January 1 is a time for new starts, new beginnings, and life changes. It’s a new year and a new page. Everyone does this, but there is also a phenomenon we see in certain Christian circles where any number of people prophesy a “new word” for 2019.
Most of the time they are very encouraging, I very rarely see words of correction such as calls for repentance and fasting. I suppose those giving the words would not gain many followers, social media shares, or donations if they said things of that sort. After all, many of the Biblical prophets were imprisoned and killed.
It’s also interesting to me that there is no qualification of to “whom” the word is given. After all, a word of “double anointing” or “rapid breakthrough” can’t be for every person. Is it for the writer’s church, their community, or their state? If the “great wealth transfer” that is so frequently mentioned happens, those it is transferred from won’t see it as a positive thing.
There is a lot of life that goes on: obstacles, hindrances, and struggles. Jesus’s prophecy to Peter was that he would end his life in chains. (John 21:18-19) I’d like to see how that one would go over on social media and how many followers Jesus would get.
I guess what I’m saying is that if we want to draw near to God, to follow in His footsteps, and to clearly hear His voice . . . Are we ready, as Habakkuk was, to hear whatever God is saying to us regardless if it is a correction, a reproof, or a promise?
I’m not writing today to tell you that I have a Word from God for you. If you want that, pick up your Bible or open your YouVersion app, and spend some time in prayer.
I am writing about what God has been saying to me. It seems to me that while God speaks to us individually, He also has groups of people going through similar seasons at the same time. We are never alone in our walk. If what I write resonates with you, view it as a confirmation . . . And welcome to the party. We’ll go through this together.
2018 and the Closing of a Season
Sunday, the last day of the year, was a head’s up. I had a dream in which I was told the season, the period I had been in, ended on December 31st and I was to tell others what God had done. This thing was, I wasn’t actually sure at first what that was.
Then, in Bible study, as we begin as a church our one-year chronological reading through the Bible, the message the pastor gave was, “God is writing something new and fresh. What is the story God is writing in your life today?”
Learn the Lesson Before You Have to Be Taught Again
So I had to think about it. What did I learn in the past year? If a season has closed and there is a new beginning . . . What do I say that God has done for me?
I thought back to how we began 2018 . . . We went camping. I really don’t know why, but I thought it would be a different way to spend New Year’s, out in nature. We made plans, reserved a camping spot, invited friends . . . And then a cold front came in turning our balmy Houston weather into close-to-freezing temperatures.
All the friends bailed, but we decided we were still going to go. After all, people go camping in cold weather all the time. It’s doable. I researching cold weather camping and told my girls to pack warm: bring hats, gloves, coats, clothes to layer, and warm shoes. They’ve grown up in Texas. They do not know what real cold is like.
We got up to Huntsville State Park and my idea was to set up the tent inside the shelter because I thought it would help retain heat against the wind. My daughter did not want to do that. She insisted that we set the tent up on the bank by the lake. So we did.
It was cold. It literally got down to freezing. I had my big coat, gloves, a hat, and boots. I grew up in Oregon, I know how to do cold. But one of my daughters, the same one who wanted the tent out in the wind, was cold. Why? Because she didn’t listen to me when I told her what to bring. She had on a sweatshirt rather than a jacket. She didn’t bring a hat, and she wore socks with jandals, not even tennis shoes, but jandals.,
I don’t regret going, but it wasn’t the most fun camping trip because they spent most of the time in the tent with the heater wrapped up in blankets because they weren’t prepared. They weren’t prepared because they didn’t follow my instructions for what to bring. Not listening had consequences.
A Time of Obstruction
When I look back over the year, I have to say it was a time of obstruction. I won’t get into all the details, but my oldest daughter who graduated last year called her senior year the “worst year of her life,” we had so many stressful family situations. It was one of those times when you get hit with so much at once, that you know you are experiencing spiritual warfare . . It’s either that or the world has just gone crazy.
