Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Your Prophetic Voice ~ Pt 2

click photo to enlarge
Dear Friends,

After writing about the spiritual gift of prophecy in last week’s AMEN Corner, I was asked by a Lutheran friend why our church believes that spiritual gifts are still active today. That’s a good question! The short answer is that the original apostles established a church that was fully “charismatic.” Nothing’s changed. For those not familiar with the spiritual gifts, the following may be helpful in understanding the gift of prophecy. 

Spiritual Gifts: The ancient church had been taught by Paul and the other apostles that each sincere Christian believer received one or more of the spiritual gifts that were to be used in ministry to help and serve each other. 1 Cor 12:1-11 For the first few hundred years, the church taught that believers should fully expect to receive spiritual gifts that were imparted and empowered by the Holy Spirit. In the 4th century, when Christianity became formalized under the Roman Pope, the church began to elevate the clergy above the “laity” and taught that only the ordained and “holy” men of God were meant to receive spiritual gifts. The Church believed that Christians no longer needed the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts to guide them because the believers were now under the control and guidance of a priest.
The reformation was split down the middle on the issue. Like most monastics, the Catholic priest and father of Protestantism, Martin Luther spoke in tongues according to German church historian R. Kuntze (1859) and in Luther’s own words, “How often has it happened and still does, that devils have been driven out in the name of Christ, also by calling on His name and prayer that the sick have been healed.” But spiritual gifts can be messy and that’s why some reformed churches decided they didn’t want anything to do with the gifts. They developed a doctrine that the spiritual gifts ended in the first century with the deaths of the original apostles. But that cessation doctrine requires that one must ignore the ancient church historians such as Justin Martyr, Eusebius, Tertullian, Augustine and others who witnessed the presence of spiritual gifts and miracles in the early church many centuries after the apostles died. It also requires that one must ignore that the founder of Protestantism, Martin Luther, spoke in tongues and had an active deliverance and healing ministry. 

Prophetic Word:
This refers not to a single word but to a prophetic statement. A prophetic word can be for the church or it can be a “personal prophecy” for a person. There are two types of prophetic words: Forthtelling and Foretelling.

Prophecy Can Be FORTHtelling. 
Forthtelling is when God uses you to speak forth His word. It’s being the empty conduit for the voice of the Holy Spirit to speak to others. It’s when the Holy Spirit uses us to speak God’s Word into particular circumstances at the right moment. Last week I used an example of a personal prophesy to a co-worker. Here’s another example of “forthtelling.” My first experience with prophesy was many decades ago when my (then) wife was struggling with some-thing that involved her father. I didn’t know anything about their family history. She never talked about it. One night I woke up and heard her weeping. Before I was fully awake, words immediately began to come out of my mouth that were from the Spirit of God speaking directly to her. The presence and grace of God was overwhelming. There was a spiritual cleansing that took place as the Holy Spirit brought her to a place of forgiveness and restored her relationship with her father. The next morning I remembered very little of what God had said through me to her. She told me what I said and we both  marveled at it because there was no way I could have known or even guessed the content of this prophetic word from God.  These were family secrets that only she, her parents and God could have known. That was the first time I’d experienced what it was like to give a prophetic word and like any encounter with the Spirit of God, it left me humbled and shaken.

Prophecy Can Be FOREtelling:
Foretelling is when God gives a prophetic word containing a warning about the future. Here’s an example: It was in the time in my life that I’d gone back to church when I woke up one Sunday morning having just had a very vivid and detailed dream about the church I was going to. I dreamed there was a windstorm that blew down a large oak tree that fell onto the walkway from the parking lot to the church. A creek separated the parking lot from the church and a footbridge was the only way to get across. In my dream, the tree was blocking the access to the footbridge and the associate pastor and the groundskeeper were cutting up the tree with a chain saw. I woke up and as I was wondering what the dream meant, God gave me a prophetic word for the church that had to do with cutting out dead and decaying roots that were in the foundation of the church. God showed me in that dream that, once the “decay and rot” was cleared away, the “pathway” would once again be opened for people to come to the church.

