Being a Prophet of God (The Gospel Passage)

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Mark 1:21-22)

One of the attributes of the Gospel Passages is that they teach us how Christ lived and give us examples and models of how we should live. In these few verses from Mark chapter 1 we can see the contrast between Christ as an exemplar of a “called prophet” and those whose calling was probably not from God. While we may not teach (or do any other tasks of prophets or ministers) with the same divine authority as Christ, remember as God’s called prophets the Lord has placed the words in our mouths.

Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.” (Verses 23-26)

While it is not unusual for prophets from God to case out unclean spirits, it is not very common either. Especially in our present day and age. However, if we concede the fact that unclean spirits may not come out with the dramatics of these verses, prophets called by God are able to help people rid themselves of uncleanliness and sin caused by spirits that seek to work against God.

They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.” (Mark 1:27-28)

Notice, beloved reader, that the people in the synagogue DID NOT attribute this event to Jesus being the son of God but to a new type of teaching that has power and authority. You might, on the one hand, sigh and wonder why people of Jesus’ time did not recognize Jesus’ divinity. But consider that maybe, just may be, we can teach and speak with similar authority as Jesus did if we have a deep and abiding relationship with God.

One question we could ask ourselves is if we are being lead by God. To phrase it another way, is God in control of our lives or are we living according to our own agenda? When I started thinking about the theme for this week, I was pretty sure I knew what I wanted to say and which direction I wanted it to go. As the week unfolded, something changed, and I am not sure quite how to explain it. I came to realize that the verses were leading in a slightly different direction, or more precisely the Spirit was leading me in a slightly different direction.

When we are called by God we give way to God guiding our actions and inspiring our words. We may not be like the prophets of the bible, but when we give our lives over to God we enter into a “prophetic” way of life that shows what our priorities are. May you beloved reader answer when God calls on you, and may your life be a life of ministry in the tradition of God’s prophets. Selah!

The Example of a Good “Prophet” Does Much Good (The Epistles Passage)

Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” (1Corinthians 8:1)

This is a long passage believed reader, and there could be much to say about it. So far this week we have talked about the raising up of prophets for God’s people and what such prophets should say and do. The writer of 1 Corinthians gives good advice. However, the writer also says, “Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge” (verse 2) which seems to contradict my assertion. The writer continues by saying “but anyone who loves God is known by him.”(verse 3) Remembering the passage from Deuteronomy where it says “I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet” and the passage from Psalms 111 where is says the God’s great works are studied by those who delight in them may help us to understanding this seeming paradox. It is love of God, and love from God, produces knowledge (another term being wisdom) that is appropriate for the Christian life.

Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘no idol in the world really exists’, and that ‘there is no God but one.’ Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” (Verses 4-6)

This is basic and primary wisdom, that there is only one God who is worthy to worship and praise. And therefore only one God against whom all other things should be measured.

It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. ‘Food will not bring us close to God.’ We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.” (Verses 7-8)

Again, harking back to the Deuteronomy passage and the Psalms passage, food and drink are not articles of faith and belief, nor part of the wisdom that comes from God. But the writer of 1 Corinthians cautions . . .

But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling-block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed.” (Verses 9-11)

Those who possess knowledge/wisdom from God must take care that their deep wisdom and understanding of God’s nature and guidance does not wound others. The writer of 1 Corinthians explains . . .

But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall. (Verses 12-13)

God’s grace and mercy covers many things. Actions, attitudes, words etc done in ignorance but are contrary to Christian living can be a source of distress and hurt. One could successfully argue that knowledge (that is wisdom) prevents not only these flaws from happening but brings with it the knowledge of God’s grace and mercy. It is a poor “prophet from God” that would would fragile believers. Or for that matter, strong believers who are taken in by poor or false prophets.

May you beloved reader mature in your faith; and if called by God, be caring and diligent in the example you show. Selah!

What should a good “Prophet” say and do. (The Psalms Passage)

Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.” (Psalms 111:1-2)

Being called out as a “prophet” can mean a wide variety of things – all dependent on how one defines “prophet.” The way the Old Testament passage of yesterday defined it (the allusion to the Messiah aside) it simply meant someone who sought to understand God and explain the God they came to know to others. And since God clearly said that the Lord will put the words in the prophet’s mouth, anyone who was faithful to God could be and be called out as a prophet.

