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.

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

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).

Our Quiet Winter Guest

garden-room-2015-winter-copyOur garden room brings a bit of summer into our home even in the winter, but this past winter I discovered we had a quiet little guest who’d taken up residence with us! MandevillaI have no idea how he managed to find his way in, but perhaps he was happily residing in our mandevilla and caught a ride when I brought it in for the winter. Winter HomeHowever he arrived, I never noticed him until snows had covered the ground and it seemed inhospitable to take him outdoors, although I worried that he might not find enough to eat. Frog sleeping on an orchidHowever, every once in a while I would see him hopping across the floor, climbing up a window, or happily curled up, sleeping on a plant, and so I guessed he was managing okay and perhaps even helping me keep down the mealy bug population. Toad in gardenAt any rate, I finally found him again this spring one rainy day and  took him outside to enjoy the bliss of a warm, wet world among the violets and lilies of the valleys unfurling in our garden, and he hopped away, seemingly no worse for the wear and ready to enjoy springtime.Frog on orchid I was relieved that he’d survived, but almost a little sorry to see him go, since although I was concerned about his welfare, I found myself looking forward to seeing him on occasion and always hoped he’d be comfortable enough in his unusual winter retreat.Mandevilla in rainI think animals and flowers are happiest outside in the fresh air and sunshine… and probably people are too, but I’m so thankful for my home as a safe shelter for  sleeping at night and a warm, dry protection against inclement weather! Toad in garden 2And, I was very glad to have been able to provide a little haven for our quiet little guest last winter! May he live to be 100.  🙂

“He prayeth best, who loveth best;
All things great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us;
He made and loveth all.”
(Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner)

“All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

“He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell,
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well.”
(Mrs. Cecil Alexander’s Hymns for Little Children, 1848)

Family Portraits of Puppies; Thoughts on Companionship

abby-kwaIt was just about this time last year that our beloved German shepherd died,  and in honor of the first anniversary of his departure, -8 I’m passing along some really darling pictures of “dog family portraits” sent to me as one of those infamous email forwards -9…along with a few thoughts I’ve had on how hard it is to lose companions. German shepherds For months after Abishai died, I couldn’t even tolerate the thought of another dog, since no dog could replace Abby…I mean, not only was it true, but it seemed  disloyal to his memory to even think about it! -6 But, it was a terribly cold winter, and I was glad he didn’t have to withstand the bad weather, old and arthritic as he’d become. -21 With Stephen and Joel home so much, the year passed quickly, and I haven’t felt inordinately lonely,DSC02052 and now, Lord willing, we’re expecting a grandchild next spring here in GR!!!-14 I may become so happily occupied I feel no need to replace our faithful dog at all. -20  Do you have a pet? An old pet? -7 Worried about what will happen after you lose your beloved companion? -4 I just got a letter from my sister lamenting that now, in her 70’s, the majority of her friends are either moving away from Florida, or—much worse—dying!   😦  -19  I’ve concluded that there’s no replacement for the uniqueness of treasured companions—puppy or person! -15 Whether or when we choose to replace them is our own, very personal decision, -11but I know that God created us for communion—to love and be loved— -13…every last one of us! -12
I also know that above all human (or canine, feline, etc.) companionship -3 is the great love of God, who created us for fellowship with Him and longs for us to find our deepest needs met in him. -18 Everything else is just a little bit less. -10 Still wonderful, and still worth pursuing, but just not as perfectly satisfying. -5 Only God can fill that God-sized hole that He created in our hearts! -17“I finally realized that friendship is not a remedy for loneliness. Loneliness is a part of our experience and if we are looking for relief from loneliness in friendship, we are only going to frustrate the friendship. Friendship, camaraderie, intimacy, all those things, and loneliness live together in the same experience…” Rich Mullins -1“That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that you also may have fellowship with us, and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.”
(1 John 1:3-4)

