “Hey, this dude never double-checks,” and is gonna have a lot of fun steering you wrong. How else d’you think cults start?

The problem is when a presumptive preacher or prophet figures they never need to double-check. They’ve been following God long enough to know what he sounds like. (A month’s all you need, right?) They have the Holy Spirit, so they need not that any man teach them. The Spirit teaches everything, Jn 14.26 and fallible fellow Christians will just mix ’em up anyway. Thus they get up in front of everyone and proclaim, “Thus saith the LORD”… and the LORD said no such thing.

Sometimes they even teach this as a legitimate way to interpret scripture. They call it “divine interpretation”—or instead of “divine,” they’ll go with “prophetic,” “spiritual,” “supernatural,” “revelatory,” or some other supernatural-sounding name. Shorthand for “Pretty sure I heard God, but I didn’t confirm jack.”

Jesus, our Immanuel.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 December

Why “fulfillment” isn’t about when predictions come true.

Isaiah 7.14

Matthew 1.22-23 KWL
22 All this happened so the Lord’s word through the prophet could be fulfilled,
saying, 23 “Look, the maiden will have a child in the womb,
and they will declare his name Immanúël, which is translated ‘God with us.’” Is 7.14

This one’s probably the most famous “Messianic prophecy”… which, it turns out, isn’t. Seriously, isn’t.

Back in 735BC, King Radyán of Damascus, Aram (KJV “Rezin the king of Syria”) joined forces with King Peqákh ben Remalyáhu of Samaria, Ephraim (KJV “Pekah the son of Remaliah”) to attack Jerusalem. 2Ki 16.5 Laid siege to it. Didn’t look good.

The prophets Isaiah ben Amóch and his son Sheüryahsúv had come to King Akház ben Yotám (KJV “Ahaz son of Jotham”) with good news from the LORD: Aram and Ephraim’s plans would come to nothing.

Isaiah 7.10-17 KWL
10 The LORD’s word to Akház, saying, 11 “Request a sign from your LORD God,
made deep as a grave, or made high as outer space.”
12 Akház said, “I won’t ask.
I won’t test the LORD.”
13 Isaiah said, “House of David, listen please.
It takes little for you to tire people, because you also tire God.
14 For this, my Master himself is giving you a sign.
Look, a pregnant maiden gave birth to a son.
She declared his name Immánuël/‘God with us.’
15 He’ll eat curds and honey,
and learn to reject evil and choose good.
16 But before the boy learns to reject evil and choose good,
the nations you fear will be laid waste before the face of two kings.
17 The LORD is bringing upon you, your people, and your father’s house days which haven’t been
since the days before Ephraim turned away from Judah to Assyria’s king.”

Meaning the days before Peqákh had allied Ephraim with the Assyrian Empire, back when there was relative peace in the region.

God had Akház’s back. Proof? Little Immánuël.

We don’t know the situation of the “pregnant maiden” whom Isaiah pointed out. Was she pregnant at the time? Dunno. Usually fathers would name their kids, but maybe he died in the siege. Regardless, she wasn’t killed by the invaders, and named her boy Immánuël. It doesn’t take toddlers long to learn right from wrong; the “terrible twos” are what happens when they test those boundaries. And in fact the siege would lift relatively soon: Aram and Ephraim would abandon Judah to fight for their lives against the Assyrians. And lose.

So what does this story have to do with Jesus? Nothing.

But it’s got a lot of significant similarities, which is why Matthew pointed to it.

The mentalist… disguised as a prophet.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 November

When “prophets” depend a great deal on their own intuition, it’s not really the Holy Spirit.

MENTALIST /'mɛn.(t)əl.əst/ adj. One who performs highly intuitive, mnemonic, telepathic, or hypnotic abilities. (Usually as a stage performance.)
[Mentalism /'mɛn.(t)əl.ɪz.əm/ n.]

“Is there anyone in this room who was born on April 6th?”

It’s the sort of question you oughta hear when a psychic or magician is standing in front of an audience. Thing is, Christians who are into supernatural gifts tend to avoid psychics like the plague. (We have been taught to stay away from them, y’know. God forbade ’em to the Hebrews, Dt 18.8-14 and we figure that applies to us too.) Likewise we’re not as familiar with magicians who claim to be mind-readers. Or mentalists, as they’re properly called. (Maybe you remember the TV show where one of ’em solved crimes.)

Requests for anyone who was born on a certain birthdate, or anyone who has a certain letter in their name, or anyone who recognizes a certain word, name, phrase, whatever: It’s called “fishing.” The person who does it, has no idea whether there’s any such person in the crowd. But statistically it’s likely. Chances are good there is a person with a J in their name, or whose father’s name was Stephen, or who recognizes the word “Bureau,” or who considers certain dates meaningful. The first person to stand and say, “That’s me!” is gonna get a brief demonstration of how mentalism works.

What they get next are often Barnum statements, “prophecies” which seem like they apply just to that individual, but it’s rare you’ll find someone whom they don’t apply to. They’re the sort of general, that-could-mean-anything stuff we read in horoscopes or fortune cookies.

  • “There’s a significant event which recently took place in your life, isn’t there?” Of course there is.
  • “You’ve been feeling uncertain lately. You have some doubts.” Who doesn’t?
  • “You’re having problems with a friend or relative.” Of course.
  • “Is the number 10 significant to you in some way?” It’s significant to everyone in some way. Me, I happen to have that many toes. Sometimes a $10 in my wallet.
  • “There’s somebody important in your life—I’m seeing a B, maybe a C…” Just about everyone knows someone with those letters as initials.

From there, the “prophet” will fish for more information. Meanwhile they’re looking these folks over, and trying to deduce other things about them. The goal is to keep rooting around till they find something really meaningful. Then cheer you up about it, give you hope, make you know everything’s okay. ’Cause prophecy’s all about encouragement, right? 1Co 14.3 Deduce your problem, small or large; then encourage you God already knows all about it, and has your back.

But let’s hit pause on this process and think a moment. These prophets claim to hear from God, right? Yet instead of calling out a name, they’ve gotta play guessing games? They can’t tell whether the issue’s with a friend or relative? They can’t tell whether God’s saying B or C? Those letters don’t look that similar. Nor sound similar.

If they can’t identify what God’s telling them on such basic things, how can we trust any of the prophecies which’re gonna come afterward?

Well, we can’t. Because the Holy Spirit isn’t talking to these traveling-circus-style “prophets.” With God there’s no guesswork about what he’s saying. Oh, there’s plenty of guesswork about what he means; Christians still debate over some of Jesus’s parables. But his messages are crystal clear. There’s no guesswork to it. God doesn’t do vague.

The prophet Jesus of Nazareth.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 April

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.

Wanna become a prophet?

by K.W. Leslie, 18 February

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.