Every Type, Every Stripe

“All nations whom Thou hast made shall come and worship before Thee, O Lord; and shall glorify Thy name. For Thou art great, and doest wondrous things: Thou art God alone.” (Psalm 86:9-10) Every type.

People the world over experience God in different ways. Even those in your local or home church have things going on in their lives in which God is working in ways that are foreign to your understanding. His ways. His means.

Jesus speaks to the deep places in the human. It transcends language. It supercedes cultural borders, societal labels, even gender types and roles. We are all human beings with spirits, alive or dead. And this is what Jesus touches on first and foremost.

“And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under Heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galileans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites (essentially Iran), and the dwellers in Mesopotamia (Iraq), and in Judea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia (Asia Minor), in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene (Northern Africa), and strangers of Rome, Jews and Proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this?” (Acts 2:5-12)

Don’t doubt…

I find it somewhat disconcerting to read this passage and sense the dissonance among the body of Christ in America. And maybe I’m not viewing the situation through the right lens. If I’m not “believ[ing] all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7), then I’m not looking with love. But if there were any country that exemplified the melting pot of Jerusalem (everyone present was there to observe the Jewish festival of Pentecost) in the above passage, it’s America. And I’m not trying to tie this country to prophecy or come across as patriotic. What I am saying is that we, we have an obligation and also the auspices necessary to see this atmosphere come back around in our time. Our place. Look for the opportunities that present themselves (really, it’s God presenting them to you) in your locale. While there may not be a varied cultural ethos where I live, I do so love meeting people from all over the world. The odd individual who hails from Germany, Poland, Australia, Korea, Tunisia, etc. Their attitude is so refreshing to encounter merely because of its difference. They laugh at the foibles inherent in American mores and in turn describe where we are more laid back. Each one, though, created by God and each fulfilling their role in the majestic tapestry that makes up His world.

“He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things.” (Ephesians 4:10)

A citizen of the world, Jesus seems to be a busy person. Much has been written and told of visitations from the Lord of Creation—from across the globe. Those who have had personal encounters with Him wherever they may be. He seems to have been constantly on the move during His three-year itinerant ministry. But while He is “set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2), who’s to say that He doesn’t get up now and again to stretch His legs and tour the globe? Food for thought. And just as the gift of tongues was exhibited during Pentecost, it would necessarily be lived through Him as He called and culled from every nation and every tongue, garnering a body of believers that are humble, hungry and seeking the truth. By the way, it’s the Holy Spirit who makes any and all of this possible.

“And suddenly there came a sound from Heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.” (Acts 2:2, speaking of the Holy Spirit)

The stateside mission field is “white already to harvest” (John 4:35). Jesus speaking of the bumper crop of people who are ready to hear the good news of His Gospel. An ironic statement, too, as the whole point here is that it’s not just about “white” people. Or black. Or any other race. It’s about the human being on a global scale. Every type. Made possible by the life, death and resurrection of just one man. “Who in his own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” His stripes, eh? Every stripe.

“And He said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel…” (Mark 16:15)

Your world, wherever that may be.

Yay! The Deep Things of God.

*ahem* I mean, “yea, the deep things of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:10)

“But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11, emphasis mine)

I don’t know about you, but the notion that there are things to this life and our existence therein that are above and beyond our capacity to understand fills me with both excitement and wonder. Things like dreams and interpretations. Visions and prophecy and tongues. Spiritual gifts that are ours for the asking. That is, if our heart is right before God.

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9)

Daniel (2:22) says that “He revealeth the deep and secret things: He knoweth what is in darkness, and the light dwelleth with Him.” Daniel was uniquely blessed with the ability to interpret dreams. Nebuchadnezzar speaking to Daniel regarding a particularly puzzling and prophetic dream: “O Belteshazzar (Daniel’s Babylonian name), master of the magicians, because I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in thee, and no secret troubleth thee…” (Daniel 4:9, emphasis mine)

Joseph had the same gift: “And they said unto him, We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it. And Joseph said unto them, Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me them, I pray you.” (Genesis 40:8)

Paul, it seems, had a special corner on the spiritual. Granted, he was in a position of immense responsibility before the Lord, having founded many of the first-ever Christian churches as scattered throughout Asia Minor after Jesus commissioned him an Apostle. Much of the mores and maxims we as Christians have for the proper procedures governing spiritual matters came through Paul’s pen. In his first letter to the Corinthians, fourteenth chapter, he touches on the topic of speaking in tongues. Writing to the Ephesians (1:17), he speaks of receiving from God “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him”. He exhorts those in Colosse to “walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (Colossians 1:10)

Think about this: There are laws that govern every single aspect of the natural world and universe. From the fine points of vector calculus (which I don’t even pretend to approach understanding) to the esoteric and ethereal laws of theoretical physics (hasn’t CERN found the Higgs Boson yet? Actually, as of writing, they hadn’t but the Physicists at the CERN supercollider in Switzerland did indeed find something resembling the Higgs Bosonthe “God Particle” in July of 2012) to the reason for the northern lights. Everything, everything follows a pattern. A pattern that was put into place by God. Shouldn’t it follow then, that the bedrock of reality—i.e. the spiritual realm—have the same fine-tuning as the physical, natural universe? If we understand God’s character, then I believe so.

