Two Norths

There’s true north and magnetic north. Metaphorically speaking, one will orient you correctly and the other will drive you crazy. As the earth’s axis wobbles, magnetic north–the point that corresponds with the pole–changes with the planet. True north is found by locating Polaris (the north star) and going from there. As a Christian, there are two sources of truth, or “truth”. One would lead you astray, though. It’s a matter of getting to know God well enough to be able to tell which is which.

“Am I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?” (Galatians 4:16)

Paul asks this questions of the Galatians, who had come to take a works-based approach to appropriating the grace of God. That’s a succinct synopsis, but when a child of God doesn’t realize what he or she possesses by virtue of simply being that (a child of God with a lifeline to Heaven), they’re bound to take counsel and advice and understanding and wisdom (quote, unquote) from any source other than the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is the spirit of truth. As an aside, what does it mean in Revelation (3:1) when it refers to “the seven Spirits of God”? In the same verse it also makes mention of “the seven stars”. Interesting.

“Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of Him that calleth you.” (Galatians 5:8)

While “Two North” refers to the mental health ward in a hospital, “Three North” is the suicide watch. It’s bad enough having to choose between black and white and be blind. But a bevy of options and the confusions that ensue are enough to make one want to quit.

I believe God makes intelligent people. If you have an inkling of common sense, I believe God will use that. And that He’ll require you to use it before He steps in and labels things correctly that you were unaware of. We can go through a lot of this life by the seat of our pants. But to really integrate into the deep will of God, we necessarily will need to bring more and more of our mind to Him to ensure that the thoughts we think, from their earliest induction to whatever blossoms out as a result, is colored with His truth. I know of no better way to do this than to delve into His word. Isaiah 26:3 says “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee.”

The key there is trust. Paul says in 2 Corinthians (5:7) “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” Indicating that because we believe in–and know–God, there comes along with this, tomes of information that, as we walk with Him, are worked out behind the scenes. God is always doing things. He wants as many people as possible to know Jesus. And in turn know He and the Holy Spirit. That’s the simple and overarching plan. It brings glory to Him. But the details? The details are worked out by angels and us. And they are inscrutably and mind-bendingly complex. In light of this, when we come up against a piece of information, however small, that is untrue, it is akin to a piece of grit designed to stop the entire machinery of God’s plan for your life. This is why Jesus says “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:14) You can be one of them. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you, to orient you to true north. All these lies. One truth.

In closing, this passage from Proverbs exemplifies a good starting attitude for the…requisitioning of God’s truth (and truths) for your life.

“Surely I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man. I neither learned wisdom, nor have the knowledge of the holy. Who hath ascended up into Heaven, or descended? Who hath gathered the wind in His fists? Who hath bound the waters in a garment? Who hath established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His son’s name, if thou canst tell? Every word of God is pure: He is a shield unto them that put their trust in Him. Add thou not unto His words, lest He reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.” (30:2-6)

Taking Point

All that jargon you hear about shooting for the moon and following your dreams and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps–far from being cliched and powerless–is actually true. But maybe not in the way it’s been presented to the masses.

I’ll explain.

Anytime someone looks at the world and begins to realize, not only that they’re just one among many, but also that the world is more vast than they can comprehend and take in at once, I think they take one of two roads or reactions. Granted, there’s an infinite number of life choices that people make and each one is colored by their inherent temperament (which can also change–more on that in the future), but each one of those choices leads to one outcome–or the other. Namely, the betterment of all those “other people” that you realized existed on the playground. Or obversely, and conversely, through neglect and apathy, their forsaking by you. Optimistic and believing and hopeful and pragmatic? Yes. Go for it. This plays out in the smallest ways and as Jesus says “he (or she) that is faithful in little is faithful in much” (Luke 16:10). Pessimistic, sullen, doubtful and ultimately cynical? God help you. Because this plays out in the smallest ways as well and affects on the same level as the opposite temperament. I have every reason to hate, hate certain people that are walking the earth today. And yet, how can I hate someone that Jesus Himself has forgiven? If He can forgive the people who nailed Him to the cross (Luke 23:34), citing their ignorance, how can I expel the raw energy of my life through a filter of hate and unforgiveness toward individual(s) who’ve done far less than martyr me? “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” (Hebrews 12:4)

Our response to the hardships of life dictates the formation of us as a person.

