The Basics Of Conditional Prophecy

Prophecy in the Bible is one of the most misunderstood genres. It is popular to view prophecy as an exercise in predicting the future. People will try to decipher all of the hidden meanings in Daniel, Revelation, or some other book. But the purpose of Biblical prophecy was typically focused on transforming the original audience into who God wanted them to be.

Let's look at a few Bible stories to see how prophecy worked.

Jonah went to Nineveh and prophesied that God would destroy their city in forty days. The people of Nineveh responded by believing in God, fasting, and repenting. The story goes on to say, "When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it" (Jonah 3:10 ESV). God relented from his prophetic declaration to destroy the city because the people changed.

Or another story.

When the Israelites built the Golden Calf, God told Moses that He was going to unleash His wrath on the Israelites and consume them. Moses responded by pleading with the Lord: "Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people"(Exodus 32:12 ESV). The story continues, "And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people"(Exodus 32:14 ESV). The Lord once again relented from a disaster that He declared He would bring about. This time, the punishment was averted by the prayers of a righteous man and not the repentance of the people, but there is no way to get around the prophetic declaration of the Lord did not happen.

And another story.

Jeremiah went to the rulers of the house of Judah at the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim and gave a prophecy that actually showed them and shows us how prophecies from God actually work. There is an explicit condition stated in this prophesy unlike the unspoken condition we saw in the two previous stories. Jeremiah proclaimed to them, "Mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will relent of the disaster that he has pronounced against you" (Jeremiah 26:13 ESV). God overtly told them that He would not inflict the punishment that He pronounced on them if they would change, turn back to Him, and obey Him. They were not destined to the fate of the prophesied disaster of being conquered by Babylon. God followed His initial prophecy of punishment with a prophecy of hope.

This statement of hope is an unspoken idea that is contained within every prophecy of punishment. God always responds graciously to sincere repentance.

With this in mind, the way we view prophecy throughout Scripture should change. The purpose of prophecy is not for us to get hung up on the future predicting nature of prophecies. That exercise leads to massive speculation and fruitlessness. We need to focus on the life-changing nature of prophecies.

Jonah was sent to declare God's wrath on Nineveh so that they would repent and begin to follow God. Jeremiah did the same with the royal court of Judah; however, they did not repent and they were inflicted with the prophesied punishment. Both prophecies had a conditional nature to them. Prophecies need to be viewed as instructional messages from God.

We could say that God's prophecy of punishment on the Israelites at the time of the Golden Calf and the Ninevites during the time of Jonah were failed prophecies because the declared punishment didn't occur. But they were actually successful prophecies because they brought about repentance.

The failed prophecy is the one that actually happened. Jeremiah prophesied punishment upon Judah if they didn't obey God. The goal was obedience, not punishment, yet they remained rebellious and received the prophesied punishment. This was a failed prophecy. Not because the events predicted came about but because the word of Jeremiah did not bring about faithfulness.

God's plan doesn't change, but the path to His plan adjusts based upon the faithfulness or faithlessness of people. Who will He use? Who will He punish? Will He relent His disaster? Will He unleash His blessings?

Which brings me to a question to ponder. Will I turn to God, be faithful, obey Him, and let Him use me to bring about His will?

Will you?

Toward An Extraordinary Normal

Soren Kierkegaard, a 19th century Danish Christian, wrote a parable entitled Tame Geese: A Revivalistic Meditation. It is the story of a community of talking geese who would gather together on Sundays for their religious services. At the gathering, the geese would hear a message telling them what an amazing work the Creator wanted to do through them. Not only did the Creator give them a great goal, but he provided them with wings to fly and accomplish the goal. The geese were made to fly. The preacher proclaimed the goose-changing message Sunday after Sunday. Yet after hearing the message, the geese would all get out of their seats and waddle home. Waddle throughout the week. They would live their lives waddling despite having been made to fly. Kierkegaard concluded the story with the phrase, “Man also has wings.” Yet we continue to waddle.