Paddy Possum’s Pilgrimage

IMG_2880 (1)Theoretically, I’d be reflecting on adventures to far away places for Travel Tues- day, but Stephen’s using my travel computer while he’s waiting for his car to be -1repaired, so I can’t tell you about Aunt Catfish until Thursday…which is the day I usually try to write kid-friendly nature stories. So, I’ve decided to swap around   IMG_1881my stories today & tell you about  Paddy Possum’s pilgrimage. Although I’ve seen pictures of opossums since I was a girl, the only real live possum I’d ever seen IMG_2890outside a zoo (before a few days ago) was a real dead possum by the side of the road. Which is to say, possums are nocturnal…IMG_2011and…being a bird may be tough, but I think being a possum may be tougher. For instance, have you seen your friendly neighborhood possum any time IMG_1944recently? If you live near any wooded area in temperate U.S. or parts south, you very likely do have opossum neighbors, but they’re not the least bit sociable and Wiki Commonsavoid public appearances. If you try to be friendly with them, they’ll hiss at you,* and if that doesn’t drive you away, they’ll faint on the spot.Wiki Commons They are drama queens extraordinaire!*IMG_1901At any rate, the other day I saw this brave little fellow trying to decide whether or IMG_1930not to go from wooded shore to wooded shore across a very intimidating stretch  IMG_1947of waterfront. It’s bad enough to be nocturnal and hate the lime light, but all the IMG_1948animals in our neighborhood have heard rumors of an evil German shepherd who lurks inside a giant doghouse…and eats little possum pilgrims for lunch. IMG_1908On this particular morning, Paddy Possum decided to make a run for it! IMG_1952So, out he came from his snug burrow under the woodpile and into the open!IMG_1879It was really slow going because the snow was so deep, so instead of running, IMG_1942 he had to jump, hop and flop as his paws would sink deep into the snow. IMG_1925Even though he was wading and waddling as fast as his little legs could go, IMG_1928it took him an excruciatingly long time, and he had to pass by many dangers! IMG_1884At long last he made it to the edge of the woods, dragging his cold tail behind! IMG_1934What a scary adventure that must have been for a timid little possum! IMG_1981There were some beautiful bluebirds flitting about the bird feeder that same IMG_1974morning, and I couldn’t help but think about the ease with which they fly across IMG_1992our snowy stretch of waterfront. I wonder if Paddy Possum ever wishes he could IMG_1898 be a bluebird soaring through the air instead of a cat-sized critter working so  IMG_1909hard to make his pilgrimage from thicket to thicket, traveling on stubby legs… IMG_1918 just barely able to keep his little pink nose above snow level. IMG_1940I know there have been plenty of times when I’ve floundered thru deep snows IMG_1973and wished I could soar above it all like a bluebird singing in the treetops. IMG_1943Thankfully, whether we’re up to our neck in trouble and scared to deathIMG_2027or having a relatively easy time of it, we can know that God is with us. IMG_1919He sees us, knows us, understands, and guides us on our pilgrimage thru life. IMG_1922He will keep us thru all the possumbilities and will lead us to a joyful end.

“O LORD, thou has searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downstitting and my uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways…If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there; if I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me…Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

(Psalm 139:1-3,8-10,23-24).

(* These two pictures, the one with the young possum hissing the other of the possum playing dead, are from Wiki Commons.)

The End of an Era

Abby KWAI know that the loss of a pet pales to near nothingness in comparison to the pain suffered by my loved ones who are struggling with the loss of mates and their own health, loss of children, miscarriages, and more, but still losing a faithful pet who has been a loving part of your family for many years is also sad. When my Nephew Matt’s family lost their beloved cat not long ago, I felt very empathetic, remembering how much it’s pained me to lose pets. And then, my Niece Andrea’s family lost David, their faithful dog that pre-dated all of their six kids, and that was doubly sad for me personally, because our families have been so close, and IMG_5512we’ve all loved David for many years. But, to lose Abishai 10 days later was a shock! (This picture was taken Oct. 2 on my birthday walk with Ab.) Abby had Joel with Abbybeen a part of just about every family activity for nearly 11 years, and I can hardly ever remember a time being outside when Abby wasn’t right beside me, joining in the fun…or trying to. Alan had been warning me for months that Abby was getting old and wouldn’t last forever, and I knew it, but I just didn’t want to think about it! He was starting to develop a bad hip and other old age issues, but…what’s new with that? Don’t we all get old and have health issues Family Walk with Abbyeventually? So, when I took him to the vet for his yearly round of immunizations Monday, I was feeling encouraged that he might make it through the winter, or at least until Christmas to see all our (23) kids and grand kids one last time. Even though he didn’t seem very interested in eating on Friday before Alan and I left to visit with Kathy’s family for the weekend, I never dreamed he’d be gone by the early hours of Sunday morning. Joel and Stephen watched over him Saturday, hand feeding him and bringing him water. Stephen even held Abby for a little while because he seemed weak, but still…I think we all just thought he was sick and would recover. However, during the wee hours of Sunday morning, he passed out of this life in his sleep. Very sad indeed. DSCN8698 After church Sunday, Stephen and Joel dug him a grave, and later they made a delicious supper for Alan and me when we arrived home. After dinner, Alan andIMG_6590 the guys laid him to rest between our lake and our home, which he’d guarded and loved so well. Alan prayed a sweet benediction, and our two sons left to go back to grad school in their respective nearby cities. Bless my precious sons! IMG_6594Saturday night before we went to sleep, for whatever reason, I turned to Psalm 91 and read it through while Alan was in the shower. Five minutes later, Alan came to our bedroom and volunteered to read me a psalm before we went to sleep. I said that would be great! He turned to Psalm 91. After he read it, I asked him why he’d chosen that particular psalm, and he said he didn’t know, it just seemed like the right psalm. Feeling the Lord lead me to hear Psalm 91 twice made me stop and wonder just what He was preparing me for. I think it was to know that God himself is all I need in the way of shelter and protection, and that is true for each of us who put our trust in Him: “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God: in him will I trust” (Psalm 91:1-2). The whole psalm is beautiful is you have enough time to read it! IMG_6598I’ve had people ask me if I think “all dogs go to heaven” or “no dogs go to heaven.” Truly, I think that’s one of those many mysteries that aren’t specifically addressed in scripture, but I do believe that Romans 8:19-22 leaves some room for hope that the entire creation will “be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” and seem to be waiting for the redemption of their bodies too. Meanwhile, God calls us to be busy about our Father’s business: the mission of sharing His wonderful love and mercy, His saving forgiveness, and how He’s working our lives—the good news—with a world experiencing so much of sadness and death. IMG_6595

“He shall cover thee with is feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler” (Psalm 91:4).