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Previous Message From Virtual Church

ABOUT THE GIFTS…

A Pastor’s Personal Reply To Four Questions About The Gifts

Some of your gifts have been unwrapped and placed under the tree. Others are being worn, tried out, put together, disassembled, and reassembled. And a few of those gifts have had new batteries put in them every two hours if the gift was one of those remote controlled power toys of the next century designed to thrill any kid or any adult who is willing to admit they are still a kid. Some of your gifts have even been returned.

I have recently been asked four questions which are very common among Christian believers. My answers are not necessarily evangelical, fundamentalist, charismatic, or mainline. If you want to characterize my answers they are pastoral. My answers are about getting every believer moving toward doing the work of spreading God’s love.

I have recently been asked four questions which are very common among Christian believers. My answers are not necessarily evangelical, fundamentalist, charismatic, or mainline. My answers are about getting every believer moving toward doing the work of spreading God’s love.

Question 1: What is your take on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, do you think a
believer receives Him when he becomes a believer?

Question 2: Do you think "tongues" is for everyone?

Question 3: Why do you think that the church today is not seeing the miracles talked about in the book of Acts.

Question 4: If a believer has faith, won’t the believer be able to drive out demons, speak in new tongues, pick up snakes with their hands, drink deadly poison, and heal the sick by the laying on of hands?

I have been asked these questions a number of times. In my many years in the church, I have seldom been asked these questions by anyone who really wanted an answer to the questions. In the past, persons who wanted to argue or debate the issues of the questions have usually asked me these questions only to stir a debate or start an argument. When we look at my experience with these questions, and the experience of other pastors, what you can see are people asking these question who, in a sense, were not honest about their real search for an answer. In other words, we have supposedly Christian people, not being truthful when they ask these questions. I find that behavior appalling from Christians. However, a few rare individuals do ask these questions and these persons are truly searching for some grains of truth, rather than asking me so they can turn around and tell me.

Question 1: What is your take on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, do you think a
believer receives Him when he becomes a believer?

I will give a clear and definitive answer here. The answer is (not a final answer for a million, Regis) is a definitive yes and no, relatively speaking. I am just kidding.

Matthew 7:7 "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened."

I can believe Christ was the Son of God, died on the Cross, rose again on the third day, and that He died for me personally. I can believe these truths in an objective way just as I believe it is now 65 degrees outside because I can read an outdoor thermometer. I can believe these truths, but will I take other steps on my faith journey? Will I begin to dig deep into the love and truth of our faith? Will I seek, ask, and knock for the rest of my life? According to the words of Jesus, there is a spiritual door within you. You have the power and the decision-making ability to open this spiritual door or leave it closed. Clearly, Jesus is putting the responsibility for action on us by telling us to ask, seek, and knock on that door. Like a physical door, people can give a few tiny taps on Jesus’ spiritual door and quickly walk away. People can pound for a long time on His door. People can knock on His door and not really want to be there. When His door is opened some people may get frightened and back off and run away.

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit issue connects to the verse I cited. To have the Holy Spirit alive and living in me I must be a willing participant. I must be willing to ask, seek, and knock on the door to have the Holy Spirit come into my life. At the same time, there is no place in Heaven or on Earth where I can go and not be where God is. What I can do is just keep the door shut and hope God does not see me or hear me not knocking on the door. In other words, you can run from Him but you cannot hide.

To some extent the idea of the words "indwelling" are a bit amusing, considering there is no place to hide from God, and the Kingdom of God is always within. But clearly, Jesus’ words do indicate there are spiritual doorways or spiritual passages within us. He expects us to open a door within ourselves so He can come into our hearts, minds, and consciousness. He tells us after we have opened the door, He can feast or live within us.

This question about receiving the Holy Spirit is too often asked by persons who do not want to work too hard to receive the Spirit. Too many people want the easy road to receiving the Spirit. To really have the deep love, care, compassion, and energy of the Holy Spirit alive and living in us requires we work. The question implies all we have to do is believe the Holy Spirit exists and we do not have to do any asking, seeking, or knocking. This is a passive approach to our faith. This kind of passive, lukewarm, hands off, "objective thought" regard for God is not what God wants. What God wants are people pounding on His spiritual door seeking His truth.