What if, instead of waddling, we were determined to be the people that God wanted us to be?

In his first letter to the church in Thessalonica, Paul gives some practical advice on how to do just that.

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:12-24 ESV).

That's a lot of stuff to do. Now, I can't put these things to work in your life. You must do it. You must be determined to respect your church leaders. You must be determined to be at peace with others. You must be determined to encourage the idle, help the weak, and be patient with everyone. You must be determined to never repay evil with evil but to always do good. You must be determined to rejoice. You must be determined to pray without ceasing and never quench the spirit. You must be determined to be thankful in all situation. To avoid evil.

You must be determined, but God, who is faithful will surely match your determination and do His work in you.

Some argue that people who share my viewpoint emphasize our part in this process too much. How much of a role do we really play in being holy and how much of our holiness is given to us by God? I don't know the answer, nor do I think wasting too much time thinking about that answer is useful. What I do know is that we play a part. Paul spent a whole section saying all the things that we must do. And then He followed it up with, "God will do it."

God doesn't  need me to encourage Him to do what He should be doing. When I write an article, I don't need to convince God that he needs to make you holy. I need to convince you to be determined to pursue the life God is calling you to no matter what the cost because God is already doing that work in you. You just have to take hold of it and be determined and willing. The holiness God wants you to live in is right here ready for you to grasp.

Paul directs us in what we need to be determined in. We need to be people determined to be free from sin and determined to do the work of the Lord. "That's impossible," you say. I can't be free from sin. I can't do the superprojects that God wants done. And I can hear the whisper of God in response, "All you have to do is want it." Or as Paul wrote, "He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it."

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "That which we persist in doing becomes easier - not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do has increased."

In Jesus, we see that the extraordinary can become ordinary. We just have to know the life He wants us to live is possible. All we have to do is look around to see extraordinary people living in ways that are completely ordinary to them. Likewise, we need to be determined to bring the life of Jesus forward into our normal, everyday lives. To be free from sin as much as possible. To be His hands and feet to those around us. To change our world.


One of my best friends, Mike Fabian, who is a pastor outside of Detroit, told me a story about the summer before his junior year in college. Mike was on camp teams that summer for Great Lakes Christian College. Camp teams go from church camp to church camp all summer long, representing the college. He was also planning on playing soccer again in the fall. Before the summer started out, the coach warned the team that the first practice in the fall would be a two-mile run and everyone would need to finish the run in under twelve minutes if they wanted to play. My friend Mike had never even ran a six minute mile in his life. Let alone two six minute miles in a row. Even in tiptop shape, his legs, because he has cerebral palsy, just won't let him do it.

So Mike approached the coach after the announcement, and the coach told Mike, "You have to want it." Mike replied, "No matter how much I want it, my legs just won't let me have it." The coach repeated, "You have to want it."

Fearing failure and not being able to play on the soccer team that he loved, Mike set some goals for himself over the summer. He was determined to achieve what he thought was an impossible goal and woke up early every morning before camp to run. On the weekends, he ran the actual two-mile course he would have to run in the fall. He ran and ran and ran all summer long. He even timed myself. He wanted it. But he still could not run the two miles fast enough.

The first day of practice came. The day of the run. Coach gathered the team together and said, "Hopefully, you guys have been training all summer for this. Here you go. You got to want it." Mike was going to give it his all. He wanted to be on the soccer team and would run his heart out. He ran as hard as he could for two miles and even sprinted the last quarter mile. He wanted it.

As he came around the final turn, his teammates were clapping. They were cheering. Coach was encouraging, "Want it! Want it, Fabian!" Mike ran harder and harder.  As he finished, his time was called out - and remember, he had to run it in under twelve minutes. "14:23."

Under fifteen minutes for two miles is Mike's personal best to this day, but it wasn't under the twelve minutes that it needed to be for Mike to make the team. He was really disappointed. He put his hands on his dropped head, breathed heavily in his slumped chest, and walked away. And then threw up. He really wanted it. And he didn't achieve his goal.

