And wing my words that they may reach the hidden depths of many a heart
I am a multi-passionate writer of fiction and nonfiction. I was named honorable mention in the Writer's Digest Annual Contest 2018. My latest project discusses the relationship between faith/religion and depression.
Verbs are for action. That may sound obvious. But so many writers seem to forget that when writing the action in their scenes (myself included). If your verbs are strong, your action will be too. I’m going to show you an example of what a difference strong verbs can make from my current Work in Progress (WiP).
I’m editing my manuscript called Through Fear of Death. It’s historical fiction based in ancient Rome in 96 AD. Valentinius is the senior guard at the Carcer, Rome’s main prison. In this scene, Silas has just been brought to the Carcer, along with other prisoners. Silas is a big man, so Valentinius takes it upon himself to escort him, leaving the other nonthreatening prisoners to his partner. Valentinius pushed him in the back, but only once. Here is how I wrote it originally.
He gave a little push in the prisoner’s back. The man did not put up any resistance or even look back at him. A good sign. He was not looking to make trouble.
Draft for Through Fear of Death
In the editing phase, I noticed the first two sentences could be tightened up. So I changed it to this.
He pushed the prisoner from behind. The man did not resist or even look back at him. A good sign. He was not looking to make trouble.
Draft for Through Fear of Death
Now the action is more vivid, because pushed is more direct than gave a little push. Did not resist is tighter than did not put up any resistance. Normally, you would not tell what the character did not do, but in this case it says something about Valentinius’s motive for pushing him. He’s gauging how the prisoner will react. No reaction, in his mind, is good.
Use Strong Verbs for Action
To keep the reader’s attention, you have to make the action in the scene vivid. This is why every fiction class says, Show don’t tell. In the first example, I followed that rule, but the action still wasn’t as vivid as it could be, which brings me to the next rule. The most important word for any action in a scene is the verb. Use strong verbs for action.
In the first version, I used push and resistance as nouns. That required me to use weak verbs, gave and put (up). Push and resist are stronger as verbs than nouns. If your verbs are weak, chances are you can replace them with stronger verbs. Your reader will notice and enjoy it more. They won’t necessarily say, “Great use of strong verbs.” But they will notice the action in your scenes leaps off the page, and that will keep them reading.
But I’ve read lots of books with weak verbs, and I liked them.
This is a common problem for beginning writers. They have read other authors breaking the rules. Classic authors, especially those who wrote before movies, TV, the Internet, video games, etc., could take their time unfolding action slowly, going into long descriptions of settings that may or may not have anything to do with the plot, showing off their fancy ways of putting words together, painstakingly describing every subtlety and nuance of a character’s expression or action, and telling, not showing. Authors today do not have that luxury.
I once read Dickens take an entire paragraph to describe how a woman raised her eyebrows. You might have read that and liked it, especially if you read a lot of classics. People accept that from Dickens, because he is required reading in just about every English literature curriculum. But today’s readers will lose patience if you take too long and too many words to get to the action or the point of a scene.
Knowing When to Show and When to Tell
Following the rules show don’t tell, and use strong verbs, I have shown the action rather than told it. He pushed the prisoner from behind. What was his motive for doing that? I have shown that. The man did not resist or even look back at him. A good sign. He was not looking to make trouble. He is not just being a bully. He wants to see how the prisoner reacts to it, so he can see how closely he needs to watch this big prisoner. This is a tactic he uses, not on every prisoner, but the ones who could challenge him. I’ve hinted at that, but I wanted to make the strategic aspect of this clearer, so I added a little exposition.
He pushed the prisoner from behind. It was a test he gave prisoners who might want to challenge him. The man did not resist or even look back at him. A good sign. He was not looking to make trouble.
Draft for Through Fear of Death
That’s a bit of telling, not showing. You hear show don’t tell all the time when you are learning how to write. But the truth is at some point, every story requires some telling. So it’s more like know when to show and when to tell. The main action in a scene should always be shown not told. But other aspects might be better told than shown. In general, I try to show as much through action and dialog as I can. Then, if I feel there is something the reader needs to know that I can’t quite show, I will do a little telling.
It was a test he often gave prisoners who might want to challenge him. I can’t show you every time he ever did this or the details of how he chooses which prisoners to push. But this tells you something about how he does his job. Initiating physical contact might be a problem for prison guards today. For ancient Rome, however, one push on a big man, for whom it could not do any real damage, to see how he reacts, would have been considered reasonable.
Breaking the Rules I Just Told You
It was a test he gave prisoners who might want to challenge him.
You might also think that sentence is not as tight as it could be. I tried tightening it a few times, but it did not quite work. Writing tight is not as important there, because it is not action (This point is arguable). It is technically called exposition. I’ll explain more about that in a future post.
If I can sum up, for the action in a scene:
Show, don’t tell as much as you can.
Use strong verbs.
Convey as much to the reader as you can through action and dialog without resorting to exposition.
When you must use exposition, make sure there is a purpose for it, keep it brief, and make it relevant to the character’s action and reaction.
Exercise: Look at a scene in your work-in-progress (WiP). Did you use strong or weak verbs for the action? Change any weak verbs to stronger ones and see if you like it better.
In the next couple of months, I will be working on an audiobook version of Dark Nights of the Soul: Reflections on Faith and the Depressed Brain.
I am preparing my novel Through Fear of Death: A Novel of Ancient Rome to self-publish as an ebook. Afterwards, I will have print and audio versions available, but the ebook will come first. I’m looking for publication at the end of August, so I can enter it into this year’s Self-Published Ebook contest with Writer’s Digest. Hopefully, lightning can strike twice.
You will have the ability to sign up for exclusive updates leading up to these two publications. Details to follow.
The “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip by Bill Watterson ran from November 18, 1985 to December 31, 1995. One recurring theme was his father telling six-year-old Calvin, “It builds character.” The things he said build character include:
Shoveling the walk
Playing sports (baseball)
Enduring cold weather
Suffering a tough life
Learning to ride a bicycle.
So basically, any time Calvin had to do something he didn’t like, his father said, “It builds character.” One in particular stands out to me. Calvin complained that it was cold in the house.
Calvin: It’s freezing in here!! Why can’t we crank up the thermostat?!
Dad: Consuming less fuel is good for the environment and it saves money.
I imagine, like Calvin, the last thing you want to hear about this crisis is it builds character. So I won’t do that. I’ll let Paul do it.
And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope …
(Rom 5:3-4 NRS).
Suffering produces endurance. Endurance produces character. Character produces hope. So Paul agrees with the dad. Sorry, Calvin.
But when we’re going through suffering or trials of any kind, it’s hard to see anything positive. It’s hard to “count it nothing but joy,” as James said (1:2). It’s hard to think about the perspective and maturity you will gain when all you want is for it to be over. After you go through a few trials, though, you can look back and see, “Yes, I am a better person for having gone through that.”
At some point, we all ask something like, if God loves us, why is there so much suffering? Why won’t God get rid of the Coronavirus? If God is love (1 Jn 4:8), why is God allowing all the chaos and suffering of this pandemic? We think love wants to maximize happiness and minimize suffering. And that is true, to an extent (Mat 7:9-11). But that is only part of the picture. My experience living with clinical depression and Irritable Bowel Syndrome has convinced me that God’s love cares more about our character than our happiness. I wouldn’t have chosen those trials and the crises of faith that came with them, but they made me more compassionate and wiser. They stripped away any what’s-in-it-for-me aspect of faith I had before. And they resulted in a WD Award Winning book.
As wonderful as that is, what I really hope for is people telling me after they read my book, they got diagnosed, or they started counseling, or they now understand why their son, daughter, spouse, or parent acts the way they do. In other words, that it really helps others living with depression. That is often where perspective and wisdom happens. God allowed me to go through this, so I can help others who are going through the same thing.
