Unwilling Prophets

I was just reading John 11 today. In it Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. Afterward the Pharisees are angry and want to kill him because, you know… that’s a perfectly natural response to SOMEONE BEING RAISED FROM THE DEAD, right??

Anyway, so the Jews are trying to figure out how to deal with the “threat” of Jesus on their power and livelihood. First it’s interesting to note they don’t even think for a moment on the implications of him actually being the Messiah. As it had been for the entire history of their people, all they could see was their Earthly status and possessions at risk. They cared nothing for the redemption of sins or right standing with the Father.

The even more interesting thing to me (today) is in verse 49-52:

“But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad." (John 11:49-52 ESV)

Sooo…. Caiaphas is prophesying, and not by choice. He’s meaning to say one thing, and in one sense actually saying it, but all the while actually becoming the mouthpiece of God to foretell events to come? This isn’t because he’s a righteous man, it’s because God wills it. It isn’t because Caiaphas chooses to prophesy, God chooses for him and gives him no say in the matter. How does the psychology of this even work for Caiaphas? The more I think about this the more my head hurts.

Here’s a good writeup on this that I really enjoyed: http://www.jimmcguiggan.com/reflections3.asp?status=John&id=362

Something else I read today along the same vein:

“And if the prophet is deceived and speaks a word, I, the LORD, have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand against him and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel” (Ezekiel 4:9 ESV)

So God actually DECEIVES the prophet, gives him something false to say so as to also lead astray the one inquiring of the prophet, and then destroys him! Actually, if you look at the context you’ll see God destroys both the prophet and the inquirer, but I’m trying to focus on some observations about prophesy here.

More Questions than Answers

I often wonder how the prophesies contained in the Old Testament came to be. Some of them are the strangest thing… the author/prophet delivering them will be talking about something, then at random be clearly talking about Jesus’ coming (in detail), and then continue with what he was saying like nothing just happened. Wait, what???

I mean, did they even realize what just happened? Did they know that they were just speaking of the future or did they, like Caiaphas, have something else in mind to say? My guess is that maybe sometimes they knew and sometimes they didn’t, but even if they didn’t know, it’s funny that for the centuries leading up to Christ the Jews saw these prophesies of the coming Messiah for what they were, even if the prophet didn’t.

I don’t really have any answers here, I’m just making observations. I find it interesting that the word of God is going to be delivered, whether the prophet is a willing party or not. God is no respecter, at least in these cases, of the prophet’s “freewill” and will even use the prophet as a tool of deception to accomplish his own will!

This is a bit of a contrast to a lot of contemporary “prophesy”. I’ll admit I’m not very well studied on this, but I’ve been wondering a lot lately about how much modern day “prophesy” really resembles what’s modeled in the Bible…

but I digress (for now).

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Deliberate Ignorance

I’m ignorant by choice. It’s not because your argument isn’t impressive (though it sometimes isn’t), and it’s not because I’m foolish (though I sometimes am), it’s because I’ve chosen to be.

Several years ago I went through something of a crisis in my faith as a disciple of Jesus. It started when a good friend of mine decided he no longer counted himself a believer. This really rattled me. It’s not as if I’ve never had a friend leave the faith, so I can’t even fully explain why it shook me up so badly, but it did.

The more I questioned the more troubled I became. I think all believers have been there; the questions you ask seem to have no acceptable and logical answer. Fellow believers proudly spout off statements they believe to settle the matter, but they honestly don’t make logical sense. I really struggled for awhile.

But then I had something of an epiphany… I was facing a choice; not a choice of logic or reasoning, but a deeper core choice of what I wanted to ASSUME to be true.

We All Assume

It occurred to me that all of us, regardless of our level of intellect, education, or insight, must make certain assumptions. None of us have everything figured out. If we’re honest with ourselves, we have very little figured out. To compensate for this we look for answers while standing on certain assumptions.

We assume the Earth is round because smart people tell us so, even though we’ve not done the research ourselves. We assume there is a place called Madagascar because smart people made maps of it, but we’ve never been there. We are ok making these assumptions because we have faith in smart people, or at the very least the wisdom of mankind as a collective.

But I realized if my faith in human wisdom, even my very own wisdom, was at odds with my faith in the wisdom of God. That placed me in a really difficult place: could I actually choose to go AGAINST my own reasoning? Is that even possible?

