Christianity 201

July 15, 2015

Prophets Without Honor

Wednesday contributor, Canadian pastor Clarke Dixon leaves us with a powerful message before heading off on three weeks holidays.

Unpopular Prophets

And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” Amos 7:12-13

The dedicated Christian may be able to relate to Amos. We might paraphrase: “O religious nut, go preach to someone who wants to listen. Stay where you were, preach to your own kind and do not ram your teaching down our throats.” “Preaching” was not welcome there in Amos’ day, for according to Amaziah that is the king’s land, and not here today, for this is Canada where we talk about the weather, hockey, and politics, usually in that order. But not religion. That is a private matter so don’t talk about it. Maybe we have never encountered this sentiment, but maybe that is because we have been too quiet to ever be shushed?

Last week we looked at engaging the minds of those who have already made up their minds. This week we ask what are we to do when we face not just apathy for, but hostility to, our message. Not just “we will never agree with what you are saying, but, we don’t even want to hear it.” What are we to do as Christians when our message has become unpopular? Let us turn to a prophet with an unpopular message for help.

Amos was sent from his homeland in Judah with a message for the Northern Kingdom of Israel. His message tended to be simple: “stop exploiting the poor and bring back justice.” But it was also unpopular, especially with the priest in Bethel:

Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. 11 For thus Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.’” 12 And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” Amos 7:10-13

Amos was told to go back to Judah and keep his message there. The Christian today may be told to go back to church and keep their message there. So what do we learn from Amos?

Amos was not in Bethel for personal gain. In fact he is not even a “professional” prophet belonging to a guild or school of prophets:

14 Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, 15 and the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ Amos 7:14-15

We know Amos was not speaking up for self-gain, so why was he there? Chapter 7 begins with three visions, the first two ending with God relenting from judgement thanks to the intercession of Amos:

This is what the Lord GOD showed me: he was forming locusts at the time the latter growth began to sprout (it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings). 2 When they had finished eating the grass of the land, I said, “O Lord GOD, forgive, I beg you! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” 3 The LORD relented concerning this; “It shall not be,” said the LORD. 4 This is what the Lord GOD showed me: the Lord GOD was calling for a shower of fire, and it devoured the great deep and was eating up the land. 5 Then I said, “O Lord GOD, cease, I beg you! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” 6 The LORD relented concerning this; “This also shall not be,” said the Lord GOD. Amos 7:1-6 (emphasis mine)

This is a man who is passionate about interceding on behalf of the people. He loves the people! From Amos we learn this important truth for when we face opposition: The motive for speaking up is not self-gain, but love. In the third vision God points out that His justice must finally overrule the compassion of Amos:

This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by; 9 the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.” Amos 7:7-9

But justice will not overrule compassion until opportunities are given to repent, thus Amos is sent to warn the people. God who loves the people! And a strong message is given precisely because of love. In fact any effort to silence a prophet of God is an effort to snuff out the loving activity of God. And to silence a Christian from sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ is to deny an opportunity to love.

Even the most dire prophecies of the prophet are spoken out of love. We might consider the last words of Amos to Amaziah:

“Now therefore hear the word of the LORD. You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.’ 17 Therefore thus says the LORD: ‘Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be parceled out by line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.’” Amos 7:16-17

We ought not to take this as a personal attack out of spite: “I don’t like how you have opposed me, so God is going to get you.” Rather this is a final plea, a pointing out of the natural consequences if Amaziah continues down the path he is on: “If you deny the nation the opportunity to repent God will not protect you when the enemy comes. Just think of the dire circumstance that will create for your family, for you, and for your nation!” Amos was not pointing to a “supernatural zapping” but a natural and sad outworking of events. Amos knew about exile and so could warn Amaziah about it. We know about hell. How often do we warn people that the natural consequence of a life lived with one’s back turned to God will be an eternity without God? Hell is not a “supernatural zapping” but a natural and sad outworking of events.

Amos has not been the only spokesperson from God that people have tried to silence. Nor has he been the only one to speak up. John the Baptist loved people too much to be silent about their need for repentance. Jesus loved people too much to be silent about the coming Kingdom. The apostles loved people too much to be silent about the good news that Jesus is risen, that He is Lord and Saviour, that in Jesus God has stepped into history to rescue humanity. This was an unpopular message back in the day: “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). It still is unpopular.

How much do we really love Canada? How much do we really love the people all around us? Does fear silence us? Or does love loosen our lips?

All scriptures are quoted from the NRSV

September 17, 2013

How God Spoke to Me

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God is trying to get our attention

John 3:31-36 (J. B. Phillips translation) 

31-36 “The one who comes from above is naturally above everybody. The one who arises from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks from the earth. The one who comes from Heaven is above all others and he bears witness to what he has seen and heard—yet no one is accepting his testimony. Yet if a man does accept it, he is acknowledging the fact that God is true. For the one whom God sent speaks the authentic words of God—and there can be no measuring of the Spirit given to him! The Father loves the Son and has put everything into his hand. The man who believes in the Son has eternal life. The man who refuses to believe in the Son will not see life; he lives under the anger of God.”

