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DO NOT DESPISE PROPHECY DESPITE 2020

I believe in prophecy and I believe in prophets. But based on what I know from Scripture both are rarer than many would have us believe. I suspect though that there are a lot of Christians who used to share my acceptance of the validity of prophecy and prophets — who no longer do due to the events of 2020.

One of the many reasons I believe in prophecy and prophets is the teaching of Scripture. I will use one particular two-verse passage to bookend this week’s pastor’s desk to make my case.

Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.
First Thessalonians 5:20-21

 

THUS SAYS THE LORD!

Prophecy is predicting or foretelling. It is not like a good guess or a mere hunch. It is what happens when the Spirit of God comes upon a person and they speak on behalf of God. For the most part, the only ones who prophesied in the Old Covenant era were prophets. There were occasions when people experienced the Holy Spirit coming upon them in which people wondered whether these people were now prophets. But each of these instances were temporary and the prophetic utterances that resulted were forth-telling rather than foretelling. That is, rather than predicting the future (foretelling), these temporary prophecies were more like declaring God’s praises. Here are some examples- 

Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it.
Numbers 11:25

And when all who knew him previously saw how he prophesied with the prophets, the people said to one another, “What has come over the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” And a man of the place answered, “And who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”
First Samuel 10:11-12

It was a grave thing to claim to be a prophet. ‘Grave’ because the consequences of claiming to be a prophet when you were not included shaming and a painful death (Deut. 18:20-22). Little wonder then that several of the Old Testament prophets were hesitant to accept God’s call to be a prophet.

¶ “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
¶ Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold,
I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.”
Jeremiah 1:5-6

Anyone who claimed to be a prophet but taught falsehood, was not to be listened to. This required that there was a standard of truth by which the prophet’s words could be evaluated. This is why the written Word of God became increasingly important. Over time, the role of the prophet broadened beyond foretelling to reminding God’s people of His Word, reminding them of the covenant their forefathers had established with God by retelling them their history (the prophet Jeremiah was one of the authors of First and Second Kings for example), and fulfilling the role of an intercessor. In Isaiah 36 we see the prophet Isaiah fulfilling each of these prophetic aspects after King Hezekiah sent messengers to Isaiah pleading for him to intercede on their behalf –

It may be that the LORD your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the LORD your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.’” ¶ When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the LORD: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the young men of the king of Assyria have reviled me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumour and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.’”
Isaiah 37:4-7

 

PROPHETS AND PROPHECY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

It has been said that the calling of the prophet is the only Old Covenant ministry to be carried over into the New Covenant. Jesus Christ stated that He would be sending prophets, but just like the prophets of old, they too would be mistreated.

Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town
Matthew 23:34

And the apostle Paul tells us that when Christ ascended He gave of people to the church which included prophets.

He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers
Ephesians 4:10-11

Just as we briefly saw from our glimpse of what the Old Testament said about the distinction between the ministry of the prophet and those who received a temporary Spirit-enabled ability to prophesy about the glories of God, so too the New Testament makes a distinction between the gift of the prophet to the church, and the gift of [edifying] prophecy to the believer. Through the Book of Acts we see the unfolding role of the New Testament prophet. In the Old Testament, prophets prophesied to the regents of Israel and their national neighbours. Elijah’s prophetic ministry marked the beginning of the Age of the Prophet. John the Baptist was the last Old Covenant prophet and he marks the end of the Age of the Prophet. After Christ ascended and He gave gifts of people to the church as summarised in Ephesians 4:11, we see in Acts three important indicators about how the understanding New Testament prophet developed. 

 

1. The Leadership team at Antioch

In Acts 13 we are introduced to the church at Antioch (which was the Apostle Paul’s home church) which was comprised of prophets and teachers. 

¶ Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
Acts 13:1

In his commentary on this passage John Calvin argues that prophets and teachers in this sense basically amounts to the same thing – people who could teach and interpret God’s Word. But it seems that later in Calvin’s life he came to recognise that they were distinct ministries and functions1. Calvin acknowledges in his commentary on Ephesians 4 and First Corinthians 12 that there is a similar distinction in the New Testament to the ministry of the prophet and the occasional gift of prophecy.