But then, was I so naive to think human reasoning would never hit a brick wall where the answers weren’t there? Don’t all people hit those walls whether they are believers or not? And when we hit those walls, who can claim they’re honestly looking for answers WITHOUT holding certain assumptions? Who out there would be so bold as to say they have no paradigms?

The real choice I was facing was: which paradigm was I ok with?

Can I Really Choose to Deny My Own Reasoning?

This was really hard for me because it deeply wounded my pride. I like to consider myself a pretty intelligent person, and I prefer it when others see me that way. The “academic” thing to do is never approach a problem with presuppositions, but to look for unbiased truth. I had, however, dismissed that this is even truly possible at all. We’re terribly biased creatures, every one of us.

Yet deliberately choosing to hold to a presupposition is frowned upon loudly by the people who’s respect I would want. I mean, doesn’t such a choice make me ignorant? Doesn’t it make me small minded? Narrow minded?

But… if God is real he most certainly is immeasurably smarter than I am. And if my answer to every wall I hit is to lean on my own understanding rather than his, where am I putting my faith? Can I actually be ok with CHOOSING to believe him even when it doesn’t make sense? When the wisdom and intellect of my peers is overwhelming and yet counter to biblical teaching, what will I believe?

Coming to Terms

So I chose to be ignorant. I drew a line in the sand and stepped over it by making a decision to look at the Bible for what it says, and then do my best to proceed on the assumption that it’s true. Not because it makes sense, not because I like it, and most certainly not because it’s popular or even safe, but because I choose to believe it. I know that means I’m approaching my search for truth with a bias, but I’ve chosen to be ok with that bias. I’ve decided I know very little, but one thing I do KNOW: God is good and has given us his word that we may better understand and glorify him.

Since having made that choice, God has transformed my life in ways I would fail to articulate. I have found an attraction to reading the word I never had before, because in it I find LIFE.

Sadly this also has put me at odds with even fellow believers from time to time. Heck, it has put me at odds with MYSELF, but shouldn’t it? I’ve had to change my view on many things I’ve always held to and been taught by people whom I love and respect, but when I find those things don’t line up with biblical teaching I have no choice but to change my mind.

And this means I have to accept certain things: I accept that I’m only a man, and God’s wisdom is infinite. I accept that in a world filled with men who count themselves as wise I will often appear a fool, but I choose his wisdom over theirs. I accept that this will lead me to unpopular decisions, or even sometimes put me in sharp disagreement with people I so badly want to be in agreement with… but with all this I also accept God’s goodness and mercy. I accept his transforming power in my life.

The truth is I accept that I already am ignorant no matter what choice I make, but I believe wisdom comes only from God and therefore CHOOSE to ignore even my own intellect to seek his instead.

Homosexuality and a Divided “Church”

A quick rant…

I think I’m only just starting to see for the first time how truly divided the church is over the issue of homosexuality. I’m not sure why I haven’t noticed sooner, but professing Christians are truly polarized over this.

I really enjoy watching preachers/speakers on YouTube. I also like to peruse the comments. I rarely engage in them, but I find it to be a sort of thermometer on where culture is at. It only just dawned on me today that the debate over homosexuality isn’t just between believers and secularists, but between believers! The debates aren’t even over how Christians should respond to homosexuality, which I could understand. The debates aren’t over the role/validity of politics on the matter, which I could also understand. Christians are actually arguing over whether it’s a sin at all!

And while this is baffling to me, it also seems to be yet another sign of a trend I’ve noticed recently: believers making their decisions based on opinions, science, and culture rather than the Bible. More and more I see Christians first seeking to be relevant, and only afterward do they try and reconcile their thoughts with scripture. They don’t look to scripture in the forming of their thoughts, but they prefer their thoughts as a tool for forming scripture to their liking.

I lack the skills as a communicator to express how troubling this is. As professing believers, shouldn’t we first look for answers in the word, no matter how crazy those answers seem, and then proceed as though they are true? Shouldn’t we first stand on the infallibility of scripture? If not, then on what shall we stand? Human reasoning? Philosophy? Our heart? Science? I know many would be content with any of these answers, but it should be said plainly that to build our beliefs around these things is a contradiction to God’s word and ultimately an affront to God himself.