The title for today’s reading is actually a bit of a teaser; I have no specific story to tell, but it’s interesting what happens to our perceptions on this topic when the situation becomes subjective and personal. Consider the difference between the two possible titles I had for today:

  • How God Speaks to Us
  • How God Spoke to Me

The former sounds generally instructive, but the latter sounds like a personal testimony which may or may not be beneficial to all.  Last year, I wrote about this on another blog:

I think there is a potential for degrees of fallibility when it comes to hearing from God. I offer this as something others can refine further:

(1) The reading of scripture. If it’s in context and the translation is reliable there should be little margin for error as to what God is speaking. For many people, the list stops here. There is no room for the other propose methodology whereby God’s will and God’s ways are communicated. Admittedly, everything else listed below should not conflict with scripture. All scripture is God-breathed (II Tim 3:16)

(2) “I think what God is saying to us is…” Form employed by a pastor in a sermon after a week (or more) of study on a particular passage or theme. Includes not only what the passage is saying in general, but what the pastor feels it addresses in the local church context. The pastor usually uses the form “I think…” or “I believe…” however; he (or she) is not claiming divine inspiration.

(3) “The saith the Lord…” Words of prophecy and knowledge (or interpretation of tongues) as spoken in Pentecostal or Charismatic meetings can sometimes get off the rails, but are generally received as reliable in a majority of cases. Not generally recorded or transcribed, though some elements may be remembered by that local church for years to come, such as a church I attended for two years in my late teens which had a prophecy ‘spoken over’ the congregation that they would influence the world, but would not be known for it. In many ways, this prophecy materialized.

(4) First person speech. The literary form used in God Calling by A. J. Russell or Jesus Calling by Sarah Young hasn’t been vetted by a pastor’s arduous study or a local congregation, but has been seen by editors and publishers. Still, nobody knows the identity of the “Two Listeners” of the book A. J. Russell compiled. (Are there interviews with Sarah Young someone can provide a link to?) This could just be a stylistic variant on (2) above, but it brings with it the presumption of inspiration, and is, in my opinion, at best very risky.

(5) Dreams and visions. Given usually to an individual and distinct from (2) and (3) above, and usually highly subjective, though God does speak through these and other similar means.

(6) The general revelation of nature. Psalm 19 — The heavens declare the Glory of God — describes this as “speech” as the creation proclaims God’s existence. Ranks with (1) above in terms of its purity, but listed last here as so few outside the faith “listen to” the message the heavens are speaking, and so few of us within the faith take the time to appreciate its constant reminder of God’s greatness. If this one is (1a) then certainly we’d also want to include as (1b) the inner witness or voice of the Holy Spirit; provided our hearts are properly tuned to the Spirit’s frequency; as this also becomes partially subjective, as Paul’s use of “I believe I have the mind of the Lord…” (italics added) in I Cor. 7: 39-40 I’m also not sure how the inner voice of the spirit (or even the revelation of nature) would fit with those most strongly committed to sola scriptura. Furthermore, the general revelation of nature often compels some people to attribute creation to other gods, other powers, and other sources. Also, we usually demand that any ‘inner voices’ people experience submit to the revelation of scripture; the two cannot conflict.


  • To whom is the passage from John 3 at the top of this article referring?  Can it have broader application?
  • Have you ever found yourself in a church, a Bible study, or even a conversation where you weren’t sure if a message, a teaching, a directive, etc., was truly from God; i.e. if it could truly be trusted? 
  • What about circumstances? We all agree that many times God speaks through our individual situations so… how reliable, as in the cartoon above, are pain, suffering and trials as a potential means God is using to get our attention? Is pain God’s megahone?

October 30, 2010

We’ll Get Mikey To Try It, He Hates Everything

If the title of this post means anything to you, then it means that you remember a certain Life cereal commercial.   Besides, I didn’t think people would get my first choice:

We’ll Get Micaiah to Prophesy, He Hates Everything

King Ahab was convinced that Micaiah was a bad news prophet who never had anything good to say.  I was just listening to a sermon which referenced him when today, I discovered that Stephen & Brooksyne Weber devoted TWO devotional posts to him this week.

I decided to combine them as one long one here because this is all worth reading:

Only What God Says

But Micaiah said, “As surely as the LORD lives, I can tell him only what my God says” (2 Chronicles 18:13).

“What’s popular is not always right and what’s right is not always popular.”  This is a quote that hung on a banner in the youth room of our church in New England for many years.  More to the point, “What’s popular in the world is usually not right for those seeking to please God and what’s right for those who seek to please God is usually not popular in the world.”