A New Prayer for Perseverance
The only way your faith can mature is to go through trials and experience God’s faithfulness through them. James said it this way.
My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.
(Jam 1:2-5 NRS)
In that spirit, I wrote this prayer I am using to get me through this, and I hope it helps you.
“God, you said through your servant James that the trying of my faith would produce perseverance and wisdom. I would rather you remove it from me. For that matter, I would rather You remove it from my family, from my neighbors, and from the world. I am facing the brutal facts, and they are overwhelming. But if You choose not to remove it immediately, I know there must be a reason. There must be a lesson in this, even if I can’t imagine what it is right now. I confess that I am lacking wisdom in this trial. You promised to give me this wisdom, the perspective I need, if I ask. So I ask You to give me wisdom to see as You see, and to use this until You choose to remove it. Amen.”
Don’t Call It “The New Normal”
I added the word “immediately” because God will remove this at some point. Or our medical experts will find a cure and/or vaccine. We can take some comfort in knowing historically, no pandemic lasts forever. The plagues of the 14th and 18th centuries did come to an end, as did the Spanish flu of 1918. That is why I refuse to use the words “new normal.” New normal implies this is what life is going to be like from now on. Social distancing, wearing masks and gloves, washing hands and sanitizing surfaces several times a day are all good for flattening the curve. And the sooner we get everyone on board with that, the sooner it will be over.
But it won’t be like this forever. One day, it will be safe to gather together again. We’ll be able to go back to church, movies, and concerts with our friends and family, and without masks. We’ll be able to shake hands and hug those we love. I and others will be able to seek out speaking engagements in person rather than on screen. But for now, the loving thing to do is to protect each other by stopping the spread of the virus however we can. Remember who you are doing this for. I socially distance from you, so I don’t have to socially distance from my wife. No offense, but I’d rather get close to her than to you.
So stay safe and six feet apart. If you can’t do that, wear masks and wash your hands. And remember the words of Paul and James I shared with you. They had it right. Suffering and the trying of our faith does produce perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope, so that the trying of our faith makes us mature and complete, lacking in nothing. Ask God for wisdom to see how this is forming your character to conform to the image of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Because as bad as this may be, the only thing that could be worse is if we have to go through this and not learn what God wants us to learn from this trial.
The May/June issue of Writer’s Digest is out, listing the winners of the 2019 Self-Published E-book Awards. You’ll see in this montage my lovely wife put together, I am listed as the winner in the Nonfiction category. I know I’ve told you about it, but seeing it in print is so exciting.
I have my own YouTube channel called Almost Ordained. You can follow the link to check it out or even subscribe. “Almost ordained” because I have two seminary degrees, but never got ordained. That means I have the theological and biblical training, but I can’t pastor a church or perform sacraments or weddings. My sister took up that mantle.
I have links to the latest episodes below, along with running times so you can gauge whether you have time for it. This is an example of a vlog (video blog). As the name implies, it is a blog done on video. Keeping some kind of diary or journal is often helpful in getting through a stressful time, so I encourage you to do it, whether on video, your blog, or the old-fashioned way.
Kingdom Priorities (23:18)
Wisdom from Psalm 30 (30:05)
A New Haircut, The Stockdale Paradox, James 1:2-5; and Letting Perseverance Complete Its Work (28:08)
Confessions of an Ex-Prophet (58:07)
Coronavirus Confessions, and Why Gardening Is Good for Depression (12:08)
I originally published this on a different blog. But it struck me this is a perfect story to say Mother’s Day, to my mom and mothers everywhere.
If you remember your wedding day, how would you have felt if your wedding planner came to you during the reception and said, “We’ve run out of food and not all the guests have been served”? I suppose you would have panicked for a moment and then expected the wedding planner to fix it. Find some food. I don’t care where you get it. Just get it here now. You would not have expected any of the guests to get it for you.
When Jesus and Mary are at a wedding in Cana (see John 2:1-12), Mary hears they have run out of wine. She probably felt their embarrassment, especially if they were friends of hers. In Galilee in the first century, “those invited might be expected to contribute provisions such as wine” (HarperCollins NRSV Study Bible, John 2.1 note). So it was not necessarily unusual for her to ask her son to help.
Interesting fact about Jewish weddings in the first century: Receptions lasted a full week. During this time, the bride and the bridegroom had their honeymoon in their new home. The wedding guests celebrated outside.
Jesus appears unconcerned at first.
“Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”
(Joh 2:4 NRS)
I know mothers are going to ask, why did he call her “Woman,” instead of Mother or Mom? That probably was not disrespectful in that culture (compare 19:26; 20:15). But the next line he says indicates her request is about more than wine. In other words, “This is not the time to reveal myself as the Messiah and Son of God.”
But his mother tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (Joh 2:5 NRS)
I imagine at this point, she gave him The Mother’s Look. You know what I’m talking about. Your mother wants you to do something, and she gives you that look that tells you there is no arguing with her about this. That sets the scene for Jesus’ first miracle–or sign as John prefers to call it–turning water into wine. She knows something about her son, something he does not want to reveal–at least, not yet. He does not think it is the right time to show his miracle working power. His hour has not yet come. Really Mom? You think this is how I should reveal to the world I am the Son of God? But he does it anyway.
Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.
(Joh 2:6 NRS)
So the servants need to get wine fast. They are waiting for Jesus to tell them what to do. He sees six large stone water jars, and as a Jew, he would know these are used to hold water for purification rites. He says to fill them with water. What were the servants thinking? How is purifying ourselves going to help us get wine?
But Mary is there, and maybe she reminds them. “I said, do whatever he tells you!”
They follow his directions, filling the jars to the brim. They draw some out. At what point did the water change to wine? When it was in the jars or when they drew some out (in a pitcher I imagine)? When the chief steward tasted it? Who knows. And I have to wonder, as important as washing for purification rituals was for Jews, how could these jars have been empty?
At any rate, this water that would normally be used to wash people and objects for ritual purification has turned into wine, and the social crisis is solved. With the capacity of each jar, they would have had 120-180 gallons of wine, presumably enough to last the entire reception.
It’s a strange story, so I feel more compelled than usual to ask,
What can we learn from this?
The purification vessels are empty then filled with water, which allows them to fulfill their original purpose. Jesus repurposes them when he turns the water into wine. One commentator says,
The pots contain only water. Soon Jesus will fill them with eschatological wine, a rich symbol in the biblical tradition inferring prosperity, abundance, good times; the wine will overflow the water pots. Their true purpose will be fulfilled. Changing the pots of water into pots flowing over with good wine becomes a metaphor for Jesus’ ministry as he brings vitality to the ancient religion.
You can be spiritual and still join others in celebration. Two of the fruits of the spirit are love and joy. One way to show love is to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. A wedding feast is a time for rejoicing with those who rejoice, and any religion should make room for joy when it is appropriate.
It is okay to pray for “unimportant” things. I hear people all the time say, “Don’t pray for that. God has more important things to do.” Did Jesus have more important things to do than keep the party going? Yes, and he would go on to do them. But for now, he is there, and they need wine. Someone asks for his help, and he answers.
Any religion should make room for “Cana Grace.” Cana Grace? This is a new term for me, but one commentator explains it this way.
…it is worth a miracle because it manifests the glory of God—the very God who wants even now for the community of faith to be a celebration of people. Brothers and sisters in Christ eating on the back porch and laughing until the sun goes down; a new members’ dinner at someone’s home that ends with folks giving thanks to God for the welcome they have received at church—it is called Cana Grace. Give thanks for everyone in your church and in your life who has the knack for throwing a party. What a way to begin a ministry!
So what if there were much bigger problems in the world. Yes, it was almost incredibly embarrassing for the hosts, but social embarrassment is not the end of the world. But if we’re honest, it sure feels like the end of the world. Jesus saved the day by bringing “Cana Grace” when his friends needed it. It was not the way he planned to launch his ministry, which strangely makes it feel even more appropriate. And the reason is one we can all relate to. He had a very hard time saying no to his mother.