I recently came across a video by Derek Prince who said that in his experience, your spiritual walk is a series of plateau’s and cliffs. You will be going along, thinking you have it all figured out, and then you come to a cliff you have to climb for God to take you to the next level. It is a struggle and a fight to get there. That definitely describes the last year.
A pastor once said that in our walk, we will at times be on the mountaintop and at others in a valley, but that it is in the valleys that you really deepen your relationship with God. I guess that is part of what frustrates me when I read what people present as “prophetic promises” that ignore the valley experience. Maybe the person giving it has experienced the valley and, like David, is proclaiming their mountaintop, but they are often given without a context to people where the hearers are unfamiliar with the giver’s experience.
So what did I learn from that? I learned that in spite of the circumstances, you keep going, you keep pushing through. One step at a time, even if that step seemed to be mired in the mud and it doesn’t seem like you are making any progress at all. Keep going.
I learned that when lions roar, you roar louder. When obstacles and hindrances close in and threaten to squeeze the life out of you, you say, “I will not die, but live and proclaim the work of the Lord.” (Psalm 118:17) When doubts and darkness whisper and try to pull your thoughts into the Slough of Despond, you praise God and say, “I would have fainted unless I believed I would see the goodness of God in the land of the Living.” (Psalm 27:13)
Whenever a situation comes that is not in line with what God says, you proclaim what God says until the circumstances come in line with it. Believe and trust God more than circumstance. This is what I learned and what I know, truly walking in this is still a process.
Listening to God’s Voice
The big lesson I learned in 2018 is one that ties together the two above: the importance of listening and persisting in the path God shows.
When God led Israel to the Promised Land, he presented them with a choice, an “if” and a “then.” If they followed His voice, he would bless them in everything that they did. They would prosper in all their ways. But if not they would be cursed.
God’s blessing for us is on the path he has planned for us. If we aren’t going where He has told us to go, we can’t expect the blessings He has promised.
Some people think that this referred to the written law, the 613 commands given in the Torah, but that isn’t it. The condition is if we listen to His voice. When the Israelites lost the Battle of Ai, it wasn’t because they had transgressed the Torah, it was because one person disobeyed the instructions given specifically regarding the possessions taken at Jericho. (Joshua 7) The man of God who was killed by a lion did not come to a bad end because there was something written at Sinai that he disobeyed. It was because he disobeyed the word God gave to him personally for that specific mission.
We are in the Lord’s Army, and we have to continue to obey orders and the instructions He gives us.
The promise is in following His voice. What is God saying to you today?
A Pure Heart
This is the problem. In the past year, there were serious issues where I needed guidance, but it didn’t seem like I was getting it. God often speaks to me in my dreams. In the past, I have received very explicit directions in my dreams. So much so, that I have realized that I have put too much dependence on that source of communication instead of listening in the moment. But for much of the year, my dreams were either blocked or those I could remember were dark dreams that seemed to be warnings.
The thing I have learned from this is to take these dreams as a call for intercession, pray for protection, etc.
In the middle of that, when God seemed silent, I learned to dig deeper in. To shake off the wrong perspective that clouded my vision, I went back and read through the Psalms. I went through a period of intense seeking and reflection. (My devotions during this time will be released later this year.)
It wasn’t an instant fix. I didn’t have an angel visit me in a dream or a flood of revelation, but light began to break. It was little by little.
As I sought after God, God drew near to me and I began to hear His voice and know that it was His.
And this goes back to the lesson for this year. My first post on this site in 2018 was “When Good Intentions Aren’t Enough.” It is about how we can intend to do the right thing, and still end up wrong.
This leads me to the big lesson.
A few months ago, I told the story of the drama with our local school board. There are many areas where I think the light needs to shine in our district and where justice is long overdue. There are many issues, and it is very hard for me to view anything they do with anything other than skepticism.