Through Acts we notice that others become identified as prophets (Acts 11:27; 15:32). But there is one in particular I would like to point out.

2. Agabus

Agabus appears in Acts 11 as one of the pioneers of the church at Antioch. His ministry is truly weird. While it might be popular among conservative scholars to assume that only the Old Testament prophets were foretellers, Agabus makes this assumption untenable.

And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius).
Acts 11:28

The next time we meet Agabus is in Acts 21. By this time we see that Agabus had a long track record of being an authentic prophet. The prophecy that he delivers in Acts 21 highlights the difference between the gift of prophecy as one of the charismatic gifts of the Spirit, and the ministry of the prophet. (People whom the Holy Spirit graces with occasional gifts of prophecy for the edifying of the church are not necessarily prophets.)

While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.  And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Acts 21:10-13

Prior to Agabus delivering this prophecy to Paul, the disciples at Tyre, where Paul’s ship had landed, were “through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:4). What we see when Agabus prophesied is that Paul listens, accepts, and acknowledges what he has said. We note that Agabus did not direct Paul to do anything. Paul may have chosen to heed the Tyrian and Agabus’ prophetic warnings about going to Jerusalem, but he accepted that what they were prophesying to him agreed with what he knew was God’s will was. This should stand as a warning for those who ever have people “give them a word from God” that is directive (that is, ‘God wants you to…’). Be very careful if someone claims to have a word from God for you telling you to do something that takes you by complete surprise. 

3. The Daughters of Philip

Among some Christians there remains some controversy about the role of women within the church. For those who claim that it is against God’s will for a woman to preach/teach/prophesy in a church, Philip’s four daughters present a problem.

On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied.
Acts 21:8-9

There can be little doubt that women prophesied in the early church (1Cor. 11:5). This should not be surprising either because even in the Old Testament times God called women to be prophets – Miriam (Ex. 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (2Kings 22:14), Isaiah’s wife (Isa. 8:3), and Anna (Luke 2:36).

 

DISCERNMENT AND PROPHECY

Twenty-twenty will be a memorable year for most us but sadly it will probably be recorded by church historians as the year of discredited prophets and prophecy. I’m not aware any prophet who foretold of the global pandemic, and most of the high-profile American ‘prophets’ unanimously prophesied the President Donald Trump would be re-elected.

I dared to respond to one of these ‘prophets’ with a Youtube video challenging his prophecy that Bill Gates was going to infuse a nano-chip into a coronavirus vaccine which would lead to him being revealed as the prophesied Antichrist. I’ve had around 700 people call me a ‘false prophet’ and condemn me to hell for daring to challenge this ‘prophet’. But this example of modern prophecy serves to illustrate the principle found in our bookend biblical passage. 

Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.
First Thessalonians 5:20-21

Based on this text of Scripture, whenever someone prophesies something, we test what they say. This testing should include: 

  • Does it correspond to the teaching of Scripture?
  • Is it conditional? (Most Biblical prophecies were unconditional.)
  • Does it have a time-frame? That is, does it declare that it will be fulfilled by a certain date? This makes it easy to test.
  • Does the person prophesying have a credible prophetic track-record?

Last Sunday (January 17th 2021), someone in our church received a word from the Lord. They wrote it down and gave it to me through the week. This is what it says-

“God is calling His church—individual people to seek Him deeper for a more personal relationship with Him. This will cause people to grow—and lead to church numbers (attendance) to grow. So the church needs to prepare for growth. Be aware that in the past, such calling for knowing God deeper is often associated with upheaval.”

What do we do with a prophecy like this? We should do as First Thessalonians 5:20-21 teaches us. We should test it. Is it contrary to Scripture? No. Is it conditional? Perhaps. But it is an exhortation to draw near to God. Does it have a time-frame deadline? No. Does it come from a credible source? Yes. And it is my pastoral hope that if someone gives you a prophecy, or tells you of a prophecy that will supposedly effect you, you too will apply these tests to their prophecy. Even though recent high profile ‘prophetic’ ministries have brought enormous discredit to the genuinely God ordained prophetic, we should not despise prophecy, but we should test all claims and hold onto that which good.

