Archive for February, 2008

What is Speaking in Tongues

February 26, 2008

Title: What is Speaking in Tongues

Text: Acts 2:1-13

Time: March 2, 2008

Last week I talked about the baptism and the filling of the Holy Spirit, as the topic came up in relationship with Acts 2. Today, I’d like speak on the question, “What is speaking in tongues?” Why tackle these super controversial topics? Because they come up in Acts 2. We’re studying the Book of Acts and these kind of topics pop up from time to time, especially in respect to the early Christian church. It’s impossible to ignore them, they must be faced head on, even though they generate a lot of controversy and risk causing division because of all the different views and opinions surrounding them. Last week, I hope I was helpful in making the distinction between the filling of the Holy Spirit and the baptism in the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. This week I would like to try again to make a distinction between the different types of speaking in tongues mentioned in the Bible, because just as in the case with the distinction between the baptism and the filling of the Holy Spirit, it’s important to make a distinction between the different kinds of speaking in tongues found in the Bible. I know this is very controversial. Some Christians see all speaking in tongues as all one kind of thing, while others see differences in the kinds of speaking in tongues found in the Bible. But I don’t just want to do theology or teach a point of doctrine, I’d like to also show how all of this applies to our Christian lives today. What difference does it make whether speaking in tongues is possible today as it was in the early church? If there are different kinds of speaking in tongues and these are available today, what difference does that make in the believer’s life? Starting around the beginning of last century the modern Pentecostal movement began at Azusa Street in California. From there, speaking in tongues caught fire and spread to all parts of the world. The major denomination that came out of that Pentecostal revival is called the Assemblies of God, but there are other denominations that also trace their origins to the start of the 20th century at Azusa Street. Pentecostals have been speaking in tongues for over one hundred years. Yet a more recent movement has sprung up in the last 50 years known as the Charismatic movement. It started in the late 50s and early 60s in Washington State with an Anglican priest named Dennis Bennett whose church began to practice many of the things traditional Pentecostals had been doing, except instead of the people leaving their church, as was the usual reaction to the filling of the Spirit and speaking in tongues, they remained in their own church and brought renewal to it and other main-line denominational churches. So the modern day Charismatic movement is a movement of spirit-filled Christians who remain in their own main-line denominational churches, instead of leaving to go to traditional Pentecostal churches. The result of all this has been that now many or even most people in Christianity today have heard of the baptism and filling of the Holy Spirit, and also, most people have heard of speaking in tongues. There are still sharp divisions within Christianity concerning the filling and baptism of the Holy Spirit and also speaking in tongues, but it’s not as bad as it was in the past. Fundamentalist churches of all types tend to reject speaking in tongues as something that happens or should happen today, while most main-line denominational and evangelical churches now recognize the filling of the Spirit and speaking in tongues does, and in some cases, should occur in the church today. Let me see if I can explain what the Bible says about the subject of speaking in tongues, in order that we might think clearly about this and also that we might act accordingly. Let me ask, and then try to answer three questions. (more…)

What is the Baptism and Filling of the Holy Spirit

February 23, 2008

Title: What is the Baptism and Filling of the Holy Spirit

Text: Acts 2:1-13

Time: February 24, 2008

We are examining the details of the second chapter of the Book of Acts, because it describes the birth of the Christian church. It’s one of the most exciting chapters in the whole Bible because it describes how on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came upon the believers and transformed them into the church. Now in reading over the account of the Holy Spirit coming upon the church it’s a little tricky to know exactly what happened and how it happened because we are 2000 years separated from the event, and because the description in the Bible isn’t all that detailed. Yes, there are important details included in the account, but there are even more details left out of the account that we wish might have been there. I think two of the big questions that the second chapter of Acts raises are, first, what is the filling or baptism of the Holy Spirit, and two, what is speaking in tongues. Today, I’d like to focus on the first question, what is the filling or baptism of the Holy Spirit, and then, next week, try to answer the question, what is speaking in tongues? Now when asking the question, what is the baptism or filling of the Holy Spirit that we see here in the second chapter of Acts, another question is generated, “Is the baptism of the Holy Spirit the same thing as the filling of the Holy Spirit?” Acts 2 only mentions the phrase “filled with the Holy Spirit,” and doesn’t mention anything about “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” But in Acts 1:4-5, Jesus instructed his disciples, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Here, clearly, Jesus is pointing to the day of Pentecost and describing it as a “baptism with the Holy Spirit.” So we have two terms describing the same event at Pentecost: Jesus calls it a baptism in the Holy Spirit, while the author of Acts, Luke, calls what happened at Pentecost as a “filling of the Holy Spirit.” Are these two terms interchangeable? Are they similar but not the same? Or are they entirely different things altogether? That’s what I’d like to try to sort out this morning. How does this all relate to our lives today 2000 years removed from Pentecost? Some people read the Bible and love to follow the stories and teachings but leave it at that without trying to ask the bigger question, “What does this all mean for me today, in my Christian life?” If the Bible is just a book of history, it might serve as good reading material but it won’t transform my life. But the Bible is more than just history, it’s God’s living and active Word that not only informs us and challenges us, but also transforms us because it’s relevant to us today just as it has been for every generation of Christians for the last 2000 years. So it does matter how we think about the Holy Spirit. It does matter whether there is a baptism and separate filling of the Holy Spirit, or whether those two are the same thing. It does matter whether the baptism or filling is a one-time thing or a continual on-going thing in the life of the believer. Now there is a lot of confusion surrounding the Holy Spirit today, if you haven’t noticed. There are Pentecostal churches and Charismatic churches that embrace the Holy Spirit but use different terms and words and vocabulary to describe experiences with the Spirit. Then there fundamentalist churches that teach the Holy Spirit doesn’t do a lot of the things described in the Bible because that was for an earlier time; the Bible today is all we need. So there are differences within differences within the Christian church about the Holy Spirit and the activity of the Spirit today. I hope I can clear up some of the confusion. I’ll ask three questions and then try to answer them from the Bible. (more…)

