Tongues: Prayer or Pretension

The men’s prayer breakfast I attended Saturday included an Assembly of God pastor’s lesson on spiritual gifts, and most specifically, the gift of tongues, ie, spiritual utterances in a language unknown to the one doing the uttering. Lately God has been convicting me about my need for a more mature or complete devotional life. Does that mean “praying in tongues” as the Pentecostals urge? And make no mistake; Saturday morning included plenty of urging.

My personal position on the issue is as neutral as I can make it, with others’ extreme opinions ranging from, “unknown tongues are of the devil,” to, “you’re not saved unless you speak in tongues.” Rather than spouting my own opinions (if indeed I had any worth spouting) as holy writ, I adjure my Lord Jesus to reveal His truth to me in His own way and time.

Somewhere in my thousand-plus blog posts I related my own experiences with spiritual utterances, but since I’m not inclined to search for it, I’ll risk repeating myself:

Long ago, in a Bible campground far, far away, a young Christ-follower—I’ll call him Jim—sat in a Charismatic worship service. Jim earnestly sought God’s truth to shape his life into ever greater Christ-likeness. During the worship service, the speaker briefly expressed himself in an unknown language, but a spontaneous thought occurred to Jim in English as the leader spoke. Not much more than a second later, a man on the other side of the auditorium stood and said exactly, word-for-word, what Jim had thought … and that was that. Had Jim possessed a greater Scriptural understanding of the spiritual gift of tongues, he would have stood up to confirm the other guy’s interpretation.

On another occasion, Jim had attended an interfaith worship service and Bible study. Afterward, the group split unto smaller pockets of people to pray as the Spirit moved them. With eyes closed and hands joined in the circle, Jim felt let to pray. Apparently he prayed in English, as after the prayer session, and to Jim’s amazement, the small group, almost as one, told him how blessed and convicted they were by his prayer. The amazing part is that Jim had no idea what he had said. While this situation did not involve speaking in tongues per se, I believe God’s Holy Spirit spoke through him because of the effect it had on the listeners.

I have no desire to repeat the pro-and-con arguments regarding the Pentecostal experiences in today’s church. Plenty of web sites provide decidedly biased arguments for both sides of the issue. I do urge you, the reader, regardless of your opinions, to prayerfully continue seeking God’s truth on this, and every issue of life, always willing to change your cherished, long-held beliefs as God leads through His Word.

And remember; how you pray matters little, so long as you do it with contrition for your sins and sincerely seek His way.

My Mistake

While reading Our Daily Bread today, I did a double-take over the author’s prayer at the end. I read it as, “Lord God, we are the source of all that we have.” While that reflects the attitudes of many people, I knew it was wrong. So I read it more carefully the second time.

It actually read, “Lord God, You are the source of all that we have.”

Why did my first reading wave that red flag of error so frantically? Because I’m familiar enough with God’s Word to know a lie when I see it. Now, I’m certainly not a Bible scholar, but I don’t have to be in order to discern error. The Psalmist provided the needed counsel:

Psalms 119:9-11 NKJV How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word. (10) With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments! (11) Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You.

I praise God for the infinite wisdom He provided in His Word!

The Deeper Side of Christmas

This morning no gifts beckoned me from under my Christmas tree. For one thing, the Christmas tree belongs to my room mate, and any gifts there belong to his two little kids. And the other reason no gifts awaited me is I’ve sort of outgrown the commercial side of, “the Holidays.”

I received my greatest Christmas gift ever forty-odd years ago when I accepted God’s gift to me, “For God so loved [you and me] (so much) that He gave His only Son after His own kind (the physical embodiment of His eternal Word), that anyone who believes (accepts and places his confidence) in Him should not perish (see perdition or destruction), but have (possess permanently) [Jesus’] eternal life.” There’s a mouthful that you can take to God’s heavenly bank.

Those who believe this promise, and many others we find in God’s revealed Word, will feel a level of joy like none other. But those for whom Christmas has morphed into, “the Holidays,” get to enjoy a warm family time … after a month of chasing the perfect presents around the shopping malls and big box stores … and worry about paying for all the excess over the other eleven months. Amazing how heavy those little pieces of plastic can get, isn’t it?