¶ “For the Lord GOD does nothing
without revealing His secret
to His servants the prophets.
Amos 3:7

 

Footnotes:

  1. Van Alten, H.H. 2017. ‘John Calvin on the gifts of the Holy Spirit in his commentary on Acts’, Koers – Bulletin for Christian Scholarship 82(2), Available at https://doi.org/10.19108/ KOERS.82.2.2350

Your pastor,

Andrew

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THE PRODIGAL FATHER

 Does anyone know what the word prodigal means? Perhaps most people assume that it means: “wanderer”, or “rebel”, or perhaps even “backslider” or that it only applies to sons. This seems to be based on the story that Jesus told in Luke 15 to which most Bible Publishers assign the division title – The Parable of the Prodigal Son. But the word prodigal does not occur in this parable. Interestingly, there are three lead characters in this shocking and famous parable: the father and his two sons. One of these was genuinely ‘prodigal’, and, as Tim Keller points out, it was neither son! To appreciate what Keller means we might need to take another look at what the word prodigal actually means. It comes from the verb prodigious which means remarkably great in extent, size, or degree (New Oxford American Dictionary). It is a word often used to describe an author who regularly writes books – John Grisham is a prodigious author. A prodigal person is therefore, prolific, extravagant, excessive, and, lavish. Keller points out that even though most people ascribe this to the wayward son in the parable, it is more appropriately a designation for the lead character in the story, the father!

SUPER SUCCESSFUL CHRISTIANS

Spare a thought for those people who are often overlooked by churches—and if they are Christians—they frequently struggle to even find a suitable church where they can deepen their relationship with Christ. Often we think of those who struggle with life as those who are “down and out” and blighted by impoverishment, or destitution, or ill-health, or family breakdown, or poor mental health. But surprisingly, even those who are seen as super-successful because of their wealth, social stature, public acclaim or amazing achievements, are actually struggling with loneliness, emptiness, and poor mental health — even if they are a Christian. These super-successful Christians are CEOs of large companies, or world-class or national sporting champions, or internationally renowned performing artists, or A-lister actors, or media personalities, or highly sought after professionals such as surgeons or barristers. They often pay a high price for their success, including, long work hours, constant stress, public criticism, extended time away from their families, fierce competition, and strained marriages. These pressures are exacerbated by their constant travel associated with their work which also makes them vulnerable to exhaustion and extraordinary temptations. This is why these super-successful Christians need to join the kind of church that can provide them with the kind of support, counsel, and accountability that every Christian needs. Here’s how a church can become this kind of church.

MAKING CHURCH A WELCOMING HOME

For many people, making a decision to attend a church is a significant and potentially daunting decision. As they come through the front door they are entering an unfamiliar environment. It is also an environment that may be associated with preconceived ideas of what the expectations and rules of the church community may be. These people probably will not know anybody and they might have concerns that relate to their previous or current lifestyle. For those of us who are regular church attendees, it is possible that we may not fully appreciate the challenges a new attendee may be facing. When we can relate to these concerns, I believe we are better equipped to provide a warm and patient “welcome” to what we hope will become their new church home.

LOVE IN ACTION

Physical illnesses and stressful events are endemic in our society. They can be likened to the thorns that cause both pain and damage. It doesn’t take much for them to impact a person’s life in ways that they did not expect. I believe that we can become more resilient as followers of Jesus by applying an appropriate solution to a known problem. I believe that an appropriate and important part of the solution is for us to show love the way that Jesus demonstrated love during His ministry on earth.

THE TOOLS OF REMEMBERING

I like to think I have a pretty good memory.  I like to think I’m organised.  Generally, I am – I don’t double book appointments, I keep track of what I’m doing and when, I mostly turn up on time. But, on reflection, I’m not so sure this means I have a good memory.

TRUTH vs SOMETHING BIG AND HAIRY

“You were lying in your bed, you were feeling kind of sleepy.
But you couldn’t close your eyes because the room was getting creepy.
Were those eyeballs in the closet? Was that Godzilla in the hall?
There was something big and hairy casting shadows on the wall.
Now your heart is beating like a drum, your skin is getting clammy.
There’s a hundred tiny monsters jumping right into your jammies”!