“The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29) I believe that God will reveal these things to us if He’s called us to know them. One of the ways that we know is by our innate curiosity.

The spiritual is happening all around us all the time. And while we’re not called (I don’t believe) to stay solely focused on that to the neglect of the practical aspects of life, I do believe that the Holy Spirit wants to make us aware of things that affect us on a spiritual plane.

It would seem to me that the Holy Spirit is the last member of the Trinity that we as a church have yet to cozy up to. When Jesus labels the unforgivable sin as “the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 12:31), I think that many Christians read that and are so scared of doing that very thing that they push Him to the periphery and go for long stretches without acknowledging Him one whit. I know I’m guilty of this. The sad thing about this kind of treatment is that it blurs into what Paul calls “quench[ing]” the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19). This “quenching” of the Holy Spirit can in turn be tantamount to “griev[ing]” Him (Ephesians 4:30). And that’s where things get scary.

As a kid, I was afraid of committing the unforgivable sin. As I shared my concern with my dad, he shared some watchwords of wisdom with me. He said that the very fact that I have a concern shows that I am in right standing with God in regards to this. And he also taught me that God loves me enough to see to it that I never get so far out of His leading and protection that I stray into the slightest possibility of commiting the unforgivable sin.

The Holy Ghost is first and foremost our comforter and our teacher (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). He loves us as much as Jesus does, as much as does the Father. He’s so gentle and He pervades all of Creation in every realm of existence (because of what Jesus did on the cross, I might add). Spiritual and physical. And God would have us as a body of believers be led of His Holy Spirit to receive the “deep things of God” that were spoken of by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians.

Emulating Japan (Skylines and Horizons part 3)

With a population of nearly 130 million people and a habitable area of just one fifth its total landmass, Japan is an intriguing country with a rich and wonderful heritage. It’s number one on my foreign travel destination wish list. Before I go, however, I would like to have enough of the language down to make my way intelligently through the crowded streets of Tokyo and not be seen and sneered at as an unintelligent “gai-jin”, or foreigner (they wouldn’t really do that). I want to blend in. That should make things a little easier, I guess. But that’s just speaking. Far as reading goes, there are three alphabets to learn. For instance, there’s Hiragana, which is the character alphabet for the individual phonetic sounds within Japanese. Then there’s Katakana, a more angular counterpart to Hiragana. Katakana is used to write foreign words for which colloquial Japanese has no direct translation. And then there’s Kanji. The Kanji catalog contains around 6,000 symbols ranging from simple to complex. An old neighbor told me once, that in order to read the newspaper, you need to know at least 2,000. Many signs and sentences are a combination of all three. I’ve certainly got my work cut out for me.

And with reference to the gift of Speaking in Tongues, I do remember a story I heard on a Christian radio show many years ago where an American man told of his interaction with two Japanese women who heard his English in their native tongue. Nothing to sneer at.

Much can be learned from the traditional Japanese way of life. Of austerity and frugality and respect. The simplicity and honor of their person-to-person interaction inspires and appeals to me the most. Bowing is more than a simple, genuflecting gesture of respect–it’s an art form that takes years to master. And if someone hands you a business card make sure that you treat it with utmost care and respect. It’s considered a cardinal sin to disrespect another’s business card. Seriously. If we as a church showed a tenth of the kindness, respect and hospitality that they show to their guests, God would “awake” (see Psalm 44:23), and maybe we would come together as a more cohesive body in these days and times. The communal spirit evinced in their generosity is reminiscent of the early church (see Acts 2:44). And the earthquake and the tsunami have done even more to bring them together as a people. Inspiring. Speaking of austerity, if you think the three months that kids here in America get for Summer vacation is not long enough, kids in Japan get two weeks. Even then, it’s considered too long!

So limited is the real estate of Japan that the prospective builders (say, in Tokyo) have no choice but to go up, with new floors being added to the already towering skyscrapers. It’s common to have a building with the most random and varied shops and business from floor to floor.

I suppose the main appeal of any country is the people. To be able to go somewhere and, regardless the activity in which I engage, to show someone the love of Jesus makes any trip worthwhile. That language crosses cultural, linguistic, religious and societal boundaries and barriers. It’s something everyone understands. I recommend the writings of Toyohiko Kagawa for an amazing look at the love of Jesus expressed through someone who was just as sold out to God as he was Japanese.

O yomi itadaki, arigatōgozaimashita!

(thank you for reading!)

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!