Now that the rush is over, maybe you can flop into your favorite chair and contemplate what Christmas means to God. Think of what it would feel like to give your own child as ransom for the captives who hate you, for the ungrateful multitudes who have killed your messengers, despoiled your home and reviled your name. Most of them would reject your beloved child and suffer the consequences, but you would receive and embrace those few who love and embrace him and the freedom he bought for them.

May the deeper meaning of Christmas bless you now and forever.

Accountability

The financial industry, and the government agencies that oversee it, pass stringent regulations to prevent profiteering. That is completely understandable, as our fallen human nature is rife with greed and avarice; many people will do anything for a buck, or a million of ’em

Profiteering, though, isn’t exclusive to the financial industry, or even the government bureaucracy. Religion has more than its share of greed and avarice, if not for material gain, then certainly for a reward in the afterlife. These days we hear of Muslim “holy warriors” blowing themselves up to take the infidels with them, all to gain the martyr’s status with its reward of seventy-two virgins—or so the story goes. Yet, there is are examples of religious opportunism far closer to home.

Christendom offers many examples of religious opportunism, from multimillion dollar televangelists to the small church’s big donor who expects to run the whole little show. I call them big cogs in little gears; they don’t mesh, and are proud of it.

Regardless the arena or the scale, fallen humanity loves to opt out of accountability. We fancy ourselves as our own authority—even as we give lip-service to our devotion to God.

A less obvious, though far more common, religious opportunism is taking Apostle Paul’s inspired words out of their Scriptural context. When the apostle wrote of our liberty in Jesus, he did not mean to suggest that we could get away with taking God’s grace for granted, as many so easily do.

1 Corinthians 5:12-13 NKJV
(12) For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside?
(13) But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “PUT AWAY FROM YOURSELVES THE EVIL PERSON.”

Those who use Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10 to justify an opulent lifestyle are just as guilty of misusing Scripture as Muslim martyrs, and their judgment is just as sure. Some of us have the gift of earning wealth, but forget about Jesus’ words regarding treasure in heaven.

Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV
(19) “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;
(20) but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
(21) For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

What we begin as a, “rainy-day fund,” takes on a life of its own, ruling us with a dictator’s iron gauntlet or hob-nail boot. You’re right, I didn’t mention spiritual or moral responsibility, but your treasure’s location speaks to those as well.

Atheists balk at accepting God’s existence either because some “Christian” demonstrated unchristian behavior toward them, or because if they did they would have to be accountable to Him. Why can’t God’s church see that principle just as clearly?

No Limit

If this title were to suggest to you a rap by Usher you likely wouldn’t be reading this blog post … so fergetaboutit. Not that rap-fans can’t be Christ-followers, but, just sayin’ …

There’s another use for, “No Limit,” and that’s from—drum roll please—the Bible!

My mouth shall tell of Your righteousness And Your salvation all the day, For I do not know their limits. (Psalms 71:15 NKJV)

One rock-solid fact of life is you can’t overstate God, His righteousness, or the wonder of His salvation. Nobody ever had praise down like King David, yet even he ran out of adjectives with which to glorify God.

Not that God needs our praises to feed His ego, but as His creation, our purpose, our destiny, is to lift up holy hands in praise to Him, to magnify His perfection, His holiness, His love. In short, everything about Him is worthy of our praise. If only we knew the half of His glory we would spend eternity declaring it.

So tear down that Pentecostal or Calvinistic box you’ve built around our eternal, infinite God! There’s no limit to His praiseworthyness.

Promises, Promises

2 Peter 1:3-4 NKJV as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, (4) by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

I believe God’s Word! When God tells me something through His Word, I know I can, “take it to the bank.” Unfortunately, actual banks don’t see it that way, but that’s their problem. If something in God’s Word seems out of whack, I know either the translation, or my interpretation, is in error, and not His revealed Word.

Apologetics

Daniel B. Wallace Ph.D. sets the record straight about alleged New Testament errors in his article, The Number of Textual Variants: An Evangelical Miscalculation. Though most Christ-followers would rather simply accept the Bible’s reliability, and that is certainly warranted, some knowledge of textual criticism helps greatly when trying to deal with skeptic’s challenges. Indeed, one of the major reasons for Christians loosing their faith is ignorance of apologetics (That branch of theology which defends the Holy Scriptures, and sets forth the evidence of their divine authority.1).

