After reading Psalm 27:4 "One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple." it made me think about what I want to achieve in life. In the past I would have had the same response as most people; pay off mortgage, career, travel......all mere worldly ambitions. But now my ambitions are more in line what the above verse describes, and probably should be for anyone who is a follower of Christ.
It's interesting how easily duped and deluded we can become by worldly secular influences, even when the bible clearly teaches something to the contrary!
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Lately I have been hearing a bit about ‘prophecy’ on the Christian scene. I have heard of people being called prophets, and many people claiming to have had prophetic ‘words’ spoken to them. The common use of term ‘prophecy’ in today’s language seems to be quite unclear and inconsistent, and it also seems to be confused with another term called ‘revelation’.
But just what is prophecy, and what purpose did the prophet play in history? Like usual, Scripture gives quite clear answers.
The Bible describes the prophet as having a very specific purpose, prophets were not people who simply predicted the future as is commonly thought these days. To use a modern example, the prophet can be compared to a ‘lawyer’ which God used to prosecute people and nations that that had sinned against Him. So just as a modern lawyer will represent the government in charging a criminal for a crime, God also sent His prophets to lay charges against people and nations.
At the start of Ezekiel’s prophetic mission, God used a very clear definition of what prophecy exactly is:
“When I say to a wicked person, “You will surely die,” and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself.” Ezekiel 3:18-19.
Here we see four clear things about prophecy: 1) a sin is identified, 2) the prophet calls the sinners to repent of their sin, 3) punishment is predicted if there is no repentance, 4) the prophet is accountable for doing his job properly.
So while a prophet certainly does predict the future, this is only a small part of what the prophet does. It is important to note that the prediction of the future always dependeds on whether the people repented or not. If the people did repent of their sin, then God would not punish the people. We see this in the story of Jonah’s prophecy.
1 Corinthians 14:3-4 gives another good guide to what a prophecy should do; “everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort”, and “he who prophesies edifies the church”. So we see that prophecy also contains encouragement and comfort as well as warnings of God’s wrath. Both are important parts of prophecy. Also the Old Testament prophecy contained a lot of encouragement and comfort too (Hos 11:14, 14, Joel 3:17-21, Amos 9:11-15, Mic 7:8-20).
The Bible makes it clear that there are just as many false prophets as true prophets, so we need to be careful when listening to anybody who claims to be speaking prophecy. The two best ways to tell a true prophet from a false prophet are:
1) see if the prophecy comes true. “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously” Deuteronomy 18:22.
2) “By their fruit you will recognise them.” Matt 2:15,16. The fruit of the spirit is of course a reference to Gal 5:22-23, which is in contrast to the works of the flesh Gal 5:19-21, which are the fruits of the false prophet.
Also prophets are always described as spreading their message on the streets, pleading to all the people in a confident way. Prophets do not whisper their message in a church corner.
So in summery we find a number of principles in the Bible for telling apart true and false prophets. These are the characteristics that the Bible describes of a true prophet:
1) The prophet must be prophesying directly to the people
2) Specific sins will be identified
3) The prophet will call the people to repent
4) Specific punishment will be identified for unrepentant sin
5) Specific blessings with be identified for repentance
6) The prophecy must identify a path to improvement
7) The prophecy must come true
8) The fruit of the prophet must be of spirit, not of the flesh
It is obvious from all this that prophecy isn’t just the prediction of future events- this is called a ‘revelation’- but instead true prophecy will include the principles that are listed above which come from the Bible. Also it is very important to note that an extremely high responsibility is upon the shoulders of the prophet to do his job properly. This should serve as a dire warning to anybody who wishes to call their words prophecy; it is not a risk-free and glamorous job, and God holds you responsible as well. So people should be totally sure that it is God’s words that they are speaking and not their own. God takes prophecy extremely seriously:
“Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing!”, “My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations” Ezekiel 13:3, 9." But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’" Deuteronomy 18:20
The whole modern understanding of ‘prophecy’ seems to be based on a confusion between ‘prophecy’ and ‘revelation’. If someone is only predicting a future event, then this is revelation, NOT prophecy. The two are totally different things.
