God’s Mission Continues, But With a Twist

During our visit to the U.S. for most of the month of April, we were able to be a part of Advent Presbyterian Church in the Memphis area over a couple of Sundays. This is the church I grew up in, and my parents are still part of the church community.

For quite some time, as a whole church, they have been working through The Story – which mainly focuses on reading through and teaching the major stories of Scripture. It looks to make the Bible very practical – in teaching and application to people’s lives.

While I was back, they had just finished looking at the Ascension (though the church calendar celebrates it this coming Sunday). And so I was asked to speak on Pentecost and Acts 2.

If interested, below is the 21-minute video from my teaching. Continue reading

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The Tongues Conundrum (Part 4)

Thus far, I have posted 3 articles centred around the gift of tongues. But I would say they haven’t come in the best form of ordered succession. So, below are the links to the 3 articles in the order that would flow the best. When I finish the series, I will post a PDF file with all the articles in order.

In this article, I want to specifically look at the three purposes of tongues. In my study of the subject of tongues, I have come to see that such a gift is given for mainly three activities: praise, prayer and proclamation.

a) Praise

Here are three specific passages that point to tongues being utilised as praise to God.

… we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God. (Acts 2:11)

For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. (Acts 10:46)

15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. 16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? (1 Corinthians 14:15-16)

Now, the second passage in Acts 10:46 could be seen as distinguishing tongues and praise from one another. And, if that is true, of course I am fine with such. Nevertheless, there is no doubt tongues will be utilised in praise to God. This is why you might walk into a church gathering and here people singing in tongues, or they might refer to it as singing in the Spirit. And, though I don’t have a lot of time to go into it in this post, I believe this is also not too far off from Paul’s two references to ‘spiritual songs’, or ‘songs of the Spirit’ (see Eph 5:19; Col 3:16).

b) Prayer

One of the more obvious texts that point to tongues as prayer is found in the well-known passage of Paul’s words to the Corinthians:

For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. (1 Corinthians 14:14)

Now there are other passages that many Pentecostals and charismatics would refer to as pointers to prayer in tongues. The word ‘tongues’ is not found in the three passages below, but it does speak of prayer and groanings in/by the Spirit. What are those three texts? The first is found here:

praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. (Ephesians 6:18)

In this passage, it seems that praying in the Spirit is differentiated from other ‘types’ of prayer. Why? Paul first says, ‘praying at all times in the Spirit,’ and then goes on to say, ‘with all prayer and supplication’. The second phrase refers to what we might term ‘normal’ prayer and supplication, while the first phrase projects us praying in, or by, the Spirit.

One might ask – Well, do we not only pray because of the work the Spirit in our lives, kind of like Paul said that no one could say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ unless by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3)?

Such is a good question. But what I would liken this to is the role and gift of faith. No doubt one can only come to faith in Christ by the activity of the Holy Spirit. Such is very clear in the teaching of Scripture. But, beyond this faith activated in every believer by the work of the Spirit, Paul also distinguishes it from the gift of faith, as in 1 Cor 12:8-10. That gift of faith is what is normally activated by the Holy Spirit in God’s people for the workings of miracles and healings.

Thus, just as we would distinguish between the faith given to all saints for belief in Christ and the faith-manifestation of the Spirit for enacting miracles and healings, so I believe we can differentiate between prayer that is a reality in the lives of all believers and prayer in the Spirit that is a specific enabling of God’s Spirit to pray and intercede above and beyond that in which we would normally participate.

Now, to the question of what ‘praying in the Spirit’ actually details, I personally do not believe praying in the Spirit is intrinsically connected to praying in tongues. Still, what I would suggest is that, if tongues comes via the activity of the Holy Spirit and prayer in the Spirit comes via the Holy Spirit, then it is highly possible the two are linked together. Or, I might even suggest that praying in the Spirit is more of a broader, ‘umbrella’ term of which praying in tongues comes under. Some will disagree. But, at this point, that is my conclusion from studying the Scripture, as well as interacting with God in prayer via the specific activity of the Spirit.

And, as a side note, the phrase, ‘at all times’ in the Ephesians 6 text, probably does not refer to praying in the Spirit every second of the day, but rather to regular prayer in the Spirit.

These words of Jude are somewhat similar to Eph 6:18:

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit. (Jude 20)

Again, I would argue that praying in the Holy Spirit does not necessarily involve the act of praying in tongues, or praying with our spirit as it is worded in 1 Cor 14:14-15. I believe we can pray in the Spirit via our own mother tongue. But I would also maintain that praying in tongues is part of praying in the Holy Spirit.

The final text centred around praying in the Spirit, though worded a bit differently, is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

Now this verse does not seem to have any specific connection with tongues. But, again, both tongues and these ‘groanings’ come as a stirring and work of the Holy Spirit within the human spirit. And those who have been involved in deep times of prayer and intercession will know that, at times, we are not sure what to pray. But, in those times, we sense the stirrings of the Spirit welling up in us and all that comes forth are groans and cries from our heart. In those times, we can be assured the Spirit is actively at work in our weakness, praying according to the will of God.

