Tuesday, March 22, 2016

My personal experience with prophecy

For a period of years that started in 1998, I was an ordinary member of a fairly conventional Pentecostal church. There was a problem, however. While I had seen and heard numerous charismatic manifestations of various kinds--some of them real beyond any doubt--and personally spoke in tongues and was familiar with words of knowledge, I saw no evidence that any of these manifestations, tongues included, were intended by God as "evidence" of anything about the person through whom they were manifested. In fact, I had privately spoken in tongues many years before anyone suggested to me that doing so was "evidence" of an "experience" separate from salvation, the "Baptism of the Holy Ghost," as traditional Pentecostals insist that it is. I had not started experiencing it as such, so to follow the party line of what was then my church would have required reinterpreting my experience to fit their collective experience--which seemed an odd thing for a group that depends on a personal experience to be asking me to do (it seemed to insist on a logical fallacy, or maybe this fallacy or maybe this fallacy). At least, to ask me to reinterpret my own experience to fit their doctrine, they should have been able to give me a good scriptural basis to do so. I was never able to find one. Moreover, it was during this same era that not a few big-name Pentecostal and Charismatic "stars," people whose "ministries" boasted healings and miracles, publicly and dramatically "fell into sin." So there was an obvious disconnect between the doctrine that manifestation of gifts of the Holy Spirit, particularly tongues, are "evidence" of spiritual superiority, and what I could see in my own life, among leaders, and in Scripture. It was during this time period that I wrote the first version of what has now become "The Miraculous Clear and Present," which has since been edited, modified and clarified by my good friend Jonathan Brickman.

This was the state of my knowledge and life experience, so far as the gifts and working of the Holy Spirit were concerned, in the summer of 2000. Many questions, few answers, but I was at least looking for answers in the right place--the Scriptures--and asking God to show me the truth. I had read, and re-read, the major passages on the subject--I Corinthians 12-14, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and the Book of Acts--many times, and the early version of "The Miraculous Clear and Present" was the result. At the same time, sometime in mid-2000, I took particular note of the following verses from I Corinthians 14:

Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. 2 For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. 3 But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. 4 One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. 5 Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy... 12 So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church... 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you... 39 Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues.

In what may have been my naivete, I read these references as saying that, while glossolalia is a legitimate manifestation of the Holy Spirit that has its proper place, I should really desire, and ask, to prophesy. So, in the summer of 2000 I started praying that God would give me prophecy, even though my understanding of what that prayer meant was very incomplete.

Beware what you ask God for--particularly if it is something he says he wants you to have! By this, I don't mean that God punished me for what I asked. God doesn't punish his children for coming to him with requests, even if they are wrong requests, and leaving it to him to answer--though in his mercy he may deny wrongly motivated requests. James 4:1. But my request was rightly motivated, and was for something he said I should desire, so the answer was--frighteningly--"yes." The first message I was given, during a meeting, and immediately later reduced to writing, was a simple and reassuring one, "God says: Trust me with the frightening future." The second one, however, was a frightful warning, which I pondered carefully, reduced to writing, and posted on the Internet on October 8, 2000 as "A warning against idolatry."

For those who don't remember the time period just before the 2000 elections in the United States, it was an economic boom time, the end of the dot com boom. My message was that we had long since come to trust in our booming economy, government and social institutions too much--so much that we forgot God. Unless the Church repented of this idolatry, God was going to bring a collapse. That collapse came two months later, in December 2000, and has been continuing, with brief periods of apparent recovery, ever since. The economy has never recovered close to the October 2000 level, and, in America, good jobs and the middle class have been steadily disappearing, and the poor increasing and getting poorer. As I predicted, the social "safety net" has been collapsing. And it is still up to the Church to reverse this, by repenting of its idolatrous dependence on human institutions ahead of God. However, the collapse of the whole human structure was not instantaneous and has not been continuous or generally rapid (though there have been a few rapid falls), and this illustrates something about negative prophecies in general: negative prophecies are, generally, calls for repentance and are conditional. I have not been by any means the only person who has called for repentance in the last 15 years, and, in the years since the December 2000 economic downturn, parts of the Western Church have been progressively repenting. So chastisement has been moderated by repentance, though the trend has still been downward.

In 2001, I included "God says: Trust me with the frightening future: and "A warning against idolatry" in a larger collection of unpublished works I registered with the Copyright Office. (At that time works published only on the Internet were considered "unpublished.") The Copyright Office's date stamp on my copyright application for this collection is very significant--September 10, 2001. We all know what happened the next day...