Did you know the joy of the kingdom of God/Heaven is often compared to a wedding or wedding feast? Just a few examples:
Hos 2.16, 19-20
Mat 22.1-14; 25.1-13
Rev 19.7-9; 21.2-4
 Cana was a small town in the middle of Galilee, about 10 miles north of Nazareth.
 Eschatological or eschatology relates to the end times. God’s future action to end this world and inaugurate a new one is a common theme in the Bible. What will this new world be like? That is what eschatology is concerned with.
 Bridges, Linda McKinnish. Exegetical perspective. Cited in January 17, 2016: Abundant life: Focus on John 2:1-11. Feasting on the word curriculum.
 Brearly, Robert M. Pastoral perspective. Cited in January 17, 2016: Abundant life: Focus on John 2:1-11. Feasting on the word curriculum.
In my newsletter, I mentioned an online resource where you can create memes. There doesn’t seem to be a name for it, Here’s a public service announcement (PSA) from Seinfeld about the Coronavirus.
I am putting the blog on hiatus to focus on other things. One thing is I’ve experimented with a few videos uploaded to YouTube. I’m using scripts I wrote for a Podcast, which I still want to do. But after a few tries, it seems these videos are easier to crank out. That will leave me more time to work on fiction and prepare to release my ancient Rome novel. I’m looking at July right now. So the blog now will be a Vlog. So far, the episodes are part of a series I’m calling “Faith in a Time of Coronavirus.” Here are the links if you want to check them out.
The new title for my YouTube channel is Almost Ordained. You can view the channel here.
A comparison between the Coronavirus and the golden image of Daniel ch.apter 3. One is an idol. One is not. “Faith in a Time of Coronavirus” series.
1. Everyone knew where Nebuchadnezzar’s image was. Where is the Coronavirus image we are supposed to worship?
2. No one is worshiping the Coronavirus. Not in the US or anywhere in the world.
3. No one is commanded to bow down to the Coronavirus or an image of it.
4. If you didn’t bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s image, what would the image do to you? Nothing. The king would have you thrown into a fiery furnace. But the image itself could do nothing. It had no life of its own. It had no power of its own. The only power it had was what people gave it through belief, superstition, law, or fear.
5. Does the Coronavirus have life and power of its own? Yes, it does. A virus of any kind is a living organism. Much simpler than a human, but it does have life of its own. It doesn’t need the government to give it power. It has power of its own to make you sick and kill you, no matter what the government or you say about it. That is how you know it is NOT an idol.
6. If you did not worship the image, what was the punishment? Death in a fiery furnace. That is persecution. If you don’t follow the rules of social distancing, what is the punishment? If you are caught, you might get a warning and a fine. If you are a repeat offender, they might put you in jail, though they’d probably rather not, since social distancing in a prison is already a challenge. No government official is handing out the death penalty for social distancing violations. That is not persecution. That is protecting the public health and promoting the general welfare, things the government is supposed to do.
7. Who or what would kill you in Daniel’s time if you failed to worship the idol? The government. Who or what will kill you if you catch the Coronavirus? The virus will make you sick and maybe kill you. If you have to go to the hospital, you’d better pray they have enough ventilators. Whatever the virus does to you, it’s all because of the virus. The government has nothing to do with it.
How the progress of Coronavirus is proving many so-called prophets don’t know what they are talking about. If we are to find encouragement from our faith, it has to be apart from them. “Faith in a Time of Coronavirus” series.
I’m going to put this blog on hold for a while. Instead, I will be posting a sort of video diary on YouTube. If you subscribe to this blog, you will receive announcements of when they go up. Here’s the first one.
But what if what they say does come to pass? Could he/she still be a false prophet? The Old Testament warned the Israelites it is indeed possible. Deuteronomy 13:1-5 told the Israelites even if what the prophets or those who divine by dreams say comes to pass, but they tell you to follow gods other than the LORD who redeemed you from slavery in Egypt, you must not follow them. Any prophet who tells them to forsake the way of the LORD their God and follow other gods was to be put to death. As I said in another episode, ancient Israel was a theocracy, but we are a republic. We can’t put false prophets to death here, and I’m glad for that. Because of that, I’m going to focus more on the New Testament.
Jesus said, “And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” (Mat 24:11 NRS). And again, “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Mat 24:24 NRS). What stands out for me in this is:
False prophets will produce great signs and omens.
False prophets will lead many astray.
Even the elect, those who are saved, can be led astray.
So don’t think if you received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you can’t be fooled by false prophets, because you have the Holy Spirit within you. Oh yes, you can.
A Warning to the Galatians (and Us)
Paul said this to the Galatians.
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!”
(Gal 1:8-9 NRS).
If it were anyone else, I would say, “What an egomaniac. He won’t let anyone say anything contrary to what he told them. That’s what cult leaders do.” But over the years, I have heard gospels contrary to what we received from Christ and the Apostles. They led me astray, so I understand why he gives such a dire warning about this. The members of the church in Galatia had the Holy Spirit. False prophets or false teachers came among them, and they were fooled. Don’t think it can’t happen to you.
And notice, Paul even says if we … proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you. He includes himself in this curse. He has shut the door on ever changing the gospel he first proclaimed to them. Ain’t gonna be no, “You know what? I was wrong. What I told you before wasn’t the real gospel. Let me proclaim a different gospel to you now.” No, he said if I ever do that, let me be accursed. That was how important it was to get this right.
And he also says … if an angel from heaven should proclaim a different gospel to you, let him be accursed. One would expect an angel to be able to produce some of the great signs and omens Jesus referred to. But if he proclaims a gospel different from what they received, they must not believe him or follow him. So is it possible that someone could produce signs and omens in Jesus’ name while proclaiming a different gospel? Absolutely.
When I Followed a Different Gospel
One church I was in was all about “the anointing,” which was supposed to manifest in signs and wonders, like the spiritual gifts of 1 Cor 12:8-10. In the vast majority of churches today, you are not going to see the kind of signs and wonders that are in the New Testament. Some people point to that and say, “That church is dead.” The implication is, “We’re not dead. We have the supernatural gifts. We have the anointing.”
I used to believe them. Now, I’m not so sure. If they really have those supernatural gifts of healing, miracles, signs, and omens, or whatever, as Jesus and the Apostles did, they should get the same results. But instead, when they fail to get those results, they make excuses that Jesus and the Apostles never had to make.
Our preacher referred to one particular televangelist in every sermon, and everyone in the church thought he was so anointed because of the healings he did, and the way people fell down in his services. It’s called being slain in the Spirit, and it’s quite common in charismatic and Pentecostal services. Anyway, our preacher was quoting this televangelist more than he quoted Jesus. That is always a bad sign. I mean, are we really getting the Gospel of Jesus Christ when he talks about some televangelist more than Christ?
Tithe or Die
The final straw for me came when he quoted the televangelist saying, “I can’t heal you, because you’re not tithing.”
I have read the New Testament, and the Gospels in particular, multiple times over my life. One thing I know for sure. Jesus NEVER told ANYONE, “I can’t heal you because you’re not tithing.” He never connected tithing with getting healed. He would go into towns, and every sick person who was brought to him got healed. Not everyone who tithed. Everyone period.
But here’s a trick question. What if after saying that, they had some signs and wonders and portents that came true? Should we believe them? If they claim to serve the Lord Jesus and tell us, “You must give me 10% of your income before God will answer your prayers,” remember the Lord Jesus never said that. Even if what you say comes true, I’m going to borrow from Deuteronomy 13 and say, you must not heed the words of those prophets who tell you to follow a Jesus that neither you nor your ancestors have known. Okay, Deuteronomy did not mention Jesus specifically. But if we call him Lord, the meaning is the same.