Two hours later as I drove into the parking lot, I saw there had been a windstorm that had blown down an old oak tree on the walkway and it was blocking access to the church. I was stunned. It was exactly like I had just dreamed it. The associate pastor and groundskeeper were cutting it up with chain saws just like in the dream. I asked the pastor why the tree had fallen. He told me that the roots had just rotted out.  

Why did God orchestrate it like that? Because the dream and the actual event, confirmed the prophetic word about the church needing to clear out some things that were rotted in the foundation of the church. When I stood up that morning and told the congregation about the dream and the prophetic word from God, it electrified the church because each person had just walked past the rotten stump of the fallen tree. God created a spectacular drama to confirm a prophetic word of warning because He wanted to wake up that church. He did!

I’m not a prophet. I don’t claim to have the “gift of prophecy” but I use examples from my own life to show how God uses ordinary people like me to speak His word into a person or situation. And, when you develop a prophetic voice (see last week’s AMEN Corner), He can use you. Amen?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Your Prophetic Voice

Dear Friends,

The Apostle Paul said to “Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” 1 Cor 14:1 The word prophesy means to “declare forth” and speak to people on behalf of God using the words that God puts in his/her mouth. Of all the gifts, this is the one most often counterfeited because this is the money maker. Not all prophetic ministry is false of course, but this is the one most misused for personal gain. The Holy Spirit gives the gift of prophesy 1 Cor 12:4-11 and there are some authentic, gifted prophets today. But we must always use our sense of discernment to determine if what we are hearing is true or false. Paul says “Do not scoff at prophecies but test everything that is said.” 1 Thess 5:19-21 NLT 

One red flag is when prophecies are being sold. There is a huge prophecy business on-line and on television. Please someone just show me one internet prophecy site where I’m not asked to buy something or click on the “ministry partner” button to give them my credit card. Every internet prophetic ministry site markets prophetic books, DVDs and/or personal prophesies and the bottom line is that money is being exchanged for the manifestation of a gift given by the Holy Spirit. Any time money becomes involved, this is a red flag because the Holy Spirit gives us the spiritual gifts to minister to others - meaning to serve others - not to sell to others. 

A few years ago, one of my employees, who knew I was a pastor, came to see me. His father was in his eighties with some severe deteriorating health conditions. The employee told me about an issue he was having with his father and asked me to pray for him. I knew nothing about the father but I immediately began to speak a prophetic word about something in the father’s past that related to the present issue. This was a word from God and its effect was immediate. The man had been sitting forward and he was thrown back in the chair as if he’d been punched in the chest. God showed him something about his father that he’d never seen before and the man was weeping and thanking me. I told him to thank God, not me. How appropriate would it have been for me to pass him a shiny gold plate at that moment to take up a love offering? What if I’d asked if he’d like to support my ministry with automatic donations from his credit card? Maybe this is just me, but I don’t believe the Holy Spirit gives us spiritual gifts to be used as an enterprise opportunity. I don’t consider myself a “prophet,” but many times I’ve been given prophetic dreams and words for people that have been detailed and accurate. Those have been unexpectedly given to me as the Lord pleases for that person for that moment. But don’t ever ask me for a prophetic word because I cannot conjure up a “word” at will. No one can. 

I cringe when I’ve seen “prophets” give personal prophecy in church and then take up a “love offering.” Prophecy does not work like a vending machine. You can’t put in a dollar and out comes a prophetic word. Every authentic prophetic word is given by the Holy Spirit and there is no way that anyone can conjure up a word from God at will. In fact if we try, we join the ranks of fortunetellers and what the Bible calls soothsayers. Deu 18:10-12 

But I believe in personal prophecy and believe that when we sincerely desire to speak forth God’s word to others, the Holy Spirit will enable us to do so. We may not have the gift of a prophetic ministry, but we can develop a prophetic voice

I’ve known older couples who have been married for so long that they look, act, speak and even smell like each other. They’ve been walking hand in hand for so long through life, that they are not just married to each other, they are joined to each other. They’ve crested the heights in life together and survived the greatest pains and suffering together. They have the same dreams, desires and dislikes. They finish each other’s thoughts and speak each other’s words. They have been living in the presence of their spouse for so many decades that they don’t know where the voice of one leaves off and the voice of the other begins.