The next small burst of specifically predictive prophecy came about a month after 9-11. I qualify this as specifically predictive prophecy because my understanding of the nature of prophecy has changed since then--God was working with me where he found me, as he usually does. This burst of predictive prophecy came in the form of a group of short pieces which I first read aloud and then posted on a GeoCities web site in early October 2001. They remained on the GeoCities web site until Yahoo disbanded the GeoCities platform a few years later. In the interim, I had included them in another unpublished copyright packet in 2003. Though they are no longer online (I did not re-post them when GeoCities went out of business), I still have copies available for verification. One of these documents pertained to Osama bin Laden, and connected him in part to the previous warning. The specific prediction it made was that, although the then-current President, George W. Bush, would do his best to eliminate bin Laden, he would fail to do so. Instead, God would remove bin Laden in his own time. Subsequent events confirmed this prediction--although President Bush devoted considerable resources to eliminating bin Laden, the honor(?) of bringing about his death went to President Bush's successor, President Barack Obama. The second document in the set pertained to Mohammed Omar, who at the time was the head of the Taliban government of Afghanistan. It stated that, unlike bin Laden, Mullah Omar was being given time to repent. Subsequent events showed that, though Mullah Omar was deposed from office by American forces in October 2001, he died of natural causes(mainly tuberculosis) in 2013, and was never either captured or killed by American or allied forces. The third message in this set was to President Bush. It encouraged him to resist the pressure that would be brought upon him after 9-11 to muzzle (either suddenly or gradually) non-Islamic religious voices in the U.S., in order to keep the peace with our Islamic allies in the war against Al-Qaeda. President Bush--who likely was unaware of my website--actually did resist these pressures. But I do note that, for reasons mostly causally unrelated to pressures from our Islamic allies--mainly the continued growth of an antiseptic legal and social secularism throughout the period--Christian expression in many areas of public life has been becoming legally, economically and socially more dangerous over the last 15 years. At the same time, the expression of Islam, a protected "minority" religion, has been becoming easier, so the results are the similar to those I foresaw, just with a different mediate cause. (The difference is that the present environment equally favors all other-than-Christian minority faiths, not just Islam; second to Islam, Buddhism is showing particularly robust growth.)

Up to this point, God had been answering my request essentially as I understood it, even though my understanding of it was less than half correct. I still had a picture of prophecy that focused on prediction, with prediction used to focus moral teaching, and this had been what God had given me. I am now convinced that his purpose in giving me these predictions was, in part, to frighten me, or, at least to give me great respect for what he was doing. The predictions above were frightening--and now, in retrospect, appear even more frightening because of their accuracy. Surely I was to understand, and I did come to understand, that prophecy is very serious business, not a toy to be used to gain notoriety. Also, like tongues and the other manifestations of I Corinthians 12 spiritual activities or "gifts," prophecy is NOT intended as evidence of greater personal spirituality, or as a divine endorsement of the life of the speaker. I can say this from experience--in the 2000-2001 time period, in many ways, my life was a mess. Still, when I asked for prophecy, God used me. All of these spiritual manifestations are given by the Holy Spirit, for his own purposes, for the common good of all believers, as the Spirit wills (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).

But God's course with my naive request for prophecy was, and is, not yet finished. After the trio of predictions in October 2001, God started in earnest to change my concept of prophecy. In fact, in prophecy, God is speaking forth his Word, applying it to his people exactly where they are. Prediction of the future is only a fairly minor aspect of this work of God, despite the popular focus on prediction as "prophecy." The essence of prophecy isn't foretelling but forthtelling, providing an understanding of what God is doing, and this understanding will generally come from the Scriptures, his written Word, and will involve being able to understand or even in a sense visualize the pattern of what he is doing in the world. All of these elements are visible even in "God says: Trust me with the frightening future," and "A warning against idolatry,"and became even more prominent in my post-2002 postings on Christian-oneness.org.

It was also in this 2000-2001 period that I started seeing one of the major patterns in my own life. I had known for some years that I often "saw" things differently than those around me. This was first brought fully to my attention during my sophomore year in college, through my lab partner in Organic Chemistry. Debbie was actually very intelligent--the last time I had any knowledge of what she was doing, she was a medical school professor. But, like most students in Organic Chemistry, she had trouble with the stereochemistry (i.e., how compounds and reaction processes are oriented in space) of some orientation-specific types of reactions. I had no trouble with this, because I could "see" the reactions occurring in my mind's eye. However, when I tried to explain these reactions to Debbie using the pictures I was "seeing," she was totally baffled, and I then came to realize that I was "seeing" things others couldn't even imagine. In general, I have always "seen" such broad pictures--whether they are pictures of chemical processes, pictures of the shape of the universe (it's a truncated section of a fluted four-dimensional hypercone with a real time axis), or the shape of history. It was in 2001 that a psychiatrist gave me a name for this unusual way of seeing--it is an aspect of Asperger's Disorder. That led to a period of questioning whether God had made a mistake with me. The answer to that question is "no," God made no mistake. (In fact, he never does). He gave me a natural developmental "disorder" (by the world's standards) that precisely fitted me for the work he had for me. All I needed to do was to submit to his control--this is his most consistent message to me.

The elements of forthtelling and of seeing patterns in scripture and in the world became completely dominant when Lauston Stephens and I published a book, Our Oneness in Christ, in December 2006. The portions of Our Oneness in Christ that I wrote, except for my last chapter (Chapter 14), strictly draw two conclusions from Scripture (1) that all believers in Christ are in fact one Body, despite the divisions we create, and that our divisions only harm us and rob us of our effectiveness--they do not actually divide us into many separate bodies, because it is Christ who has made us one--and (2) that we will demonstrate this real unity to the world only as we, individually, submit to our true head, Jesus Christ. Chapter 14 then made some historical observations supporting the thesis, based on a broad view of secular and Church history (again, a matter of visualization of broad patterns), that all of the lasting visible divisions in the Body of Christ have arisen from neglecting the true Head of the Church to indulge in politics--though sometimes through internal Church politics, more often the through the interactions of church organizations with secular politics. Over the years since 2006, with more study and more time with God, I have come to realize my treatment of some of the topics in the original 2006 Our Oneness in Christ,--particularly Chapter 14--though accurate, was too cursory and lacked rigor. So I am presently revising my chapters of the book. I will soon be posting on this blog my outline for the revision of Chapter 14, for which I will be inviting and encouraging comments.

Be watching for this outline!