Do Not Be Deceived…
We live in a world where nothing seems real any longer. Just turn on the telly and try to spot the difference between the authentic and the fake. Wherever we look we are confronted with spurious imitations of watches, handbags, tans, sunglasses and…well, all of it really. Spotting a fake anything is difficult. You need a keen eye and to know what to look for. The detail and effort that go into making fake goods is astonishing. And this level of effort aimed at producing facsimiles of real things is so widespread that even the highly trained find it difficult to detect the fake from the genuine.
We are being deceived constantly. Someone claiming to be from Microsoft on the phone is really part of an international credit card scam; the unbelievably low-priced Ray-Ban sunglasses on Facebook are nothing but cheap knock-offs; the ‘Like & Share’ scams claiming to put the user in a prize draw are nothing more than elaborate efforts to gain ‘likes’ or followers on Facebook so that advertisers will want to spend money putting an advert on that page…all of it a con.
And when faced with a world like this, the desire for the true authentic; the genuine article is like hunting for the Holy Grail – you are never going to find it because it doesn’t exist.
So, when materialism fails to deliver in the physical world, people start to look for something of real substance in the spiritual world. We live in the post-modern age. Atheism lacks something (no kidding!); people want more than nothing…they want to believe in something…anything. Some look for ‘a flag to fight behind‘ – a worthy cause or social movement, something with some meaning. Others are inventing their own religions or re-hashing old ones. The search for something of significance has become an increasingly bigger part of life. People are seeing through what politicians say; what advertising tries to sell and everything else that leaves us void of emotion. We are hardened to suicide bombers and refugees because of our exposure to a media that we simply cannot trust because the owners of the media outlets are corrupt. Nothing of substance in any of it.
And yet, my own experience tells me that when people are disillusioned with the fake it is the authentic they turn to. To the things of substance.
I called out to God two years ago after spending (on and off) 23 years in a spiritual wilderness where I pursued wealth and self-indulgences like habit-forming drugs. Two years ago today. I called out to Him and He answered. At the time I was drinking a bottle of Jack Daniels a day plus around 8 cans of Scrumpy Jack and (if it were a special occasion such as a day with a vowel in it) maybe a small bottle of Ouzo. I was smoking so much weed that I couldn’t tell if I were wrecked or not. My nose was so sore from snorting lines and lines of cocaine that it bleed constantly. I was paranoid, angry and depressed. I had had everything that life told us we needed – fast cars, big TVs, nice shirts, trendy shoes, smart phones and everything else. But none of it filled the gap in my life. None of it could ever fill the hole in my soul that only God could fit into. Everything I did was aimed to make me feel better but it all made me feel worse. It was a lie. All of it.
So I went looking for authentic. I went in search of the genuine article. I always knew that would be found in the person of Jesus Christ but, until then, I could never really bring myself to a place where I could put my self-indulgences to the side to make way for the king of my heart.
“…the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” [Matthew 13:44 NKJV]
And that’s what is was like for me. I knew there could be no half-measures this time. I knew I had to go all-in. If you want the real, the authentic it costs everything you have, no matter how little or much you have. There is no other way.
Today, we see people looking for instant celebrity or fame. A shortcut to happiness. No such thing. There is no shortcut to any kind of lasting happiness. If you want the real-deal in anything it will cost you personally. With Christ, it is all sacrifice.
Don’t get me wrong – if you want to fast-track yourself to a facsimile of Christian living you can. Easily. There are a myriad of churches out there selling the cut-down version – the wealth, health and happiness franchises. All grace and no repentance messages. No works, just join the club. It is easy to spot them because the queue is round the block. The short cut to salvation. But, be aware that all that glitters is not gold. If you want that fast-track Christianity then read no further. What follows really isn’t for you.
Two years ago I decided that it had to be all or nothing. Either I found the genuine article or I walked away forever. I wanted to encounter Jesus in the same way that the early church did. I wanted to see the miracles that we see described in the Book of Acts. I was sick of the fake. Bored of the lip-service that people paid to God. And, more than anything, I wasn’t going to put up with the churchianity – the man-made religion that the modern church passed off as being Holy Spirit led. I wanted authenticity.
I have read all that God left for us in His handbook and can see no valid reason why we should be moving in the same spiritual ways as the like of Peter, James and Paul. There is no reason. It is not something that God has taken away and will bring back and call revival. What nonsense. Those early disciples moved in the Spirit because they allowed the Holy Spirit to move in them. Paul said that it is not I who live but Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20). What we have today is a facsimile. A facade. It looks like church. It feels like church. But when you scratch beneath the surface you don’t find gold, just a cheap imitation.
