Sunday, May 31, 2009

wedding countdown

Appreciate all your comments in the previous post. As you read for yourself, views on how the gift of tongues operates are extremely varied. I’ll try to revisit this soon. Promise.

But tonight I’m sitting in a hotel room in Chattanooga, Tennessee the night before I give my oldest daughter away in marriage. This is a first for my wife and me. All the typical thoughts have flooded my mind—Where did the time go? Didn’t we just bring her home from the hospital terrified that we wouldn’t know what to do? Wasn’t she just holding her “maid-of-honor new-baby-sister” while still in diapers? Kindergarten was just last week, right? We just watched her get baptized, didn’t we? Wasn’t yesterday when she went on her first youth group retreat? Can this really be her first prom? Didn’t we just cry when we dropped her off at college? And on and on.

When I was younger, I thought those kind of comments were quaint conversation-fillers when old people gathered. But here I am. Pensive. And old.

And even stranger for me is thinking that some day Rachel will have those same kind of thoughts.

I have long told my girls that my primary job as their dad was simply to make the transferring of my fathering of them to their heavenly Father as seamless as possible…and that He would do a far better job than me. All of us know the huge effect our dads had on our view of God; that’s Spiritual Psych 101.

I guess the largest part of Christianity is learning how to let go, isn’t it? How to hold life loosely. How to die to yourself. It seems to me we squeeze the life out of everything we hold tightly.

I’m convinced my most holy moments were the times I liked the least, when I had to...

—let go of my need to be right.
—die to the idea that I know how to run my universe better than God.
—not blow my own trumpet.
—let go of money when I thought I was the one who needed it.
—zigged left when the world zagged right.
—swallow my pride.
—trust my Father more than myself.
—not worry about looking stupid.
—learn how to die.
—pick up my cross.

Okay, I know this all sounds a little morose for a prewedding post, but there is a tenderness to all this. And remember, I did say these are the most holy moments.

And I couldn’t be happier for Rachel.

In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal. (John 12:25 The Message)

Monday, May 18, 2009

speaking in tongues

This past weekend was on the last section of the Nicene Creed: We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

That’s a motherboard of theological hot-circuits: baptism, resurrection, judgment and the big apocalyptic finish.

At the uptempo close of our worship in the 11:40 celebration, someone suddenly spoke out in tongues for what felt like a lengthy time, though probably a minute. It was quite emotional and fairly loud. I was in a back room getting ready to go on when I heard it. Our worship leader, Charlie Hines, paused for a few moments and then closed in prayer, though the woman was still speaking. She slowed down to a finish and then Charlie did what we always do—have people say ‘hello’ to someone before you sit down. The vibe in the room was a little uneasy.

Brad was backstage getting ready to do the transition and said, “Should I say something?” I told him no and that I would talk about it. It really was a pastoring-moment.

Before I walked out, Brad asked, “What are you going to say?”

“I don’t know. I’ll shoot from the hip.” (I think that’s an old cowboy term for not taking time to aim with the gunsight. It ain’t accurate but it’s fast…)

Of course, depending on your church background, this is either a mystery, a big deal or a non-issue. The charismatics were probably thinking, “Finally! Now let’s get the interpretation…”. The evangelicals were wondering, “I knew it! I thought there was something suspicious about this place…”. And the clueless were thinking, “What the…? Is she having a nervous breakdown?”

Even more interesting to me was the “emotional field”, in psychologist Rollo May’s language, that rippled out. There was a palpable uneasiness. I think it was not only the fact it’s a rare occurrence (I can’t remember the last time in a large corporate setting like that), but accompanied with serious emotion. Imagine being at a family reunion in a local restaurant, everyone’s eating and laughing and telling stories and suddenly Uncle Frank breaks into a very emotional, passionate diatribe…in Latin. Suddenly, the emotional field shifts radically.

Speaking in tongues is an important piece of the Christian experience. But it’s not without difficulties in practice; just look at the various theological viewpoints, not to mention the methodologies. I won’t go into that here…that’s a month’s worth of blogs; Paul devotes three whole chapters to addressing its use, abuse and context in the Corinthian church.

Let me just preface this by saying I speak in tongues myself; it’s personal and a critical part of my prayer life. But how it’s used corporately is debated, even among charismatics. And in our post-modern, dechurched and yet weirdly religious American culture, it’s even more strange when your weekend gatherings are designed to have a user-friendly attractional element.

But that’s not the point of this post. I just wanted to let you inside a communicator’s head (as if you were interested…) from a pastoral perspective.