In addition, the idea of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is where human ego, sin, greed, need for power, and "judgementalism" by persons in the faith comes into the picture. Not everyone is going to open Christ’s spiritual door the same way. Not everyone is going to open the door fully. Some will open the door only a few inches wide, peek inside, and walk or run away. Some people will throw the door open and want and need a big, loud, and resounding experience. Some people will gently push the door open and they will experience His love in a quiet time while on their knees in loving devotion. Some people will stand at the door, never get it opened, and will fake it like they have fully experienced the Holy Spirit’s full power. The problem is, a lot of power-seeking, ego-driven people (inside and outside of the church) want to set up a criteria to measure how much of the Holy Spirit, indwelling or not indwelling, is working in a person’s life. Many people want to take a yardstick or a measuring cup and say, "Hey Brother, you got forty-three units of the Holy Spirit!" The person doing the measuring places himself or herself above everyone else and acts as a judge. This idea or attempt at measuring how much of the Holy Spirit someone has is both ridiculous and ludicrous.

Some people desperately need a powerful demonstration of the working of the Holy Spirit. I, in some ways, feel sorry for these people. I have pastored some of these people and they have a starving and craving in them, which they want the Holy Spirit to fill. That is bad enough, but many times these people want an in-filling of the Holy Spirit without doing any work. They want an "entertainment, rock concert, Superbowl-winning" emotional blast from a church service or from their personal faith. All believers are given a door on which to knock when they become believers. Some knock, some do not. All of us can receive. Some receive only a tiny amount and for them, that is enough. Some receive an overflowing measure of Christ’s power and for them, that is not enough. The job of a pastor is not to hold up a yardstick or measuring cup to see who has the Holy Spirit, how much they have of the Spirit, or who does not have the Spirit. The job of a pastor is to see to it that each sheep is fed the right food at the right time in the right amount. What makes this feeding process so difficult is that our sheep are all different. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we fail at the feeding trough. However, if the pastor or Christian worker does the feeding and the work in quiet humility, and in love, with all activities done in Christ’ name, God takes care of the rest.

Question 2. Do you think "tongues" is for everyone?

What a lightning rod issue! I do believe God has a sense of humor. Sometimes I wonder if He did not put parts of the Scripture in the Bible just to keep some people’s minds busy so they would not stray off into sinful areas. This issue is such a lightning rod we do not even need to explain what we mean when we talk about it. We just address the issue as "tongues" and everyone knows what we are talking about. I will contradict myself here in just a minute. Again, people have asked me this question not to find out but have asked me to tell me.

Acts 2:5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. (NIV)

Just a minute ago I said we all know what we mean by "tongues" but the above verse is not what most of us moderns refer to as speaking in tongues. I generally assume when persons ask about speaking in tongues they are not referring to the miracle above. Yet at the same time, if God wanted to spread the gospel all over the world, this was an innovative, creative, and dramatic way to start. I inserted the above verse just to make sure you, the reader, know which "tongues" I am referring to. There are modern-day reports from pastors and missionaries in less developed countries where the above miracle has been displayed in the recent past. I will assume by the use of the word "tongues" that we are referring to the mysterious prayer language uttered by believers which often needs an interpretation by another believer.

I do believe the issue of tongues is emphasized too much. However, my gifts in ministry are centered on pastoral care or dealing with people who are hurting, homeless, disadvantaged, dysfunctional, and dying. I have not traditionally dealt with persons who are relatively healthy, wealthy, happy, or all three. From my personal perspective, the apostle Paul’s verse below expresses how each of us should regard the matter of speaking in tongues.

1 Cor. 13:13 1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. (NIV)

From my own personal experiences, which are by no means all-encompassing, persons who have a desperate need to see, hear, speak in, or hear about this prayer language are putting the direction of their faith in the wrong direction. Too many people spend too much time with the "tongues" issue at the expense of the poor, sick, elderly, victims of all kinds of abuse and injustice, and the truly lost. If a person is relatively happy, healthy, and/or wealthy the tongues issue may be important to them. I do believe if we get busy really doing the Lord’s backbreaking work in outreach, the prayer language so many want manifested would appear on its own. The "tongues" issue is a lightning rod because too many people in the faith have tried to force the display of tongues, forgetting altogether about love…caring…compassion…understanding…humility…and selfless devotion, although no one would admit to trying to force the Holy Spirit to manifest Himself. The influence of the charismatic movement in all denominations and affiliations has been substantial. These charismatic-leaning persons want a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit. The substance of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is love but in many church services today the substance looks more like adrenaline. I am not degrading the importance of the display of the gifts of the Spirit nor am I degrading my charismatic brothers and sisters. However, there are priorities in the faith we are to treasure. I take Paul at his word and believe love is priority one.