Coach blew the whistle and called the team in. He said. "This season - if we are going to succeed, you gotta want it." Then he continued and said something that Mike will never forget. "You have to want it like Fabian wants it. No one ran harder than he did." Mike was second to last that morning, but coach used him as an example of someone who wanted it because, despite his limitation, he gave it his all. He was determined. He prepared. He worked hard. He left everything he had on that run. He wanted it. He made the team!

Determination doesn't mean you will succeed. Mike showed determination, yet he failed. Determination means that you will try your hardest. It means that you will work toward it even if you can't accomplish it.

We need to introduce a little crazy determination back into our faith.

Determined to live out the life of Jesus, ShaneClaiborne has moved into the inner city of Philadelphia and lives among the poor.  Also determined to live out the life of Jesus, other lesser known, yet just as faithful, brothers and sisters in Jesus live with him.

Determined to live out the life of Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr. stood up against racism in our nation.  Also determined to live out the life of Jesus, many others marched with him.

Determined to live out the life of Jesus, Milton Bates, a pattern maker at General Motors, after seeing disaster strike Bangladesh in 1972, started International Disaster Emergency Service, which has been helping around the States and around the world when disasters strike. 

Determined to live out the life of Jesus, Mother Theresa moved to Calcutta to help the poor.

Determined to live out the life of Jesus, Millard Fuller, in 1976, started Habitat for Humanity and since then, Habitat, with the help of many other determined volunteers, has built over 400,000 homes.

Determined to live out the life of Jesus, a group of people from this area started a place to help kids in need. This place we know as the WoodburnChristian Children's Home. Since it started forty-one years ago, hundreds of lives have been made better because of the determination of a few who decided they were going to live out the life of Jesus.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV)

Martin Luther on Genuine, Authentic Worship

An excerpt from a sermon that Martin Luther preached on Christmas day in the early 1500s.  I share it today because it amazes how relevant a message preached nearly 500 years ago can seem today.
See to it that you do not find pleasure in the Gospel only as a history, for that is only transient; neither regard it only as an example, for it is of no value without faith; but see to it that you make the birth of Jesus your own and that Christ be born in you…This is our foundation and inheritance, upon which good works must be built.

If we claim to be Jesus’, have, by faith, been cleansed through him, and have received our inheritance without any personal merit, but only through the love of God who gives to us as our own, the treasure and work of his Son, then it follows that we will do good works by doing to our neighbors as Christ has done for us…What are the good works of Christ?  Is it not true that they are good because they have been done for our benefit, for God’s sake, who commanded him to do the works for our benefit?  In this then Christ was obedient to the Father, in that he loved and served us.

Therefore, since we have received enough and become rich, we have no other commandment than to serve Christ and render obedience to him, to direct our works so that they may be of benefit to our neighbor, just as the works of Christ are of benefit and use to us.  To explain this, Jesus said at the Lord’s Supper, “This is my commandment, that you love one another even as I have loved you (John 13:34).  Here it is seen that he loved us and did every thing for our benefit, in order that we may do the same, not to him, for he needs it not, but to our neighbor; this is his commandment and this is our obedience…as Christ helps us so we in return help our neighbor, and all have enough.

But we can see around us how far some have gone astray who have united good works with stone, wood, clothing, eating and drinking.  Of what benefit is it to your neighbor if you build a church entirely of gold?  Of what benefit to him is the frequent ringing of great church bells?  Of what benefit to him is the glitter and the ceremonies in the churches, the priests’ gowns, the sanctuary, the silver pictures and vessels?  Of what benefit to him are the many candles and much incense.  Of what benefit to him is the chanting and mumbling, the singing of vigils and masses?  Do you think that God will permit himself to be paid with the sound of bells, the smoke of candles, the glitter of gold and such fancies?  He has commanded none of these, but if you see your neighbor going astray, sinning, or suffering in body or soul, you are to leave everything else and at once help him in every way in your power and if you can do no more, help him with words of comfort and prayer.  For Christ has done the same for us and given an example for us to follow.
These are the two things in which a Christian is to exercise himself, the one that he draws Christ into himself, and that by faith he makes him his own, appropriates to himself the treasures of Christ and confidently builds upon them; the other that he becomes a servant to his neighbor and lets his neighbor share in that which he has received, even as he shares in the treasures of Christ.  He who does not exercise himself in these two things will receive no benefit even if he should fast unto death, suffer torture or even give his body to be burned, and were able to do all miracle, as Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 13.