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
It is so often assumed that God is responsible for the good things, and that Satan is responsible for all the bad things. But this type of thinking seems to me to be deeply flawed because it relies on the persons own definition of what is good and what is bad. In this logic, it is assumed that humans are capable of correctly understanding whether something is God’s will or is not.
But this surely has to be a false assumption. How can our small human minds fully know what is good and what is bad, and surely it is a little arrogant to suggest that we have the ability to read God’s mind like that anyway.
I can think of numerous examples from within my own life where what I thought was the right course of action ended up being wrong, and what seemed like the wrong direction that God took me, was actually the right course.
For example, it might seem like a good thing for me to get all the green traffic lights on the way to my destination, but actually getting all red lights may save me from being in the truck accident that occurred further down the road.
Getting sick might seem like a bad thing, until you hear the news that on the day that you had off work, the Fukushima nuclear power plant where you work has blown up in a nuclear meltdown.
How many stories like these have we either heard of, or have personally experienced?
While the good outcomes in these examples may seem obvious, it is only in hindsight that you notice that the outcomes are in fact good and not bad as it first seemed. But just think about the amount of bad things that occur in your life in which you simply fail to notice the good that actually comes in the end.
God is looking out for us and He “works out everything for his own ends.” Prov 16:4
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Ever since my ‘Spiritual rebirth’, God has been showing me small snippets of another way of living, a relationship with God that transcends the material world. This is a type of spirituality which seems to be the same as the spirituality that the Bible describes the first Christians living in.
My first ‘spiritual' experience of the Holy Spirit’s close presence occurred back in March. That first experience of the intimate love of God opened my eyes to what it is like to be totally detached from the material world, and I was introduced to a spiritual realm where the only focus is one’s relationship with God, very similar to my image of Heaven really.
Unfortunately the whole experience occurred at work, which forced me to stop the experience from being too emotional, but it was still extremely intense. It’s so hard to put into words, but I clearly remember thinking that the whole world could fall apart around me and I wouldn’t care. In fact, in the emotion of the experience I really didn’t have a care for anything else; all the troubles at work, the depression in my personal life and the financial stress etc; the only thing that seemed to be of any importance was holding onto that raw and deep love from God. During the experience I lost all feeling towards work colleagues who were causing me grief; my possessions and my life goals lost all value, in fact these things seemed to be a distinct hindrance to being able to hold onto this spiritual high.It was a stunningly liberating experience, and also the most amazing high. Completely dream-like to be honest. The only way to actually live out this type of spirituality would be to run away from the world, sort of like the ancient desert monks like Saint Antony.
And yesterday I experienced something similar again. Although it was far less intense, I felt that the experience yesterday made far more sense to me, it also seemed to be a far more practical ‘spirituality’ to live in my normal life.
These spiritual experiences presented a type of living that was totally different to anything that I’ve seen before. It feels like a different ‘level’ of living, where you can only be in one level, either the spiritual or the material. At the moment I find myself slipping back to the material level from time to time. But whenever I do slip, God always rescues me and hits me with another wave of His love which immediately elevates me back to the spiritual level.
It seems remarkably similar to the spirituality that David and Solomon sung about in Psalms and Proverbs, and that which Christ taught and which the first Christians embraced.
It seemed so foreign to me before, but makes so much sense now. It’s like what they say about love songs, that love songs only really make total sense once you yourself are in love. It’s seems to be the same with spirituality, the following verses now make so much more sense to me, they really speak to my soul.
“O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is” Psalm 63:1
“there is none upon the earth that I desire beside thee”Psalm 73:25
“Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her.” Proverbs 3:13-15
“My fruit is better than fine gold; what I yield surpasses choice silver” Proverbs 8:19
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” Matthew 4:4
Those verses describe a yearning for God in which all other material pursuits dim into the background. Nothing else matters. That is what I have been experiencing, material stuff seems to be little more than an annoyance and even hindrance. It’s not a hatred of material stuff, but just a lack of love toward it. Below are just a few verses which teach a detachment from the material world.
