Imperially Imperiled

Listen to a bit of what Paul went through when He lived out his life in service to God:

“In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.” (2 Corinthians 11:26-27)

And David: “If I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there.” (Psalm 139:8b)

Can I say that I’ve even experienced a tenth of what they went through? Absolutely not. Really, I’m in no position to compare myself to anyone, let alone Paul or David. It’s taken years to undo that grasping paradigm of peer-oriented centeredness. And I thank God for it. But I know that if I truly submit to God’s leading for my life, the road may indeed get rocky and bumpy and strewn with roadblocks and potholes. Smooth sailing (driving, whatever) may very well be a sign that I’m on the wrong track.

Look at any culture the world over, from time immemorial. The slow slide to decadence and ruin begins with a glut of blessing for which there is not commensurate response in gratitude and worship and service.

“My brethren (and sisters), these things ought not so to be.” (James 3:10)

One of the most poignant quotes that I’ve made my own says something to the effect, “don’t seek out suffering, but don’t reject it.” I’m sure I could find the person to give them proper credit for the quote, but (no offense) as applied to the Christian, it should go without saying. God does not call us to be spiritual masochists, enjoying pain for its own sake. Jesus, it says, “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2, emphasis mine). If we sought out suffering, that would mean that we knew what it took to make us into…what? What we think we should be? Isn’t that the thing that Jesus puts His finger on when He recreates us? That. (He points to our pride, our me-centeredness.) Give that to me. There are areas, and there always will be, in me that need to be turned over to Him for evaluation. Am I saying that I’m a follower of Christ, but not submitting to Him that which He’d desire to see? Of course He sees it, but He needs me to do it willfully. Then again, if I approach Him, thinking the worst, that all He wants to do is make me suffer, I have a highly skewed concept of just who Jesus is. “Don’t reject suffering, but don’t seek it out.”

“He hath shewed thee, O man (and woman!) what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.” (Micah 6:8)

If obeying any of those three things spoken of in Micah takes us through the perils of Paul, the dungeons of David, the suffering of Jesus, or even hell itself, God promises that He’ll be with us. That’s the key of suffering. That’s the lesson to be learned through any hardship. Forget the pain, forget the torment, you won’t even “smell of fire” (Daniel 3:28). The test (and the answer) of any hardship is to know Jesus through it. For when you submit to the difficulties, you are well equipped to help others for whom “sin lieth at the door” (Genesis 4:7). This is axiom. And this is what Paul was trying to say to the Corinthians. He’d been tested and he passed. He was too humble to say it without adding the caveat “(I speak as a fool)” (2 Corinthians 11:23), because it wasn’t about the suffering, it’s about you. And God.

“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29)

“When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.” (Isaiah 43:2)

Advertisements

Open to interpretation? Part 5 Body’s in motion and at rest.

Christians, as one, are the Body of Christ. Many people disagree that God the Father has a body, but I believe He does. And Jesus has a physical body (Luke 24:39). But the Holy Spirit does not. I refer to the Holy Spirit with a male pronoun. Where the King James translates Him as “It[self]” in Romans (8:26), I don’t think it was as precise as it could’ve been. He is truly without gender but that doesn’t mean He’s an “It”; He’s a person, like you and I, in that He’s a Spirit. It’s understandable that it might be difficult to wrap your mind around the concept of a bodiless entity without size and shape and with no means of discerning outside of a humble and believing heart. Jesus said the “world does not see Him” (John 14:17). God will help you, but (within reason) there might be some preconceived notions that need tweaking or shelving. I say “within reason” because by the same logic, anything that we invent by imagination could exist. But were not talking philosophy, we’re talking Christianity.

As Christians are the Body of Christ in a figurative sense, then the Holy Spirit is like the blood that flows within and gives life to every member. Jesus, when speaking of the Holy Spirit, said to His disciples that He (the Holy Spirit) was with them, and shall be in them (again, John 14:17). Prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection, I don’t think it was possible for those who believed in God to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit. But there are exceptions (Daniel, David). When Jesus said that He would be in them, does this refer to the Holy Spirit’s descent at Pentecost? Sure. But what do you think about this: could it be that we receive a portion of the Holy Spirit upon salvation but that we could always have more? David (Old Testament, I know) said that “his cup runneth over” (Psalm 23:5) The river is always flowing. (Revelation 22:1)

An interesting event takes place in Acts, chapter 19. Paul is on his way to Ephesus and he comes upon some believers who, it says, hadn’t even heard of the Holy Spirit. After a question and answer session regarding their original baptism, Paul lays his hands on them and baptizes them in the name of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit that was in Paul comes into them. They immediately began speaking in tongues (verse 6).