For instance, my first thought was: “Uh-oh…we have some ‘splaining to do.” Thought number two: “Oh. That’s me.” Third thought: “Dang. I’m giving a hefty message today about judgment. Plus, this?” Fourth: “If I brought someone for the first time today, what would I be thinking?” Fifth thought: “Do this in two minutes, change the vibe in the room…and move on.” Thought number six: “Wow, this is actually cool—an opportunity to teach on how to handle this.” Seventh thought: “Am I spiritually discerning anything about this expression of tongues?”

My intuition was that this was more of a personal release from someone who was emotionally troubled, and was giving personal expression to God from that…not a corporate message.

Anyway, after setting up the message, I mentioned how I needed to take a moment and ‘pastor’ what just happen. It was the classic elephant in the room. I briefly explained how we have a theology open to the gifts of the Spirit, but that the gifts work best in the right context and that it’s not a normal custom for us to use the gift of tongues in the weekend setting. I relayed that we believe the ideal place to learn and practice spiritual gifts is in your small group where there is relationship and accountability and that in a large gathering like this with people all over the map in their spiritual journeys and backgrounds, anyone can walk in off the street and say they have a message from God; it can quickly get confusing and disorienting. As leaders, we have to carefully shepherd the mission God has clearly given us.

Leaders have a responsibility to navigate and interpret. It isn’t always pretty, it isn’t always simple and you’ll never please everybody. I have been in charismatic and word-of-faith circles in just about every imaginable shape and size for thirty-five years. I think I’ve seen the best and worst; I’ve embraced some and jettisoned equal amounts of teaching.

And then I went on with a message on baptism, resurrection, and judgment. Sheesh.

Interesting postscript, though. Today a friend called me who was on the prayer team Sunday. He said a woman came to them for prayer afterwards and said, “Uh, I’m the one who spoke in tongues.” He smiled and said, “It’s okay. What can we pray for you about?” She wept as she told them she was a struggling single mom, pregnant, and with news that her baby has serious physical difficulties and will not live after birth. She was in deep, deep pain. I have no doubts that she was crying out from that place.

And the truth is, most of us regularly project messages from God through our own lenses.

At the same time the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, because we don’t know how to pray for what we need. But the Spirit intercedes along with our groans that cannot be expressed in words. The one who searches our hearts knows what the Spirit has in mind. The Spirit intercedes for God’s people the way God wants him to. (Romans 8:26-27 God’s Word Translation)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

the vineyard movement

This past week Joe Boyd and I were in Galveston for the Vineyard National Leadership Conference. Besides thoroughly enjoying the time with Joe, it reconfirmed what I love about our particular tribe and why it seems to fit me/us nicely. By the way, the head of our region, Ken Wilson, spoke at the Vineyard this weekend on the passage about the Church in our Nicene Creed series. Ken is the author of two great books; check out his last one called Jesus Brand Spirituality: He Wants His Religion Back.

Since my earliest recollection of the Vineyard and connection in 1984, there has always been a “kingdom-centered” theology, that is, the incarnation was the fulfillment of the Kingdom…and that the central message of the Church is the Kingdom…and that the Kingdom is expressed in supernatural and practical ways. John the Baptist’s first message was, “Change the way you think: the Kingdom of heaven is near.” In other words, the curtain between heaven and earth is opening and the playwright is stepping onto the stage. A thin place has suddenly been breached.

Jesus’ first public announcement was the well-known prophetic passage from Isaiah 61 that had been referenced for centuries as the day when the Sovereign Lord rebuilds and restores a devastated planet, when justice flows like a river. When I look at the rampant political corruption in Zimbabwe and the desperate lining of pockets of power in an economy with an unfathomable no-kidding inflation rate of five-hundred-billion percent, or when I saw the long-abandoned massive strip-mined craters for tin in Nigeria as a result of colonialism, or read of the approximate quarter-million children trapped in sex-trade slavery in Thailand, I shout, “That’s not fair. Where is the justice?” Who wouldn’t?

Only one problem: what if God applied His perfect justice to me? Ouch.

Would I weep like the German Oskar Schindler, whose factory saved nearly twelve-hundred Jews, and say, “I could have got more out. I don't know. . . I threw away so much money. . . If I'd just...”? I live in a country where the average American is financially worth nearly a hundred times more than the average Indian.

And what about the unseen pettiness of my thoughts, the unspoken demand for comfort, the sense of entitlement?

How often have I turned a blind eye? Have I hoarded in ways that are indiscernible in our culture? Do I spend more on DVD’s than an Indonesian makes in a year? The average American spends a whopping five hours a day watching TV; is that justice when hands and hearts are needed for the homeless, for forgotten senior citizens, for global peacemaking, for neglected children, for whatever? If justice really ran down like a raging river, would I be swept off the banks in it?