Human Promises

2 Peter 1 should give us great hope in God’s promises. Unlike Him, we mortals are quick with promises. Someone expresses a need and, with the best of intentions, we offer help.

A promise as simple as, “I’ll pray for you,” carries with it an obligation to actually pray for that person. Instead, it usually includes the unstated qualifier, “… when and if I get the chance.” And, yes, I’m as guilty as the next brother.

Those of us who have been reborn in the Spirit have no excuse for such laxity, as we are to always seek to become more like Christ. When we the church grow to where we can live by our promises, thereby completing Christ’s love in us, we will truly turn the world upside down.2

Father of all mercy, I am grieved that we who claim Jesus’ Name are so flippant about our word. By Your Holy Spirit’s power and through Jesus Name, empower us so we can complete our mission of turning the world upside down.

1 Webster’s 1913 dictionary entry for “apologetics” (Yes, Noah Webster was a Christian.)

2 Reference to Acts 17:6

It Seemed Significant At the Time

I can’t count the number of times that I’ve had a thought while reading or listening to the Bible, but because I wanted to finish the reading I failed to write it down. When I return to the spot that jumped out at me, it seems to just blend in with the rest of the passage, and I wonder why it seemed significant.

My memory has never been stellar, but as I age, what memory I had gradually seems to ebb away. Most of my contemporaries will answer my concern with, “Oh posh! You’ve got to expect that as you get older.” Maybe so, but it is none the less frustrating.

Now, what was my point with all this?

Ah, that’s right. I seem to be exchanging my marvelous powers of recall—yeah, right!—for a broader perspective on life. I have always, and still do, pray for my Father to give me His eyes (a nod to Amy Grant here).

So easily I fall into the fleshly trap of viewing people and circumstances through the eyes of carnality. What could be an occasion for growth and blessing, I turn into a thorny problem. Will I ever learn Job’s lesson?

Job 42:1-5
(1) Then Job answered the LORD and said:
(2) “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.
(3) You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
(4) Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’
(5) “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You.”

Before Job’s tribulations he knew of God, and that was enough for Him to be obedient, but his faithfulness during his trials matured his faith and brought him into a personal relationship with his heavenly Father. Job knew, and I’m learning, that my loving heavenly Father never allows trials without a purpose.

Praise God for His loving kindness toward us!

Apple Cluster Sin

Sandy’s Donuts makes “apple clusters.” They are the yummy clusters of goodness that most bakeries call, “apple fritters,” and simply typing that places me in serious temptation. Like this morning when, after getting up late, I didn’t feel hungry for breakfast, so I delayed it til after 2pm when I began feeling hungry. But that isn’t when the apple cluster temptation began.

My yearning for those clusters of fried, sugary goodness began as I was trying to concentrate on my daily Bible-reading … of course. While struggling through those Scripture passages, I prayed for God to counter my almost-certain baked goods binge. After my reading I realized that our household garbage receptacles were nigh unto overflowing, so hungry as I was, I set to gathering the refuse and began the fifty-yard trek to the dumpster. During my return trip I began feeling convicted about my yummy, afternoon plans as God’s inaudible voice reminded me of the consequences:

First, James 4:17 NKJV Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin. This nugget of wisdom from author James isn’t new to me; in fact, it haunts me more than I care to admit.

Do you really want to willfully sin?” said that pesky, silent voice.

Isn’t it somewhere included in ROBERT’S RULES OF ORDER that debaters aren’t supposed to detonate the “S-bomb”? If it’s not, it should be.

Second, “You will feel depressed and bogged down later.” Again, nothing new, but the hard truth of experience. While my palate loves those apple clusters, the rest of my body does not. No need for Your quiet voice here Lord, but thanks for the reminder.

Third, “You’ve already grown out of at least two wardrobes …” Enough said.

And finally, my own inner voice for a change, “Of course, You’re absolutely right Lord. I’ll be glad I didn’t. And thanks ever so much for Your help.

Sin? Really?

