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Born to Win with Ronald L. Dart

 

The Next Real Prophet

Friday, November 16, 2018

Ronald L. Dart

Do you suppose it’s possible that we would ever have a real prophet show up in our country? You know, like Elijah, Isaiah, or Jeremiah—one of those guys. Someone who would tell us the truth about what we are doing, where we are going wrong, and where it would finally take us? If a prophet really came, would we pay him any mind?

I don’t mean will the politicians in Washington pay him any mind. What about you and me? Of course, for a man to be a genuine prophet, he has to have a reputation as a prophet. He has to be recognizable. He has to be believable. People who claim to be a prophet are a dime a dozen. How can you know for sure? Well, it can’t be a matter of guesswork. It has to be based on something real.

Take Elijah, for example. Why should anyone have paid attention to Elijah? It certainly wasn’t his appearance. He was a hairy man and wore a leather girdle. I expect he would have looked right at home on a Harley Davidson motorcycle. And it wasn’t elegance of speech. It is hard to imagine a preacher with fewer words. But what words they were. Let’s hear his message to King Ahab in 1 Kings 17.

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Jeremiah #8 - Thursday, November 15, 2018

In the normal course of things, if a man falls down, he gets back up. If he runs down a wrong track, he will normally retrace his steps and try to find a better way. So what is it that causes men to behave abnormally—to charge on straight ahead in the face of disaster, to be unwilling, having fallen, to get up again? Through Jeremiah, God spoke to Israel and asked the same question.

“Say to them, ‘This is what the LORD says: “When people fall down, do they not get up? When someone turns away, do they not return? Why then have these people turned away? Why does Jerusalem always turn away?”’[…]” (Jeremiah 8:4–5 NIV).

Why, indeed? What is the mechanism that locks people into a way that leads them to certain disaster? Well, concluding verse five, God gives an answer:“They cling to deceit; they refuse to return.” Of course, said I, slapping my forehead. They have lied to themselves about where they are.

“I have listened attentively, but they do not say what is right. None of them repent of their wickedness, saying, ‘What have I done?’ Each pursues their own course like a horse charging into battle. Even the stork in the sky knows her appointed seasons, and the dove, the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration. But my people do not know the requirements of the LORD. How can you say, ‘We are wise, for we have the law of the LORD,’ when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely?” (Jeremiah 8:6–8 NIV).

What is especially important to know about this passage is that it isn’t good enough to merely be religious. This isn’t talking to an irreligious people. They had the law of God and considered themselves wise in it. And the term “scribe” is not a reference to copyists. This is a term applied to the Jewish sages—their wise men who interpret the law. If you want to understand what Jeremiah is talking about, perhaps the best place to go is an encounter Jesus had with another generation of these sages. We’ll find it in Matthew, chapter 15.

Jeremiah #7 - Wednesday, November 14, 2018

I used to think that the “What Would Jesus Do?” movement was a good thing for young people. And it does have merit in helping kids stop and think about the moral issues they face every day. But really, isn’t "WWJD?" the wrong question? After all, we live in a different world and the best we can do is subjectively guess what Jesus might do living in our culture. A better question might be, “What did Jesus say we should do?” We know what he said—we don’t have to speculate. Our only problem is whether we are ready to do what he said. If we can just do what Jesus said we should do, we will be a long way down the road on living right.

But "WWJD?" has merit for kids if, for no other reason, it tells them that what they do makes a difference. I know, you think that should be obvious, but there is a healthy slice of Christianity that doesn’t seem to think so. That is, if the way they live their lives is any indication. You tell me. Are there or are there not, people who claim to be Christian—even go to church regularly—who don’t live the life? You know there are.