They will usually use Malachi to justify this. “But Malachi 3:9-10 says you are cursed with a curse because you are robbing God by not bringing your tithes. God can’t bless what is cursed.”
God can’t bless what is cursed? That’s not in the scripture. You just made that up. That’s what I mean that they make excuses Jesus never had to make. Jesus raised people from the dead. You can’t get any more cursed than that. Don’t tell me God can’t bless what is cursed. That is a gospel contrary to the one we as the body of Christ received.
To Lead Astray Even the Elect
Even if some of their prophecies come true, don’t follow them. Even if some people get healed, or they produce signs, omens, and wonders that make you gasp and think the anointing is on them, don’t follow them. And don’t give them your money, whether they call it tithes, offerings, or “sowing a seed.” The gifts of God cannot be purchased with money (Acts 8:18-20). If they claim you can be healed by giving them money or solve your financial problems by giving them money, that is a different gospel. Do not believe them. Do not follow them. And do not give them your money.
Yes, Jesus received money from those who wanted to support his ministry, but he never charged anyone for healing, miracles, or any blessings of the Holy Spirit. And the Apostles followed that example. Read the book of Acts or the letters of Paul, Peter, and John, and you will not find any example that they made people pay for the gifts of the Spirit.
And I can’t believe I have to say this, but if they speak hatred from the pulpit, that is not the Holy Spirit. Even if they prophesy things that come true, even if they show the signs and omens Jesus mentioned, remember Jesus also said these are the kind who will lead you astray.
The Holy Spirit Is Not Racist, Sexist, Homophobic, or Xenophobic
“Social distancing is for pansies.” Yes, a preacher actually said that. Not only is he putting the public health at risk. He’s using a homophobic slur to belittle anyone who follows social distancing guidelines from the CDC. That is not the Holy Spirit. That is not the anointing. In the late eighties, one of them “prophesied” that the homosexual community in the US would be destroyed in ’94 or ’95 by fire. And the congregation cheered.
It did not come true, so he failed the first test. That alone proves he is a false prophet.
He did not tell them to stop cheering, so he failed the “love test.” This is a different gospel. If you follow him, he will lead you astray.
The fact that they would cheer that means he has been failing to teach them the Gospel for a long time.
What do I mean by the “love test”? Jesus said our love has to extend even to our enemies. I don’t care if you think it’s a sin. I don’t care if you know it’s a sin. Every one of them is a person Jesus died for (Rom 5:8). You still have to love them, because he loves them.
The Holy Spirit is not racist, sexist, homophobic, or xenophobic. Anyone who preaches that in Jesus’ name is preaching a different Gospel. What if they do great signs and omens? It is still a different Gospel. I don’t care if an angel or some so-called apostle or prophet promises I will get those gifts of healing or prophecy that I used to chase after if I will follow them, that is a different Gospel, and I want nothing to do with it.
God Is Love
So we can recognize a different Gospel when we hear it, let’s remind ourselves what the Bible says about the love of God in 1 Corinthians 13.
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
Notice speaking in tongues, prophetic powers, understanding all mysteries, faith so as to remove mountains. These are some of the supernatural gifts they thought proved the Holy Spirit was in their midst. But Paul tells them signs and omens are nothing without the love of God.
If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Giving 10% or even all your possessions to them is nothing without love. It won’t make God answer your prayers.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
Love rejoices in the truth, not lies, no matter how good they make you feel. False prophets have been lying to us a lot, especially about the Coronavirus.
But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.
Even when they had the supernatural gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12, they did not make the congregation complete or “anointed.” Even at our best, we only know in part. Even when they prophesied, it was only in part. Love is the only thing that makes us complete.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
(Verses 11-13 NRS)
Jesus preached a Gospel of love so all-encompassing it left no one out, even people that we may wish were left out. That is the greatest challenge of following Jesus, but also the most rewarding. And if anyone comes to you with signs and omens but preaches a different gospel, you heard what Paul said. Let him/her be accursed.
Sorry this is a little late, but we had a little incident in our home.
I woke up on Palm Sunday. We weren’t going to church, because of the Coronavirus restrictions. But it was Palm Sunday. My wife and I decided to take advantage of the fact that many services are available online now, especially in response to Coronavirus. Particularly, my sister–a Presbyterian minister–had started filming her services at home to broadcast on Facebook and YouTube. My wife gathered some palm leaves, tied a ribbon around them, and taped them to the door.
She made blueberry pancakes, and I made scrambled eggs. We were looking forward to a pleasant breakfast and my sister leading worship right in our home. While I was getting my plate together, my wife called out from the dining room. It almost sounded like the way she screamed when she saw a mouse, but there was something different about it. I figured it must be a critter of some kind.
She rushed back to the kitchen. I asked what it was, but she couldn’t even tell me. I went to see, and there in the middle of our dining room floor was a snake. Not a big one, it was only a little more than a foot long. But still, a snake. In our home. That cannot stand.
Perhaps the truest verse in the Bible is when God told the serpent there would always be enmity between women and snakes (Gen 3:15). She hates snakes, and I wasn’t thrilled about it either.
It started crawling for the china cabinet. I stepped on it before it got there. The front half was under the cabinet, so I figured that would block it from making a quick strike on my foot. But I was only wearing sandals. Maybe its head would come back out. So I lifted my foot, and it went under the china cabinet. Great! Now how are we going to get it out? Needless to say, Palm Sunday and worship were forgotten at that point.
You Will Trample the Serpent Under Foot?
Why didn’t I just keep my foot on the snake? I had stopped it from going under the china cabinet. And the Bible says, “You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot” (Psa 91:12).
I had it under my foot, just like the Bible says. Should I grab it at the bottom half and pull it out? I shouldn’t have been afraid to do it. After all, the Bible says, “And these signs will accompany those who believe: … they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mar 16:17-18 NRS).
So I could just grab that snake and not worry about whether it was poisonous, and then take it deep into the woods outside my home and release it. That’s supposed to be one of the signs of a believer. While I had it under my foot, why didn’t I grab it? For the same reason I don’t drink cyanide, strychnine, or diesel fuel, even though this verse says it won’t hurt me. Folks, hear me when I say this. NOT EVERYTHING IN THE BIBLE IS SUPPOSED TO BE TAKEN LITERALLY.
So no, I’m not going to grab that snake with my bare hands because of a couple of Bible verses taken out of context. The point of Psalm 91 is not for you to go to the local zoo, climb into the lion’s cage, and jump on its back and say, “Look, I can trample a lion underfoot, because I believe in Jesus Christ.” Many Christians in the first century found that was not meant literally, in case you’ve forgotten.
So we were trying to figure out how to get him out from under there, and how to trap him once he did. While I kept an eye on the snake to be sure he didn’t leave and crawl under something else, my wife brought a Hello Fresh box, a rake, a paint roller, a broom and dustpan, a yardstick, and a pillow case for various ideas we had. I tried calling local pest removal services, but they were closed. Whether because of Coronavirus or that it was Sunday, I don’t know. Finally, I went to the best how-to source on the web, YouTube, and found this from a Tampa area pest control expert.
Glue traps. That was his advice. My wife went to the dollar store to get some.
Meanwhile, I wondered if we might need to move the china cabinet to force him out, so I removed everything from the top section. We never moved it. Instead, we put some glue traps under it. But how do we force the snake onto the trap? My wife fashioned a coat hanger and prodded it into the corner, where I had set a trap. Then its tail showed out the back. I folded another glue trap over its tail to make sure I had it. It was hard to pull out, because the front half was indeed stuck to a glue trap.
I thought about killing it, but the guy in the video reminded me a lot of snakes kill and eat other pests, like mice and rats. It didn’t look like any of the poisonous varieties of snakes in this area, so I was okay with letting it go. He said you could free it from the trap with vegetable oil. I tried the tail first (after going outside, of course). The snake worked its tail free, so one trap down. I took it deep into the woods and poured oil over it. Within a few minutes, he worked himself free and crawled away. Later, I found out it was a rat snake, so I’m glad I let him go.
