Speaking in Tongues

Sometimes topics of discussion come up with us out here and our varied backgrounds makes for a lively dialogue. I wanted to share one of the topics that recently sparked quite a conversation…speaking in tongues in a church service. The question arose from talking with a Thai person. She also happened to be a foreign exchange student in the US. While in the US, she experienced a Pentecostal service that had people going overboard in their expression of the power of the Holy Spirit. She was freaked out and did not want to return to such a place again.

Hence we wondered, how do we know the appropriate expression of the Holy Spirit in a public church service? Can one speak in tongues in a church service? Here is a quick and easy answer to what is speaking in tongues and what is a church service (the gathered believers).

I think we have all seen excess in the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. We have seen what can only be described as weird, and we are Pentecostal. We start thinking…imagine if my friend who doesn’t know God or a relative were here with me, what would they think? Our mind races to conclusions of how we would handle the service. We tend to guard against hindering unbelievers from knowing God. Sometimes we take a reactionary stance to what people do and border on quenching the Holy Spirit. We read I Corinthians through the eyes of today and see it as an outline for how to structure a church service. Rather, we should look at the letter Paul wrote from the eyes of the original audience. In this incredible letter we get great help for how to handle conflict in a church, correction in a church and order in a service.

Paul clearly addresses the matter of tongues in a church service in I Corinthians 14:1-40. Remember, he is writing to a people that he taught the gospel. He says he did not come with eloquent words, but with signs and wonders in the power of God. The problem in the church wasn’t that they were using tongues in the service, but they were speaking in tongues in excess. Paul did not tell them, you forgot what I taught you about not speaking in tongues in the service, and now you have messed everything up.

In fact, Paul tells them to bring order, because the chaos is sending people out the back door faster than they are coming in the front door. In their zeal to show how spiritual they are to each other and to God, they are losing their witness to the community. They are being labeled crazy rather than spiritual. Paul exhorts them to preach the word and use the prophetic (preaching) in order to convict the unbeliever of sin. He cautions to only use tongues when the one giving the tongue feels he has an interpretation.

Here is a side question to the topic. In chapter 12, speaking in tongues is one person and interpreting tongues is another person. However, in Chapter 14, Paul says he who speaks in tongues should do so when he also has an interpretation. How does that work? How do you know when you have an interpretation before you give a tongue?

Today, we find the church reacting in a tempered way not wanting to let the Spiritual get out of control, And on the other side, the hyper charismatic who repeat the error of Corinth in trying to display their spirituality as a badge of honor.

When I read Corinthians, I find Paul taking a middle road approach. He commends the spiritual. Yet, he expects order and understandability to the outsider. He says, when the whole church gathers together (which I would like to investigate what that means for church structure at another time), and an outsider is present, they will think you are out of your mind if you are speaking in tongues the whole time. But, the in the next paragraph, he says when you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. He goes on to say, no more than three should prophecy and likewise no more than two or three should speak with a tongue.

I do not find here the evidence to forbid tongues in a public service or ‘seeker service’ like many want to hold to. Neither do I find a basis for letting loose with the expressions of spirituality even if only believers are present. The point is order. The key verse to the whole debate is the last two verses in chapter 14, but I think too many have made up their mind before they read these verses.

“39Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”

We as the church or church leaders can be timid to allow the power of God to be present, because we don’t fully understand what and how it works, and we don’t want to scare people away. I would contend an authentic manifestation of God’s power would draw people to know God unless we fail to give an explanation to the gathered who watch curiously of what we do know. Even if we don’t fuly grasp what is happening, we can still give context to the outsider, so they don’t have to be confused. We need to always explain church language as well as explain the spiritual. When we shy from the moving of God in power, we can turn out like what Paul is talking about in I Thessalonians 5:19-20.

“19Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; 20do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22Avoid every kind of evil.”

Personal Ministry Coach has a great post on spiritual openness.

