Meditating on the Commands of Christ (73): The Acid Test for Prophets

It’s almost springtime, and although our woods won’t really be filled with apple blossoms for another two months, I can almost smell their fragrance. Have you ever looked forward to something that never came to be? Have you ever trusted someone who bitterly disappointed you?

Jesus gave us a stern warning in Matthew 7:15-20, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

The AntiChrist and the Devil by Signorelli, Public Domain

I would like to tackle this issue today: How can we discern between true and false prophets (and friends!) so we aren’t misled, disappointed, and possibly destroyed?

Moses at the Burning Bush by Sébastien Bourdon, Public domain

True prophets were men appointed by God to receive divine revelations and communicate them to people. God often gave these prophets information concerning future events, and in a few rare instances also endowed them with miraculous powers to establish their credibility. Moses is the perfect example of a true prophet. Moses was not seeking enlightenment or special revelation (and he didn’t solicit for funds to operate his “ministy”). Rather, God appeared to him and commissioned him to lead the Israelites back to the Promised Land. Moses led an extremely difficult life of self-sacrificing service, never amassed money or property, and died humbly.

Elijah, Elisha, Daniel, and Samuel are other prime examples of true prophets in the Old Testament. When Samuel died, he asked the people: “Behold, here I am: witness against me before the Lord, and before his anointed: whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed? or of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes therewith? and I will restore it you” (1 Samuel 12:3). True prophets were paid by God (usually via tithes and offerings) to do God’s work, and there is not one time recorded in the Bible where the prophets asked for financial help. On the contrary, prophets refused all gifts from individuals so there would be no conflict of interest (see 2 Kings 5:15-16, “But he said, As the Lord liveth, before whom I stand, I will receive none. And he urged him to take it; but he refused“; Acts 8:18-20, “Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money”).

Christ carrying the cross by El Greco, ca. 1577-87. Public Domain

Jesus was not only the Son of God, he was also the greatest prophet who ever lived and is the best example to us of a true prophet. He only spoke the truths he heard from God, always did His Father (God’s) will, and died after bearing our sins on the cross. He lived and died a selfless (and I suspect penniless) life.

There are at least 62 named male and female prophets in the Bible, another 15 who had prophetic experience, seven unnamed prophets, and 11 named false prophets. The Bible makes it clear that the difference between a true prophet and a false prophet is whether or not they have been truly commissioned by God and are speaking God’s truths by His command.

Prophet by Swiss -French artist Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, 1902.
National Gallery of Art, London. Public Domain

The Bible has many warnings about false prophets. Jesus taught that false prophets “shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect” (Mark 13:22). So, having miraculous powers does not prove that a person is a true prophet. Nor does the ability to know secrets, as we see illustrated at various times in the New Testament, where people under the influence of Satan could prophesy (see Acts 16:16-23).

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

False prophets can imitate true prophets both by (at times) performing miraculous signs and (at times) knowing information that is not common knowledge, so we cannot equate the use of supernatural powers with validity. Still, we must learn to discern false prophets and avoid them: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

For a starter, if anybody is making a profit from their prophecies, you can be sure they are false prophets just out to make a profit: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13). But, greed and extortion is still not the acid test. 2 Peter 2:1 adds: “There shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.” False prophets do not believe in Jesus Christ as the LORD God. They may profess that he is a good man, or a good prophet, but they will not confess that He alone is the Lord and Savior who was sent by God to redeem the world. They will not worship Christ as the Messiah or bow before him as Doubting Thomas did, who came to the realization that Jesus was, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:27-28, emphasis mine).

However, here is the acid test that Jesus gave us: These ravening wolves who come to us in sheep’s clothing are corrupt, barren, and cannot produce good fruit. “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16).

What are the good fruits by which you will know those who are likely to be speaking the truth? The fruit of the Spirit, which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires(Galatians 5:22-23). “The fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth” (Ephesians 5:9). Where we see pride, greed, arrogance and sensuality, we can know that we are listening to the words of false prophets and false friends who are selfishly motivated and producing “corrupt” fruit: “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).