“go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me”Matthew 19:21
“Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” 1 Timothy 6:9
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” Matthew 6:24
“All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.” Acts 2:44-46
“For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.” 1 John 2:16
While I certainly had always seen the truth of the verses above, the fact is that I was not living in the way that they describe. My attachment and desire for material possessions and pursuing financial stability were the focus of my life. This caused me to be frustrated at things braking down, and stress over financial matters. I was simply not trusting that God was in control.
I found that it was one thing to say that I served God and not money, but it was another thing to actually live that way. The simple fact was that I was blindly pursuing wealth, and I was only letting God fill the gaps.
I can be sure that I have now mostly let go of the material level because I rarely stress and fret about things, no matter what happens. It feels so good now that all my actions are done in the faith that God has things in His control, the following verses perfectly describe my new trust in God:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:25-34
I have heard many Christians describe the stage that I am now going through as an ‘intimacy stage’ of Christianity, and that mature Christians grow out of this intense passion, love and zeal. To be brutally honest, this sounds to me like nothing more than a copout from ‘mature’ Christians who have simply chosen to let go of the intimacy. This may or may not be true, but as far as I am concerned, I will not let go of this intimacy with God, and forever I will praise Him, lifting up my hands to Him in prayer. He truly satisfies me more than the richest feast. I will always praise Him with songs of joy. It is a little emasculating to admit this; but I couldn’t help but read Psalm 63 with without tears rolling down my eyes. My own heart’s desires are so perfectly echoed by the Psalms. It’s such and amazing change from my old relationship with God.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
In writing the last post in regards to God actually causing evil rather than just being impartial to it, I noticed how careful I was in using the word ‘evil’. While the Scriptures clearly teach that God has no qualms about visiting evil on people (Exodus 32:12,14 Isaiah 45:7, Amos 3:6, KJV), I wanted to make sure that I didn’t impugn His name because of a careless use of the word ‘evil’.
So how is evil defined in the modern world? Wikipedia describes it in a way that I think most people would agree with; “Evilis the violation of, or intent to violate, some moral code. Evil is usually seen as the dualistic opposite of good [….] evil is commonly associated with conscious and deliberate wrongdoing, [….], and acts of unnecessary or indiscriminate violence.”
This description is certainly in accord with the common understanding of evil, but no Christian would dare to use such words to describe God! After some probing from a friend, it became obvious that the revulsion of modern Christians to the idea that God causes evil is because the modern definition of the word seems to be quite different to how it is used in Scripture.
A simple question will illustrate this; would you call Satan evil? I certainly would have. But seeing the verses where God Himself is described as causing evil made me second guess this assumption. So I looked up every verse that refers to Satan, and guess what? Not once is the word ‘evil’mentioned in conjunction with Satan! Satan is never called evil, and more importantly he isn’t credited as causing evil either. It is clear from these facts that our understanding of how the word ‘evil’ is used in Scripture is quite errant.
So what then is the Scriptural definition of evil? The Hebrew word evil is רָע, or‘ra’, which predominately means adversity, affliction, calamity, distress, sorrow or trouble. These things are the typical tools that God uses to deal with wayward humans, and I don’t think many Christians would have a problem with God causing these things. But the most import thing to note is that these definitions are categorically different to what the modern definition of evil is, as exemplified in the Wiki definition above.
But it seems that the most important thing in figuring out what Scripture means by the word ‘evil’ is the context that the verse in found in.
In Exodus 32, God is described as being angered that the Israelites built an idol to worship after only having just been miraculously rescued from Egypt; “Now leave me [God] alone so that my anger may burn against them [the Israelites] and that I may destroy them.” Now Moses was distressed at this idea, so he beseeched God, and actually demanded that God “repent of this evil against thy people [….] And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.”
The context makes it clear that the “evil” that God wished to visit on the Israelites was not some kind of arbitrary and woeful injustice, but rather it was a just punishment for a blatant sin. So the evil that God wishes to cause is; adversity, affliction, calamity, distress, sorrow and trouble.
The context of Amos 3:6 is similar. The chapter starts out with a statement of Judgement “therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities”. So again, the evil that God wishes to cause as punishment is; adversity, affliction, calamity, distress, sorrow and trouble.
