Should I speak in tongues? If I can’t is there something wrong with me?

Personally, I believe there is much I could learn about speaking in tongues. I’m not part of a tradition nor am I from a part of the world that embraces it as much as others. That said, I think I can still understand some of what Paul wants us to learn in 1 Corinthians 14 in regards to the practice.

I think it’s clear from Paul’s writing in this chapter and in the ones preceding that speaking in tongues does has a place and a function in the body of Christ. But that place is not primarily in public worship and its function isn’t for boasting and it’s not to be a litmus test as to whether or not you have the Spirit. After all, it is just one of many gifts of the Spirit, and each is gifted according to God’s will.

Unfortunately this is how tongues is presented in some churches. To those churches whether or not your speak in tongues is the sign of if you have the Spirit of God. It is treated as the sign and the gift above others. That is not building up the body and instead it’s dividing it between the haves and have-nots. That is not the reason we’ve been given these gifts by God.

That reason, the building up, is so important and it is why Paul placed prophecy above speaking in tongues in this section. Speaking in tongues is a more personal, private gift, but prophecy is one that builds up the body, believer and even unbeliever. He doesn’t want to demean speaking in tongues, and he mentions that he does it himself. But he does want to focus more on the goal behind these gifts, that is, of building up the body.

Build a cathedral, not a new vacation home

In my commentary on 1 Corinthians by NT Wright, he uses a great illustration for the purpose behind these spiritual gifts. Paul desires that they be used for the body, for love, and to build up. Wright then describes two different building projects in his writings on this section.

And the key question, which he highlights in the first verse, is: are you behaving according to the principle of chapter 13? Are you exercising the gifts God gives you in the spirit of love? The underlying contrast here is the same as we saw in chapter 8, verses 1–2: there are some things which can ‘puff you up’, making you proud and self-important, but what builds people up is love. And this chapter is all about making sure that public worship ‘builds everybody up’ rather than simply everybody developing their own spiritual giftedness and displaying it like so many strutting peacocks. When people come together to worship the God revealed in Jesus, they are not building their own private houses. They are building a great cathedral for all to share and enjoy.

Let the Little Children Come to Me

There is a short section in Matthew 19 that deals with children who were being brought to Jesus. The disciple rebuke the people then Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

How many of you find this to be a surprising text? Surprising not for the way in which Jesus reacts, but for the way the disciples seek to prevent the children from coming?

I was thinking about my own reaction to the story, and I think it is a great credit to the church today that so many are shocked at the disciples. We read it and say to ourselves, “Where do they get off trying to stop children, of all people, from coming to Jesus?” But we only say that because so many in the church have worked in the intervening centuries to do as Jesus did and welcome children. Children are to have a place in the church and we celebrate them. So many places in our society leave no place for kids. They are a nuisance or inconvenient. But in a church that seeks to follow Jesus here, the very opposite is true.

If churches were not a place that embraces children as a legitimate part of the community, but rather saw them as not-yet-important part of it, we’d read this passage and be more surprised that Jesus welcomes them. What the disciples did was probably not unexpected to their audience, but thankfully when I read it I’m taken aback and say, “What were they thinking?”

Good thing Jesus set us straight.

God worked through Nehemiah to bring many together

As I read Nehemiah I can’t help but think about the amazing things God can do through us when we come together. It is a typical warm, fuzzy notion to have–everyone working together to make the world a better place. But we leave God out of that equation too often. When God works in the one man Nehemiah it is not done there. God works through him to reach countless others. (Maybe not countless since much of this book deals with lists and numbers!) The job at hand couldn’t have happened had it not been for the way that these people sacrifice for one another, seek after the needs of others before there own, and pool their resources.

There is very good reason we’re called to be a people, not a person. We are much better together. We need the church body. We need it to be encouraged and strengthened, we need it be held accountable, we need it to do greater things for God than we ever could do alone.

Cloud of Witnesses

Hebrews 12 opens with a description of past saints in the faith as a “great cloud of witnesses.” We are not in this journey alone and thank God. We are in great need of the encouragement of others, past and present. This has been on my mind since I’ll be talking about it in a class tomorrow morning, but it can’t be said enough that we are called to be a blessing to one another. We need the help, but we are also empowered to be the help for others.