So the “acid test” if you will is this: It has to not only look like an apple and smell like an apple, but it has to taste like an apple, and not a dark, rotten, mushy, holey, worm-infested, sour apple! Those who are led by the Holy Spirit will not strike you as acidic and bitter; they will be firm, but they will be holy, health-giving, and sweet. Their fruit will be good!

Beloved, let’s be discerning ourselves, and let’s help others discern good from bad and truth from falsehood.

Matthew 7:15-20, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (67): Pearls for Pigs, Anyone?

“Don’t cast your pearls before swine” conjures up such a provocative image that pretty much everybody’s heard it. However, what did Jesus mean when he first proclaimed it? Perhaps the most common interpretation among Christians today runs something like this: “Share the good news of redemption through Christ (our Great Pearl) with everyone around you, but if they don’t believe you, don’t keep pressuring them. Instead, share the Gospel somewhere else, among those who may gladly receive Christ and the mysteries of the Kingdom of God (also referred to as treasure hid in a field, Matthew 13:44). Everybody deserves to hear the good news, but those who don’t believe and disparage the gift of God will just trample your treasure (eternal life through Christ) underfoot, possibly turning back to harm you as well.” I think this is good advice and a fair interpretation, although perhaps more narrow than Jesus intended.

Here is a more inclusive paraphrase that I believe fits the parameters better: “Don’t cast your pearls (the wisdom found in the Bible) before swine (in this case, anyone—believer or not—who fails to accept and submit to the teachings of God’s Word).” Why? “Lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” (Matthew 7:6).

I mentioned last week that there is one other thing repeatedly affirmed as “holy” in the scriptures. It is the Bible. The Bible is described as “his holy covenant” (Luke 1:72), “the holy scriptures” (Romans 1:2) that is “given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:15). It was not written simply by various men who were limited by their understanding of the world and locked into the culture of their time period, but rather, “prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21).

Furthermore, the laws given in the Old Testament were not annulled by Christ but fulfilled by him. He took our punishment for failing to obey the law perfectly, but that didn’t end the value of God’s instructions to us! After the death and resurrection of Christ, Paul affirmed their value: “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12). One of the things we shouldn’t give away is our confidence that God’s Word is holy: “worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness” (Merriam Webster).

Jesus warned us not to give that which is holy to the “dogs” (as a metaphor often used in the Scripture to refer to those who were without moral scruples and unpredictable). “Pigs,” on the other hand, are unclean but very predictable. Pigs are predictably dirty and have one thing in mind: satisfying their own appetites. Since pearls can’t be digested, they would be useless to a pig. In fact, casting pigs some pearls instead of slop might infuriate them. After squealing and stampeding in hopes of getting their pig’s share—only to find that pearls weren’t tasty—pigs might turn against you in anger!

So, dispersing pearls of wisdom to those whose god is their belly is a waste of time and may merit persecution rather than regenerate pigs. Extrapolating from that: God’s wisdom (found in the Word of God) is something that those who have already given up their holiness (and rejected the authority of our Holy God) will not receive. These people have become like pigs. They are intent on satisfying the appetites of their flesh, and inflamed appetites cannot be satisfied by the Words of Life found in the scripture! Falling for Satan’s “Hath God reaaally said???” is a slow process. First a person wants some forbidden fruit. Next, they refuse to accept the obvious truth as stated and try by sleight of tongue to twist God’s Words into something that will allow or (hopefully even) affirm their desires, intentionally suppressing truth (trampling it in the mud). Eventually, they become as incapable of discernment as spiritual pigs who can no longer even digest the truth, and if you offer it to them, they will be angered, preferring to feed on the slop of this world.