Lessons for Coronavirus
I had never had to remove a snake from my house before. I didn’t know what to do, so how did I do it? By quoting Bible verses, or naming and claiming promises from the Bible? Truth is, I did quote this verse in my mind.
“You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.”
But you already said not to take that verse literally, so what good was that supposed to do?
I said don’t take it literally. I didn’t say don’t meditate on it. I meditated on that verse the whole time I was trying to figure out what to do, the whole time I pulled the snake out and took it outside, and while I was pouring oil over it to release it. I wasn’t treating it as a promise that God was somehow obligated to put a force field around me and my wife, so the snake couldn’t touch us. “Come on, honey. We can just wait for it to come back out, and I’ll grab it then. Here’s two verses that say snakes can’t hurt us, because we’re believers. Don’t you believe the Bible?” How do you think that would have gone over?
I still put on whatever protective equipment I could: socks, shoes, long pants, and gloves. I didn’t expect that quoting that verse meant the snake couldn’t bite me. I meditated on it for one reason only: To keep myself calm through the process.
I listened to an expert, I did what the expert said, and it worked. I didn’t use the scripture as a substitute for expert advice, only as something to meditate on so I could stay calm. The author of this Psalm did not mean for it to be taken literally. It would help all of us to remember Psalms were originally sung. Songs and poetry most of the time are not meant to be taken literally. They are meant to move us emotionally. Emotions were running high with a snake in our house. This song was made for moments like this. It was meant to help you stay calm and trust God when you have to do something that scares you. And I can tell you in that way, it worked for me.
So with Coronavirus, just as with snakes, listen to the experts and follow their advice.
What Time I Am Afraid, I Will Trust in Thee
Psalm 91 is one of the most popular scriptures for promoting peace of mind in stormy circumstances, and with good reason. It is not a license to abandon common sense. As I heard a preacher today talking about his reasons for closing the church and moving services online, “Faith works best when it’s combined with common sense.” So with the understanding that this is not a “promise” that “obligates” God to protect you from Coronavirus by becoming your invisible hazmat suit, I invite you to meditate on these scriptures from Psalm 91 that I am meditating on for comfort and peace in the storm.
You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”
(Psa 91:1-2 NRS)
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence; he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge;
(Psa 91:3-4 NRS)
You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday.
(Psa 91:5-6 NRS)
A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.
(Psa 91:7 NRS)
Because you have made the LORD your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.
(Psa 91:9-10 NRS)
When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them. With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.
So many people staying at home now. Some of you are busier than ever with your kids at home instead of school. But some people have some extra time on their hands. I’ve been wanting to start a podcast, and now seems like a good time. So if you are bored sitting at home, you’ll have something new to listen to. The first episodes will be on faith in a time of Coronavirus. I’ll let you know when it’s up. In the meantime, here is a script for what I think will be the first episode.
I want to talk to the prophets of America. I know usually in December and January, you give a word to the faithful for the coming year. I have gone back and listened to what you predicted for 2020. One minister made it pretty easy. He asked 20 prophets to make predictions for 2020 and played them all. 20 prophets. I transcribed the program. Here is a word cloud I made from it.
is big, no surprise. Going is big, probably because you were talking about what
God is “going” to do in 2020. Year is big, of course, because you were talking
about the new year. I also see America is prominent, again no surprise. I see
Gregorian at the bottom and Hebrew at the top to the right, because a couple of
them talked about the alignment of the year 2020 on the Gregorian calendar with
the year 5780 on the Hebrew calendar. Because 5+7+8+0=20. I’m sorry, but I don’t
call that an alignment. 20 is not the same number as 2020.
regardless of that, you know what I don’t see? Coronavirus, COVID-19, or pandemic.
No mention of a virus at all. Nothing that would even suggest what we’re going
through now. I know the Biblical writers knew nothing about viruses, but you
still could have used some Biblical term, like plague, or pestilence, or
disease. The word “shaken” or “shaking” should be on there. I did hear that a
few times. This could be called a shaking. But even then, the rest of their
message did not sound like they were anticipating this current crisis. One of
them did say we would see a shaking in the first four months. That is the
closest any one of them came to predicting this. And a couple of others
mentioned a “shaking like nothing before.” Again, that could be a reference to
what we’re experiencing now. But one of them specified “the soil will be shaken.”
That sounds more like an earthquake than a pandemic.
out of 20 prophets, who claim to hear directly from God and speak directly for
God the word for today, only a couple of them even hinted at what we are going
through now. And on top of that, one of them said she had just come from a
conference of 42 prophets from around the world. I didn’t get the transcript of
that. But if any of them saw a pandemic coming, she didn’t say so.
you see decade is prominent? Several of them talked about not only what the year
would bring, but also the decade, because this is the beginning of a new decade.
Except it’s not. The decade does not begin in 2020. It begins in 2021. Even if
you don’t know when the decade begins, God does. Why would God make a mistake
is this the year of? According to them, it’s the year of fire. The year of evangelism.
The year of the Father. The year of the voice. The year of the mouth. In reality,
it is the year of Coronavirus, the year of pandemic. Why didn’t that make it
onto your list of “Year of”s? Is it possible you heard a voice or saw a vision that
you thought was from God, but it wasn’t?
First Sign of a False Prophet
Back in Biblical times, this was how they detected a false prophet. This is from the English Standard Version (ESV).
… when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.
(Deu 18:22 ESV)
you going to curse me for pointing out that your prophecies are not coming true?
Go ahead. This verse says I need not be afraid of you. You prophesied miracles,
healings, and the manifest glory of God in worship, where people are gathered
together. They will even gather in stadiums, you said. Are people gathering
together now? No, because we have to maintain social distancing. Stadiums are
closed, along with businesses, and schools. Churches are closed and moving
their services online. They aren’t gathering together.
prophesied healings. Instead, people are getting sick at an alarming rate. You
prophesied prosperity. Look what’s happening to the economy. People are losing
jobs in record numbers. Does that sound like prosperity? You prophesied that
every dream would come true this year for God’s faithful. This is not what we
How do we know the prophet is false? Deuteronomy 18:22 could not have summed it up any better. … if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken. You spoke words in the name of the Lord that the Lord did not speak. And since most of you were on that program because you’ve been doing this for years, I think it’s safe to guess that this is not the first time. These were not the first prophecies that did not come true, meaning, you spoke words in the name of the Lord that the Lord did not speak. You spoke presumptuously. Again, I ask, is it possible that you heard something or saw a vision that you thought was from God, but it wasn’t? It’s time to own up to that fact.
A Democracy, Not a Theocracy
was the penalty in ancient Israel for speaking false prophecies? According to Deuteronomy
18:20, the prophet was put to death. There are some indications in the Bible that
was not practiced consistently, but still, that was supposed to be the penalty.
Think about it. Speaking a word in the name of the Lord that the Lord did not
speak? That is taking the Lord’s name in vain, a violation of one of the top
ten commandments. We usually think of taking the Lord’s name in vain as saying
like, OMG! Or Jesus Chr…! But that is a minor offense compared to
false prophecies. When you speak in the name of the Lord, and God did not speak
to you? You speak in the name of the Lord presumptuously? That is much more
in ancient Israel, they were supposed to put someone to death for that. We can’t
do that here. Israel was a theocracy, and we are not. In a theocracy, you can
put someone to death for blasphemy or speaking the Lord’s name in vain. You can’t
do that in a democracy or republic. And personally, I’m glad for that. Because if
we were still living by that standard, I shouldn’t be alive today.