This is an issue that others have faced in previous generations. In fact many of the Biblical giants were not popular in their time.

When we think of prophets in the Bible we likely first consider those who have books named after them. But there were other great prophets such as Elijah, Elisha and Nathan.

One of the lesser known is a prophet by the name of Micaiah (we pronounce his name like Isaiah since its spelling is very similar). His story is told in parallel accounts in 1 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 18. He was a prophet to the apostate Northern Kingdom and was known for telling it like it is. People like that may not be popular in their time but their boldness is sorely needed for their generation!  Their words and actions may not just be for their time but may affect many other generations as well.

Jehoshaphat, king of the southern Kingdom (Judah) and Ahab, king of the northern kingdom had entered into an ungodly alliance and were preparing for an attack. Jehoshaphat had agreed to proceed but then remembered that he should seek the will of the Lord. His “Charge Ahead” attitude got ahead of Moses’ command, “Listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him” (Deuteronomy 30:20b)!

King Ahab got together four hundred prophets that assured them of victory in battle. News of victory surely was a “sign” that God was in this but Jehoshaphat, on the face of such news, detected that these were false prophets.  Exercising discernment he asked, “Is there not a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?” 2 Chronicles 18:6).  For Jehoshaphat the untampered truth was more important than false assurance.

Indeed there was a prophet of the Lord but Ahab did not want to consult him! It seems even Ahab had some discernment but tried to ignore it, hoping to get his way.

His response is like many who don’t want to hear what God says.  He had gathered around him those who said what he wanted to hear. The apostle Paul in the New Testament warned: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3).  I think we live in such a time as well!

Ahab probably spoke just above a whisper through clenched teeth when he finally revealed, “There is still one man through whom we can inquire of the LORD”. Surely his eyes were full of deadly venom as he went on to confess, “I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.”

So Micaiah was called and pressured by the messenger to give a prophetic word agreeable to the other 400.  He told Micaiah, “Look, all the prophets are promising victory for the king.  Be sure that you agree with them and promise success.”

But Micaiah didn’t succumb to the messenger’s ungodly counsel. He reasoned that kings on earth do not have the same authority as the King of heaven. His response, although obscure, is one of the greatest statements of faith and acts of obedience in the Bible, “As surely as the LORD lives, I can tell him only what my God says.”

Today we need to take some lessons from Micaiah. He didn’t go along with the crowd just to accommodate others’ ideology, even though they represented great authority on earth.  Our counsel and lifestyle must reflect the principles set forth in Holy Scripture, not the ever changing values and evolving definitions presented in our present society.

Mark My Words

Micaiah declared, “If you ever return safely, the LORD has not spoken through me.” Then he added, “Mark my words, all you people!” (2 Chronicles 18:27).

Our last message was about a little-known prophet who took a stand for the Lord.  Today we want to share another insight from the account. The kings had consulted the prophets regarding their battle plans.  “Go,” they answered, “for God will give it into the king’s hand.” In fact one of them by the name of Zedekiah added some flamboyant visual effects, similar to the style of some very showy evangelists of our time!

But Micaiah stated, “As surely as the LORD lives, I can tell him only what my God says” (2 Chronicles 18:13). What God had directed Micaiah to say was certainly not well received. His prophetical word is summed up in this simple pronouncement: “The LORD has decreed disaster for you.” That’s certainly not what Ahab wanted to hear,  yet his riches, his alliance with Jehoshaphat, and his kingly position did not change such a deadly pronouncement!

After receiving Micaiah’s news of disaster Ahab attempted to silence the prophet with these orders: “Put this fellow in prison and give him nothing but bread and water until I return safely.”

The king’s order for imprisonment and food deprivation would surely force Micaiah to modify his original prophecy.  And yet in his parting prophetic statement he boldly added: “If you ever return safely, the LORD has not spoken through me.” Then he added, “Mark my words, all you people!” (2 Chronicles 18:27).

Notice the responsibility Micaiah took. He forthrightly stated that if Ahab did not return safely, “the LORD has not spoken through me.” Over my lifetime I have heard some who claim to speak for the Lord and miss the mark in situations that parallel our story today. Yet they make excuses or go on to try again and again. Guess enough on the issues and at some point they’re going to get it right!  This is true of astrologists as well.

Ahab ignored the counsel and died on the battlefield, validating Micaiah’s prophecy.  An amazing detail about Scripture that intrigues me is that the very last we read about Micaiah is that he’s in prison. There’s no record of what happened to him after Ahab’s body was recovered from the battlefield.  Micaiah is one of the lesser known prophets that I want to talk to when I get to heaven. I’m anxious to hear “the rest of the story”!

The main encouragement to end this message with is this:  Let us be faithful in declaring God’s Word regardless of the cost.

~Stephen & Brooksyne Weber