This story illustrates that there are different ways of receiving the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. By direct contact with another human. Or directly from God, as in chapter 2.

However God chooses, if you’re willing and press on in faith, He will see to it that you get all that is rightfully yours, in Him. “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:12)

I suppose that the reason I feel so passionately about this is because of a particular corollary. It seems that our church is immured—hemmed in, kept down—by the world’s standard of expression and interaction. When society becomes intolerant of any expression of “religion” and seeks to keep it out of the public square, then we as a country will eventually cease to exist. Alexis de Tocqueville (French statesman and novelist), when he toured the country during the 1800s, praised the open expression of religion in our public square. By the same token, Alexander Solzhenitsyn (a Russian author and Nobel prizewinner), touring the country a hundred years later was booed by his Harvard audience for expressing the same sentiment. The church is seen in many circles as powerless and feckless. Jesus said that we’d receive “power” after we received the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). There’s a disconnect somewhere and it’s not God’s fault…

“Brethren, these things ought not so to be” (James 3:10). When we sideline and ignore the Holy Spirit, how then, as in Mark’s Gospel (16:20), will He be able to “work with us, confirming the Word with signs and wonders following”? (see also Hebrews 2:4) One of those “signs and wonders” is the gift of tongues and interpretations. Pray about it, wrestle with it. Where can we go from here? How can we, as a church body, return to the simplicity and power of our spiritual forbears in Acts? Acknowledge the Holy Spirit. He’s just as much God as Jesus and the Father.

And “forbid not to speak with tongues.” (1 Corinthians 14:39)

Open to interpretation? Part 4 A Spiritual Entelechy

The definition of entelechy—pronounced “intelli-key”—is not too far a cry from the definition of its pronunciation. Forgive my wordplay and circular definition here. An entelechy is like an epiphany. An entelechy happens when you begin to see something, for yourself, as more than just someone’s opinion. You see it as necessary, integral. Actual as opposed to optional. Do you see where I’m going with this? For the Believer, it means that God has opened your eyes. Somewhere in the near or distant past, you humbled yourself and as it says in 1 Peter (5:6), God exalted you. “He gives grace—His ability, His sight, His insight—to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).

I say all of that to say this: The default state of a Christian should be one of humility and meekness, or teachability. Gratitude and worship, yes. But without humility and meekness, those actions can be hollow and insincere. And if we are truly humble, then God can show us what we don’t know. That’s what my Dad says: “God is always showing us what we don’t know”. Keep this in mind as we move on.

Regarding praying in tongues, the most common comment coming from one who does not consider the gifts of the Spirit is that “it’s not for today”. I hear this from believers. Christians.

I don’t know how that could be. Maybe some elaboration is in order? Tell me when, in the 2000+ year history of Christianity, did this gift cease to be not only given, but needed? Are things any better now than they were in the time of the reformation? What about first century Asia Minor? Are we as effective a cohesive body as they were? (the modern Chinese house-church movement is) When did the gift of tongues, let alone any gift that has made itself scarce in our modern, conservative churches, become obsolete? I have a feeling that this is just someone’s opinion. Wouldn’t the fifty-year moral and social decline in this country be enough to cause us to cry out to God for anything that we could be missing?

I firmly believe that God never dares anyone to do anything. So if you’ve ever felt like you’ve been forced to do something out of pressure or torment or threat, I can assure you that it’s not God. He doesn’t work that way. He’s gentle, oh so gentle. The key to experiencing all that God has and wants to give us is to be willing. “How shall He not with Him (Jesus) also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) Are we even willing to be willing? If you’re not sure but you’re open, then God will lead you. Spend time in prayer and worship. Fast if need be and it doesn’t have to be from food. The Holy Spirit will let you know. And if the gift of tongues is for today—and I believe it is—then God will make sure you get it. Just don’t let doubt turn into unbelief. Because unbelief is sin. God can only do so much when someone is an unbelieving believer. Does this make sense?

