Tag Archives: dispensationalism

Spiritual Parlor Tricks.

In about six weeks I’ll be going back to Kenya, and as usual God has been speaking to me about His Kingdom. Last week He revealed something to me that broke my heart; something about the western Church and about myself as well. I wanted to break this up into a couple blogs, but I don’t think that’s going to be possible, so I apologize in advance for the length.

This will be my thirteenth trip to Africa in the last eight years. When you go somewhere outside of your own culture, there are certain things that become impossible to miss. One of those is how closely the African Church, at least as far as I’ve seen it, mirrors the church in Acts, and conversely, how poorly the western church mirrors the early Church.

As Jesus was just about to go up to Heaven, he gave instructions. “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16)

Largely this is what I see in Africa. I see the sight of the blind restored, the sick healed, the insane restored and their entire lives changed, addicts recover. I see people pray for what we would consider crazy and God answers it, and the list goes on, reflecting what Jesus said would happen as signs that would happen after the gospel is preached.

While I see some of that in America, I don’t see nearly as much of it. So why would that be? Well, that was what God spoke to me about.

There are a number of gifts of the Spirit of God that are listed in the bible, besides the signs that Jesus mentioned in Mark. There’s a somewhat comprehensive list of the more common ones in 1 Corinthians 12.

“There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works [e]all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.”

There are largely two lines of thought on this in the west. Those who think that the gifts of the Spirit mentioned above are to be sought above all other things, and those who don’t think they exist anymore. So how do we get such polar opposite views in a supposedly singular Church? Well the answer to that question is where we went wrong, and where the African church can save us, because we’ve gone way off course.

I’m going to start with those who seek the gifts over all things. There are churches that will tell you that if you do not speak in tongues then you are not saved, or other similar statements about the gifts of the Spirit. But what are the gifts? If you look at what they are and how they are used, they not only display the glory of God, but more importantly they display the love of God to a lost world. It is no mistake that the next chapter in 1 Corinthians after the one about the gifts is the chapter about love, summed up in the verse, “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

If we seek the gifts of the Spirit but do not love our neighbor, we only seek to perform spiritual parlor tricks. If we do not love our neighbor, who was created in God’s image, then we do not represent the God who created them.

The other side of the coin is those who say that the gifts of the Spirit died with the apostles, and that God no longer does these things today. Dispensationalism is the name for this doctrine for anyone that cares. I’ve heard prominent pastors engage in spiritual contortions in order to make this work in their own minds, going so far as to forbid these gifts. (How you can forbid something that supposedly doesn’t exist, I don’t know, but that’s beside the point.)

Here’s the problem; When those gifts start showing up, who am I going to believe, your preaching or my own lying eyes? Faith is the evidence of things unseen, but when God shows up in powerful ways and we still don’t believe it, that’s something straight out of hell.

But when we don’t see God show up in the ways He said He would, it’s easier to build a doctrine around how God has changed and not have to face the fact that we were unfaithful. You see, if we were faithful to love our neighbors as ourselves, as we were commanded to do; if we were to give of ourselves sacrificially to the poor and the lost, then the gifts of the Spirit would show up as a matter of course. If on the other hand we seek the gifts without doing what Christ commanded, then we are guilty of idolatry, worshipping the gifts rather than the giver.

So boiling it down, and this is going to make people mad, but so be it; the African church loves the lost, and we don’t. We don’t love the lost every time we turn a blind eye to the poor, every time we refer to immigrants as filthy criminals, every time we judge the addict because they “made bad choices and they’re just reaping what they sow. Shall I go on?

How do the Africans love their neighbors? By blessing people and praying the love of God over people even as they’re being beaten, by exercising gifts of healing over the son of someone who tried to burn down his house, by giving sacrificially to the needy, even in their own poverty. This is what the Church was created for.

As Jesus said when he started his ministry,

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

    because he has anointed me

    to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

    and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

We’ve, no, I’ve got so much I have to learn.

Photo of the woman who’s sight was restored after two years of blindness in Ethiopia.

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Drowning Jesus

Faith and missions are two things that have been on my mind a lot lately, and particularly the way they interact with each other. I grew up in churches that had no fire, no power, no influence, and consequently made no difference. I no longer have time or patience for that kind of theology. We were taught as children that Jesus did miracles, and the disciples after Him did miracles and healings and all of the incredible moves of the Spirit of God that are talked about in the book of acts, but that after the disciples died, these things died with them. You can’t back that belief up anywhere in the scriptures, but we were taught it nonetheless. Why were we taught it?  Well I’ll get to that later.

In the book of Matthew is the following story. It takes place just after Jesus had preached to the multitudes and fed them all with five loaves of bread and two fish.

“22 Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. 23 And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. 24 But the boat was now in the middle of the sea,[a] tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary.

25 Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. 26 And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear.

27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”

28 And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”

29 So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. 30 But when Peter saw that the wind was boisterous,[b] he was afraid; Then Jesus began to sink under the waves………………….  Ok, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I changed that last bit. Here’s how it actually goes.

“30 But when he saw that the wind was boisterous,[b] he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!”

31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

So my alternate ending to this story is as ridiculous as what I was taught as a child, and what many are taught now. The fact is that my lack of faith doesn’t limit God in any way, it only limits what God will do through ME. Think about that. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” If we don’t believe this is true, we may as well throw the rest of the scripture out too. The world is not interested in a castrated, ineffective, impotent, watered-down, powerless, gospel, because that is no gospel at all. I’m not interested in it either. There is a lost world out there, and if you don’t believe that, I challenge you to get out and travel to a country that the name ends either in ia or stan.

We are not told the stories in the gospels and Acts to look back wistfully and say, “gosh, wouldn’t that be nice?” We are told these things as a reference for what we are expected to do today.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,[a]
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;”

So why aren’t we taught that today?  Why are we taught that God doesn’t do this anymore?   It’s born out of fear. If I choose to believe that Jesus still expects us to pray for the sick, to set the captives free, to go to the uttermost parts of the earth, to heal the brokenhearted, to give sight to the blind, (both literally and figuratively), to cast out demons, and even to raise the dead; if I believe these things then there is going to be a whole lot more required of me than just showing up on Sunday morning and putting in my hour. I might have to go and pray for that unsavory person on the street if the Spirit of God moves me to do it. It might require me to trust God to do what He said he would do. It might require me to go to a place where there is no Starbucks, or air conditioning, or paved roads, or even an assurance of safety. So if I go with the doctrine that God doesn’t do these things anymore, what I’m telling God is, “I would do these things, but you don’t do these things anymore.  It’s not me, it’s you.” Then we can be content with our “faith” that requires nothing of us. It’s as ridiculous as getting out of the boat to walk to Jesus, but when we see the waves and start to doubt, expecting Jesus to be the one who sinks instead of us. Think about it.

Missionaries pray for a sick woman in South Sudan.
Missionaries pray for a sick woman in South Sudan.