Redemption Is Possible
for scaring you with that talk of the death penalty, but I want you to get this
is serious. And I want you to know redemption is possible. We are not in the
theocracy of ancient Israel, so no one is going to stone you to death or put
you in front of a firing squad. But you are still accountable to God for every careless
or presumptuous word you utter in God’s name (Mat 12:36-37). But redemption is
did not get on stage or broadcast prophecies to the public, but I did say
things to people who came forward in church services seeking a word from God. And
I spoke in the name of the Lord. But looking back, I have to admit I had no
idea if it was the Lord or not. And sometimes, it was clearly not the Lord. How
do I know? Because it did not come to pass, or it led me or others to do the wrong
thing. I know what it is like to hear something and think it is from God and then
find out it wasn’t. It’s a really tough pill to swallow. It will make you
question everything you thought you knew about God. But even though it is scary
as hell, it’s a good thing when you own up to it.
I Spoke Presumptuously Too
used to belong to a church that encouraged people to flow in the gifts of the Spirit
according to 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. Part of your task as a believer, they said,
was to uncover which of those gifts was yours. I felt drawn to gifts of prophecy
and healing. I didn’t know if either of them was for me, but I thought if I didn’t
try, I would never know. I was cautious at first, but with practice I grew bolder.
One time, a young man came forward who I knew pretty well. We were both involved
in the youth ministry of the church. He had just been married, and he was
worried about being able to provide for both him and his wife, and potentially
children down the road, and he said he wanted some security. I could hear the
distress in his voice. I told him something like, “I hear the Lord saying,
security does not come from your job. Security only comes from trusting God. The
Lord will provide.”
the Lord really say that? Or was I just parroting what I had always heard in
the church? “Trust God for your needs. God will provide, no matter what the
circumstances. Jehovah Jireh, the LORD will provide.” To this day, I don’t
know. I do know that even as I said it, I felt like a fraud. I was single. I had
never had to take care of anyone other than myself, and I was barely doing
that. Still, I had money coming in. I knew where it was coming from. I had
security. And whenever it looked like I might lose it, did I say, “That’s okay.
I trust God. God will provide. I’ll be fine.” Oh, no. I was scared spitless (as
in, when you get scared, your mouth gets dry). Who was I to “prophesy” to my
friend, “Don’t worry. Be happy. Trust God”? I didn’t know it for a fact, but it
sure felt like I had spoken in the name of the Lord presumptuously.
didn’t do much prophesying in the church after that. And when I did, I played
it a whole lot safer. I wouldn’t tell people to do things I wasn’t doing myself.
I Wasn’t the Only One
As I saw how people in that church were pursuing the gifts of the Spirit (see 1 Cor 12:1-11 for the full context), I became more and more disillusioned with the whole thing. I saw people prophesying things that did not come true. Not just church leaders, or members who believed they had the gift of prophecy. I’m including the televangelists they held up as being the most anointed people on earth, people like the ones on this “Prophecies for 2020” program. They “prophesied” things “under the anointing” that did not come true. They told people, “Your cancer is gone. Your arthritis is gone. Your MS is gone.” None of it came true. How many times did I go forward to get healed of my Irritable Bowel Syndrome? I can’t even remember. Guess what? Never healed.
himself told us, “And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” (Mat
know you never thought you would be one of those false prophets. Neither did I.
You thought your gift of prophecy was real. So did I. But if you know deep down
you are a fraud, it’s time to come clean. Look at what you prophesied for 2020
and compare that with what is really happening. It doesn’t match. One “prophet”
even said on February 28, it would not become a pandemic. Did you miss the news?
It became a pandemic. You said God doesn’t do anything without first telling
God’s prophets. Why didn’t God give any of you a heads up?
Giving up Too Early?
might be thinking, “The year is not over. The good things I prophesied can
still come to pass.” Maybe so. At some point, we will get control of the
Coronavirus. We will be able to contain it, because of measures like shelter-in-place,
social distancing, and quarantines, and hopefully, because of new medicines and
vaccines. After that, we’ll see people gathering in churches and stadiums
again. When people know it’s safe to go out, not only for themselves but for
their elderly neighbors and relatives as well, they will start shopping and
spending money again. The economy will bounce back when people get back to work.
That’s not the prosperity you prophesied. That’s just the natural order of
things. You don’t get any credit for that. And besides, we don’t know if the
economy will be as strong as before, even after Coronavirus is gone. Some
businesses closed that might never reopen.
are the healings you prophesied? The US now tops the world in number of Coronavirus
cases. We need those healings, and we need them now. Did you claim you were
anointed to heal with the same Spirit that anointed Jesus to go about healing
all who were oppressed of the Devil? Are you going to do like Jesus and go into
New York or California or one of the other hot spots and say, “Let all who are
sick come and be healed in the name of Jesus”? The fact that you’re not doing
that, that you have never done that, speaks volumes to me. If you do that and
have cures medically verified, then whatever I say about false prophets and fake
healers doesn’t apply to you.
The Truth Will Set You Free, But …
if you know you have prophesied things that did not come true, redemption is
possible. I won’t sugarcoat it for you. It will be painful. You know, when
Jesus said, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Joh
8:32 NRS), I think he should have added, “But first it will hurt a lot.” Here’s
what you need to do. 1) Confess; 2) Repent; 3) Get back to basics; 4) Embrace
uncertainty; 5) Focus on the Fruit rather than the Gifts.
If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
(1Jo 1:9 NRS)
will have to confess that you spoke presumptuously. You will have to admit you were
wrong. Not just to God, but to the people who have been watching you in church,
on YouTube, on TV, or whatever. See, I told you it would hurt. But the good
news is God is faithful. If you confess, God will forgive and cleanse you from
all unrighteousness. The people may or may not understand, but you have got to
get right with God before you can minister to them.
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.”
(Mar 1:14-15 NRS)
came to announce the Good News that the kingdom of God has come near. What is the
proper response? Repent. Repent means stop and turn around. Turn away from the
path you are on and follow the way of the Good Shepherd. That means you must
stop prophesying. In fact, you should give up your ministry entirely for a time,
so you can finally unlearn the errors you’ve been preaching.
the Lord called me to preach and prophesy.”
Maybe. But did you or did you not prophesy falsely and presumptuously, even when you were sure it was the voice of the Lord? That shows how spiritually disoriented you’ve become. If you try to preach to people now, you are the blind leading the blind.
When I first started hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit, I was thrilled. I could hear God speaking to me. But then, the truth became unavoidable. That voice that for years I thought was the Holy Spirit within me was something else entirely. Was it the Devil, or was it my own imagination? I don’t know, but either way the result was the same. My whole world crumbled to the ground. But that was when my relationship with God really began. Because I finally learned to follow the truth, wherever it led. Even if I had to let go of some of my most cherished beliefs, I made a commitment to accept the truth.
I don’t care how deeply you feel it, or how sincerely you believe it, or how many Bible verses you quote. If the facts on the ground say it’s not true, it’s not true. We don’t need false prophets speaking from their own imagination, wishful thinking, Bible verses taken out of context, the devil, or whatever they are hearing. We don’t need to hear, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. We need the truth. That is the only thing that will set us free.
I know this hurts. Being a prophet has become part of your identity. It always hurts when we find out we are not what we thought we were. I’ve been there. But how can you effectively minister in the name of the Lord when you yourself are following a voice that is not of the Lord?
I think you should take a sabbatical, so you can get reoriented to the truth. But if you won’t do that, then at least tell the people since you prophesied things that did not come true, you are clearly not qualified to be a prophet. You will preach the Gospel, but you will not be giving any more prophetic words. Furthermore, there will be no more prophetic words in your services or prayer meetings from you or anyone else. There was no judgment in the Bible for not speaking false prophecies, only for speaking them.
people will leave the church. We will lose money.”
Do you remember Jesus saying, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul” (Mar 8:36 NIV)? God does not call ministers to scratch itching ears by telling them what they want to hear. God calls ministers to feed his sheep by making the truth of the Gospel known to them. I was so disoriented I didn’t even know what the Gospel was anymore, which brings me to the next step.
