Battle of the Wills

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S (Scripture): 2 Chronicles 18:5 Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, four hundred of them, and said to them, “Shall we go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I refrain?” They said, “Go up; for God will give it into the hand of the king.” 6 But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there no other prophet of the Lord here of whom we may inquire?” 7 The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is still one other by whom we may inquire of the Lord, Micaiah son of Imlah; but I hate him, for he never prophesies anything favorable about me, but only disaster.” Jehoshaphat said, “Let the king not say such a thing.”…

12 The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, “Look, the words of the prophets with one accord are favorable to the king; let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.” 13 But Micaiah said, “As the Lord lives, whatever my God says, that I will speak.”

O (Observation): Micaiah is the lone prophet able to speak the truth to the kings of Judah and Israel. Seeking a prophet’s wisdom is always a good choice. King Jehoshaphat (of Judah) hears the 400 or so prophets saying, “Yes! Ride into battle!” But he wants a dissenting voice from the Lord. He wants to make sure that he has unanimity amongst the prophets.

This proves a wise move, because later on Micaiah reveals that God allowed an evil spirit to enter the ears of the 400 prophets. The Lord did not want a battle to take place. If they truly listened to the Lord – through Micaiah – they would have heard God’s true message: stand down, no battle today.

The pressure to want God’s word to match King Ahab’s word was tremendous. Micaiah allowed the pressure to sway his words, at first…but perhaps he did this simply to let God’s people fall on their faces. Or perhaps he did this because he was too intimidated.

The truth comes out, though. God does not desire battle. God’s will is laid bare. And still, God’s people choose their own will over God’s.

They have chosen poorly.

A (Application): But how much better are we? We know the things we shouldn’t do, yet we do them anyway. We know the things we should do, but do we do them? Not likely.

This battle of the wills (ours vs God’s) is an eternal struggle. The hope I see in this scenario is that Jesus Christ is our salvation, and that is not something we choose, but is something God has already done for us.

God choosing to redeem us is salvation. We still discern God’s will for us, and we gather in community to make decisions about our direction as faith communities. Our direction is something we prayerfully discern. We can fast and pray and talk.

We do this discernment not out of obligation to our God, but as a joyful response to the grace God has shown each and every one of us.

What is God’s will for you? Do you sense it is restrictive? Is it a release?

How about for your faith community? Where is God leading you?

P (Prayer): Lord, give us discerning hearts and minds. Amen.

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Can We See the Fruit?

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S (Scripture): 1 Kings 18:20 Ahab sent the message to all the Israelites. He gathered the prophets at Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah approached all the people and said, “How long will you hobble back and forth between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow God. If Baal is God, follow Baal.” The people gave no answer.

22 Elijah said to the people, “I am the last of the Lord’s prophets, but Baal’s prophets number four hundred fifty. 23 Give us two bulls. Let Baal’s prophets choose one. Let them cut it apart and set it on the wood, but don’t add fire. I’ll prepare the other bull, put it on the wood, but won’t add fire. 24 Then all of you will call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers with fire—that’s the real God!”

36 At the time of the evening offering, the prophet Elijah drew near and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. I have done all these things at your instructions. 37 Answer me, Lord! Answer me so that this people will know that you, Lord, are the real God and that you can change their hearts.” 38 Then the Lord’s fire fell; it consumed the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up the water in the trench!

O (Observation): Israel’s kingship began to have a high turnover ratio. King Ahab settles in for 22 years, but he “did evil in the sight of the Lord.” He ushered in more Baal worship , forsaking the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

As such, the prophets of the Lord went into hiding, including Elijah. But the time came for Elijah to listen to God’s call to confront King Ahab.

Elijah announced that a test would be in order. Sacrifice a bull, and the god who consumes the sacrifice with fire is the one true God. (And for good measure, Elijah has the servants pour water over the wood around his sacrifice.)

Sure enough, Baal’s god does not show up, but Elijah’s God does!!!

And Ahab was on the run…fearful for his life…and quite possibly, afraid of the God he had forsaken.