Regardless of whether or not these three verses – Eph 6:18; Jude 20; Rom 8:26 – refer to tongues, which I suggest they could be distinguished from tongues, what we can note is that one of the purposes of tongues is that of prayer (1 Corinthians 14:14).

c) Proclamation

Many a Pentecostals and charismatics will stop with those two when it comes to the purpose of tongues. But I believe tongues can also function as proclamation. Why would I suggest such? Well, for starters, let’s look back at a passage in Acts:

… we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God. (Acts 2:11)

I don’t believe that this statement has to intrinsically be tied into praise, though some are convinced it is. I believe that to tell, or declare, the mighty works of God (in another language) functions as a proclamation. Matter of fact, this specific act led to the drawing of 3000 people into the kingdom of God on that Pentecost day. Much more than praise was probably being given.

And, let’s notice something else that is interesting about the Pentecost event. Following the outpouring of the Spirit, Peter quotes Joel with these words:

17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18)

Peter says that what has just happened is a fulfilment of Joel’s prophetic utterance centuries before. And the fruit of the outpouring of the Spirit on all God’s people – male and female, young and old – would be prophecy. But what happened at Pentecost? The event did not include prophecy, in the specific sense. Rather, it included tongues, which were understood by the on-lookers. Therefore, the outpouring of the Spirit along with the fruit of tongues became the initial fulfilment of a passage that specifically referred to of prophecy as the fruit of the outpouring of the Spirit.

Thus, I believe that tongues, when miraculously spoken and understood, or miraculously spoken and interpreted, can function like prophecy. So, tongues is a like the sister of prophecy, just as miracles and healings are quite related to one another.

This is why I believe tongues can function as a proclamation of God’s truth. And, even if it comes forth as praise, that praise can also operate as proclamation.

If you would like to hear the audio recording of my teaching on the gift of tongues this past Sunday, you can listen to it by clicking on the audio icon below, or you can download from our podcast or iTunes.

Preaching Series on Gifts of the Spirit

Starting this Sunday at Cornerstone, I plan to begin a preaching series on the gifts of the Spirit. As I have shared much recently (here, here and here), God has been re-emphasising his power to me – the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of the kingdom of God and the power of the gospel to change lives (amongst other emphases on His power). And, I have specifically been spending time preaching on the power of the Holy Spirit. You can listen to two of my most recent sermons: Acts 1:1-8 here and Acts 2:1-21 here.

Thus, after spending this time with Cornerstone looking at the reality of the power of the Spirit in both Acts 1 and 2, I believe it is now right in God to move on to specifically addressing the gifts of the Spirit. This will be an exciting time for the church, as they have never had any specific previous teaching on the Holy Spirit and His gifts. The past month has already been very stirring as we held two conferences – VMI and Fast Forward – and have been focusing on the power of God, especially the power of the Spirit. But this will be helpful, meaty and practical in seeing our local church body move forward into the things God has planned for us.

Though the church has never been antagonistic to the Holy Spirit and His gifts, and many come from backgrounds that allow for all gifts of the Spirit to be active, as I mentioned, the church had not had any specific teaching on the Holy Spirit’s gifts and, thus, not actively looking to practise these gifts in their gatherings and lives. But, with the recent connection of the church with Lifelink International, and with my arrival to oversee the church as of the summer of 2008, we have been purposeful to move towards an emphasis on the work of the Spirit and His gifts. It has taken us a while to get there, but now with a little (or BIG) push out of the nest by God, it is time to specifically dive into such an amazing reality.

But, we have had tasters of His gifts, no doubt. There have been times when prophecy has come forth (though some might not have realised it was such). And I have done teaching on the continuance of all five (or four) ministries mentioned in Ephesians 4:11-13: apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers (you can see the 4-part series here). And, just two weeks ago, we had an evening of seeking God together, mainly to hear from Him and speak forth what we believed God was stirring and saying. And, lo and behold, we had some prophecy, as well as others stepping out by praying aloud, sharing Scriptures, etc. It was truly beautiful and stirring!

So, I look forward to jumping into that all-important text in Corinthians on gifts of the Spirit, beginning with 1 Corinthians 12:1-11:

1Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

There is a lot one could address just in that text, but we will take it week by week. We will also have visitors in to speak on some Sundays, so my specific series might be put on hold here and there. But that is fine by me. They will bring the word of the Lord into our church regardless.

And I also look forward to a time of training in hearing God and prophesying next Saturday morning, 11 September. God continues to blow upon the embers of our heart and I can only expect there will be more blowing in the weeks to come.

So, stay tuned to our podcast if you would like to hear some teachings on the gifts of the Spirit (rather than read, though I might post some articles as well in the weeks to come). I will also post links to the teachings here at The Prodigal Thought.

The Power of the Spirit (Acts 2)

Acts 2 presents a paradigm shift in the way the body of Christ will function forever. The paradigm shift for the people of God would mirror that of the Messiah, Jesus Himself. And that is very important in Luke’s account of early church history as found in Acts. What happened in Acts parallels what happened to Jesus in Luke’s presentation in his Gospel.