Get Back to Basics
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
(Joh 3:16 NRS)
Luther called this the Gospel in a nutshell. God loved the world so much that
God gave God’s only[-begotten] Son for us. Through Christ, we have eternal
notice, it’s not about health, wealth, success, and making every dream come
true. Nothing about prophecies, healings, miracles, signs, or wonders. It’s
about receiving the gift of eternal life, which means life in relationship with
God. God loves us. That is the Gospel, and Gospel literally means “good news.”
we worthy of that love? Absolutely not. We have all sinned and fallen short of
the glory of God (Rom 3:23). That is the reason God gave his only Son. “But God
proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us”
(Rom 5:8 NRS).
relationship with God is broken because of sin. But Christ died so our sins
could be forgiven, and our relationship with God restored. That is eternal
life. And because our relationship with God has been restored, the kingdom of
God has come near.
eternal life does not just mean we go to heaven when we die, though that is
also part of the good news. Your relationship with God begins in this life and
will continue even after you die.
told it this way to the Corinthians.
“For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.”
(1Co 15:3-4 NRS)
died for our sins. He was buried. He was raised on the third day. All in accordance
with the scriptures. God promised in the scriptures to send a Messiah, who
would bring righteousness and the kingdom of God to this earth. Jesus Christ
was that Messiah, who fulfilled God’s will according to the scriptures. How do
we know? He rose from the dead in accordance with the scriptures. Death did
not end his life, and it will not end ours. Nothing in all creation, not even
death, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:38-39).
are the basics. When was the last time you preached a good sermon on that? You don’t
need any supernatural gifts of the Spirit to share the basics. Get to know them
again before you even think about taking the stage, the microphone, or the pulpit
I first had to face up to the fact that the brand of Christianity I was following
was wrong, I mean, not just wrong but egregiously wrong, I didn’t know what to
do. This scripture came to mind.
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
(Mic 6:8 NRS)
gifts were not working for me, so I thought I had fallen out of favor with God.
I thought God was going to require some great sacrifice, and I didn’t think I
could go through with it. Praise God, I didn’t have to. Just as the angel
stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, the Lord stayed my hand from making one
of the worst mistakes of my life.
wasn’t looking for any great sacrifice to prove how much I loved him. God didn’t
require me to obey every voice that said it was God without testing it first.
God wasn’t blocking gifts or blessings from me because I didn’t instantly obey
the voice I once thought was God but was beginning to question. God did not
want me inventing new doctrines that cause division based on a Bible verse here
or there that I or someone else took out of context.
What does God require of me and you? Do justice. Treat others with love and kindness. Walk humbly with your God. That’s all.
if you are used to thinking of yourself as a prophet, that last one will be the
most difficult. When you thought you were one of the chosen few mouthpieces of God
on earth, you walked with God but not humbly. After my great humbling, I had to
rebuild my faith starting from zero. Certainty was no longer a virtue. It was a
sin. If I was to continue walking with God, I had to completely redefine the
most basic terms for a life of faith, like faith, Gospel, discipleship,
obedience, the Holy Spirit, sin, holiness, the Word of God, salvation, healing,
redemption, the truth, etc. I had to admit I didn’t know what any of those
terms meant anymore, and I was going to have to learn from scratch. My walk with
God was now a limp. I could not even stand in faith without leaning on Jesus. That
may sound scary. You may think you want to avoid that at all costs. Truth is,
if it had been my choice, I wouldn’t have chosen to go through that. But I’m
telling you, that is where I learned what it means to walk humbly with God.
people think faith means being certain about whatever you say. “The Bible says
it. I believe it. That settles it.” Or, “The Lord told me this.” “God told me
that.” “This is the word of the Lord for 2020.” And all the while, God is
saying, “Leave me out of this!”
is confidence or assurance, but it is not certainty. There is no humility in
certainty. You can’t learn and you can’t listen when you are certain of everything.
There is no way we as mortals can know everything, so embrace uncertainty. Try
walking humbly with God for a change.
Focus on the Fruit Rather Than the Gifts
can’t blame anyone for wanting the gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Cor 12:8-10.
Gifts of healing, miracles, prophecy, speaking in tongues, interpretation of
tongues, words of knowledge, words of wisdom, they must have been spectacular
to see. What must it have been like not only to see them, but to wield these
gifts like Peter or Paul? I can only imagine what it would be like to actually
have and use these gifts. The key phrase there is, “I can only imagine.”
though at times I thought I might have some of these gifts, I really never did.
It looked like I would almost get there, but I never quite made it. Over the
years, I have come to doubt whether these gifts really are for the church
today. Maybe they were just for Jesus and the first Apostles, because the
foundation of the church was still being laid.
even if you do believe in these gifts for today, remember Jesus warned us that such
gifts are not in and of themselves proof that the man or woman is of God. “For
false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and
omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Mat 24:24 NRS)
it comes to false prophets, this is what he said. “You will know them by their
fruits” (Mat 7:16 NRS). We need to look for what the Bible calls the fruit of
the Spirit before we accept any signs and omens. What kind of fruit should
we look for?
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.
(Gal 5:22-23 NRS)
you give up on your so-called gift of prophecy, what should you do? Cultivate the
fruit of the Spirit, first in yourself, then in your ministry. They used to
tell me that a church without the gifts of the Spirit had no Holy Spirit and
therefore was dead. Now, when I look for evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence
in a church, I don’t even think about the gifts. I look for the fruit of the
Spirit. When I see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, then I know the Holy Spirit is
present. And where the Spirit of God is, there is life.
life, that is.
Paul’s Lesson about God’s Timing
I’d like to say again if you realize you have prophesied falsely and are
willing to come clean with it, God bless you. I know it takes a lot of courage.
But I want to suggest again that you step down from whatever ministry you are involved
in. I’m speaking from experience. I know how disorienting this is, and you will
need time to rebuild your faith from the ground up.
you won’t listen to me, think about Saul of Tarsus. He persecuted the church
because he was absolutely certain that he was right, they were wrong, and God
was on his side. Then Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus and said, “No,
Saul. You’re the one who’s wrong.” I’m actually paraphrasing, but that’s
the gist of it.
you get how disorienting and humbling that must have been for him? To go from
thinking he was absolutely right because he was standing for God and the
scriptures, to finding out he was absolutely wrong, and God and the scriptures
were not on his side? I have a pretty good idea. How long do you think it took
him after that to go on his first missionary journey? According to some New
Testament timelines I’ve seen, it was about thirteen years. What did he do
during that time? We get a hint of it in 1 Corinthians.
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures …
(1Co 15:3-4 NRS)
this is the Gospel he preached. That Christ died for our sins, he was buried,
and he was raised on the third day, all in accordance with the scriptures. But he
wasn’t one of Jesus’ disciples before his death, so how did he know the Gospel?
Look what he said at the beginning of verse 3. For I handed on to you as of
first importance what I in turn had received.
had to receive the message of the Gospel from the disciples before he could
hand it over to the Corinthians, or to any of the cities he evangelized. After
this verse, he goes on to explain some of the details of how he learned from
them. If he had clung to his certainty that he was right in the face of
overwhelming evidence he was wrong, he never could have learned the good news
that would eventually turn him from Saul of Tarsus to Paul the Apostle.
even though the message of the Gospel was simple, the implications for a man
like Paul were staggering. I think it took him that long to come to a place
where he knew again what he believed, why he believed it, and what that meant
for his life. For him to try to take his place as a minister of the church
before then would have been a mistake. You believe in God’s timing, right? He
followed God’s timing. If he hadn’t, well, who knows? We might never have even heard
of Paul the Apostle.
are a lot of false prophets in the world today, just as Jesus warned us there
would be. Some ministers have taken it upon themselves to expose them. I think
that is important work. I have watched them on YouTube and learned a lot from
them. Some of these false prophets are definitely wolves in sheep’s clothing,
preying on people’s earnest desire to draw closer to God, taking their money in
exchange for words that feel good but hide them from the truth.