Where am I going with all this? It’s a warning to each of us—believers as well as unbelievers. The Bible is full of wisdom about how to live. Both the Old Testament and New Testament have guidelines intended for the good of all people. It’s the “Guidebook on How to Live” written by the One who built every model of humanity that exists and who knows how we work. These pearls of wisdom are like treasure intended to guard us from evil and draw us into the ways of life and peace. If we cast off our personal holiness and reject the authority of the Bible as the true, holy words of God . . . if we have made an idol of one or another of our appetites and don’t believe that God can really meet our need without our breaking some spiritual law, then we have cast away our confidence in God. We have become like spiritual pigs.

If you happen to read this and it makes you furious, then I wish you would pray and ask the Lord to reveal the true Truth to you, whatever it is. I’m totally open to hearing your response. On the other hand, if it makes you furious, but you have even a glimmering sense that this might be right, then I beg you to pray for God to open your eyes and heart to the truth and give you the grace to obediently follow Him, even if it means giving up something you treasure almost more than life itself. God alone is worthy of our worship!

Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise” (Hebrews 10:34-36).

Text for Today: Matthew 7:6, “neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”

Traveling with Togo

Want to snuggle up and watch a heart-warming true story about an incredible dog who was named the most heroic dog in history by Time magazine in 2011? This cold winter weather is perfect for staying inside and being glad we’re not actually out in the blizzards of Alaska back in the winter of 1925, when the event actually occurred.

Togo was released at the end of 2019 and has all the dog prints of a true Disney classic: a PG rating, 8.2 on IMDb, great acting, stunning cinematography from Alaska, and full of suspense, courage, and love.

It’s a remarkable story about Togo, a sickly, undersized husky pup with an oversized ability to get into mischief, the heart of a true survivor, and a passion for his master. Willem Dafoe does a masterful job portraying Leonhard Seppala, the stubborn Norwegian who had to balance love for his wife with his professional wisdom as a musher, where wrong decisions can end in death for both the master and his dogs.

The challenge? To bring serum from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska during the worst winter in twenty years during weather too dangerous for flights. Why? Because a diphtheria epidemic was threatening to wipe out most of the area’s people.

Leonard Seppela and his team of huskies crossing Norton Sound of the Bering Sea

Nome, Alaska, is just 2 degrees south of the Arctic Circle and is located on the southern coast of Seward Peninsula at Norton Sound along the Bering Sea. Today, there are fewer than 4,000 living in Nome, but due to people lingering after the gold rush at the turn of the century, in 1925 the little outpost of Nome was the largest town in Northern Alaska.

In order to carry the serum across 674 miles from Nenana (where the serum had been transported via train from Anchorage) to Nome, more than twenty teams using over 100 huskies were organized, and the event was widely broadcast as the “Great Race of Mercy.”

Many of us have watched the movie Balto. This movie immortalized the lead dog who ran the last 31 miles to bring the serum into Nome, but Leonhard (which means “lion-heart”) Seppala and his faithful dog Togo ran the penultimate race: 264 miles, sometimes enduring temperatures of —30°F. with wind chills making it feel like —85°F.!! Until this movie came out, Leonhard and Togo were pretty much the unsung and forgotten heroes.

Julianne Nicholson as Constance Seppela in Togo

The race was not for glory, it was for good, and the most magnificent message for me was watching the love, resolve, and reward for the couple who risked everything to save their community. It was unbelievable to me that they didn’t get the praise and glory they deserved, but I think that is more often true in this life than we will ever know. I am reminded of Solomon’s wisdom in Ecclesiastes 9:11, where he laments: “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

In our personal pilgrimages through life, few of us are asked to do terribly dangerous and risky things, but all of us are asked to run our race faithfully, for good, and not for glory! But, there is a promise in the example of Jesus, who ran the race before us for joy and for love of God.

May we run our races as doggedly as Togo . . . and like Togo, to please the One we love!

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:21).

(Disney’s version of the story runs very close to the reality, although they had a somewhat abbreviated, “happily-ever-after” style ending. If you want to read more of the thrilling [scary] details, there’s an excellent Wikipedia article listed below.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonhard_Seppala

Family Flock arriving!