Verses 1 & 2 from Psalms 111 adds to this when it says that the great works of the Lord are studied (and by implication should be studied) by those who delight in them. What better training for a beginning “prophet” than to study the great works of the Lord.
“Full of honour [sic] and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures for ever.
He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the Lord is gracious and merciful.
He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant.
He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.
The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.
They are established for ever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant for ever. Holy and awesome is his name. (Psalm 111: 3-9)

Yesterday we also read what would happen to a “false prophet”, one who claimed to speak in God’s name but did not. Having read all the attributes of God’s great work, and by implication how great God is, it is puzzling to think that anyone would not want to speak the words of God. Whatever we might say, and whatever we might do pales in comparison. Why follow any other god or our own agenda when there is something much better. Truly the psalmist speaks wisdom in saying . . . “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practise [sic] it have a good understanding. His praise endures for ever.” (Psalms 111:10)

The Raising of Prophets (The Old Testament Passage)

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: ‘If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.’ “ (Deuteronomy 18:15-16)

Too much knowledge can be a dangerous thing. God’s people who had been brought out of Egypt had seen the power of God and knew it to be more than they could take in or comprehend. However, they needed to have knowledge of God to know how to live – for it was just a scary proposition NOT to live according to God’s laws, statutes and commandments. So a solution had to be found. And the solution was for someone amongst God’s gathered people to be chosen and singled out. Would you want to have been that person, beloved reader?

Then the Lord replied to me: ‘They are right in what they have said. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. (Deuteronomy 18:17-19)

The “me” of this passage, and the narrator thus far in Deuteronomy is Moses, so the prophet who would be raised up from amongst them would be someone much like Moses. By the end of the book of Deuteronomy Joshua has been installed as their new leader. But beyond the leadership of Joshua there is the promise that God will always raise up a prophet amongst God’s people. And to that prophet the people of God should look for direction and guidance. They do not need to look outside of their faith circle for someone to guide them. Ultimately the line of prophets lead to the Messiah. And from that point on all other leadership needs to be under Christ.

From the time of Moses to the time of the Messiah there were many prophets – some self-prophesied and some named by God. Those who God called were sometimes honored and sometimes not. Just as it was with Moses, the people of God ignored the true prophets at their peril.

But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.’ “ (Deuteronomy 18:20)

And those prophets that were not called by God but pretended to speak in God’s name, and those prophets who did not speak in the name of the true God . . . well, the Old Testament describes their fate.

Even though the Messiah has come and left a rich legacy of prophecy, God still calls out some to speak in the Lord’s name – not just in the name of God but also in Jesus Christ’s name. And the same cautions apply. If you, beloved reader, are called by God and Christ our Lord to speak, may you speak only what God and Christ command you to. And may you be listened to, bringing glory and honor to your faith and beliefs. Selah!

What teaches best (The Psalms Passage)

For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honour; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.” (Psalm 62:5-7)

The question has been, beloved reader, how do we preach to the generations who have no fear of this world ending, and so have to urgency to prepare for the world to come. Or as I posed the question back on Tuesday, “How do we preach, teach, and guide for the life to come when life here is defined only by age and calamity?“ In the past the foretelling of end times would motivate people to come to faith. But that is not as powerful a motivation now as in the past. When Christ walked the earth during his ministry people were drawn to him and coming to faith when you had a tangible and Divine guide seemed so logical and inevitable. But now, as “only” human flesh ourselves, the draw and pull to faith is not the same.

But I do have the answer, beloved reader. And you may well think that I am making more of this “question” than I ought to. Or that when you hear my answer, you might think I have been “stringing” you along. But in this year of renewal and recommitment, I am deeply about how one might draw people back to faith who have drifted away.

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us. Selah” (Psalm 62:8)

It is implicit in our modern times that life is difficult and there is heartbreak along the way. There are some who survive it, and some who are destroyed by it. Many who survive (I do not say “all” because I do not believe in being absolute or all-encompassing) have found strength and endurance to carry on because of their faith. And in a world that seems to be running headlong into ruin with no end in sight, having “help and hope along the way” is a tremendous blessing.

Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.
Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.” (Psalm 62: 9-10)

It is not so much, beloved reader, what you say to others if/as you preach and teach to them, but what they see as evidence in your life. The wealthy and powerful have as much problems in life as the poor and needy. We see that in the news and in the social media everyday.

Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God, and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.
For you repay to all according to their work.” (Psalm 62:5-12)

So . . . now . . . the answer to the question . . . it is this. Preach and teach not about theology, philosophy, or any world to come doctrine. Preach and teach about what it means to live in the world today. To live each day . . . with compassion, caring and integrity.

I am sure some days or weeks or months down the road, I will probably talk/write about the “world to come” – the eternal hereafter. And no doubt I will warn you about what will happen if you do not pay heed to this. But when I think about the world today, what each of us wakes up to face each day, I realize we all need God. Not for the time to come, but NOW! Today! This second! Because without God what ever days may come in the here or the hereafter will be empty.

Blessing to you, beloved reader. I will talk to you again next week.

The Power and the Timing to Preach (The Gospel Passage)

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ “ (Mark 1:14-15)

I don’t know how much theological proof there is to this, but one of my seminary professors said that it was only after/because of John’s arrest that the appointed came for Jesus to start his ministry. Biblical chronology tells us that John was put to death soon after his arrest. Or, it could just be that gospel ordered the story of Jesus so that his minister started after John’s arrest.

But I have serious doubts that that as John faded to background story, Jesus rise in prominence was just a coincidence or the story of it was a manufactured device. I think my seminary professor was very accurate and correct. John himself said that he must fade away so that Jesus can come forth at the appointed time. There is nothing that can stop this – it will happen. And the good news will be spread!

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.” (Mark 1:16-20)

There was something about Jesus that was very difficult to turn away from and deny – in person. Or at least that is what the bible tells us – that his disciples followed him without a second thought and the crowds thronged after him. He had his detractors however; those who would not see and refused to believe. Believer or non-believer, no one was “wishy-washy” when it came to Jesus; you believed in him as the Son of God or you did not. The power of his presence and the power of his preaching were just . . . Divine!

Our focus has been this week preaching and ministering for converting souls and spirit in an age when there is weak motivations to believe. In Corinthians we read that the appointed time is growing short and the present world will pass away. In Jonah we read that for Nineveh their destruction was close at hand but their salvation was the sincerity of their belief. Here in the gospel of Mark we read that Jesus said the time was “fulfilled” and the “kingdom of God” was near.

But here we are, 2000 year plus, and the world is still turning. And if we do not have the sense of timing to know when to act, the Divine ability to call people to discipleship, not to mention the Divine ability to preach for repentance – how are we to call people to faith? That seems to be a lingering question that grows heavier each day; especially with this year’s focus on renewal and recommitment to faith. There is one more day left in this week. Perhaps we will find the answer there.

What will our future hold? Will we have a future? (The Old Testament Passage)

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, ‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’ So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.“ (Jonah 3:1-5)

The story of Jonah is a story told in several chapters. Chapter one is where Jonah refuses to preach to the city of Nineveh, and how convinces him to. The second part of the story, where we are now, is how Jonah successfully saved the city of Nineveh from destruction. The last part of the story was how Jonah felt about this success.

Yesterday we considered the question of how someone can preach and save a population. But unlike present day ministers and evangelists, Jonah had the advantage of being able to give the people of Nineveh a prediction the believed. Jonah said they had forty days before it was destroyed, and the people all they way to the king believed and made repentance to God.

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.” (Jonah 3:10)

So unfortunately beloved reader, the story of Jonah does not have an insistent edge that we can use. If someone were to proclaim the end of all things in forty days, they would be laughed at, ridiculed and not believed. But it occurs to me, as I think further on this, perhaps the open-ended life we have can be a point for needed salvation.

I think we can all agree that for the most part the current generations who are of a sufficient age can look back and say that life in the past was easier, or at least not as filled with stress and disaster. Or that the future looks bleaker now than it did a good many years ago. I do not mean to argue this point and be dogmatic about it. My point is that we need a great deal of help in these present times. Would it not be easier to journey through this life with the support of the Divine?

And who knows what calamity we might be helped through? The people of Nineveh were looking at the end of their existence in just forty days. But because of the sincerity of their faith this judgment was lifted. But more importantly, they now had a relationship – a relationship characterized by love and care – with a God powerful enough to end their existence but compassionate enough to hold back the Divine hand.