A (Application): Why can I not be more clear in my faith? I am too often finding myself worshipping either Baal or God when the moment strikes. If we are all honest, we all do this: we find times when we trust God (like Elijah), and we find times when we trust only ourselves (like Baal prophets).

If I had to choose only one, I’d choose to be like Elijah. So that is what I strive for.

Yet many Christians look at my stances as being strictly that of Baal. As being “against God’s will,” or “going against ‘God’s Word’.” I admit I can err like anyone, but that is never my intention.

To these detractors, I say this: “Look to the fruit.” Is fruit for God’s Kingdom being produced? If so, then what of it? Just because my decisions and teachings don’t square with a traditional point-of-view, why shoot them down as if I am simply one of Baal’s prophets?

Perhaps we should call upon God to decide, instead of other Christians playing the part of God. Is what I do worshipful to God? I pray so. And when my actions detract from following God, I pray for forgiveness.

P (Prayer): God, continue to show us that you are God and can be trusted implicitly! Amen.

Prophet: Rejected!

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S (Scripture): Mark 6:1 Jesus left that place and came to his hometown. His disciples followed him. 2 On the Sabbath, he began to teach in the synagogue. Many who heard him were surprised. “Where did this man get all this? What’s this wisdom he’s been given? What about the powerful acts accomplished through him? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t he Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” They were repulsed by him and fell into sin.

4 Jesus said to them, “Prophets are honored everywhere except in their own hometowns, among their relatives, and in their own households.” 5 He was unable to do any miracles there, except that he placed his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 He was appalled by their disbelief.

O (Observation): The Son of God…unable to do any miracles in his home town. Jesus’ home town folks…incredulous, disbelieving. And because they doubt, most are not healed. Jesus was just never gonna be enough for these folks.

They saw Jesus grow up. They know his parents. They know his siblings. He can’t be the Son of God.

A (Application): How many times do we doubt? How many times do we dismiss, out of poor logic or sensibility? How often do we belittle?

Jesus’ hometown folks have a notion of who Jesus is supposed to be. We have notions of who Jesus is supposed to be. We have vision of what worship and belief should be.

When things don’t fit that mold, we have difficulty moving forward. This happens to all of us. No matter what you prefer, some things will just not fit the mold in your mind or mine. And in the wake of that discussion, we hopefully walk away with the idea that we are still worshipping God in a way that can be beneficial for all of us (even if we lay down our lives along the way).

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us steadfast in worshipping you. Amen.

Moving Through the Fear

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S (Scripture): Mark 4:35 Later that day, when evening came, Jesus said to them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” 36 They left the crowd and took him in the boat just as he was. Other boats followed along.

37 Gale-force winds arose, and waves crashed against the boat so that the boat was swamped. 38 But Jesus was in the rear of the boat, sleeping on a pillow. They woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re drowning?”

39 He got up and gave orders to the wind, and he said to the lake, “Silence! Be still!” The wind settled down and there was a great calm. 40 Jesus asked them, “Why are you frightened? Don’t you have faith yet?”

41 Overcome with awe, they said to each other, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him!”

O (Observation): Jesus felt the crowd pushing in, so he and the disciples got out on a boat so that Jesus could talk to the crowd from out on the water. Their next move – that evening – was to cross the Sea of Galilee to head into Gentile territory and to other encounters.

Jesus crossed loads of boundaries, but even before they fully cross the sea, they encounter another border – the winds and storms churning up the sea. Jesus is asleep, while the disciples are fearing for their very lives! Doesn’t Jesus care? Of course he does…he’s just not afraid.

Jesus tells the storm to muzzle itself. It does. Then, they were overcome with awe at Jesus. In this case, awe could also be “fear.” They feared Jesus. (Not in a horror-film sense…but in a “he ain’t from around here” sense.) Like…he just might be what he proclaims to be – the Son of God!

And in their fear…they still follow…

A (Application): Fear is not necessarily the opposite of faith. Although cowardice could be a lack of faith.