However, I know it’s possible some of them honestly believe they are speaking the Rhema words of God. I’ve been there myself. One of the good things that may come out of this crisis is that it is exposing false prophecies.
spoke only what you heard, but what you heard was not from God. You believed it
was. I understand that. You don’t want to admit you were wrong, not only this
time but also in times past, because that would mean the end of your prophetic
ministry. I understand how scary that is. Where I might have sounded harsh, it
was only because I wanted to break through that fear and stubbornness, so you
could see the truth. The truth will set you free, if you accept it. It will
hurt, but it will set you free.
Redemption is possible, if you follow the five steps I laid out for you: confess, repent, get back to basics, embrace uncertainty, and focus on the fruit of the Spirit. I know because I’ve been there. Even if you lose the world, you will find your soul. The false gods must be swept away before we can know the true God.
So, we are still in this Coronavirus crisis. Even though I work at home, not being able to do things I used to do outside the home has given me opportunity in other ways. This post was a rush job. I have been wanting to start a podcast, and I am using this opportunity to get that ready. I think it will be called The God Wrestler. The first series in it will be about faith in a time of Coronavirus.
my silver lining. But even so, I will admit all these Coronavirus restrictions
are a pain in the butt. I’m naturally introverted, so I don’t get out much
anyway. But I always liked knowing I could go out if I wanted to. And sometimes,
I want to. And since I have made mental illness and depression a focus in my
writings, I wanted to say something about how the Coronavirus shutdown can
affect people psychologically, and what you can do about it. In addition to all
the disruption to the economy and normal way of life for most people, Coronavirus
is causing an increase in stress, anxiety, and depression. Some of the reasons cited
is the greatest risk factor for depression and anxiety. Even those of us who
are not quarantined can’t get out as much. Most public gatherings are cancelled.
Where I live, they haven’t enforced lockdowns where I live yet, but schools are
closed. Some businesses have closed voluntarily, and some are limiting
themselves to drive-through and delivery. Social distancing also limits our
interactions. My parents live in Hawaii. The people there are warm and
friendly. You greet friends or family with a hug and sometimes even a kiss on
the cheek. They’ve had to retrain themselves for social distancing. My wife and
I visited my father-in-law and spoke to him through glass. Not that we think we
have it, but just in case one of us picked it up somewhere.
Disruption of routine.
work from home, so this doesn’t affect me as much as many people. But if you
are used to going to work or school every day, and that is taken away—even temporarily—it
is disorienting. Since I work from home, it hasn’t hit me that way. They’re
recommending teleworking, and all my work is teleworking. But I once had a teaching
job. I was overworked and underpaid, but the daily schedule helped provide
structure to my time. There were familiar faces I saw and spoke to. I didn’t
know that was a comfort until I lost it.
Loss of money or business.
many businesses are closed or operating at reduced capacity. That means a lot
of people are laid off and not earning a paycheck. Or profits. The stock market
is down, way down. Losing money is stressful. Sorry for stating the obvious.
don’t know how long it will last. It will get under control at some point. But right
now, there is no cure, no vaccine, and no one can tell us when there will be
any. Each morning, more people are on lockdown or quarantine. Each morning, a
new list of businesses and public services are closed. When will the tide turn
and things begin to get back to normal? No one knows, and that is stressful.
oh yeah, there is the looming spectre of a deadly, contagious disease that has already
infected tens of thousands of people in the US alone, hundreds of thousands all
over the world, and the numbers keep going up.
never fear. Your intrepid mental health blogger is here. Okay, I can’t do anything
about your job or the stock market or the disease itself. Sorry. I tried praying
it away like the preachers I used to watch on TV, but God hasn’t been
forthcoming in that manner. Which is why I say the preachers I used to
watch. To help with issues of depression, stress and anxiety, here are some tips
I gathered from the experts.
Maintain social connections.
may not be able to visit people as often, but you can still call them or
interact on social media. Many experts say social media and technology have
contributed to the rise in depression, anxiety, and polarization in our
society. I should do a post on that. But this time right now is where technology
really can help us maintain connections, so we don’t feel isolated. I’ve used
social media the last few years to keep up with family spread out all over the
state. You can continue to do that. Get on the phone with them. Smart phones
make video phone calls possible with Facetime, Skype, and similar apps. I don’t
use that much myself, but it helps when you’re alone to see a friendly and
familiar face. You can stay connected and still keep up your social distancing.
Don’t just text. Call them.
falls under maintaining social connections, of course. I saw this online from
someone calling themselves Dartagnan. “I talked to an old friend today on the
phone today for about an hour. No texting bullshit, just a real conversation.
Best time I’ve spent all week.”
includes exercise, a proper amount of sleep, nutrition, and proper hygiene. I
guess we’re all thinking more about hygiene to prevent the spread of COVID-19. All
the hand washing and sanitizing. Studies have shown that when people stop
self-care, it’s both a sign of and a contributor to depression.
Stay informed, but don’t overdo it.
watch the news in the morning to see the latest progress of the disease. After about
half an hour to an hour, I’ve gotten everything I can from them, so I turn it
off. It’s important to know what’s happening and what new restrictions are in
place. But dwelling on it will not make you better informed. It will more
likely just make you anxious. And get your information from good news sources,
not social media. Rumors can spread faster than COVID-19, and nothing on SM is
Do something creative.
you been wanting to write a book? Or learn a musical instrument? Or another language?
Or start some hobby? And you are stuck at home and can’t go anywhere? Hello,
here’s an opportunity. I’ve been writing even more since the crisis started. Starting
the podcast I told you about is me taking advantage of the extra time I have on
Prayer, meditation, and mindfulness.
is connecting or communicating with the divine or your higher power, whatever
that means to you. Meditation is focusing on one thing to calm your mind.
Mindfulness is being aware of what is happening around you and inside you,
mentally and emotionally. All three have been scientifically proven to reduce
stress, depression, and anxiety.
Help your neighbors if you’re not sick.
like these, we really need people to remember to love their neighbors as
themselves. One person in Boston left $1000 tip, because they knew it was the
waitress’s last night before she was laid off. My relative offered to do grocery
shopping for her elderly neighbors, because she knows going to public places is
a much greater risk for them than her.
Set a schedule.
admit I’ve never been good at that. I’ve tried, but I just can’t get up at the
same time every morning or go to be the same time every night. I get started
writing, and I can just keep going for hours. That is actually good for my
mental health. But not so good in other ways, like exercising or maintaining a
schedule. But it is one of astronaut Scott Kelly’s recommendations.
Don’t give in to prejudice.
the Coronavirus arrived here, there has been an increase in racist incidents
towards Chinese and Asian-Americans. That needs to stop. Don’t blame your neighbor
for this because of their country of origin, especially when the vast majority
of them were here before the Coronavirus.
Remember why you’re going to all this trouble.
you’re sick of social distancing and staying home except for when you need to
get food or medicine. Maybe you don’t care whether you are putting yourself at
risk. Maybe you are young and healthy and think if you get it, you probably won’t
die. Statistically, you’d be right. But if you don’t practice things like
social distancing, you could spread it to someone not so young and healthy. Starting
at age sixty, chances of death go up significantly. Would you want anyone spreading
it to your parents or grandparents? Or to your brother or sister who is
undergoing cancer treatments? Then don’t take a chance on spreading it to
If you think you need help, here are a few resources you can connect with by
phone or online.
While you are at home more, you might want something read or podcasts to listen to. I let you know at the beginning of this post I’m working on a podcast. I will share details with you. And I have a book out about my experiences with depression and finding faith in the midst of it. You can get it on Amazon, either in ebook or paperback. If depression is a concern for you or someone you love, I encourage you to check it out. And on this page, I recommend books from other authors that I found very helpful.