Now, anyone should know that outward form of religion is not good enough, but you can’t tell it by the way people live. The form of our religion is important for what it teaches—it gives us shape; it gives us continuity—but it is not enough if the teachings aren’t carried into life. It is a persistent stupidity on the part of men that they rely on place and form for their religion, and forget that the faith of God is about the way we live our lives. I say “persistent”, because it is one of the recurring and enduring themes of the Old Testament prophets. One day, the word of the Lord came to young man named Jeremiah and he told him to go up to the temple, stand in the gate where the elders would have been gathered, and give them a message. We’ll find it in Jeremiah, chapter 7.

Jeremiah #6 - Tuesday, November 13, 2018

One thing to watch as we approach the end of history is the city of Jerusalem. Notice that I said the end of history, not the end of the world. When I was a kid I used to hear people talk about the end of the world, and I did not like the sound of that one little bit. The expression “the end of the world” entered our language from a mistake in the King James version of the Bible.

In Matthew 24, Jesus’ disciples ask him about the sign of his coming and of the “end of the world”. The mistake is the word “world”. The Greek says that Jesus’ disciples asked him about the “end of the age”. The return of Christ does not bring the end of the world unless you mean the world as we know it. It mark the end of the age of the kingdoms of this world and the beginning of the age of the Kingdom of God. Also in that chapter is something Jesus told his disciples to watch for—and it is of singular interest:

“When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes” (Matthew 24:15–18 KJV)

Here we have a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem and a warning to flee the city. That brings us back again to Jeremiah—this time, chapter 6.

Jeremiah #5 - Monday, November 12, 2018

There is a very disturbing theme that runs through the Old Testament prophets. It speaks of a complete loss of leadership in a nation. I may groan a lot over the moral decay that afflicts our countries, but I don’t believe we have fallen as far into the abyss as Old Israel had fallen. It would be a mistake to pat ourselves on the back, though, because we are headed pell-mell in the same direction. Jeremiah, chapter 5, begins with this theme:

“Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and see now, and know, and seek in its broad places, if you can find a man, if there is any that executes justice, that seeks the truth; and I will pardon it. And though they say, The LORD lives; surely they swear falsely” (Jeremiah 5:1–2 KJ2000).

Just find me one man, says God, one man who wants to do the right thing. All we needed was one man. Perhaps not among the grassroots of society, but particularly among those who are influential—the leaders, the elders. They come into court, raise their right hand, and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth…and then they lie through their teeth.

Make no mistake about it, there are people who believe that their holding power is so important, that anything they do is justified to hold on to it. They are the people. They have the right policies. They know what is best for all the rest of us. And they will lie, cheat, and steal to stay in power so they can do good. Day after day, we are shown over and over again the truth of the old saying: “Power corrupts.”

The Test of a Prophet - Friday, November 9, 2018

I honestly don’t know what people expect in terms of a prophet. I don’t think many people even know where to look for one. You certainly would be making a mistake if you looked for one in a pulpit of a church or speaking in a stadium in front of 60,000 people. You aren’t likely to find a real prophet in those environments.

One ancient prophet, for example was a sheep-herder and a fruit-picker before God spoke to him. And he seems to have been a reluctant prophet, at that. He wasn’t schooled, trained or taught. On one occasion, when he had delivered an unpleasant prophecy concerning Israel, he was told to knock it off, go home, and shut up.

We’ll find his reply, as well as a most interesting principle regarding how God chooses to reveal his secrets to man, in the Book of Amos.

Jeremiah #4 - Thursday, November 8, 2018

“If you will return, O Israel, says the LORD, return unto me: and if you will put away your abominations out of my sight, then shall you not be moved” (Jeremiah 4:1 KJ2000).

If God had a message for this country today, I think this is what he might say. There are a lot of good people in this country who are trying to live a godly life, but they are losing the battle. We just don’t recognize the determination of the anti-God forces in our society. There is a war going on for the minds and spirit of our children, and we are losing battle after battle. The kids may recognize that better than the rest of us do. They are taking steps on their own to maintain prayer and an awareness of God in their lives, and they are sometimes doing so right on the grounds of the very schools that don’t allow prayer.