Let’s examine the issue of homosexuality as a test case; not because it is a special category of sin or any such nonsense, but because it is a cultural hotspot. What I see is Christians that are unable to reconcile the biblical texts they read (I’m not even addressing the scripturally malnourished who flat don’t read at all and therefore don’t know) with the deluge of cultural influence they are faced with. I see “believers” that are faced with the discrepancy between the Bible and accepted understanding and simply cannot choose to stand on the word before seeking understanding.

And THAT’S the problem I’m trying to address here. It’s not that they are ill-equipped with fine arguments to counter the culture. That isn’t the problem. The problem is one we will ALL face at times: “I’ve seen for myself that the Bible says this thing, but all my reasoning and all the common knowledge around me says another. How do I respond?”

Are we willing to stand on God’s word simply because it’s God’s word? Not because it makes sense to our reasoning, not because it makes us feel good, not because it’s relevant/compatible with culture… no, just because God says it?

And my fear is that the answer is increasingly “no, that’s not enough.” We need it to be palatable first.

God, help us…

Hope in Eternity

When we find ourselves in dismay about the troubles surrounding us and the people that seem to be behind those troubles, Psalm 49 offers an answer for what ails us… though quite possibly not the answer that would satisfy our flesh. The psalmist writes about our hope for redemption in eternity.

Why should I fear in times of trouble,
  when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me,
those who trust in their wealth
  and boast of the abundance of their riches?
Truly no man can ransom another,
  or give to God the price of his life,
for the ransom of their life is costly
  and can never suffice,
that he should live on forever
  and never see the pit.

Psalm 49:5–9

This is the path of those who have foolish confidence;
  yet after them people approve of their boasts.
Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol;
  death shall be their shepherd,
  and the upright shall rule over them in the morning.
Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell.
But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol,
  for he will receive me.

Psalm 49:13–15

An initial response to these passages may be to disregard their lack of solution to our present trouble, but they remind me of Paul’s words in Romans 8:18: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Where we would seek an escape to what troubles us, God’s word reminds us that our hope is NOT provided this side of eternity. Our hope is in the rest he promises us when he commends us “well done good and faithful servant, come enter into my rest.”

Rest from what? Rest from a blessed life void of trouble? No, God calls us and grows us THROUGH our trials to persevere in and toward Him. What I love about these passages in Psalm 49 is that they offer no solution to the trouble, but remind us of our destination and the destination of those foolish enough to disregard the invitation of Christ.

But there’s a second thing about these verses that really gave me pause as I read them. First:

“Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit.”

And then:

“But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.”

All this talk of ransom… He’s talking about Jesus! I know I shouldn’t be surprised by this anymore, but I am. The psalmist, clearly under the spirit’s leading, speaks of our great need for a ransom over 1,000 years before that ransom was made! He even elaborates that this ransom could come by no mere man, but then asserts that we will indeed be ransomed! I wonder sometimes: what would it have been like to live in a time preceding Jesus’ atonement, knowing that my sins are unforgivable and that pardon had not yet been made, but believing on God to somehow provide the payment required for my redemption? When Christ finally did arrive, what elation must have been felt by those who really understood what he meant and for HOW LONG we had been waiting for Him!

But coming back to our troubles (and trying to tie all this together): When Christ came there were many who missed Him because they weren’t looking for salvation. The Jews were looking for a king to save them from their troubles. Their troubles were seen as the oppression of Roman rule. Their REAL trouble was their depravity and separation from God, but they couldn’t see that. Jesus would look at the lame man lowered through the roof and forgive him of his sins instead of his handicap, because THAT’s what really mattered. He later healed him too, as he did so many others, but Jesus came to ransom us from sin and reconcile us to Himself, not to save us from our perceived trouble.

So when you are feeling you may never see freedom from your troubles, you are in a good place. You have the opportunity to turn your troubles over to God and accept that you may or may not see those troubles end in this life. Ask that God would help you find rest in the real prize to be had: eternal life in the presence of a fantastically loving God. Ask Him for an eternal outlook so that you not miss Christ as so many Jews did. Ask that He help you see the redemptive work HE has in mind, and not the answer you have in mind.

Finally, as a side note, I HIGHLY recommend you head over to GotQuestions.org to read about the sons of Korah, to whom authorship of Psalm 49 is attributed. They definitely have a thing or two to say about how God redeems us and works through us despite our sin. They are the descendants of a man named Korah whom God dealt with VERY harshly.