How could enjoying one (or two) wonderful apple clusters possibly be sinful? After all, lots of other fat Christians (forgive my frankness) manage to indulge their appetites for such palatal pleasure, so why not me? The answer is easy; I don’t want a thousand or two calories, however delicious, forming a barrier between my Savior and me. Regardless how you cut it, to willfully disobey is sin.

Does satisfying any of your appetites, whatever they may be, put a busy-signal on your prayer-line? Does praising your loving Savior seem just a bit hollow when you allow His conviction to penetrate your denial, and indulge anyway? If we honestly have to answer in the affirmative, James 4:17 applies directly to us.

Where is your battle line drawn?

I confessed just one of my struggles, but I have many more. What are your struggles? You may be skinny as a rail, able to look down your nose at us fat folks munching out on our sugary poison, but Apostle John says you are not free of your own guilt:

1 John 1:8-10 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (9) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (10) If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

If God’s church seems lacking in vitality, you and I can see the reason by simply looking in a mirror. A sinning church is an impotent church. How have we sinned? Read the New Testament and apply it to yourself, rather than to Betty-Sue over there.

And pray! Serious, sin-confessing, prostrate-on-the-floor prayer. Then watch the Holy-Ghost victory flow.

Peter’s Stunning Affirmation

I confess to having questions about certain Biblical statements, and theologians’ opinions don’t help much. If said highly-educated theologians were to establish a consensus in their interpretations I would have little choice but to accept their analyses at face value. But they haven’t, so I keep questioning.

Speaking of difficult teachings, John 6 records one of Jesus’ most controversial statements, and debate about it continues to this day:

John 6:53-58 NKJV Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. (54) Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. (55) For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. (56) He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. (57) As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. (58) This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”

This teaching was so misunderstood that when outsiders heard of it they accused Christians of cannibalism. When some of Jesus’ followers balked at His teaching and turned away from Him, He said to the rest of His disciples:

John 6:67-69 NKJV …, “Do you also want to go away?” (68) But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. (69) Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Though Peter finally got it, his understanding was not his own. When I quoted excerpts from John 6 above, I omitted some crucial truths for the sake of continuity. Not only is this crucial, but it is the source of heated controversy even today.

John 6:63-65 NKJV It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. (64) But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. (65) And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”

If you were hoping for my personal opinion regarding these profound truths, I’m afraid I must disappoint you. It is enough for me that Jesus preserved these truths and spoke them to me through His Holy Spirit. I pray for Him to wash our minds of preconceptions, to make them ready to receive His unadulterated Truth. And it’s all right there in black(or red)-and-white, waiting for open and pure minds to receive it.

I’m Not Dying

Oh sure, the world is quieter than it used to be. I glance down at my hands and they look like I forgot to iron them. I lack energy to get out of my own way. I have to be careful what I eat; everything I enjoy is off my diet and likely to come back to haunt me. I have CRS, but can’t remember what it means. People say these dreaded words to me: “Can I help you with that sir?”

But I’m not dying—I’m transitioning! And it’s about time; seventy years on this blue-and-green marble is long enough in my book. What about God’s Book, though?

God’s Word doesn’t tell me, “Let your light shine before men, until you get old, then hang up the spent lantern.” I can’t find the word, “retire,” anywhere in the Bible. Even the Levites, when they completed their twenty-five years of temple service, were assigned other duties.

No, my thinning skin should just allow Christ’s light within me to shine through all the brighter. These words of Jesus changed my life when I realized He was talking to me:

Matthew 5:14-16 NKJV “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. (15) Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. (16) Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

Without the Christians who held up their light before me, I’d be a goner. And without me and millions of other Christ-followers holding up His light, the world is full of goners.

“Getting saved,” isn’t our final game play, it’s just the starting gun’s report, the kickoff, the tip off, throwing out the first ball, and there’s no timer on the game board. In fact, there’s no game board, ‘cause keeping score is God’s job, and notching our Bibles for every “decision for Christ” is pure presumption, an act of pride that should alert us to the probability that our motivation is not to glorify our heavenly Father, but to glorify ourselves.

Now I need to examine my own life’s priorities; is influencing others to live for God numero uno? Or do I just want to sit back and enjoy the view of others marching straight into perdition? If the second option is true of me … or you … we may as well be dying, ‘cause we’re no earthly good.