Church. Local.

A few years back I wrote an article called Out of Town Church'in. In it, I tried to encourage people to go to church in the community they live in. From the comments that I received regarding it, I think it was the most unpopular article I have ever written. And looking around my town, I don't think it worked on too many people. So this time I am going to try to make the point in a more proactive and even more offensive way. Offensive only in that I am going to more adamantly state a truth that is offensive in the hope that some of you reading this will start going to church in the community you live in.

You need to go to church in the town you live in.

The church needs that. And if you claim to be a Christian, you should be concerned about what the church needs. You spiritual life, whether you recognize it or not, needs that.

If the purpose of going to church is for you to be entertained or for you to enjoy the best programs, then by all means, find the best church and drive to another town to go to it. Churches with better programs and a slicker presentation are out there.

Maybe you go to an out-of-town church because you grew up in that church, your family goes there, or you went to that church when you previously lived in that town. I understand all of those reasons, but the truth is that you moved. You moved. You chose to move, so switch churches to a local one. The town you live in now needs you to go to church in it. And your spiritual life needs you to live in close proximity with the Christians you worship, study, pray, and serve with.

Church is not something you go to. At its heart, church is all about relationships. It's something you are when you have given your life over to Jesus and are in relationships with brothers and sisters in Him. Church is about loving your neighbors and your community. Those things won’t be done in the community you live in if a lot of the Christians go to churches outside of that community.

Because that out-of-town church with the nice programs, your family, the proper doctrines, or the charismatic preacher won't help the community you live in. They aren't focused on reaching your community for Jesus. They're focused, like they should be, on reaching the community they have been placed in for Jesus. See how it works. A church works to reach the community it is in, and you work through a church to also reach the community you are in.

Now, I understand that you can be all-out crazy in ministering to the community you live in when you go to church in another town, but I don’t see that happening much. I don’t see any of the larger churches that pull people from other towns investing money ministering back to people not in their town.

I agree that churches in communities outside of your town have better preachers. That’s nothing against the preachers in your town, but there are always better speakers out there. I agree that churches outside of your town can provide better programs for your children although I am sure that the churches in your town all try their best with what they have to fill that need. I agree that churches outside of your town have better facilities, but I don't really think facilities are something that we should be all that worried about.

None of those reasons are good enough reasons for a person to go to church outside of your town. This is true if you live in my town of Antwerp. It's also true in Payne, in Paulding, Woodburn, and New Haven. Wherever you live, it is important to go to church in that town. Antwerp needs Antwerp Christians to be the church in Antwerp if the people in Antwerp are going to see Jesus through its churches. The Christians in your town need to be involved in ministering to your town if your town is going to be reached for Jesus. The good churches from other towns aren’t going to be interested in ministering to your town. And we aren’t going to be the recipients of missionaries from overseas to minister to our towns. The missionaries for our towns are you and me.

What I hope to convince you of is that God intends for you - your time, your energy, your sweat, your passion, your prayers - to be part of His plan in ministering to the town you live in. God brings His will into our reality through people like you and me.

The people in your community need Christians loving them through the churches in your community. You are an important part of that because the church is only people who are in relationship with one another under the Lordship of Jesus. That is how the Kingdom of God grows. Please, go to church where you live. It's better for you. It's better for God's kingdom. It's better for your town. It really is better all around.