If you could know one thing about the future, what would you choose to know?
We are fascinated by the future. The Left Behind series of books have sold over 70 million copies, with seven of the sixteen titles reaching number one on the New York Times bestseller lists. I’ve not read any of them and I’m not a fan of them, but they touched a nerve among millions of people who long to know about the future.
What would you like to know about the future?
We are back to our series on spiritual gifts, and this morning we turn to the Revelatory gifts, those gifts that are based on insight or wisdom that is revealed to us. I am combining two of the revelatory gifts this morning because of their close relationship – prophecy and discernment.
Speaking of the future is how we generally think of someone who is a prophet or someone who possesses the gift of prophecy, but a prophet is one who is about more than just speaking about the future. Scripturally, the most important functions of a prophet are speaking on behalf of God and speaking the truth.
A. All of us, by our words or deeds, become associated with speaking for God.
There’s an old joke about a minister who wrote in the margin of his manuscript weak point; speak loudly and pound pulpit hard. I take very seriously that I am charged to stand before you each week to preach. I know there are some built-in dangers with preaching. Sometimes ministers confuse their own opinions with eternal truth. Sometimes we speak with authority on topics where we have many questions.
One of the realities of being a minister is that people often associate your opinions and your actions with your church. I don’t claim to speak for this church, but I am well aware of the fact that some people will associate my opinions, my words, and my actions, for good or ill, with this church.
Some churches make an effort to restrain what their ministers say because of this, but the reality is, it’s not just ministers who are speaking on behalf of God – we all speak for God, even when we don’t realize we are doing so or claim to do so. People hear what we say, they watch what we do, and they make the association, and sometimes it’s problematic. When a pastor in Florida decides to burn the Koran lots of people think there you go, religion is full of crazy people. Or when a televangelist is discovered to own five mansions and a fleet of expensive cars and people think preachers are all a bunch of crooks.
Representing God is serious business, and we must remember that how we conduct our lives is a reflection upon the name of God.
B. We must earn the right to speak the truth in love.
There are several things I don’t like to hear, and one of them is this – I’m going to tell you something in love. That’s when you can almost see some people wringing their hands with delight because they are anxious to plunge in the knife of harsh words. If you love someone, you don’t have to remind them you are speaking to them in love; it is very obvious whether or not something is spoken in love. I believe we should earn the right to say difficult things to people, and we earn that right by loving them. It’s very apparent if our motivation is love or if it’s something else.
Some of what people imagine as being honest is just an excuse to be judgmental. Years ago I had someone come to me and say this, after prefacing their statement with I’m going to tell you something in love – I’ve never heard you preach what I would call a sermon. I wouldn’t even call them sermonettes. That hurt. It was presented as though it was offered out of concern, but there was no true concern there. If Tanya, or one of the elders came to me and said something hard for me to hear, I know it would be out of genuine love and concern.
Telling the truth is too often associated with being critical or harsh with another person, but sometimes telling the truth has a positive connotation. Some people need to hear these truths – you don’t have to think of yourself in such a negative way. You are valued and loved. You are a person of great worth. You are a person of great ability and gifts.
C. We can learn a great deal about the future by looking to the past.
I often hear people say that if they could live life over again they wouldn’t change a thing. They have no regrets in life. Wow. I wish I could look at my life in that way, but I can’t. If I had the opportunity to go back to the past I would change so many things in my life. There are so many mistakes I would love to fix, so many opportunities missed that I wish I could go back and take, and so made times where I used bad judgment that I wish I could change.
We can’t change the past. But we can allow the past to inform the present and the future.
The work of the Old Testament prophets was often based on reminding people of the past, of the faithfulness and redemptive nature of God. The appeal of the past was a way for the prophets to remind people that God would continue to be faithful in the future and that he would continue to be gracious and loving. In this way, prophecy makes a prediction about the future based on a lesson learned from the past.
I can’t go back and fix the mistakes of my past, but they can instruct me so I can avoid those mistakes in the present and the future.
Discernment is the ability to distinguish between what is genuine and what is false; it is the ability to tell the difference between what is right and wrong; it is being able to demonstrate good judgment.
Hopefully, we all have at least a basic understanding of discernment. If, for example, I told my band mates in Exit Up that I was thinking about a new look, because we’re a rock band and I need to look more rock and roll, they might need to exercise discernment. Imagine if I told them I was thinking about getting a pair of leather pants and boots. I might even get a top hat. Definitely a couple of tattoos. And not just any tattoos, but ones that look dangerous. And of course I would have to dye my grey hair, because grey hair isn’t very rock and roll. I would need a couple of piercings, maybe one in each eyebrow. If I were to do this, they would most likely exercise the gift of discernment and lock me in a room somewhere and tell Tanya not to let me out until I came to my senses. At least I hope they would.
I think one of the areas where we need to be discerning is in the area of unhealthy religion. There’s a lot of unhealthy religion out there, and I don’t believe it’s wrong to say so. I meet so many people who have become members of the church alumni society – they’ve just given up on church because of the dysfunction they have encountered in churches.
I attended a large meeting some years ago – thousands of people were in attendance – and the person who was preaching said this – I’m here to tell you that hell is real, hell is hot, and there are millions of people who are suffering in that hell. What happened next was hard to believe – thousands of people, all throughout that crowded convention hall, leapt to their feet and began clapping and cheering. It’s no wonder so many people hold to such a dim view of religion and even of God.
Jesus never hesitated to point out the unhealthy religion in his day. He could be pretty tough on the scribes, the Pharisees, and others, because they were inflicting such an unhealthy kind of faith upon people and the desire of Jesus was to help people to be discerning about what is real and genuine faith and what is a pale imitation.
Vacation Bible School begins tomorrow. Most of us probably learned John 3:16 in VBS – for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. But the next verse is of equal, or perhaps greater importance – for God did not send his son to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Healthy religion does not point a finger and joyfully condemn people; healthy religion embraces people and loves them as did Jesus.
The choice is as clear as two different paths laid before us.
Allow the presence of God to enter into your life, into your heart, and mind; allow the presence of God to enter into your past, your present, and future.