A Man With A Message

That fern is flourishing, isn’t it? I don’t usually manage to keep them going for more than a few months, but this one seems to be unfurling new fronds every day. Its delicate tracery is an attractive emerald green. I’m pleased to see it sitting there on the kitchen window sill, especially when it catches the early morning sunshine - though that’s been in short supply recently.

Also in short supply are good bookshops, and Christian bookshops in particular. Most of us have to order our books online these days, though it isn’t as rewarding as browsing among the shelves of a real shop. That’s why there’s a large brown parcel on the high chair: my latest purchase has just arrived.

I was reminded of the scarcity of good Christian bookshops when a man approached me in Manchester the other day, and asked for directions to the nearest one.

"There aren’t any, as far as I know.”

"But there must be!”

He didn’t seem to believe me. When he was finally convinced, he fixed his earnest gaze upon me. He had a message for me.

"Then it’s up to you. You need to start one. And it shouldn’t be just a bookshop, it should be somewhere that people can eat and have fellowship together, where they can socialise and seek help and advice if they need it.” 

Was this God’s plan for the next part of my life, coming to me courtesy of a hot line to heaven?

I had my doubts. Why so? Apart from all the obvious reasons, it’s because I’ve encountered so many false prophets and misleading messengers in the past.

Why do so many men believe that their rôle in life is to relay messages from on high to other people, or at least to any person who has the patience to hear them out? Why can’t these messages come to me through His word, when I’m praying, or when we gather together for worship? Mostly, these messages have nothing to do with the will of God; instead, they emanate from the overheated imagination of the messenger, who is often of the “Here am I, send me to tell someone else what to do” variety. 

When you meet one of these messengers, sanctified common sense should be the order of the day.

Watch out for the ones who tell you that God wants you to confess your sins to them (in as much detail as possible, please), citing James 5.16 entirely out of context. Years later, you may find your confessions quoted at length and used in evidence against you. No, that would never happen? It’s happened to me on more than one occasion.

Beware when money is mentioned in the message, especially in a church meeting, and then a finger is pointed at one person after another. You think you’re safe, but then: “And you! You need to sell your expensive car” (a second-hand Ford Fiesta, as it happened) “and run an old banger instead, and give the money to the church!” My wife looked up and, without a trace of irony, asked, “Would it be all right if we paid for it first?” Again, a text out of context may be thrown in for good measure, from somewhere such as the end of Acts 2. Find out where your money will really end up before you part with any of it.

Have you ever had someone turn up on your doorstep and announce that they have been praying for your family and God has revealed to them that your desperately sick relative is about to make a miraculous recovery? Yes, it has happened to us; and no, they did not recover. So, the messenger was mistaken. Does it really matter all that much? One day it will: Galatians 6.7.

Here’s one that hasn’t happened to me, but I’ve heard of it often enough: the man who tells a woman that the Holy Spirit has revealed to him that she has married the wrong man, a person who is not part of God’s plan for her life, and therefore she is free to leave her husband and to marry him because, after all, God is a God of love who wants all of His children to find fulfilment in their relationships above all else, and… And so on. See Matthew 19.1-12, in context and with a good commentary. “Yes, but it isn’t as cut and dried as all that! Moses said…Rabbi Hillel…Rabbi Shammai…married to an unbeliever…desertion clause…unequally yoked...judge not…Westminster Confession Of Faith…our Church Constitution...plank out of own eye… no better than a Pharisee…” 

As has often been observed, people will believe what they want to believe, so that they can do what they want to do.

If you’re wondering what you can do to protect yourself from men (and women) who come bearing messages that sound authentically inspired but are in fact just the opposite, may I suggest two steps to take?

One. Visit the Living Waters website, where you will find an article by Ray Comfort entitled “Save Yourself Some Pain.” Give it serious consideration.

Two. Become a good Berean (Acts 17.10-15): “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” If only I’d done this earlier on in my Christian life. 

Well, better late than never, which brings me back to the large brown parcel in the photo above. I wonder whether you can hazard a guess as to what it contains? Answer next time, and some more on Christian manliness, I trust - again, something I need to know much more about.

To be continued.