There are many reasons for this – too many, in fact, to go into here. But I would like to draw your attention to just one facet of this gemstone we call church. That of prophecy.
Sadly, there isn’t a great deal in the New Testament pertaining to prophecy itself. What there is we will cover below. The same can be said of tithing but, somehow, we have managed to make back into a law that Jesus had already fulfilled on the cross. I think we might be in danger of doing so too with prophecy.
In the Old Testament God’s favoured choice of communicating both good and bad news to His people – the Jews – was via a prophet. This was not an exclusive rule but generally speaking if the Lord of Hosts had something to say, He would speak to one of His prophets first and then the prophet would speak out what or write what God had given him or her to say. All good.
In the New Testament or the Age of the Gentiles or the Age of the Church (delete as appropriate), things changed on all levels. The redemption action of the Cross not only reconciled mankind to God, but as Jesus drew His final breath, the curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom (Mark 15:38). This meant that in that reconciliation there was no need for a priest once a year to make a sacrifice on behalf of the many, instead all mankind could now come before the throne of God because of the blood shred on the Cross by Jesus. In other words, our relationship with God was no longer on a proxy basis but direct. And what is more that with the ascension of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2, we didn’t have to go to God’s house to meet with Him – He came to live with us, in us, by way of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, like the priest, the prophet now found himself out of a job. In fact, in the 400 years from Malachi to the coming of John the Baptist, there was no recorded prophet. Just silence. Then along comes John with the spirit of Elijah and uses declaration of God’s will and prophecy to herald the coming of the King. One man. Following the pattern of the Old Covenant. And Jesus, we know, was the prophet that Moses had himself prophesied about in Deuteronomy 18. Jesus did what prophets before Him had done – He told people what God wanted to say to them. The good news. In doing so Jesus fulfilled the prophecies said about Him as well as setting out God’s intentions for the future of mankind, the nation of Israel and the Gentiles. I will contest that Jesus was the last of the Old Convenant prophets. What followed, and what is today, is different…despite the claims of some on the internet.
So, I said we will look at what the New Testament says of prophets. And we will. But first let us look carefully at the events of Pentecost when the Spirit of God fell upon the 120 disciples waiting obediently, and of one accord (this phrase is important and discussion on it can be found on an earlier posting here) in the upper room.
If you are not familiar with the account in Acts 2 I suggest you read it now as we go along. But I would urge caution at reading only the NIV translation as I feel it lacks some of the finer points. If you read it in the NIV please take the time to compare it to another translation. This text is very important for it reveals the birth of the church, the Ekklesia. It wasn’t a stone building back then…it was people, living stones.
I believe if you, like me, are looking for something genuine in your walk then Acts 2 is the place to start. The disciples – 120 of them, we are told, didn’t have the scriptures we have now. What we call the New Testament wasn’t compiled until the 3rd century. Paul’s letters that are so invaluable to everyday Christian living wouldn’t be written for another 20-30 years. They had knowledge of the Old Testament, the five books of the Law in particular but all in scroll form. They didn’t have an app on their phones or even a handy pocket sized edition of Isaiah. But they knew scripture because they learnt it. They had to. But what they did have on the day of Pentecost was the Holy Spirit – the ultimate guide for life; the comforter. And that is exactly who we need when looking for the authentic. Without the Holy Spirit all we have is religious acts.
Pentecost took place, as its name hints at, 50 days after the Passover. 50 days had passed since Jesus had been crucified and then resurrected by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. He had appeared to many people after rising from the grave and then He ascended into heaven. He told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem for power to come from on high (Acts 1). Then He was gone. Just imagine these men and women huddled together in this room, not really knowing what was happening but ‘of one accord’ – harmony that leads to action is what the Greek translates it as. In agreement with one another and living the commandments of Jesus by loving one another. Not back-biting or gossiping or criticising but loving, sharing, caring. Then…whoosh! The whole house filled with the sound of a mighty wind and what is described as tongues of fire appeared on their heads and it says they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). The manifestation of the Holy Spirit in each person was the utterances of foreign tongues – languages that other people outside of the house could hear and understand. This should not be confused with the personal tongue we are gifted with for private prayer with God. These tongues were meant to be heard by those who were in Jerusalem for the festival.