We must all remember that most people of faith today were raised in the TV age and a quiet moving of the Holy Spirit is not what people want today, at least until they hit a crisis of some kind. The church, to be modern and contemporary, must have a live rock band with the volume turned up. I do not have a problem with changes in the form of what we do in a service, just so we all recognize the reasons we are doing what we are doing and why we are doing them. When we lose track of our reasons, we end up losing our contact with the Holy Spirit, and we then start to be an entertainment center and activity complex instead of being a church.

Not everyone has the same gifts of the spirit. If Paul meant "tongues" as in French, English, Spanish, etc. some people do have a definite gift in learning and speaking another language and I am not one of those people. If Paul meant "tongues" as charismatics mean it, Paul’s words clearly say some have that gift. Paul does not say everyone has that gift. Imagine what a mess a church would be if everyone had only one gift. Imagine what a mess a church would be if members of the flock thought one gift was more important, more divine, more blessed, or an example of a more devout life than other gifts. (You may not have to imagine this one because you may have had to live through the consequences of this kind of church!) The idea that one gift is superior to other gifts is why this question is so dangerous and can lead to divisions and splits within the flock. Some people within the church also like to propose that persons who speak in a special prayer language that needs interpretation are spiritually superior to other persons. Superiority in any form is NOT an example of the Lord’s call for us to be humble.

1 Cor. 12:7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

We need many kinds of workers in the Kingdom. God provides if we can feed these workers, nurture them, and help them grow, if we can keep them from fighting and destroying each other in the process of helping them.

Question 3: Why do you think that the church today is not seeing the miracles talked about in the book of Acts.

It may not be the Lord’s will to see miracles today that are talked about in the book of Acts because people would perhaps get so caught up in the miracles they would forget about other things of spiritual and physical importance. Many people who want a display of dramatic miracles are starving for excitement and want excitement from their faith. I firmly believe the miracles of God appear when we are breaking our backs in humility and service and do not appear when we want to see the miracles. Miracles cannot be forced out of God.

In addition, we may not need a display like was given in the book of Acts. In the developed world, we have enormous technological power and control over our lives. Compared to the 1950’s, we produce miracles every day and we take them for granted. Remember that there are many, many miracles mentioned in the Old Testament just as there are miracles cited in the New Testament. The book of Acts is not exclusive in its presentation of miracles. Today, many people want a powerful "show" or display of the Holy Spirit. In addition, pastors want to keep their pulpits, and consequently the pastors cave in to often, enormous pressure and move in the wrong direction and end up providing a "show." Jesus could see into the future and He spoke about the flock who wants to see a show and the pastors and leaders who deliver the entertainment to appease them.

Matthew 7:22 Many will say to me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23 Then I will tell them plainly, `I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

Why would Jesus say such a thing about people that would be giving others such a powerful display or show of the Holy Spirit? He gave us the above verse because a "show" is not what we are to be about. Today, people want a show. Besides, we do miracles in every hospital in the country. Healings that would have been a miracle 20 years ago are commonplace today. In addition, our medical and biological technology is moving so fast we are on the edge of being able to give a person physical age reversal. However, if there is one overriding reason why we do not see shows of the miraculous in the church today it is because many churches are full of self-absorption, self-praise, pride, ego, vanity, and a need for money which has turned into an obsession. Supposedly, the bigger we can build the church building and membership the better the church is supposed to be. Supposedly, the bigger the church the better the pastor. Horribly, the need for money to make the church building and church activities bigger and bigger has turned many churches into money-starved organizations whose first priority is money. Churches are overextending themselves financially and they say they are "stepping out in faith." What they are stepping out in faith on is not faith in God but faith that our economy holds up.