The context of Isaiah 45:7 does not mention any kind of punishment for sin. Instead the context of the chapter is to demonstrate God’s supreme control over every part of His creation. Not only does God “form the light, and create darkness”, but His infinite control means that the evil is his creation is under His control as well; “I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things”. But as the Scriptural definition shows, this “evil” is not some kind of violation of a moral code, or wrongdoing or act of unnecessary or indiscriminate violence as the common definition of evil is, because we know that God is just (Deut 32:4; Job 37:23; Psa 99:4; Luke 18:7-8) and righteousness (Isa 51:6; Psa 89:14; Jer 23:5-6; 1 Cor 1:30).
So while God certainly causes evil, it is clear from all this that God certainly does not cause evil in the modern sense of the word.
“He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” Deut 32:4 NIV
Sunday, June 10, 2012
As soon as I started pondering the idea that God has complete control over absolutely everything, then immediately the first question to pop into my mind was how the existence of evil fits into His control.
The logical conclusion of God having complete control over everything is that He is in control of evil as well as good. In fact, I have been coming to the conclusion that He may actually will evil just as much as He wills good. This idea seems to be disliked by some modern Christians, but also seems to be an idea directly born out of the Scriptures itself (Isa 45:7, Amos 3:6, Job 2:3).
In fact the most important event in God’s plan for us was based on evil; Christ’s death. There was no other way for our salvation to be fulfilled than for the Son to be crucified. Imagine if Jesus hadn't been crucified; salvation wouldn’t have been achieved if Jesus was recognised by
Israel as the Messiah and crowned as King, or even if Christ started reigning the whole earth from itself. No, God willed His Son to be crucified, and evil was necessary for salvation. Rome
I remember in the past when I would experience my own personal evils of trials and suffering, and how I used to constantly question God as to why it is all happening; I just didn’t believe that it could be God’s will. That doubt produced all sorts of angst, sorrow, frustration and negativity. It just wasn’t a very pleasant way of dealing with things.
But I have been reading through the New Testament and seeing a totally different way of dealing with the trials of life. Scripture teaches that we are taught to rejoice in, and praise God, when going through suffering and even torture (Mat 5:11-12 Acts 5:40-41 2 Cor 8:2 Phil 4:4
1:11 Jam 1:2 1 Pet 4:12-13). We aren’t instructed in Scripture to ‘beat your chest and mournfully implore God for answers’, nor ‘join together and wail for the sorrows of your trials’. What we do see in Scripture takes a far more positive and joyful tone: Col
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds” James 1:2
“In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” 2 Cor 8:2
“They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing”Acts 5:40-41
“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18
The only way I can see that it is possible for the apostles to praise God in their torture and for us to rejoice in our trials as the Scriptures teach, is if the suffering/evil itself is God’s will, and God’s will is always worthy of praise, even if we don’t understand it. Of course God doesn’t will evil flippantly, nor for His own amusement, but rather for a good purpose and our benefit.
Perhaps the most poignant example of praise for God over the trials in ones life would be found in the words of Job:
“At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worshipand said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lordgave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” Job1:20-22
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
After spending years wondering why I couldn’t fully trust God in my mind, I realised it was because I wasn’t trusting God in my actions. As much as I desperately wanted to surrender all resistance towards God in regards to wholeheartedly embracing miracles or accepting the events that happen in life, there was a small part of me resisting Him which just wouldn’t go away.
As I explained in my previous post, the key was to realise that God actually does have total control over every single event in my life. But this wasn’t enough, I had to totally surrender my control of life to God. To do this I had to stop questioning why things happen and stop trying to fight against the events that happen in my life. Not just the big stuff, but the small as well, God has purpose in it all. Whether it is a storm that stops my outdoors plans, or if I drop my phone and break it, or even simply putting too much pepper in my dinner, it all has been sanctioned by God and therefore has a purpose. So I needed to stop questioning why things would happen if I knew that it is all willed by God.
The whole reason why someone questions why something has happened is based on the assumption that God either doesn’t have control of ones life, or that God hasn’t got ones best interests in mind. But we know from what God tells us in the Scriptures that these are false, and neither do Christians actually believe that they are true either, so the obvious solution was to just stop questioning why things happen! Does fret, don’t stress, things happen because God is looking out for us!
It's easy to say, and even easy to believe, but much much harder to actually do!