I love being a part of the Foursquare Church. I have the privilege of traveling and visiting churches as we share what God is doing in Thailand. The one thing I can say is that Foursquare doesn’t have a cookie cutter approach to church service. One Foursquare Church can be as different as the next depending on how each pastor and staff design the meetings around the people and community they serve. Therefore, I don’t have a Foursquare model to work from. I think that may be why many have questions of how to do the spiritual element of a service. Jack Hayford has led well how to be sensitive to the outsider and passionate for the presence of God bringing balance in his leadership and pastoring. He explains his personal story in speaking in tongues in this article.

With this in mind, how should we in today’s context manage the spiritual element as church leaders? Here are some of my questions.

*In a public service with unbelievers, how do we allow for tongues and explain to the gathered what is happening?

*If we are in a time of corporate praise or prayer, and everyone is praising or praying…what if someone speaks in tongues from the stage or into a microphone?

*If we are in prayer circles, can we pray in tongues for the person we are praying for?

*When we are praying for some one to be filled with the Holy Spirit, can we pray in tongues for them?

What other experiences or questions do you have?


Tourism in Thailand Continues to Fall

In Thailand, tourism continues to plummet to a 49-year low affecting many aspects of Thai life. As one of the two largest industries in Thailand, tourism helps run the economic engine.

One of the successful small businesses in the church, Yoso Travel has felt the effects. They continue to adjust to the situation and have done okay, unlike many other businesses.

As we work at English Clinic, an outreach to the local university to help college students with their English for free, we meet many people who work selling products to tourists or at the airport or tourist related fields. Our friends who work and serve in the slum communities tell us how their friends come home after trying to sell souvenirs in the tourist areas with most of their product still in hand.

On the one hand, we see many low prices for flying into and out of Thailand. Travel and tourism is becoming a much more affordable thing. If you want to come on a mission trip or to visit your good friends out here, now is the time.

On the other hand, we want to see stability in Thailand, so the Thai people can progress. However, in the midst of the economic and political uncertainty, we have seen a new openness to the gospel. We are seeing more people interested in God, and more people coming into the kingdom. We are also hearing stories from our friends in other ministries of similar openness.

Seeing unseen faces

I wanted to expound on the difficulty of losing my sight. I will share how one of my most difficult struggles in being blind is not seeing people’s faces.

When I first lost my sight, I was overwhelmed in how to respond to this issue. I would walk into a room where I knew most of the people and become tied in knots inside. My normally fun-loving, outgoing personality shrank inside, because I didn’t know where in the room each particular person was. I could not know who was talking just a few feet away, or who was standing on the other end of the room. Attending a church service began to have new obstacles for me as I loved interacting with the people I knew and greeting new people.

At first I began to let myself lose the battle and pretty much slink off to the side waiting for people to come to me. I no longer knew how to initiate conversation or walk up to my friends to just say hello. On the flipside, they could not know my inner struggle and come to begin conversations with me. Therefore, I often was left out to fend for myself.

Part of my rehabilitation included learning how to relate in social settings like parties. When I learned I wasn’t the only person having a hardship in this area, I realized there was hope. I learned little tricks to help me get around. I don’t have to feel bad asking some one, where is another person. They probably won’t feel slighted that I would rather talk to some one else at that particular moment. I can ask a person what there name is right away even though I should know it. Hearing a person’s voice proves difficult to have the immediate ability to place their name. Even when you recognize the voice as familiar, the specific name can take a little longer than placing a face.

In Thailand, I still have greater difficulty with this issue. The Thai people do not always understand why I don’t know who they are right away from the first words they say. Recognizing a voice with a foreign accent or in a foreign language takes the recall process a step farther.

If you have any other tips to help me maneuver in a room of my friends when all the faces are essentially blank, I would be glad to have some pointers. I am always working on honing my social skills as I continue to live as a blind person until God heals me.