You will not hear this from the pulpit but money is now what makes many churches go round. Awful! Awful! Awful! In addition, these same churches and church organizations that ignore the people with desperate needs (because the people with desperate needs do not have money to give) want a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit in the form of miracles. Is there something wrong with this picture?

Question 4: If a believer has faith, will not the believer be able to drive out demons, speak in new tongues, pick up snakes with their hands, drink deadly poison, and heal the sick by the laying on of hands?

Mark 16:15 He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well."

Let us assume I could do all these things. Let us assume I could drive out demons, speak in a new tongue, pick up snakes with my hands without getting bit or poisoned, drink deadly poison with no ill effects, and heal the sick by the laying on of hands. If I did all these things and claimed to be saved, would you be convinced that I was saved? If I did all these things, it would certainly be an attention-getter. If I did all these things, it would certainly be a great show. However, if I did all these things I might not have my priorities straight. Look at the following verses that tell the story of people who were given this very power and look at what Jesus says to them…

Luke 10: 17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name." 18 He replied, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

I do not want to tamper with anyone’s faith structure. I do, however, want your faith structure to be built upon reinforced concrete. This question is a question in regard to what we are to rejoice about. This question is about the power that God has given to some of us. These kinds of questions have beneath them a "power issue." The "power issue" concerns itself with the following questions. Who is a believer? How can we tell if they are a believer? Shouldn’t a believer be able to do such and such? Shouldn’t we be able to separate a true believer from a non-believer by judging them by the prayer language they use? I sincerely want every believer to get rid of these power issues. If a believer is caught up in these power questions or power issues the believer is headed in the right direction but needs to use other signs and wonders than the ones he or she is using now. From question number four, this question implies or resonates with the need for a believer who is attracted to the signs and wonders of the dramatic type. In your faith journey, you may not be able to see the signs and wonders of giving love, caring, compassion, presence, and forgiveness…yet. On your faith journey you must give love to heal the sick; give love to speak to people so they understand you (a gigantic feat and rare in this world). You must also give love to trample on the horrible plagues in people’s souls (snakes, scorpions, etc.). By giving love, others will come to know Christ’ love for themselves. There is a gigantic spiritual side to the verses above (Mark 16:15-18). However, most people read these verses and think of only the physical things mentioned.

There is no place in the Kingdom of God for people who want some kind of power, recognition, attention, notice, publicity, or popularity as a result of their faith work for Christ. Jesus says that we are not to rejoice because we have power over the enemy. That means we are not to get a sense of power from exhibiting what some call the "gifts of the spirit." We are not to feel joy at defeating the enemy. We are not to get a charge of any kind out of handling snakes, driving out demons, healing the sick, or drinking poison.

There is controversy in verse 17. Let us look at this verse from what I call the hard-to-hear point of view. The real hard-to-hear meaning behind verse 17 is a spiritual meaning, not a physical meaning. You might also want to recall that nowhere in the New Testament do we find any person drinking poison and not getting sick, not even in the book of Acts. However, let us look at these words from a spiritual point of view, rather than a purely physical point of view.

Mark 16:15 He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well."

Mark 16:17…In my name they will drive out demons…

If you have a need to see show business in the sanctuary, you would want this kind of demonstration of God’s power. You could sit in your pew and really get energized. However, if you are a person of real faith, could you get up out of your pew and do volunteer work at a VA hospital where so many of our former service men are plagued by the demons of war? Could you work with drug addicts who will carry the demon of addiction with them until the day they die? Could you work with the homeless who have demons crawling in their head from abuse, or no home life as a child, or from wild imaginings no one can understand? The point is this; you need to get up out of the pew and stop wanting to see a show. What Christ most wants from you is that you should quietly and tenderly help those who have demons by loving the person and showing the person you care about them. In addition, we must help these people unselfishly without demanding from them that they buy into your Christian agenda in exchange for the help we give. Satan has no power over the love of God. Symbolically speaking, you are a wire that can carry Christ’ love to others. I am sure many of you are tempted to want the power or at least a demonstration of it, but we should all remember we are just a wire. A wire could care less about the power it conveys. We should glory not in the power we convey but in Christ’ love that can heal.