It’s ALWAYS About Him

God started showing me something several years ago that has completely changed the way I read the Bible: Everything He does and everything He calls US to do is about Him. This may not come as much of a revelation to you, but it’s been a major revelation to me. Sure I’d always verbalized the idea that God is supreme, but I feel God has shown me how much that was mere lip service. In practice, my faith always bends in my favor. No doubt this is my flesh squirming for it’s place as head of the table, but God has been showing me more and more how truly self serving I am and how much credit I try and take from Him.

More recently it was pointed out to me that EVEN SALVATION is in fact not about me. It’s about Him. I was created that HE would receive glory. All of creation declares His glory. He set up a natural order to things that points to Him, and we were made within that order to also point to Him. But then we messed it up. I personally believe God placed the tree in the garden and the will to rebel in our hearts so that even in the redemption of our fall He would be glorified, but that is a topic for another time.

It does, however, bring me back to the point of why I’m writing this today. Our very salvation is in fact NOT about us, it’s about Him. I have seen this over and over and over as I’ve been reading the Bible over the past year, but this morning alone came across several more references and thought it worth sharing:

Psalms 23:3 – HE leads me in paths of righteousness for HIS name’s sake.

Psalms 25:7 – Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to YOUR steadfast love remember me, FOR THE SAKE OF YOUR GOODNESS, O Lord!

Psalms 25:11 – FOR YOUR NAME’S SAKE, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great.

Those are just from this morning’s reading, but I see it everywhere lately. I am quick to seek God’s blessing. I’ve sometimes made the mistake of thinking the point of Christianity is that WE not go to hell. I’ve even thought that was the reason Christ came… that WE would be saved!

But it simply isn’t true. Well, it’s true that he came to save us, but the PURPOSE in saving us is that He be glorified. The consistent theme that rings throughout scripture is that everything He does is that He be glorified. That He be made known. That His grace and goodness would be evident to all. Our very salvation is in fact not for us, but “for His name’s sake.” God’s purpose is that He receive glory.

This REALLY rubbed me the wrong way at first. Isn’t that selfish of Him? Why does He make everything about Himself? I recently read something that posed the follow up question: who else would we have it be about? Us? If God is truly almighty and there is none above Him, isn’t it only natural that everything ultimately be about Him?

If you’ve not seen this for yourself then I pray the Holy Spirit would open your eyes as you read to see how often this theme pops up. It almost screams in some passages. Look at this one:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:3–14

Notice how pretty much every sentence in that passage follows a pattern? First it highlights a blessing/gift from God to us, then ends by qualifying that the gift is a for a PURPOSE: that He be glorified. That He be made great. The funny part to me is that my Bible gives this section the title: “Spiritual Blessings in Christ”. Isn’t that where our focus always lies? In what we get out of it? Paul is making a clear statement that while the blessing is for us, the subject is in fact Him. The purpose is ALWAYS Him.

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Again, a verse like that draws our attention to the part about us, but WHY did He save us? To show Himself loving. The appropriate response to His blessing is to completely surrender ourselves to His will. His gift demands it of us! Yes, He absolutely loves us, and absolutely blesses us beyond measure, but that is in fact not the point.

HE is the point.

God’s Character

See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.

Deuteronomy 32:39 (ESV)

I yearn that we’d all have an ever increasing understanding of God’s true character as one who both blesses and curses. It’s so painfully obvious to so many unbelievers that God’s hand is active in things we label as bad/evil, yet believers often are void of the ability to offer any explanation, preferring instead to ignore such things and go on talking only of His blessing.

I’m SO grateful for God’s grace and love, but let us never take lightly His sovereignty. He answers to no one and nothing, least of all us and our “understanding”.

Don’t be caught seeking His blessing… seek HIM. Ask for understanding and don’t ignore the “hard parts” of the Bible. It’s a gift to help us know more of He that is otherwise unknowable.

God help us when we try and fit You into our plans and thoughts. Let us be quicker to seek your face and character. Help us get an accurate picture of your character and heart rather than a comfortable one.

Taking Our Cross

For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you! For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.

I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children.

1 Corinthians 4:7-14 (ESV)

It seems to me that in America Christians serve largely in order to gain for themselves. We shop for the church that makes us feel good, and care little to seek out real opportunity to offer ourselves as servants.