We may fear the Lord…but that may be irrelevant. The point is this: what do we do in the face of that fear? Dr. Meda Stamper (Minister, PCUSA) says this:

“What seems to matter is what we do in spite of or because of that awe (of the Lord).”

We have moments / days / weeks / months / years in which we may be fearful. Yet we are encouraged to move forward. Fear is a liar. Fear makes us false prophets. Fear challenges our faith. And yet, laying down our lives, moving through the fear… into the unknown…that can be transformative.

More from Dr. Meda Stamper:

Even when we make it through the storms, following Jesus may well take us straight into encounters with the worst pain and suffering of the world, the places where Jesus’ powerful touch is most needed.

And

crossing to the other side at Jesus’ command may try our faith, but it also puts us in a position to experience the stilling of our storms, the restoration of the broken and the marginalized, and the transformation of death to life.

P (Prayer): Lord, carry us through our fears. Show us the transformative power of your Kingdom…turning death into life…fear into hope. Amen.

Who Said That?

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S (Scripture): Amos 7: 8 The Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?”

“A plumb line,” I said.
Then the Lord said,
“See, I am setting a plumb line
in the middle of my people Israel.
I will never again forgive them.
9 The shrines of Isaac will be made desolate,
and the holy places of Israel will be laid waste,
and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”

10 Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, reported to Israel’s King Jeroboam, “Amos has plotted against you within the house of Israel. The land isn’t able to cope with everything that he is saying. 11 Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will be forced out of its land.’”

12 Amaziah said to Amos, “You who see things, go, run away to the land of Judah, eat your bread there, and prophesy there; 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s holy place and his royal house.”

14 Amos answered Amaziah, “I am not a prophet, nor am I a prophet’s son; but I am a shepherd, and a trimmer of sycamore trees. 15 But the Lord took me from shepherding the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’

16 “Now then hear the Lord’s word.
You say, ‘Don’t prophesy against Israel, and don’t preach
against the house of Isaac.’
17 “Therefore, the Lord proclaims:
‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city,
and your sons and your daughters will fall by the sword,
and your land will be measured and divided up;
you yourself will die in an unclean land,
and Israel will surely be taken away from its land.’”

O (Observation): Prophetic words are not always meant to comfort. In fact, most prophetic words are mean to correct God’s people. The words of Amos are just such words.

The famous “plumb line” image is about helping God’s people to have a guideline, a boundary against which their actions will be judged. If they fall “out of plumb” they will know they are in need of repentance. Following up on that repentance will be critical for God’s people to be I good standing before God.

And no matter how much folks like to dismiss words from prophets, the words still stand…because those words come from God.

A (Application): To whom shall we listen? Politicians? Pastors? Church members? Atheists?

How about a shepherd? A mechanic? A CEO?

Prophets come in all forms, all shapes, all professions. Prophets are not limited to a particular place or job. As Amos says in v. 14, he is just a shepherd, a trimmer of sycamore trees. He also just happens to be called to share God’s prophetic words.

Perhaps this text can give us pause to consider from whom we are receiving a message that challenges us. Pause long enough to discern the truth coming from the statement, regardless of who is sharing that word. Don’t dismiss the words just because you don’t trust or relate to the carrier of the message. Discuss it with others you trust and discern together the purpose.

You may come to the conclusion that your initial sense is best…but at least you considered the message. And if you need to repent, do so.

And keep an eye on that plumb line.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us steadfast in your Word, your plumb line, your messages from your prophets. Amen.

Who Receives Revelations From God?

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S (Scripture): Amos 3:7 Surely the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.

O (Observation): A bit of an oversimplification this day, a verse out of context. Yet equally true on its own, as in the context in which it exists.

Amos declares the suffering that is to come for God’s people. God’s people have erred by dismissing their hopes in God. Instead of direct retribution, God sends messages to the prophets to help God’s people get back on track.

Unfortunately, God’s people don’t listen very well. So God takes direct action through drying up water sources and such. And yet…a word of grace comes. God never forsakes the people that worship God.