One of the curious surprises of this summer has been watching four families of Canada geese rearing their families on our lake. In this first photo (if you can see well enough), you’ll notice one goose out in front with four other families coming along behind. One couple has five goslings; one pair has four goslings, and two pairs each have three goslings. I don’t know the facts, but they get along so well and travel as a group, so in my imagination, they are one big family.

The fascinating thing to me is that the family of geese are exactly representative of our four oldest children, all of whom live out of town, but all of whom are (or will be) visiting us this summer. One couple has 5, one couple has 4, and two couples each have 3 children. If I imagine Alan out in front, as the old patriarch, these geese are the perfect picture of our family!! It seems too exact to be coincidental, and so I watch them with even more interest than I might normally, wondering just what lessons the Lord might teach me.

Pair of Mute Swans

This is the first year in my memory that we have had so many Canada geese. For years, a pair of mute swans reigned supreme. They looked absolutely peaceful and regal, but in fact they were territorially challenged and wouldn’t share the lake with the geese, routinely driving them away as effectively as they could.

After twenty years of monarchy, the swans have died (I think), and none of their cygnets have come back with new mates, so the Canada geese are now free to claim summer campsites wherever they please on the lake. Similarly, here at Tanglewood Cottage, we’ve already had the pleasure of a visit from Aaron, his wife, and their four sons, so we’re off and running!

Our second son, Michael, and his family of five will be visiting too, and when they come, the house will ring with the voices of merry children . . . not unlike the sometimes boisterous calls of the geese on our lake!

Our third son’s family of three will be visiting too, so you can imagine the joyous chaos!

Our daughter, with her family of three, will visit a bit later, so we won’t be able to enjoy them all at exactly the same time, but we will definitely be experiencing a lot of action between now and the end of summer!

Favorite activities include swimming,

boating, campfires, fishing off the dock,

and exploring in the woods.

And, of course, a lot of good eating!

We’ll be exhausted by the time they leave,

but also completely disconsolate that they have to go!

If you have grandchildren, I’m sure you know what I mean! I used to feel like swarm of locusts or a tornado blowing through our parents’ homes when our seven kids were little and we visited. Still, Alan’s mother would write soon to say she hadn’t had the heart to wipe off the tiny fingerprints from her windows just yet. 🙂

I think with all the company, I may not be a very good correspondent blogger until the flocks have come and gone, but I’ll be treasuring up good memories to share, and I hope you’ll be storing up happy times . . . perhaps with your families too!

Enjoy these precious times with loved ones! If you’re young, help your parents, will you? If you’re old (like me), remember that children are of infinitely greater value than any material possession.

Whether you’re the grandparent, parent, or part of the youngest generation, let’s all pray for each other, determine to love each other no matter what, and take pleasure in all the chaotic ups and downs of sharing real life together!

I think time passes more quickly than we realize, and the time to love and invest in our kids is now. Today. This summer! This year. Life is fleeting, and before we know it, our kids will grow up and move away . . . or our grandchildren will grow up and not be able to visit because they have summer jobs.

I am so excited to have all four families coming to visit us this summer, and if I am very, very blessed, perhaps Alan and I will live long enough to have them all come again! But, if not, I want to make the most of every moment of this summer, and I hope you will too! God bless you!

How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God!
therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings.”
(Psalm 36:7)

Gentle Rains

Another day of gentle rains! I want to publicly thank God for these wonderful rains, because I’ve been praying for them!

In the process of building an addition, our yard became a muddy mess! Alan carefully sowed grass seed everywhere, but every time we turned our backs, the geese would come and gobble up the profits! One of my daily tasks has become chasing the geese away so the grass has a chance to grow. (And then, I have to scatter more seed after they leave.) I feel like Disney’s little cocker spaniel, Lady!

A Tangle of Wild Grapes and Highbush Cranberry Blossoms

Our yard covers more than an acre, and to water the lawn with a hose and sprinkler would take more time, energy, and hose-length than we possess, so I’ve been asking the Lord to bless us with gentle rains to help the grass seed sprout and take root before it all gets washed away or eaten up.