The chapter goes on to urge the reader to cast off what slows us down and trips us up. We need to rid ourselves of sin and distractions. I think we can read this great cloud of witnesses as a contrast to these obstacles. On the one hand all that weighs us down. On the other we have brothers and sisters that lift us up. It is quite the gift that God has called us to be a church; that he calls us out of the world but into a new body.

Looking back to Hosea and the motivation of prophets

This fits with last week’s readings, but I thought it’d be worth writing about.

Hosea is a startling story. It is unique in what the prophet is called to do, not just say. He is to marry a whore, and his relationship of faithfulness to an adulterous spouse parallels that of God’s love for his adulterous people. And that still applies to us now, to his church. It reminds me of a song by Derek Webb called “Wedding Dress.” He writes about the church’s tendency to look for something more than Christ, to find satisfaction outside of him. But this is a propesterous idea given that Christ has given us all we need. He even gave his very life.

Listen to the song below:

If you want to hear his explanation for the song, you can find it here. I’d mention this as some context–he doesn’t write and sing about the church and its sin as some third party observer. He acknowledges that he is a part of it and he is sinful, too. He doesn’t speak in condemnation of the church, but in rebuke that comes from love. We must still love the things that God loves, including the church, but that then leads us not to accept such faults, but to work for its restoration.

That is what the prophets do, as well. They love God’s people and because of such love they desire greatly for their repentence.*

*Jonah is a bit odd here since he is a prophet to a people he doesn’t love, but that’s a problem that we’ll talk about next week.

It is Good to Break Bread Together

And it is good when that bread is topped with cheese and marinara sauce.

That’s what we’ll be doing this Sunday after our late service at church to celebrate the end of our first quarter. One of the goals of Year in the Bible, I guess second only to the obvious reading of the Bible, is doing so together. This Sunday will remind us that we do not undertake such a task alone. We learn better together, we grow more together, we’re better challenged together. We should not take for granted the great cloud of witnesses we’ve been blessed with by being a lone ranger. We need each other.

Some of you have been a part of a small group or a Bible study that is reading along with one another, but others do not have that weekly contact. This luncheon can be a place to rub shoulders with brothers and sisters, hear about their experience, and enjoy the company.

We’ll also get a short review of all we’ve done as well as some words of introduction to the summer quarter. So come out if you can, this Sunday, June 24th. We’ll have pizza and salad. Let me know if you will be coming.

For those unable to join in this fun, let me encourage you, if you haven’t already, to find someone to partner with in this study of God’s Word. Share your experiences, your questions, your joys, and frustrations. Reading God’s Word is great, but doing so as the church is even better.

The Story So Far, Week 11

We’ve now gone through almost half of Deuteronomy and half of Acts, and we’re getting ever closer to the end of our first quarter. We’ve read in Deuteronomy how Moses is making final preparations for the people before they (and not he) enter into the promised land. He is restating the law making bold reminders that they are not entering into the land as people deserving, nor as a righteous people. God has done the work and it is by his grace that they will receive what is coming their way.

God, too, is doing the work through Acts by the Holy Spirit. Men and women are being taken up in service to the church of Jesus Christ, and by his name are doing great works and preaching the good news to both Jews and Gentiles.

Deuteronomy 8 also is the original location of the words that Jesus quotes when he is in the desert, tempted by Satan, “Man does not live by bread alone.” The Israelites are reminded by this that their needs are greater than food, more than the food they had in Egypt. They have a great need and reliance upon the Lord our God.We learn this lesson as well in Acts as all that is done is done by the power God gives and it is for God’s glory. The Spirit comes and gives the disciples the ability to work miracles, these signs are done in Jesus name, and it is all in God’s plan. The needs of the disciples move beyond bread alone, as they give up their material goods to serve others and support the new found community. If it were all about bread, or stuff, they would horde and keep to themselves, instead they sell their possessions and give to those who have need.

They do, as we read earlier in Acts, spend time breaking bread, but the church is more than that and they are devoted as well to the teachings of God. The church of Acts demonstrates well the second half of that line from Deuteronomy 8, “but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”