As one theologian notes:

In the structure of Luke-Acts, the Pentecost narrative stands in the same relationship to the Acts as the infancy-inauguration narratives do to the Gospel. In the Gospel of Luke these narratives not only introduce the motifs which define the mission of Jesus, but they also show that Jesus will execute His mission in the power of the Holy Spirit. In a similar manner, the Pentecost narrative introduces both the future mission of the disciples and the complementary empowering of the Spirit. (Roger Stronstad, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke, p49)

And so, in Acts 2, we find the fulfilment of Jesus’ promise in Acts 1:5:

for John baptised with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.

It is this paradigm shift event of Pentecost which thrusts forward the walking out of the thesis statement of Acts 1:8:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

The Spirit poured out means just this – an empowered people! When they were baptised with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5) or filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4) or clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49), it gave them the power to be witnesses. Simply put, they could not have been the witnesses Jesus intended had they not been empowered, baptised, filled and clothed with the Spirit of God. We might have a theology that allows otherwise. But that theology fails knowing the reality of what Luke teaches us in Acts 1 and 2.

Thus, with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, the first followers of Christ were not given a ministry of maintaining the status quo. Far from it! They were given power to be His witnesses!

As I said in a recent post, what if Acts 1:8 had said this:

But you will receive the ability to maintain the status quo when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

Good grief, I am glad it does not say that. Though we so easily fall into the trap of carrying out such a ministry. Oh, so easily. I know. I’ve been there.

But rather the Spirit was sent and given as a gift to empower God’s people so that they might continue the works of Jesus as witnesses in all the earth. That was my major point in this recent article. This would allow for the whole Christ to be known in the whole earth.

Not only were all of God’s people an empowered community, but they were also a prophetic community.

What do I mean by this phrase – prophetic community? Well, let me break it down a little more.

First off, the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh, that is, all God’s people irrespective of gender or age. That, in and of itself, was quite a paradigm shift to the general nature of the old covenant, though we had little intimations that this would one day be a reality in the new covenant. That is why we read these words in Acts 2:17-18:

17 And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.

The Spirit given to all groups and all types of people. And what is the fruit of the outpouring of the Spirit of God? Go back and read these two verses. They shall prophesy! That is what these two verses emphasise as the by-product of the Spirit coming on all of God’s people.

And this makes quite a lot of sense when we realise that Jesus was the great prophet. Yes, more than a prophet. But still a prophet nonetheless, and a prophet par excellence. And He sent the Spirit to continue His exact same ministry in the earth today. The Spirit is the Spirit of prophecy, if anything else. And this is the same Spirit that indwells and empowers all of God’s people. Thus, we have a prophetic community.

Yes, I believe God gifts specific people as prophets and with prophetic gifts. But there is a sense in which the whole body of Christ carries a prophetic measure. And this measure should affect all areas of life, not just when we are used in the gift of prophecy. This affects right across every action, every word, every mindset, every thought, every attitude. Our whole lives are to be a prophetic pointer towards Christ.

Still, when we read 1 Corinthians 14, it seems in particular that prophecy, along with tongues, are the two most readily available gifts to the body of Christ. And tongues can function like prophecy when there is an interpretation of the public message in tongues (see 1 Corinthians 14:5). But we see Paul’s passion for the prophetic body of Christ with these words:

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.

This was a statement to the church at Corinth. Not just a special group of prophets. Roger Stronstad articulately expresses this amazing reality in another of his books, The Prophethood of All Believers:

Jesus completed his redemptive ministry by giving orders to his disciples by the Holy Spirit about their imminent Spirit-baptism and empowering (Acts 1.2, 5, 8). Having ascended to heaven he then poured out the Spirit upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2.33). He thereby transferred the anointing and empowering Spirit from himself to them, just as the Lord had earlier transferred the Spirit from Moses to the 70 elders, from Saul to David, and from Elijah to Elisha. By this act of transferring the Spirit to his disciples, Jesus, the Spirit-anointed prophet, makes his disciples a community of Spirit-baptized prophets. This fulfils an ancient oracle of the prophet Joel about a future age of restoration and blessing when the entire nation or community of God’s people, irrespective of age, gender or social status, would have the Spirit poured out upon them. Thus, on the day of Pentecost Jesus inaugurated the prophethood of all believers. (p71)

And, so, with the pouring out of the Spirit on God’s people, we also have the prophetic community. We cannot get away from our nature as Spirit-indwelt and Spirit-empowered people. We are a community of prophets. These are the things I preached this past Sunday at Cornerstone. If you are interested, you can listen to the message by clicking on the audio icon below. Or you can download from our podcast site or iTunes.

The Power of the Spirit

Because of what God has been stirring in me recently, I am currently looking at the power of God on Sundays at Cornerstone. And this past Sunday, I preached about the power of the Holy Spirit, based out of Acts 1:1-8.

Of course, I recently posted an article on the reason the Holy Spirit was given: 1) to continue the works of Jesus and 2) to empower the whole body as witnesses. But I thought it might be good to hear my thoughts on this same topic through the medium of audio recording. I also look at some things that I did not particularly address in the previous article.

You can listen to it by clicking on the icon below, or you can download from our podcast or iTunes.