The social structure of Israel was starting to break down. The nation, so dedicated to God in the beginning, was drifting away. There was a direction for their return. It was to “the God who is there”, to borrow Francis Shaeffer’s phrase. It was a return to a personal God who cares what we do and don’t do. And the situation was not hopeless. If they would return and get rid of all the idolatrous symbols they had gathered, all would be well. This is what King Josiah was all about—rooting out idolatrous worship, even from the Temple of God—finding the way back to God. And the way back to God is never long, but it is quite specific.

Jeremiah #3 - Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Now there is an odd thing about the beginning of Jeremiah’s ministry. Not only was he very young (he describes himself as “only a child”) when he was called by God, but the King he served was very young, as well. King Josiah came to the throne at age 8, and Jeremiah began to prophesy when Josiah was 21.

“Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty and one years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Jedidah, the daughter of Adaiah of Boscath. And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in all the way of David his father, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left” (2 Kings 22:1–2 AKJV).

It’s talking, at this point, about his overall reign—and overall it was it good one. Josiah had a long reign even though he died young, at age 39. But when he was 26 years old, he embarked on a major restoration of the Temple. Jeremiah’s ministry had started 5 years earlier, and may conceivably have had some influence on Josiah.

He told his men to do an accounting of the money brought to the temple and turn it over the contractors who were doing the refurbishing of the building. While they were doing the work, they made an astonishing discovery. And this discovery caused Josiah see the depths to which the state of religious affairs in Judah had sunk. We’ll find this in 2 Kings, chapter 22.

Jeremiah #2 - Tuesday, November 6, 2018

In all the many years of human civilization, basic human nature hasn’t changed at all. Technology has changed the way we live, but the basics remain the same—and they are remarkably the same across all cultures and all people. Also, down through all the ages of time, God has not changed. So, we human beings go through the same stuff over and over again, never seeming to learn the lessons. This is why history repeats itself. It is why prophecies are fulfilled more than once. It isn’t that God hasn’t told us. He has sent prophet after prophet, but people don’t listen to prophets.

We would like to think that we would listen. But would we? I think one of the reasons people miss the point on prophecy is because they are trying to determine what will happen and when. The prophets are mostly concerned with what is happening and why. There is a genre of literature called “apocalyptic” which concerns itself with what the future holds. The difference between apocalyptic literature and prophecy is that prophecy is loaded with moral teaching, which is almost entirely absent from apocalyptic literature. In my experience, most people are really interested in apocalyptic and give short shrift to prophecy. Perhaps because the powerful morality of the prophets makes them uncomfortable. It may be that the necessary moral tone of the prophets is why God picks them very young and brings them up the way he wants them. To Jeremiah, God said this:

“Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. But the LORD said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak” (Jeremiah 1:5–7).

Jeremiah #1 - Monday, November 5, 2018

If God were going to send us a prophet today, what sort of man would he be? Would he be, perhaps, a rough-hewn, mountain-man type like Elijah—dressed in leather and rising into town on a Harley? Or would he be a smooth, educated orator like Isaiah? Or maybe he would be a man like Jeremiah who gives his name to the “Jeremiad”, which is defined as “a prolonged lamentation or complaint.”

Well, if God has sent a prophet today, he is awfully well disguised. And, of course, it is also possible that if we ask God, “Where is the prophet?” that God might say, “I have already sent you prophets. Listen to them.” After all, the Old Testament prophets spoke to their own generation about what was going on right then, but then they wrote the prophecies down. Why’d they do that? Well, they wrote them down because history repeats itself and, consequently, so does prophecy, History repeats itself because man doesn’t change and because God doesn’t change. One of the prophets—Isaiah—told us how it works.

“‘Present your case,’ says the LORD. ‘Set forth your arguments,’ says Jacob’s King. ‘Bring in your idols to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods’” (Isaiah 41:21–23 NIV).


Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, November 17th, 2018
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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