The people hearing the strange utterances out in the street believed them to be drunk but Peter stepped up and made his first public speech. Not bad for a fisherman. In his speech he quotes from the Old Testament prophet, Joel saying:
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they will prophesy.” [Acts 2:17 ref Joel 2:28-32 NKJV]
Peter attested that this prophecy by Joel was fulfilled on that day. So, what we can glean from this is that we are in the last days and that the last days or age started at Pentecost with the out pouring of the Holy Spirit. We can also establish that at that time God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh. All flesh. Everyone. As a result sons and daughters of all flesh will prophesy and so too will the menservants and maidservants. Now, without any firm proof and in line with several good thinking people, I would assert that ‘all flesh’ refers to the Gentiles and that men and maidservants are the nation of Israel. I can’t confirm this but there is definition between the two for a reason. Nothing is written in the Bible without good reason so I suggest, in this particular case, this is the reason.
This means then that instead of having a specific person doing all the prophesying, that everyone will have the ability to do the job. Everyone. All flesh. We can read this in any way we want to. It would be easy to say that God just means Christians. But it doesn’t say that. It says all flesh. Everyone. Hold that thought.
Now what does it actually mean to prophesy? Well, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Whole Bible says the following:
H5012 – naba – a primitive root; to prophesy, i.e. speak (or sing) by inspiration (in prediction or simple discourse).
In layman’s terms, it means to speak via the inspiration (in this case) of the Holy Spirit. We see this often in the Old Testament. The process appears to work something like this – God speaks to His prophet. The prophet then will deliver the message from God, either there and then in person, or in written form. To distinguish that it is God speaking through the prophet and not just the prophet speaking, most discourses start with the phrase ‘The word of the LORD came to me‘ or ‘Thus says the LORD‘. What we also know is that when God speaks like this, what He says comes to pass unless God Himself intervenes.
Take a look at Ezekiel 37. It will be familiar to many and certainly can be taken as a prophetic view of either the nation of Israel being spiritually dead and being restored in the last days or of a dead church like the one at Sardis mentioned in Revelation 3. Or both. Notice how God instructs Ezekiel to prophesy over the dry bones. God could bring the bones to live. He’s God. But He wanted to show Ezekiel (and us) that we have the power in our words to do the same if He gives us the words.
Prophecy has multiple uses. God speaks and uses His words to whatever ends He chooses. Often when we as individuals get prophecy about ourselves or a future that God intends for us it is supported by existing scripture. That scripture will often be a prophecy of its own. Take Isaiah 58 for example. At the time of writing I believe Isaiah was prophesying about Nehemiah or any of those involved in the rebuilding of the Temple after their return from the exile in Babylon. Cross reference Ezra, Zechariah, Haggai and Nehemiah to see the common strands. But also it was given to me and then to Caz in reference to what we are going to do in a future that God has planned for us. I also know of at least two others who have the same scripture for their work. It doesn’t mean that all of these roles will intersect one another but they are all part of the same bigger plan of God.
I could spend a lot more time on prophecy and what it means but for now I wanted to set the scene for what has been on my heart for a while. I post this now aware that in the next seven days there are things that many people have prophesied that have also been amen’ed by others regarding some significant shift in the spiritual realm that will coincide with 23rd/24th September. Now, if what they have prophesied comes to pass then all of this is a waste of time and I have it wrong. However, if it doesn’t come to pass then these people are false prophets. Jesus warned us of such people. The letters written by the apostles are littered with similar warnings – most of which imply directly or indirectly that these people will infiltrate church.
I was once given a ‘word’ or rather a picture about me that clearly wasn’t of God. Now this picture was given in such a way that it had a direct impact on my life. I prayed about it and asked God to show me if it were of Him and I was convinced it wasn’t of Him. I challenged the pastor who gave it to me and they refused to back down and declared it to be of God. I spent a great deal of time seeking God over it and He gave me a scripture about what I had experienced. This will shock you for two reasons. Firstly, what I am about to tell you is very real and shows how God deals with people who prophesy incorrectly, and secondly, the person I am talking about is still practising as a pastor. And I believe that they are not alone. In fact, I am convinced that not just individual churches but the modern church as a whole has a whole seam of people prophesying exactly in the way I am about to describe. See if it sounds familiar to you.
The scripture that God gave me was Ezekiel 13. Although I had read the entire Bible I wasn’t familiar with this particular chapter. It was so pertinent to what was happening that I was astonished. But then, this is God we are talking about.