Another way to define entelechy is to see the Body of Christ become “endued” with this “power from on high.” (Luke 24:49) But didn’t that already happen on Pentecost? It did (Acts 2:2-4). So now it’s up to us to seek it out anew. Did we just misplace it? How do you misplace the Holy Spirit?

I’ll wrap this up tomorrow.

Open to interpretation? Part 2 A word is worth a thousand words

A couple of watchwords before we begin:

1. Let all things be done decently and in order. (1 Corinthians 14:40)
2. Let all things be done unto edifying. (1 Corinthians 14:26)

With these two maxims in place, I believe we can proceed.

Paul makes an incisive declaration prior to both of these statements. It applies first to number one and ultimately to both. In verse nineteen, he says that he would rather speak five words with his understanding (i.e. native tongue) than ten-thousand words in an unknown tongue. Here, we see his desire, as a good teacher, for the…fluid cognition, and subsequent peace of mind and heart, of his students, his parishioners. And as we all are learning everyday what it means to walk in the spirit (Galatians 5:16), Paul takes care to include, not alienate, someone who’s understanding of spiritual matters is inchoate—in it’s infancy.

And this is the point of the second watchword (14:26). Even before we get into the mechanics of the gifts of the Spirit to the church (1 Corinthians 12:28), we must back up to the first verse of the previous chapter, chapter thirteen. Paul opens by saying that anything of this sort (prophecy, tongues, wisdom and revelation) must, must be done out of a motive of love. And a motive of love—true love for God, for others and for ourselves—includes the auspices of decency, order (14:40), and intention for edification (14:26). Paul seems to bookend the topic of love (as enumerated in chapter 13) with a universal discussion of spiritual gifts (chapter 12) and specifically with the gift of tongues (chapter 14), indicating that love is (literally) to be the focus (and locus) of all of this stuff. Because it’s just stuff when divorced from love.
But this doesn’t mean that we are then to sideline this topic and dismiss it altogether. Paul says that he desired for everyone to speak in tongues (14:5). A bold statement, no?

Moving forward, a common opinion regarding tongues is that it applies only to the languages spoken on this earth. This comes especially in handy say, when you have a missionary to a foreign mission field who needs to understand and in turn be understood. I’ve heard stories in my current church and others, of this taking place and yes, it is edifying. But it doesn’t stop there. It’s foolish of us, as Christians to not consider this fact: God’s native tongue is not English. How could it be? I’ll pause to let that “sink down into your ears” (Luke 9:44). The first verse of 1 Corinthians 13 speaks of “the tongues of angels”. Elsewhere, Paul refers to “unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Corinthians 12:4). That word “lawful” means “possible”. Paul, when he was “taken up to the third Heaven” (12:2), heard words that he couldn’t take back with him to earth. In other words, the language of Heaven is something altogether different than the 6,000+ languages of earth.

When my Dad accepted Jesus in the Winter of 1968, he purposed to learn everything he could about God. The son of a doctor and a nurse, the analytical questioning gene lives on in him and according to him, anything good that God had provided, from Jesus on (Romans 8:32), was his for the asking. Why not? “Seek and ye shall find” (Luke 11:9). If I truly want to be sold out to God, then I should be willing to go where God would lead me (Romans 8:14) and learn what He’d teach me.

My prayer is that we would keep an open mind and heart about these (seemingly) obscure spiritual matters and shelve outmoded and preconceived notions that are anything less than edifying.

Thank you for reading. More tomorrow!

Open to Interpretation? Part 1

I’m going to put this topic on the table. If you agree with my assessments, great, though I’m not looking for agreement. If you disagree, feel free to comment and tell me why. I’m looking on one hand for clarification and on the other to clear up the confusion surrounding this issue. I don’t know how long it’s going to take to hammer and iron out the fine points of this, but I do know that this is the first post of many regarding this issue.

The issue in question is praying in tongues or praying in the spirit as it’s often referred to. I was turned onto the concept by my dad (a former Pastor, with a varied denominational background) when I was in my early teens and have been observing both the practice of it (in various churches) as well as perceptions about it—Christian and non—since that time.