Do you want to have a prophetic voice that God can use to speak words of edification, encouragement and comfort to others? 1 Cor 14:3 You need to immerse yourself in the presence of God. You need to start walking hand in hand through life with Him. Like the old married couple intrinsically joined together, you need to live so closely in God’s presence that you don’t know where one leaves off and the other begins. And that’s when God’s thoughts become your thoughts and God’s words become your words. And you are declaring forth God’s words of edification, encouragement and comfort to others. That’s prophecy. Amen?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Crashing Through Life

Dear Friends,

I was in my first major car crash when I was only seven or eight. I saw the terror on the other driver’s face right before the impact and I know he could see the terror on mine. We were both frantically trying to steer our way clear. Forcefully yanking our steering wheels from one side to another had no effect. Our cars had quickly accelerated out of our control and we smashed head on into each other. The high-pitched whine of the electric motors was silenced upon impact, and now other cars smashed into our stalled cars. We had caused a multi-vehicle pile up and the operator had to turn off the power and run over to untangle us.

I grew up in Culver City and my favorite place in the whole world was Beverly Park on La Cienega. Also called “Kiddieland,” this theme park was close to our home, inexpensive and was a defining part of my childhood. I loved going there with my family. My favorites were the boats, the Ferris wheel and the pony rides but the “Dodgem” cars were the highlight. They were loud, fast and totally out of control. Loud, fiery sparks flew off the steel brush at the end of the car’s pole as it moved along the electrified ceiling and powered the car. Most of the steering wheels were useless and even Dodgem admitted, “until you have learned how, you go somewhere, but you don't go where you intend going.” The steering wheels were just something to hang onto when you crashed into each other. The operator kept turning the ride on and off so that one moment you were sitting peacefully in the middle of the small building then, in an instant, sparks would fly and you’d be once again hurtling out of control into another exciting smash-up. Kinda like life.

Things are going well. There is peace and harmony. Maybe even good health and prosperity. Then the unseen hand flips the switch, sparks fly and your life is headed out of control to another spectacular smash-up. And once again we tried our best to avoid it. But frantically jerking life’s steering wheel back and forth has no effect and like a Dodgem car, “until you have learned how, you go somewhere, but you don't go where you intend going.” And the problem is that we are not on Earth long enough to have learned everything we need to know about life. That’s why we so often find ourselves in circumstances where we never intended to go. 

In last Sunday’s service, I asked everyone a question,“In this coming year, where is it in your life that you most need God?” John Fredricks answered and told us that he needed God to be his “Navigator.” As a pilot and flight instructor, John knows that in military aviation, a flight navigator’s primary job is to determine the best way to get you to where you want to go, maintain the course by keeping you headed in the right direction and safely get you to where you need to be. Today all non-military planes are flown by a combination pilot/navigator alone, but our journey through life is a lot more complicated than flying a plane. That’s why we need a Navigator.

When we think about our past circumstances, situations and relationships, the first thing we may need to do is to admit that our own attempts at navigating through life have led to some pretty spectacular smash-ups. That’s why God says to us, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5 NLT Like King David we must submit to God and pray, “Teach me to do Your will, For You are my God; Your Spirit is good. Lead me in the land of uprightness.” Psalm 143:10 When we are no longer relying on our own understanding and we fully trust in God’s direction for our life, then His promise to us is that He will be our navigator, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.” Psalm 32:8 NLT God has sent the Holy Spirit to “guide you into all truth” and give you “the direction for your future”. John 16:13 And best of all, when God is our navigator, even when we encounter the normal turbulence in life, we know we will not crash and burn because His hand of protection is on us and all is well with our soul. “The Lord will deliver us from every evil work and preserve us for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen!” 2 Timothy 4:18


This is a photo of the Dodgem Car ride at Kiddieland taken around the time when I was there as a child. Kiddieland opened in 1945, was the first “theme” park and became the inspiration for Disneyland. After Walt Disney discovered Kiddieland with his two daughters in the 40's, Walt hired the owner of Beverly Park to help him with the concept for Disneyland. You can read more about that HERE.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Epiphany! It's Your Holy Day!