Gray Dogwood, Cornus racemosa, growing wild along our Michigan woodland lane

God has been answering my prayers! We have had one of the most wonderfully cool springs I can ever remember, with the perfect blend of sunshine and soft showers!

The grass has taken root, and we’ve become hopeful that—short of a disastrous drought—the grass may flourish. Perhaps by next summer we will have enough soft grass to support both the grazing of geese and the romping of grand children!

Wild turkeys grazing in the meadow

Well, and enough for the wild turkeys too . . .

Doe and her young fawn grazing with the geese in our yard

And the deer, especially now that the herd
has a number of new fawns to feed!

Mock orange on a rainy morning

Working hard to plant and protect the grass, and praying for rain and sunshine—which only God can provide—reminds me of a greater task we’ve been given: that of sharing spiritual “seed” (the Word of God) with others. “My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass” (Dueteronomy 32:2).

Fragrant wild roses perfuming the misty morning air

God has been merciful and kind to me, and he will provide for you too if you’ll surrender your heart and will to Jesus. He calls each of us with a quiet, gentle voice that can only be heard in our hearts. “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

White-tailed fawn in our woods

Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great” (Psalm 18:35).

Just an Itsy Bitsy Mouse

What’s not to love about a tiny mouse? Bright black eyes, pink ears and tail, tiny little paws. Soft and shy.

While they’re adorable when you find them out in the field, and it’s somewhat funny to find an old boot stuffed full of dog food that they’ve stolen from your pet’s dish,

it’s not adorable or funny when they confer with the mice of NIHM on how to colonize your screen house and start chewing holes in your home!

Therefore, we’ve had to resort to capturing them in live traps and taking them to a nearby reserve where we set them free to begin life anew in a vast park with ample supplies of all things mousely.

Alan and I have started making little dates out of our evening adventures, but—despite transporting them to new and improved surroundings—I always feel a little sad in case we’re separating parents and children (or whatnot), and so I make up stories about how this mouse is actually the husband, who is going to build a new nest in preparation for his beloved wife . . .

who will be arriving just in time for dinner tomorrow. In fact, over the past few months, Alan has caught myriad mice and chipmunks between his 6 live traps laden with peanut butter and bird seed . . . an apparently irresistible combination!

I have such a mother’s heart for little creatures that it’s hard to relocate them, but I’m thankful that Alan has a father’s heart to protect our home from intruders, even little ones, because they are actually quite destructive and dirty.

Remembering Song of Solomon 2:15 has helped me reconcile myself to the fact that “we ain’t in heaven yet,” and if we don’t protect ourselves from invasion, the consequences can be severe. “Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.”

We do have lots of tender grapes growing now, and possibly a fox or two in our woods, but even more importantly, I think there is a spiritual message for us in this passage.

Mice aren’t bad, and chipmunks aren’t bad. Neither are mosquitoes, spiders, flies, ants, or stinkbugs. But, if they invade our homes, then they are out of place and need to be captured and removed!

It’s easy to imagine the parallels in our lives and families, isn’t it? Got anything in your life that isn’t “bad” in and of itself, but will erode and damage your home if you don’t remove it? Maybe you can start having some nightly dates with your spouse to “catch” those sneaky little foxes and get rid of them! Don’t be sentimental. Be severe!! Protect yourself and your loved ones!

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh:(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.Do ye look on things after the outward appearance?” (2 Corinthians 10:3-7).

Winter and Spring Butting Heads

In like a lion,
Out like a lamb, but this March
Went out like a Ram!

A few weeks ago, Alan and I enjoyed watching the antics of sheep at the Tullie Smith Farm, which is part of the Atlanta History Center in Georgia. I couldn’t tell that the ram on the left had any reason for beefing, but he was intent on butting heads with the sheep on the right. I suppose he could have blamed it on a bad hair day, but I’m not sure that Madame Sheep’s coiffure was in any way superior. It looked like curls versus dreadlocks to me. At any rate, watching them made me think about how winter seems intent on blocking spring this year, for no good reason that I can see. It will be okay in the end. Spring will come, I know!

While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22).