The prophets speak God’s message of truth. God’s followers would do well to hear those words. These words of correction are a blessing, especially when God’s people have gone astray and DON’T KNOW they have gone astray.

A (Application): Prophets have an extremely important role to play, today. A good prophet will take the revelation they have received and bring it to the community (or communities) they trust. In that sharing, the people can discern – together – the meaning of the Word from God.

A prophet who acts alone (with no attempt to bring the revelation to others) will likely be dismissed or labeled a wacko. This is unfortunate, because very few folks have this gifting these days, and I wish to encourage them to embrace this calling.

Sharing this burden brings hope to our community. In Murfreesboro, I have seen many “prophets” seeking to do good in our community…friends like Brian, Toi, Jason, Cary, Tricia, Abdou, Hibba, Ali, Kevin, Joy, Chris, Keith, Richard, Tim, and many, many more. I don’t know that they are all prophets per se, but they do speak words of justice and hope into the systems that oppress other in these days.

May the words of the prophets move you into a deeper understand of your relationship with God. May you know God’s presence in the difficult situations you face. May you speak God’s truth as you join God’s Mission today. Amen.

P (Prayer): Lord, we seek your glory and your Word this day – even if it stings a bit. Amen.

Everyone’s a Prophet

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S (Scripture): Jeremiah 38:1b Jeremiah had been telling the people: 2 The Lord proclaims: Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine, and disease. But whoever surrenders to the Babylonians will live; yes, their lives will be spared. 3 The Lord proclaims: This city will certainly be handed over to the army of Babylon’s king, who will capture it.

4 Then the officials said to the king: “This man must be put to death! By saying such things, he is discouraging the few remaining troops left in the city, as well as all the people. This man doesn’t seek their welfare but their ruin!”

5 “He’s in your hands,” King Zedekiah said, “for the king can do nothing to stop you.” 6 So they seized Jeremiah, threw him into the cistern of the royal prince Malchiah, within the prison quarters, and lowered him down by ropes. Now there wasn’t any water in the cistern, only mud, and Jeremiah began to sink into the mud.

O (Observation):  The message God continuously shared through Jeremiah, was that the Hebrew people would need to go with the Babylonians, if they wanted to live.  Not only would they live, but God’s promise is to bring God’s people back to their homeland one day.   

If they stay, they die. These are their choices: life or death.  

Jeremiah was called to stay and continue to prophecy to God’s people, so he was sort of exempt from the proclamation (he is after all, God’s mouthpiece to the people).   Several of God’s people chose life; they chose to give to Babylon. 

Yet the king and many of the king’s advisors and false prophets declared that God’s people would withstand another attack from the Babylonians.  They would be wrong.  And they were so adamant about their prophecies (Israel victorious in battle) that they had Jeremiah thrown into the cistern full of mud, just to shut him up.  

We see how things turn out.  God’s people defeated, and yet, God’s promises coming true:  God redeems the people of God.  God brings them back, but not before the prophetic witness of Jeremiah is heard and ignored.  

A (Application):  How many prophets exist today?  True prophets.    Does someone have to be famous to be a prophet?   Rich?  Poor?   Wear clothing of camel hair?

I think many of God’s people today have a gift of prophecy, in the sense that they receive feelings / visions / thoughts of what God is saying to them as individuals or about us as a community.  

How de we know which prophetic message to follow?   This takes discernment amongst the Christian community.   Once one receives a message, one would be most wise to share it with a trusted group such that the community (however large or small) may discern the vision together.   Then, move forward with sharing the vision with the people at large.  In this way, the community can discern the truth of the vision and move forward.  

We all can act like prophets behind our keyboards these days (even myself).   And we can make bold, prophetic statements.  My suggestion:  gather trusted folks together (or share with several individually) before we share the vision.   And then move forward humbly, and with a strong will.  Let God be your confidence. 

P (Prayer): Lord, give us the gift of discernment. Amen.