“The word of the LORD came to me; “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are now prophesying. Say to those who prophesy out of their own imagination: ‘Hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing! Your prophets, O Israel, are like jackals among ruins. You have not gone up to the breaks in the wall to repair it for the house of Israel so that it will stand firm in the battle on the day of the LORD. Their visions are false and their divinations a lie. Even though the LORD has not sent them, they say, “The LORD declares,” and expect Him to fulfil their words. Have you not seen false visions and uttered lying divinations when you say, “The LORD declares,” though I have not spoken? Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Because of your false words and lying visions, I am against you, declares the Sovereign LORD. My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will not belong to the council of My people or be listed in the records of the house of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign LORD.”” [Ezekiel 13:1-9 NIV]
Read the rest of the chapter. You will get the idea. God is opposed to those who prophesy from their own imagination or are led by their own spirit. The consequences are dire. Total exclusion. Read the Parable of the Ten Virgins. There is exclusion there also.
But the trouble is, there are market forces at work here in this. Just like in the world where the production of fake goods is driven by the demand for them, so too in the church – the falsehoods being prophesied are in response to a demand for them. Supply and demand. Like in the world where people want to give the impression of wealth to others by wearing fake goods that purport to be something they are not, so too are the false prophets of today’s church eager to impress others. So much so that they are prepared to face the wrath of God by prophesying from their own simple minds. This clearly isn’t a new phenomena – it has been going on as long as there have been prophets. We should be living to please God and not other people.
So, with the job title of prophet effectively defunct since the Cross, and God’s Spirit being poured out on all flesh, what we have in this present quagmire is a whole heap of people spouting out words on a near daily basis and declaring it to be a ‘prophetic mandate’ or God’s latest message to His people. The internet is awash with it. People claiming to be prophets; people declaring a prophetic ministry; people eager for an audience; people seeking attention and approval from other people and not from God.
Over the past two years I have heard and read a great deal of prophecy. Some of it will have been of God and will come to pass. But the vast majority of it I believe is to be ignored. As far as the modern church is concerned, prophecy is listed as one of the one gifts of the Holy Spirit and is for edifying and encouraging other parts of the body of Christ. What it has become is a tool for drawing a crowd. The trouble is the crowd is just as needy as the needy false prophets. They too are looking for something of substance but are happy to accept a fake for appearances sake. Just like the world does. Jesus said that He came to fulfil the Law and the prophets. The office of prophet was effectively shut down. I am not saying that there aren’t people out there operating in the prophetic ministry of the Holy Spirit – there are. But be cautious. Read some of the stuff you see on Facebook or these prophecy websites. Most of it is platitudes or headology, designed to draw you in. Not much of it has any real substance but you will see a string of people commenting ‘amen’ or ‘I receive this word’ after it. Why? Because they want to seem to others as if they are moving in the Holy Spirit. They want to impress other people. That is human nature. People in church try to impress other people so that they appear more spiritual than they are.
I once went to a church that had a midweek prayer meeting that was packed out when the pastor was in attendance but if he was away preaching elsewhere it was poorly attended. Why? Because many people didn’t go to pray to God, they went to please the pastor. The trouble is, this becomes self-serving. If the pastor allows it to continue because of his or her own fleshy need for approval and acceptance, then all are fooled. Jesus said that there will come a time when people worship in Spirit and in truth. The opposite of Spirit is flesh and the opposite of truth is lies.
I would liked to have covered all that the New Testaments says of prophets but I have already written much more than I intended. I hope you get the message. There are many out there who come in the name of Jesus but are really just for themselves. I write this here because along the way we have had false prophecy spoken over us. Sometimes it comes in words that you want to hear, but unless God has said it first then it is not prophecy.
In the run up to the 23rd/24th September you will see countless prophecies about the end of the world and what not. Jesus said do not be deceived. Many indeed come in His name and prophesy. But not many have His words or His Spirit. What began at Pentecost continues today. What started that day was the start of the final age of the world as we know it.
Look carefully at 1 Corinthians 12 and at what Paul actually said about the gifts of the Spirit. It’s the chapter right before the Love chapter. If the prophecy comes out of anything short of love then it is not of God. God is love. He sends words through His Holy Spirit to all flesh. To everyone. Some will prophesy. Everyone can. But when they do we need to discern what is said. If it isn’t in love then it isn’t of the Spirit of God. If it appears self-seeking or self-promoting then it isn’t of God. When God speaks it is in specifics. Test what you hear and read. The mumblings of a man or woman claiming to be a prophet of God don’t make them that, anymore than the Ray-Ban logo on a pair of sunglasses make them actual Ray-Bans. In your search for the authentic look for the exclusive. Don’t follow the herd. Follow the Shepherd.