I will open by saying that I believe that it is a valid, even necessary, albeit largely neglected, aspect to the Christian walk.
My dad learned of it himself in a small church in Michigan in the late sixties. Prior to that, the gift can be traced back to Jerusalem, to a little room where it was “delivered to the saints” during the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4), about three months after Jesus ascended into Heaven (Luke 24:51) refers to it many times in his letters to the early churches in Asia Minor and it will be his thoughts from which I draw for the bulk of my reference. If you’re a Christian, then you’ve probably heard all of the verses in circulation and already know arguments for or against it, whether or not your church practices praying in tongues. But! If you’re not a Christian, something this odd-sounding would necessarily have to be predicated by a belief in God’s existence. And secondly, by Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. So if praying in an unknown or largely indecipherable tongue sounds like gibberish and nonsense to you (without even having heard it for yourself), then how much more would your belief in God’s existence, or lack thereof, color your opinion about this topic?

“Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40).

Moving forward, praying in tongues is linguistically classified under two types. The first being xenoglossia, literally meaning “foreign tongue”. This type refers to the spontaneous acquisition of a language other than by one’s native tongue. Other than the language that we have cognitively accrued and assembled through our years of interacting with our family and our society. The second is glossolalia which is a series of syllables and sounds unidentifiable with any spoken language on this earth and unintelligible to the hearer (without an interpreter, of course). As I have personally experienced only the latter, it’s this type that I will be writing and opining on throughout this series.

One of the main aims of this blog is to address—and hopefully heal—the divisions within our church and subsequently, our world. And as this is (in my opinion) one of the most divisive topics within the Body of Christ, it would have to have been addressed and examined sooner or later.

To be continued.

Watershed or Waterloo?

What do the setbacks of our lives mean? I’ll tell you what they mean. They mean God loves you enough to forestall your “forward” progress to ensure that you’re getting closer to Him.

I can’t answer specifically for anyone. I will attempt, however, to qualify setbacks, disappointments and defeats under two categories:

• Watersheds: Also known as turning points, epiphanies, Aha!/eureka moments, etc.

• Waterloos: Crushing defeats (though not really if you’re still alive).

As God sees everything we don’t, we’d do well to realize that any setback we face is an opportunity to pause and pray. Any endeavor worth its salt is bound to encounter opposition. This is true in the world’s system as well as in the church. It’s important that we slow down and see that, whatever it is that God is doing or wants to do in our life is undergirded by prayer, praise and worship. This way, any setback you encounter will end up strengthening the project as a whole. And as God is the one “with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:13), we know that we’re on His time schedule. Areas of blindness in ourselves and others can only be revealed through waiting. Setbacks.

Watersheds come when God says “friend, come up higher” (Luke 14:10). God’s call on your life is entering the next phase and yet, there are things that you were blind to. Through it all you remained humble before God and now He’s ready to reveal things about your life and call that you weren’t aware of before. What’s really strange is when God shows you something that was there that you didn’t even think to look for. Watersheds. Your life is then qualified, not only by God, but by “before” and “after”. Stay humble.

Waterloo: Historically, the sight of Napoleon’s ultimate defeat. Prior to that, he had announced in a fit of pride and arrogance that he himself was God. And you know that God wasn’t going to allow that. There’s only one God. We’d do well to remember this too. Our gifts and callings are “without repentance” (Romans 11:29). This means that our talents and dreams will play out even without God’s involvement. Should you run up against defeat in an area of your life where maybe you weren’t enthroning Jesus as Lord, then stop and pray. Repent for making a god out of the task or project or even yourself. Humble yourself before Him and ask Him to take over whatever area is in question. God “works all things together for our good if we love Him and are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Personally, I wouldn’t want any endeavor to succeed that was not “according to His purpose”.

Setbacks are not meant to make us ultimately give up, just to give up control to God.

What do you say of it?

I don’t know whether to admire the French for quantifying such an abstract concept and ratifying it into their vernacular or to be dismayed and concerned. The concept in question is called ‘le qu’en dira-t-on’ and it literally means “What will they say of it?”. This posturing attitude infects all of French society. Sure, we Americans have a similar thing. Something that’s a cross between keeping up with the Joneses and simple peer pressure. But it seems to me that if you were ever to bring this up in our public square you’d meet with either lip service or thinly-veiled derision.

Let’s change the game. Stop playing it. We need to give a good example to the French—and the rest of the world while we’re at it. We need to stop doing things for the muse and correct our motives.

What will they say of it? I don’t care. What does God say? (Jeremiah 29:11; Isaiah 55:9)

(Merci to my friend Josh for turning me on to this)