These are lyrics from a song on the very first Veggie Tales video every made. The title of the song?  “God is bigger than the Boogie Man”. Junior Asparagus was lying in bed frightened, and Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber appeared to tell him that he doesn’t have to be scared of the imaginary monsters because, “God is the bigger.” My childhood night-time fears weren’t so much about big and hairy monsters, aka boogie men, or Godzilla in the hall. My fears were house fires – our home burning down, and “burglars” or “robbers”. But I certainly identify with lying in bed, my heart beating like a drum, my skin getting clammy, my imagination in overdrive.

CLOSING THE DEAL

In 1871, the American evangelist, Dwight (“DL”) Moody was preaching to huge crowds each night in Chicago. At the end of each message he would give an appeal for people to either respond immediately to the gospel message he had just presented, or at least go home and consider it. But on Sunday October 8th, 1871, a huge fire broke out in Chicago. It burned through the city for days and became known as The Great Chicago Fire. Around 10,000 people were homeless as a result, and hundreds of people lost their lives. Moody was heart-broken when he realised that many of the people who had died were the people who had attended that Sunday night meeting where he had urged them to consider accepting Christ. His deep grief over this tragedy led him to make a vow that he would never again merely urge people to simply consider accepting Christ. From now on, he vowed, he would plead with all those he preached to – to immediately turn away from their sins and turn to the Saviour. DL Moody committed his life and ministry as an evangelist to be someone who would always strive to close the deal because he was now aware—more than ever—that people’s eternal destinies were in jeopardy! 

BUILDING A MOODY CHURCH

The three things that make the Christian life exciting and enthralling are the same three things that enable a believer to develop a closer relationship with God. The combination of these supernatural gifts gives the child of God an awareness that there is more, much more, to this world than we can see, touch, taste or feel. When the Christian’s faith is grounded and buttressed in God’s Word, godly prayer, and God’s house he or she flourishes. But there are forces at play that are determined to stop the believer from reaching their spiritual destiny. While we might think these enemy forces only use the fiery darts of doubt to hinder the believer’s journey to glory, there is something that they successfully use far more often: our mood. This is why, for any church to be successful, it must discover how to build moody church.

PRAYING PRAYERS

The amazing thing about prayer, is that nearly everyone does it – but hardly anyone thinks they do it well. If you visit any Christian bookstore you will notice that the largest display of books is about prayer. And it’s not just Christian bookstores where you’ll find books on prayer. Regular bookstores also sell a wide range of books on prayer (even if they do classify them as books on ‘meditation’!). One of the most frequently searched questions on Google is, “How to pray” (which then points enquirers to over 2.3 billion web pages answering their question). But in all of human history – and two thousand years before anyone but one had ever heard of Google – there was just One person who was supremely qualified to answer this question. And fortunately for those of us who really want to know the answer to this question (without having to peruse more than 2.3 billion web pages!) He gave us the answer.

WHY SOME BELIEVE

Why is it that two people can look at exactly the same evidence and can come to completely different conclusions about it? Even more puzzling is how two equally qualified scientific experts can look at the same data and utterly disagree about what it means. This happens many times in court cases where the prosecution will call their “expert witness” to give his or her professional opinion to verify that the defendant is guilty only to have the defence to present their “expert witness” who gives his or her professional opinion as to why the prosecution’s expert witness was wrong and to prove that defendant is innocent! This at least illustrates why it is not always the quality of the evidence that leads a person to accept or reject a claim. This especially apply to the claims that Jesus Christ made. Of the four accounts in the New Testament written about His life, three of them were written by eye-witnesses and the other one (Luke’s) was written by someone who interviewed many eye-witnesses. It is with interest that we turn to the last one to be John’s Gospel, where he describes dramatic proofs that Jesus was who He claimed to be. Yet despite these otherwise inexplicable proofs that at times thousands of people witnessed, many still wouldn’t believe. But it seems among those who did believe they all had one thing in common.