The latest ethical challenge, or at least the one I am hearing about the most right now, is the misrepresentation of a board member’s education on the district site.
Why does this matter? School board members are asked to be on the board of directors for local organizations, they are invited to speak at events, and to be on committees for organizations as well as local and state governments. In the past, our particular district has been a pathway to higher elected office.
The trustee bio on the district web site is essentially an open resume. This promotion is paid for by taxpayer resources. One would think that something represented on public school district site would actually be true.
So what is the misrepresentation? Back in August, the district changed a trustee’s bio page adding “Dr.” In front of their name. A community member inquired about the reason for this. After a long series of emails, with resistance to actually disclose the verification of the degree, it turned out that the trustee had been given an honorary doctorate from an unaccredited religious school.
The status of the school is a separate issue. If you haven’t followed the educational landscape over the past twenty years, different states have different requirements for schools of higher education. However, if a school is religious in nature there is very little oversight or scrutiny. A school can choose to apply for accreditation to verify the validity and rigor of its program, but it is voluntary. However, those schools can only grant religious degrees.
For example, I could start a “university” tomorrow, slap up a web site, and start granting degrees calling them anything I wanted, as long as those degrees had to do with religion. Are degrees from those sort of schools worth anything? That’s debatable. Colleges and universities that go through the very arduous and expensive process of accreditation are not likely to accept degrees from one of these school. They consider those degrees “bogus” and not up to academic standards.
However, I have noticed that the average person doesn’t question where someone got their degree. If a person claims they have an advanced degree, their words are given more weight . . . bogus degree or not. I have seen people with degrees from one of these degree mills make absolutely false claims about church history and foundational errors in the basics of the Christian faith, but they are given credibility by their listeners as experts because they have “Dr.” In front of their name . . . even though the degree is not worth the paper it is printed on.
This is a serious issue in the church, but this is separate from our district’s misrepresentation.
Regardless of the status of the school granting the honorary degree, “Dr.” Is never used by the recipient of an honorary degree. The granting institution uses it in their communications to the grantee, but that is the only time it is used. The title “Dr.” Is only used by those who have an earned degree, someone who has spent the time, money, and tears along with years of research in their area of focus. An honorary degree is simply an award.
If someone hasn’t spent time in higher education, they may not know this. But Christians should be more aware of the issue because it has been a very hot topic in the past year because of Ravi Zacharias’s use of the title without having an earned degree. RZIM finally conceded that the use wasn’t appropriate and revised Zacharias’s bio information.
You see this a lot among different church leaders, the use of “Dr.” after receiving an honorary degree. I would like to think that the people involved just don’t know any better.
But when it comes to a school district, an entity whose sole purpose is education, you can’t call it ignorance. If our school district is really led by people who either don’t know or have no respect for the difference between an honorary and an earned doctorate, then that is just pathetic.
So far, that is what they are claiming. The community member pointed out that it wasn’t appropriate. The district has paid outside attorneys to defend leaving the title up there. They say that there is “no law” against using “Dr.” For an honorary degree.
Let’s just assume for a minute that there is no law, but there is a thing called “ethics.” Something with which our district seems to be completely unfamiliar.
Also, falsely stating your academic achievements, which includes claiming fictitious or “substandard” degrees is actually a crime in Texas, it is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a $2,000 fine. The Texas legislature obviously considers the validity of claimed credentials a serious matter.
The Lesson from Jonah
What does this all have to do with God’s lesson for me this past year?
I’ve been getting updates on the status of the complaint against the district: two formal grievances and at least one with the state. A few weeks ago, I felt like God was telling me to send an email to the trustee and encourage him to have his bio page corrected. Matthew 18:15-17 came to my mind. The Trustee makes sure people know about his church membership and I do actually believe that he is a Christian. If you have an issue with another Christian, you first go to them and try to have it resolved. I felt like I was supposed to give him a chance to make it right.