Jesus is the true friend

The English Camp, ‘Time for Friends’ attracted many Thai people to practice English with native speakers. I spoke the last morning on the true friend, Jesus.

I told my story about going blind and how Jesus was my friend through that time. I’ll give the basics below.

I have a friend, who messed with me a lot during our time at Life Pacific College. One time when we were stopping at Crispy Cream for a fresh donut, I needed to use the bathroom. My friend guided me to the door and left to use the facilities. A moment later, I heard a shrieking yell from a girl who walked in to the horror of having a boy in the girl’s bathroom. The whole shop heard her scream, and what could I do, but laugh at my friend (I use the term loosely, hahahaha). Now I read the bathroom label in Braille before I let him show me the bathroom.

Our friends can be less than ideal simply because we are human. We all have shortcomings. However, we have one friend that never leaves us. We never have to worry about being abandoned or forgotten. He is closer than a brother. He will always be present. No matter if we go to the heavens or down to the depths of the sea, He is there. Whether we go to the ends of the earth or the opposite way to farthest reaches of the planet, He is there.  He knows us intimately. He saw us in the womb as he knit us together. I am talking of Jesus.

Jesus comforted and came close to me during the hardest times of my life as I lost my sight. When I was twenty years old, I began to lose my sight in my left eye. I remember going to McDonald’s and not being able to read the menu as clearly as I remembered. I thought that was strange and hoped it would go away. But the problem persisted. After a series of tests and a specialist checked my eyes, I knew I had the same disease that afflicted one of my older brothers, George. The degenerative disease called Leber’s Optic Neuropathy began to take hold. My optic nerve stopped receiving blood and slowly died. That is easy way to understand the problem

Basically, my eye works normally, but the picture doesn’t get to the brain. I can see light and dark and blobs of objects that are close to me are visible but very blurry or foggy. There is no distinction or shape to things that I may slightly be aware of in my immediate surrounding.  The process of this disease took about eight months to reach the place it is today.

Here are some of the moments of dealing with losing my sight. One day I was playing catch with my friend, Kevin Kruse, as I loved baseball. The weather was warming up in the springtime. One eye did not work anymore, but my right eye still functioned fairly well, but my depth perception for playing catch escaped me. One of Kevin’s throws to me eluded my glove and wacked me in the forehead. My heart sunk as I knew I would not play catch again for a long time, until God heals me.

I remember getting my face close to the TV to play video games as I held onto every little thing I could do for as long as I could do it. I watched the Bulls win their 5th championship with my eyes pressed close to the corner of the TV, trying not to block others view as I watched Michael Jordan close out the games with heroic efforts. I remember when I knew I could no longer drive as I went to visit a friend at the University of Wisconsin. As I approached the downtown, the spots in my vision that kept growing blocked me from seeing the traffic signals. I have never been more scared driving than not knowing if I was approaching a red or green light. I just went with the cars around me and hoped that would get me by. I did see the light as I came right to the intersection, but after making it home safely that night, I told my father I can’t drive anymore. My parents then drove me to work at the newspaper where I worked as a stringer for the remaining weeks that I could function fully at that job.

Jesus stuck with me threw that entire dark time of my life. When you need people the most, they just don’t always know how to be there, and they can’t always be there. I would often want my friends to be there, but they had to go to school or work. I had good friends, but I needed more than they could provide for me. This time became increasingly lonely, but I still clung to my relationship with God. I won’t lie, there were some very difficult days, and I was angry at times. But the questions of why or being angry at God didn’t happen like people always expected or still ask me about today. I tried not to ask why, because who am I to have to know why such things happen.

And I found through the process of this trouble in my life, that we have two responses to God in the hard times. When things go wrong, we can either blame God and get angry with him, or we can turn to God. However, God is blameless, meaning that he is without fault or blame. He is perfect. Therefore, I turned to God and threw my life into his hands. I tell people that I was shoved into maturity during this time. I was enjoying life, and a little bit floating through life unfocused on my goals. After losing my sight, I needed to focus clearly on what God wanted in me, or I wouldn’t accomplish anything.