Rewinding to the past, to our formative years where we began to realize there were other people out there is the starting point for my ultimate point. Just because there is an innumerable (not really; about 7 billion) number of people out there doesn’t mean that you’re not the one to deal with the problem. You. I don’t see anyone else around here, I must be talkin’ to you. Any other realm of life in which we take the high road out of problems by saying “I’ll just let someone else deal with it”, is seen as cheap, lowbrow and detrimental. Then what about in God’s Kingdom?

I have a question for you: do you think you see the issues of the day because you’re simply perspicacious and perceptive enough to perceive it? It’s God who is letting you see it, much in the same way that He let Isaiah eavesdrop on His conversation. “Who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8). Isaiah raised his hand. I won’t mention any specific issues here because there are too many. The first one that bubbled up in your mind upon reading the opening sentence of this paragraph is the one I’m referring to. Did you know that you’re the one to deal with that before the Lord? Surely you’re familiar with the phrase “many are called but few are chosen”. That’s from the Bible–here’s the reference: Matthew 22:14. And here’s a simple illustration that might help demystify and shed the connotations of destiny and fate and all that pie-in-the-sky nonsense: imagine you were in an auditorium with a whole bunch of other people and the speaker (in this case God) called out to the audience for some volunteers, not mentioning what it was He needed them for. And you and, say, a tenth of the remaining crowd (how sad) raised their hands and were then called to come up to the podium… That’s it. Yes, God called you to do something. Raise your hand (or hands), it’s as simple as that. All the direction and drive and content you need is there–or will be once you operate on the things you already know.

This might sound like too simplified and simplistic a way of dealing with the seemingly insurmountable social problems of our day: poverty, abuse, greed, apathy and complacency. But I’m telling you, it’s wrong not to see yourself–with God’s help–being able to tackle it all yourself if need be. We limit God by not utilizing our imaginations and then applying our faith and our intelligence to see them become reality.

It starts with prayer.

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.

National Resurrection

“Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.” (Proverbs 14:34)

Whether you believe in God or not, the fact that you have the freedom to believe or the freedom to doubt is integral to the fabric of this nation. Ten years ago that fabric hung, tattered and knotted as we struggled in disbelief at the attacks on the East Coast. I watched from my TV, having just come back home from delivering a missed customer on my paper route. It took a long time to process what I saw and still some of the details are hazy. Like the New York skyline for weeks following.

Did God cause it to happen? Absolutely not. But I believe He was powerless to prevent it.

As it says in Proverbs (16:7), “if our ways please the Lord, He’ll cause our enemies to be at peace with us”. The pundits, preachers, poets, priests and politicians (thank you, Sting) pointed at this sin and that “sin” and blamed each other. Conspiracy theories littered the landscape like detritus from the war of ideologies. And yet, following this tack, it was indeed an inside job. Inside our hearts and minds we shut God out. All of the apathy and hate and ingratitude rising to heaven, we sacrificed compassion and conscience for hate and hedonism and as such the door was left open for the enemy. We paid the price. And as Ed Roland (of Collective Soul, in an unrelated song;10 Years Later) sings: “it’s 10 years later and still I haven’t a clue”. I see today, the same apathetic attitude we were infected with a decade ago.

God’s forgiveness is still extant and extravagant. Love, as Peter says (1 Peter 4:8), covers a multitude of sins. Any outward, behavioral sin, “a reproach to any people” (again, Proverbs 14:34), begins—towards God (Psalms 51:4)—in the heart and mind. So, too, do the virtues. A lukewarm heart, veneered over with rudimentary morality isn’t going to last. Let us turn to God again and let Him heal our nation (2 Chronicles 7:14). We need to “put aside the alienation” as Rush sang in Limelight. Only when we renew our minds (Romans 12:1-2) to the truths in God’s word will we experience real healing and prosperity. And freedom. From sin, violence and apathy. His love, mercy and grace will help us if we ask.

“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)