Mark 16:17 …they will speak in new tongues…

Have you ever seen a dramatic conversion in a person who has led a rough, rude, crude life? Have you ever seen a person, especially a person who has used profanity a lot, experience having the love of the Holy Spirit welling up within them? This conversion experience makes the person want to not use profanity. Instead, the new convert wants to speak a new, clean, Godly language. This is one interpretation of what this verse means but most people do not take the verse to mean this.

Another interpretation of this verse is that when we become a Christian and truly have the love of Christ in us, we are able to talk to people in the language of love, caring, compassion, and concern. When we speak this new language they will accept into their hearts what we say. Let us look at this second interpretation with a question. I will give you two choices. Choice (1) is, you can go before a large congregation, speak in tongues, and have the congregation ecstatic over your gift and have them praise you for it. Choice (2) is, you could go to a foster home for abused children and read a story book to an abused 7 year old child so the child knows adults will not hurt them, What would you choose to do?

Now that I have given a pastoral background to this question, let us look at the question of whether every believer should be able to speak in tongues either in a private prayer time or in public. In addition, by speaking in tongues, again, we will assume the language used is the special language we find in churches we think of as charismatic. If the person we are speaking to is God, does God need us to speak a special language for us to be heard by Him? Do you think we must use a special prayer language because God cannot understand English, Spanish, French, Russian, or Chinese? Even in our private prayer time, does God require a special language? No, God does not hear the words; He does hear the heart. It is what is truly in your heart that counts, not necessarily the sound that comes out of your mouth. It is the sound within the heart that goes up to God. Besides, for God, what is most important is not the words you use to talk to Him, what is important to God is the openness of your heart. God needs you to have an open heart so you can LISTEN to Him. In some churches, the old tradition of silence in the church has died. Many people today would rather shout in church and shout to God than listen to Him. What a shame… What a pity… No wonder we have so many Christians starving for anything Godly. Do not go to God with a concern about a language or tongue. Go to God with an open heart and listen so you can listen before you speak to Him.

Mark 16:18 …they will pick up snakes with their hands…

Picking up a snake in your bear hands would be dramatic. However, what about holding the hand of an Aids victim who never gets a visitor? Which do you really think God wants you to do? You have seen on the news the countdown to the millennium and everyone is voting for the best of this and that category. I am not Catholic, but my vote for the person of the century is Mother Teresa. She started out as a teacher. Mother Teresa ended up starting homes for people near death in the gutters of Calcutta. Then God led her to start these centers all over the world. Some day, if the Lord does not return in the meantime, she will be called Saint Teresa.

Mark 16:18..and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all…

Some Christians have the ability to blend into a group without being noticed and without causing a raucous. These people have a way of being vulnerable around people who would, under other circumstances, devour them. These people have a sense of humor that disarms the meanest among us. They are able to blend into a situation and the poison and venom in that situation seems to go away. Believe me, not everyone has this gift, but some do. Now, what do you think God would want you to do, drink poison before a congregation and survive or blend into a group involved in evil things and quietly draw them away from the evil and turn them to Christ?

Mark 16:18 …they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well."

If you visit an Aids patient in the last stages of life, you will find that for some of them, there are open, bleeding sores on the skin. While visiting this person in the hospital, you are not permitted to enter this person’s room without wearing a mask, a gown, and protective gloves. If you were to visit a person who was near death, your presence and touch at the last moments could very easily bring them to a decision for Christ. Visiting someone with horrible sores is not attractive. There is no glamour or drama. There is no adrenaline, no excitement, and there may be no miraculous healing as a result of your touch. But if your visit touches the person’s soul enough and they accept Christ because they see Christ in you, then there will be a healing when that person reaches heaven. In addition, which kind of healing is better, the healing of the body here on earth or the healing we enjoy as we wing our way to heaven? In addition, if we want the power of the Holy Spirit without being willing to be totally subservient and do the hard and difficult work before getting the power, do we deserve the power?

May God bless you and keep you this week.

  

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Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (RSV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Copyright © 1952 [2nd edition, 1971] by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Shepherd's Care Ministries author and webmaster, Rev. Patrick Kelly, is affiliated through ministerial ordination with Church of God Ministries, Anderson IN 46018