I applied to Bible College. As part of the requirement to being in college, I had to show independent living skills, so I spent three months at the Illinois Center for Rehabilitation and Education learning Braille, mobility, computers and more. The biggest thing I learned during this time was that Jesus was close to me through the entire process of my pain and rehab. As I learned how to live as a blind person, my personality came back and I began to grow in confidence again. I went to Bible College and did better in school than when I could see. Jesus came close to me when I needed him the most. God walked through my pain and trial with me. Being a Christian doesn’t take the pain and problems out of our life, but brings the greatest friend into our life to walk with us through the issues of life.

Jesus is not only a great friend, but he is powerful. He set the starts in the sky and was there at the dawn of creation as things were put in place. He stands as the king of kings with all power and authority given to him. This was an interesting thing as he came to earth to represent God to humanity and be the way to know God. He came to give his life for us. In Buddhist culture, we know that we will pay for what we do. The bad actions we take today will catch up to us, and we will pay a consequence. Jesus came to take that consequence on himself. He was a perfect man who said let me take your payment on my shoulders.

However, the disciples who followed him did not fully understand what he came to do. They knew he came as the Messiah, or the anointed one to bring the kingdom. They expected an earthly kingdom and to overthrow their oppressors. At one meal just before Jesus was to be arrested and killed, he was talking with them explaining his purpose for being here. He said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.”

I am sure the disciples saw him talking like a general pumping up his troops. They probably thought to themselves, we are ready to die for you our king and friend. Yet, Jesus, the king, was saying the opposite. He was giving his life for us and calling us his friend. Jesus wants to know you and be there with you. He came to comfort the broken hearted and heal the wounded. He came to have relationship and make a way for us to connect with God.

English Camp

English Camp came off amazing last week, July 6-8. I am getting to the blog a little late in telling of how things went. We had nearly 80 people from the Study Center, University outreach and other friends along with 40 staff members come to the camp themed ‘Time for Friends’ to practice English.

Our group by you.  Our group at camp

In the course of learning English, the church shared the gospel message of Jesus to them by first living the gospel and representing Jesus to the campers. Don’t worry, this was not a bait and switch…the campers knew up front that a church was sponsoring the camp and Christians were coming from America to spend time with them speaking English. Practicing English with a native speaker works like a magnet for a Thai person.

Worshipping  Worship Time

We had a team from Hawaii to assist in making the camp as great as possible. They helped in our English stations, workshops and just one-on-one conversations during meals and free-time. The two big draws for the three-day camp were the English Town and the Prom night.

English Town started as a good idea and turned out to be a smashing success. We set up a bunch of stations to create a feel of entering a foreign English speaking town, including a hospital, immigration, money exchange, flea market, your friend’s house, and much more. We even threw in a few thieves to pick your pocket and a taxi to drive you around. The campers had to use their English only for 90-minutes.

English Town taxi by you.

The Prom Night was a way to teach western culture along with language. We showed how young people like to get dressed fancy and go to a big dance. The word prom is used very loosely. We taught etiquette for guys asking girls, polite ways to deny a guy you don’t want to go with (not slapping him or laughing in his face). We showed how you should treat each other in such settings. The Thai people love this event as they have seen things like this in the movies, but never experienced anything like it. Only one camper had ever been to a prom before as she spent a year in Kansas as a foreign exchange student. Thai students don’t have dances like this.

Some of the girls by you.  Some of the girls ready for Prom

As the theme dealt with friends, I was given opportunity to share why Jesus is the true friend and my best friend. I will share in an upcoming post about that story. At the present, 14 people have decided to give their life to Jesus. Salvation from an event like this happens more spontaneous and through relationship. I am praying that more of the campers will want to know Jesus as well in the coming weeks.

Andy sharing why Jesus is his best friend by you.  Andy sharing with the campers