We say “serve God and he will bless you,” and claim that the Bible promises it to be true. Indeed it does, but our idea of blessing and God’s differ greatly. God “blessed” almost all of his disciples, and here Paul talks about the apostles, with the death of martyrs. Even Jesus himself was not blessed in the way that we’ve come to define it.

Not to say that God hasn’t blessed us materially. He certainly has! I do believe that quite often God does bless us in the ways that we’ve come to expect, but the problem is that we feel entitled to it. We should be infinitely grateful for these blessings, but remember that these things are not promised to us.

The ultimate prize and blessing that has been promised to us is eternal life. The life we are called to, however, is not one of materialism but of service. We are called to take up our cross and pour out our lives as Christ did.

To revel in your blessings as though you have them because of your own righteousness is wicked. It is also insensitive – what about the millions that suffer daily around the world for Christ? Are they simply not as righteous or faithful as you?

I once heard someone say that if your gospel is not universal, and cannot be preached to EVERYONE, then it is not gospel. I could never go to China and look someone who is suffering in the eye and tell them that they just don’t have enough faith.

We serve a good and loving God, who promises us that he works all things together for the good of those who are called according to his purpose, but that doesn’t mean we won’t suffer. It DOES mean that we can trust him to bring us through, and to be glorified in our suffering, and that in the end it will be more than worth it.

Disneyland

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?

Romans 8:18-24 (ESV)

Paul labels his present sufferings as nothing, but let’s keep in mind that compared to Paul’s, OUR sufferings are nothing. Paul suffered greatly for the gospel.

So what was his secret? How could he consider his sufferings as nothing?

When I tell my kids to clean their rooms, they moan of their “sufferings.” If I were to tell them they would be rewarded with a trip to Disneyland for a job well done, however, I have no doubt they would have their rooms sparkling in no time, and they’d be whistling while they worked (figuratively – they’re too young to whistle).

The difference is motivation. Having a goal.

I’ve come to believe that we spend entirely too little time thinking about Heaven. I’m convinced that if we could somehow wrap our mortal minds about the reality of Heaven, both as it exists now and in our eternal futures, it would radically change the way we live for Christ. The trouble is we as humans are terribly focused on this moment, and are very bad at broadening our gaze to include tomorrow, let alone eternity.

There is a book called Heaven by Randy Alcorn that I would highly recommend. We’ve been reading the kid’s version of the book with my children. It’s been an eye opener for our whole family as it forces you to not just give a quick thought toward Heaven, but forces you to really ponder on it.

I get truly excited when I think about what awaits us. To the degree that I’m able to keep my focus there, I have greater and greater capacity for living my life as Christ has called me to. Live as Paul said: “keeping your eye on the prize.”

In other words, give more than a quick thought about your eternal reward. Think on it every day. Build your anticipation on what awaits you. It’s going to be worth it. You possibly can’t get your hopes high enough!

Never Give Up

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4 (ESV)

We often cite the Bible’s instruction to “consider it pure joy” when we face trials, but I believe there’s something important being said immediately afterward that is easy to miss. We could read this passage and take from it that our trials mature us.

But we’d be wrong.

Our trials DO NOT produce maturity. They produce perseverance, and our perseverance results in maturity. I would submit even that our trials don’t produce perseverance as much as they provide us the opportunity to persevere. Perseverance is the key.

But it’s also optional. Too often in our trials we look for the shortcut out instead of steadily walking through it in the way God leads us. That’s when we repeat the trial, because He intended that as an opportunity for growth and we robbed ourselves. So, because He loves us, He gives us another shot at maturity.

When a young man’s temptations with a girl try him, persevering in righteousness will mature him to be a good husband. Giving in will take him too quickly to places he’s not yet mature enough to handle. Excessive drinking is a shortcut for many to deal with trials, and it’s fruit is obvious. We can choose to lean on a credit card to quickly get us out of financial trouble instead of stewarding our money the way God instructs. We can lose our patience in a frustrating situation and yell or even become violent, because humility and the preferring of others takes too long.

Such choices only delay and often multiply our trials without yielding ANY maturity. It’s pretty obvious that our trials don’t produce maturity, but they DO give us opportunity to persevere in righteousness. So…

Never give up! Never give in! The trial will soon pass… and then give way to the next one. To think we can coast through life skipping over our hardships is a self deception. Part of life is constant training. Why?

“…so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything.”