That’s why I need the fresh mercies of God every morning.

But the message of the Kingdom focuses on individual wholeness and systemic social righteousness. It functions both on the level of practical justice and the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. That’s what appeals to me about the Vineyard movement—it’s not just talk. And it’s not just about social causes. And it’s not just about the charismas. It’s the practical and supernatural outworking of the Kingdom. There is a risk element to it that we like to define as faith.

I need a family, a tribe, that’s bigger than my own. It’s not about “joining” the Vineyard movement. For me, it’s like discovering your spiritual DNA in a family you’ve been searching for for years.

And that’s what the conference reminded me.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

more holy ghost stories

Years ago when I was traveling and playing big loud, guitar-laden, synth-soaked, huge-snare-drum, eighties-style-music-for-Jesus, we played a gig in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Interestingly enough, earlier that day we had stopped in a typical franchise bookstore, like a B. Dalton’s-type place, and were caught off-guard by the shelves and shelves of new-age, metaphysical and occult-oriented books filling the store. This was not conservative Catholic Cincinnati; this was an Age-of-Aquarius mecca.

Later, at the close of the concert that night, I invited people to make Jesus the Lord of their lives. As we gathered the people who wanted to do that to the side of the stage, a young woman crashed into the circle and began shouting obscenities and making fun of what she called “religion.” She certainly got everyone’s attention. There was a man with her—I assumed her boyfriend—who stood behind her with a creepy half-smile the whole time.

I pulled her aside and said, “What’s the matter with you?”

She told me she had tried religion years before and it was nothing but a {expletive} {expletive} joke. What’s more, she let it be known she was buzzed on coke at that very moment.

Without thinking too much about it, I asked her if I could pray for her. I think I thought that would just shut her up for a little bit while I tried to figure out what to do next. She said, “You can {expletive} do whatever the {expletive} you want!” So I simply prayed out loud, “Holy Spirit, please come and touch this woman.”

All of a sudden, WHAM! She fell to the floor like a bag of rocks. Out cold. No kidding.

The Smiley Guy with her looked at me…then looked at her…then back at me. The young adults who had come to receive Jesus were watching with their mouths open. This was not your average mosh pit.

And all I could think was, “Oh man, Jesus. You killed her.”

I really wasn’t sure what to do so I kept praying over her like this was a normal occurrence. A minute or so later, which seemed like an eternity, she suddenly jumped to her feet and literally ran out of the auditorium with The Smiley Guy running behind her. I chased after her, trying to do a little post-counseling cleanup, asking her if she knew any Christians or any churches in the city, but she said nothing, didn’t look back, and flew out of there like she’d seen a ghost.

And I would say she had. The Holy Ghost. It was shock-and-awe in the auditorium that night.

Christianity is not another philosophy. It’s not a moral viewpoint. It’s not another pathway to inner bliss. It is the transforming of spiritually dead and alienated people into a vibrant, spiritually-energizing, life-giving relationship with God based on our surrendering to the Lordship of His Son, the God-man Jesus—the messiah of all, the savior of the world. Not a nice-guy teacher. Not another enlightened guru. Not a philosopher. Savior. Lord.

But it doesn’t stop with you and your individual salvation.

Post-resurrection, Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem and they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. Part of the reason why was because they were about to be thrown into the middle of a cosmic clash. There is a war between good and evil on this planet, between God’s purposes for humanity and an evil force that wants to disrupt that. As John put it, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” (1 John 3:8b)

One of the first things critical for a new Christian to learn is that they’re in a war zone now…and the enemy’s tactics are everything from distractions to temptations to apathy to money to unforgiveness to you-name-it. And he’s good at this; it’s not always the Big Obvious Stuff. That’s why he’s called The Deceiver. If you’re not having some problems living out your faith, then I doubt if you have any faith.

The first time I had someone explain to me that I had a real enemy who wanted to neutralize me because I was a potential threat to his destructive plan for the world, it lit a fire in my soul—there was no way I was going to be taken out as a follower of Jesus.

And the reason why is because Jesus picked me, of all people, to be part of His offense. Just like He picked you. Over the years I’ve heard people say, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if (insert Big Shot name here) became a Christian? They could really advance the Kingdom of God!” Truth is, Jesus doesn’t need The Big Celebrity, because He already has all the power. In the final climactic confrontation of good and evil personified in a being called Antichrist, Jesus defeats him with a breath (pneuma). That’s all.

If that’s all it takes to defeat the powers that are against the Kingdom of God, I’ll take some of that.