Perhaps our message and sermon (for those who are called to deliver messages and sermons) can be that we do not know when our end may come, but do we want to wait to find out? Is it not better to ensure our future and make a present easier by entering into, or re-committing to a relationship with God?

May you, beloved reader, chose to be in relationship with God, not waiting until your end is imminent. Selah!

The World Now and the World To Come (The Epistles Passage)

I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. “ (I Corinthians 7:29-31)

On the day I sat down to write this commentary, the search and recovery process of the AirAsia flight was going one, the terrorists in Paris had been found and killed, and Samuel Goldwyn Jr had died from congestive heart failure. Each day some portion of this world passes away and new events and issues arise. The writer of I Corinthians advise his readers to hold on to things lightly, because soon they will no longer exist. Possessions will no longer be important and the relationships that define our lives will be no longer.

That radicals changes were coming must have been frightening to hear about. But when these changes did NOT come about, it must have been very confusing. How to live in a world that might be over in an instant? That is a challenge for today, as well as for the times the writer of I Corinthians was writing.

We have the advantage (or maybe it is the handicap) in being firm in out belief that there will be a tomorrow, a week from now, a month in the future and a next year. We can plan and be confident our plans will come to fruition. But there in lies the handicap; we get attached to our possessions. We depend on relationships to define us and then place higher value on how people see us than on how God sees us. We hold on too tightly to this life and do not plan for and invest in the life to come.

The writer of I Corinthians had the advantage of people believing that the world as they knew it would soon pass away. But now, if someone predicts the end of the world, they will be laughed at and scorned. And their message, whether it be good and true or misguided and harmful, will be lost. How do we preach, teach, and guide for the life to come when life here is defined only by age and calamity?

In the next three days we will look at the scripture passages that come from the Revised Common Lectionary and consider these things further. Shalom for your day!

Because you have been called by God (The Epistles Passage)

Beloved reader, this last passage for the week (the Epistles passage) is written in a didactic argument style – mean, in this case, rather difficult to follow. So I thought as such I would provide a little bit of navigation and narration as you read through it. My narration is in the square brackets and the text itself is in italics.

[The writer of I Corinthians says some people say] “ ‘All things are lawful for me’ [however the writer of I Corinthians says] but not all things are beneficial. [The writer of I Corinthians says further] All things are lawful for me, but I will not be dominated by anything. [The writer of I Corinthians says some people say] ‘Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food’, and [the writer of I Corinthians counters] God will destroy both one and the other. [The writer of I Corinthians continues his argument] The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, ‘The two shall be one flesh.’ But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.” (I Corinthians 6:12-20)

Thus far this we have talked about being called as disciples of God and Jesus Christ. We have read that Jesus called his disciples, knowing them even before they had met him. We have read about Samuel who was called at a young age and did not stray from the path God laid out for him. And we read about Eli whose sons strayed from the path, and Eli did not live up to all that he could have been as a priest in the temple. And we read in the Psalms passage that God that knows us to our very core and values us most highly. Now, today from the Epistle we read that because we have been called by God we are expected to live as Godly people, holding ourselves apart from the evil and wickedness of the world.

The writer of I Corinthians focuses on two main issues; food and purity of the body. This does not mean these are the only two issues, but these are two important issues that the writer of I Corinthians felt his audience need to be reminded of. The Epistles are filled with admonitions and exhortations for authentic Christian living. And on a wider range of topics than presented here.

May you beloved reader hold yourself apart as valued disciples and followers of God and Christ Jesus, bringing glory to the God who called you. Selah!

The Lord knows those who are called (The Psalms Passage)

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.” (Psalm 139:1-6)

Tuesday we read about Jesus knowing and recognizing Nathanael. Nathanael was surprised at this; but according to this passage from Psalms God/Jesus knows us even more intimately than the writer of John indicated in the passage.

When I read this passage from Psalms, the first thought that went through my mind was “God knows me this well! And the Divine still calls on me as a disciple of God?!” But it is true. God knows us and loves us through all our faults and failings.

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.” (Psalm 139:13-18)

Do not doubt, beloved reader, that God knows and values each one of us. We are precious to God. So precious that the Lord desires to bring us back into communion with the God-self. Does it not make sense to seek out and stay with a God who knows us, who has known who we would be even before we came into existence?

May the God who formed you just as you are watch over you and guide you on your life journey. Selah!