Dear Friends,

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany! In ancient times, “Epiphany” was celebrated in the Eastern Church and then much later, in the fourth century, “Christmas” was established by the Western Church. Too many Protestants are quick to discard all Christian traditions that were developed before the Reformation but we must remember that the first 1,500 years of Christian history and tradition belong to us too. And that’s why, perhaps for us Gentiles (meaning those of us who are not Jews), Epiphany could be considered even more important than Christmas. Epiphany means “revealed” and celebrates the manifestation of Christ to the first Gentiles–the Magi. We celebrate the birth of Jesus on Christmas. God incarnate. The Jewish Messiah came to save the Jews. But Epiphany marks that moment in history two years later when Jesus was revealed to the Gentiles. Perhaps the  Jews should be celebrating Christmas Day and the Gentiles should be celebrating the Epiphany! 

For the Magi, this was a journey of worship. The Magi (wise men) were led by a brilliant star in the sky Matthew 2:1-2 and today, wise men and wise women are still led on a worshipful journey to Him by the Holy Spirit. But like King Herod 2000 years ago, Matthew 2:3 some people are still threatened by Him. Mankind has not changed since the birth of Christ. Too many people celebrate Christmas and even come to church on Christmas and then turn away from Jesus as soon as He gets in their way. We all adore Him in the manger. The Child in the manger is safe and non-threatening. Even for atheists and unbelievers at Christmas time, the baby Jesus is tolerated as a cute and harmless bit of symbolism for the love that we all need to have for each other. 

The problem is when He climbs out of the manger and gets into our lives. That’s when He gets dangerous. Jesus interferes with our selfish and sinful ambitions. He upsets our attitude of entitlement which demands that we can do whatever we want. The Gospel message confronts while the Holy Spirit convicts. Our worldly culture celebrates  hedonistic sin while the politically-incorrect Word of God requires that we repent of those sins. The Word of God even contains the socially intolerant message that there is no other way to be reconciled to God other than through His Son Jesus Christ. John 14:6 Jesus is dangerous because He’s harmful to our status quo!

Christmas day is done and we pack up the Nativity scene with the cute baby Jesus and put Him away for another year. But the problem with Jesus is that He doesn’t stay in the safe place where we put Him. Jesus doesn’t stay asleep in the manger. He grew up and led a rebellion against religiosity. He came to preach the Gospel to the poor, heal the brokenhearted and set the captives free. He came not for the wealthy and comfortable but for the oppressed and marginalized. Luke 4:16-21 And then He died on the cross for our sins. And now the world is confronted with the dangerous truth of Jesus. That we must repent and believe. And some people react with hatred and hostility. 

That’s because the Son of God’s very presence on the earth was, and is still, a condemnation to sinful lifestyles and behaviors. That’s why we see this intense animosity toward Jesus and His followers manifesting today in the politically progressive liberal movement. We’ve been seeing not just a war on Christmas but a war on Christians. And how is this all going to turn out? You know how it ends! Jesus is coming back and there will be a time when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father in heaven. Philippians 2:9-11 

If Christians are by definition “those who follow Jesus,” then the Magi were the first Gentile Christians. Pursuing Jesus took time and effort for them – it was a long and strenuous journey. Following Jesus is not easy. It’s easy to follow an undemanding Christianity that teaches what Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” It’s a hard and difficult journey when you are following a dangerous rebel who loves you too much to allow you to remain comfortable and complacent in your sin. But when you answer the  call to follow Jesus, no matter what the cost to your comfort, then like the wise men, it will be the greatest and most incredible journey you’ll ever take. It’s a journey of worship, but we don’t offer our worship to get something from God. 

The wise men traveled for years not to get something from Jesus but to give Him something. We too come before God, not to get something from Him, but to give Him something – our worship. And in God’s grace and mercy He gives us His Son. Christmas is when we gaze adoringly at the Baby in the manger. Epiphany is when God reaches down to pick up the Christ-child and hands Him to us.