But I reasoned against it, I thought, “ that’s not God. It’s just in my head.” He’s had plenty of opportunities to correct it in the past four months and the other person did send him an email in the very beginning with no response. What was my email going to do?
The next week, I received an update that a note of the honorary doctorate was added to his bio, but the title was still there. This for me was confirmation that it was actually God’s voice telling me to contact him. If I had sent an email when directed, would he have corrected it?
But still, I waited.
I realized that I did not really want him to fix it. I want the district to leave it as is and get slammed with an ethics complaint and look like complete fools. I think they’re shady and I want them exposed.
I am Jonah.
God told Jonah to go to Ninevah, to confront them with their wrongdoing and tell them to repent. What did Jonah do? He went the opposite direction, brought danger to those around him, and it wasn’t until he was at the brink of death that Jonah repented and called out to God. He then did what he was told to do in the first place and went to Ninevah.
What happened? Jonah was one of the few “successful” prophets recorded in the Bible. Nineveh repented. They fasted and prayed and turned back to God . . . And Jonah was mad. He gave the message and hightailed it out of the city to sit on a hill and watch its destruction.
He did what he was told, but he did not want them to be saved and restored. He complained to God about his mercy and forbearance. He griped because the tree that gave him shade died. God told him:
“You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. 11 But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?” Jonah 4:10-11 NLT
And that’s the end of the book. We don’t know what happened to Jonah after that. He isn’t mentioned in other books other than Jesus’s reference to the sign of Jonah that he would be in the grave for three days and three nights. (Matthew 12:39, 16:4)
God turned the heart of Ninevah through Jonah, but did Ninevah end up changing Jonah’s heart? We don’t know.
But I don’t want to be a miserable, griping, and petty person like Jonah, one who has to be pushed to the brink before I do God’s will.
I want to not only hear God’s voice clearly, but be quick to follow it, and I realized that will take a change of heart. I want justice, and God is just, but he also wants to extend mercy . . . And that takes grace. If I have God’s heart, I should want what He wants . . . for people to be restored to Him.
My 2018 New Year’s post pointed to the lesson I would learn this past year, good intentions aren’t enough. We can intend well and still end up on the wrong path. Obedience is the key.
On to the Next Chapter
So what happened? I sent the email to no response. Nothing on the district’s part has changed.
But when I sent it, things changed for me. The day I sent it, I began to have good dreams again plus visions. God’s voice was more clear, specific things in the moment such as: pray for this person, send this card, stop at this store, etc. I’m not responsible for fixing the whole mess, I’m just accountable to what God told me to do.
My word for 2019 is straight pathways, step-by-step, just what He tells me to do.
 One of the issues Ravi Zacharias was called on was the misrepresentation of other areas of his qualifications, such as being a “lecturer” at Cambridge and being unclear about which degrees were earned and which were honorary. I’ve seen other Christians who have done this as well.
Why do this? Why try to puff up your education to be more than it is? Yes, you may fool some people, but to those who actually know how it works . . . You just end up looking like a schmuck.
But it’s not only you that you are making look like a fool, but you also make Christians as a whole look like complete hypocrites who have no respect or value for education. Why feed that stereotype?
I would like to point out that the person who held Zacharias’s feet to the fire to correct his bio was an atheist. Zacharias’s education inflation had been talked about for years in Christian circles, no one did anything.
But guess what? Zacharias first attracted the atheist’s notice because of a comment he made about the early dating of Daniel. He said, “If what Zacharias said was true, I would have to reassess everything I believed.” He found scholarship that contested the traditional dating of Daniel (You can get“ scholarship”that will “contest anything, there are people who say that Jesus didn’t exist.) Then he came across Zacharias’s misrepresented credentials.
That RZIM fought so hard against accurate representation was a bad witness. It also allowed the atheist an easy out instead of more fully exploring the dating of Daniel because if Zacharias would misrepresent something so simple as his education, then why should he be trusted on something that requires more examination?