The Holy Spirit in the Last Days

February 23, 2008

Title: The Holy Spirit in the Last Days

Text: Acts 2:14-21

Time: February 17, 2008

The second chapter of Acts is one of the most exciting sections of the whole Bible because it describes the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the church, marking a new age of humanity; it’s that big. We measure time before Christ and after Christ, B.C. and A.D, but we must not think of the birth of Jesus as the dividing point, but rather the birth, the life, the resurrection of Jesus, and the birth of the church through the Holy Spirit as all one big diving line. After Jesus and beginning with the Spirit-born Christian church, the historical designation of the present age is “the Last Days,” or “the Latter Day.” Everything that happened before is called the former times, or the earlier days. We are now in the last days, the days on this side of the incarnation of Christ and the birth of the church in the 1st century. We are 2000 years separated from Jesus and we are still in the last days! Today, I like to refer to the times we are living in as the latter later days, meaning that within the last days, we are in the latter last days. It’s hard to imagine things going on the way they are for another 2000 years because it seems that past a certain point it’s difficult to keep describing an age as “last days” when they keep going on and on for hundreds and thousands of years more! I could be wrong though. 2000 years from now, Christians might be having church in space or on another planet, and preachers might be preaching sermons on the fact that Jesus might return at any time because it is still the last days. If that were to be the case, then obviously the phrase “last days” must be referring to the label “latter days” meaning not that the days are coming to an end soon, but that the days we are living in are not the former days or early times. In other words, the Old Testament times might be referred to as the early days and anything past that, starting with the New Testament times would be referred to as the latter days, not meaning that the end is near, but rather than we are not still in the beginning times. I’ve often wondered whether the phrase “last days” found here in Acts 2 might say anything about the age of the earth. There is this debate among theologians within Christianity over the age of the earth. Is the earth really young, like around 5,000 to 10,000 years old; or is the earth really old, like say millions or billions of years old? It all depends on how you read the Book of Genesis and whether you see the events it describes as strict chronology or as general outlines. Christians have debated this question for ages. Is the earth really old, or does it just appear to be old? Is the earth really young, yet of necessity God created it with the appearance of age? These are tough questions. But my interest in them is sparked by the phrase “last days.” I think the description tends to favor the earth being old because if the earth is really old, then thousands and thousands of years would only appear as a small time on a really long time frame, but if the earth is really young, than thousands of years like we have now 2000 years would stretch the whole idea of last days, I think. But again, it’s hard to tell time frames in the Bible. Regardless of what the phrase “last days” means, we are in them still right now, and the “latter days” started 2000 years ago with Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit. So today, I’d like to talk about three things from this passage in Acts 2: the Last Days, the Holy Spirit’s outpouring, and the results of the outpouring. Acts 2:14-21 (read). Hopefully, by the end of the message we can see how relevant all of this is for ourselves in our time. (more…)

The Seemingly Unlikely Circumstances of Christmas

February 11, 2008

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Title: The Seemingly Unlikely Circumstances of Christmas

Text:

Time: December 2, 2007

We are now into December, the month of Christmas. Continuing our Christmas sermon series, today I’ll be talking about the unlikely events surrounding Christmas, that first Christmas. Think about the persons, places and things that we associate with Christmas. How unlikely they are, how unpredictable, how impossible to imagine them before they actually happened. This is part of the mystery of Christmas, how God brought together a group of people, places, and things to create the first Christmas. Now today, we are so familiar with Christmas that these things don’t seem so strange to us, but when you look at them from the eyes of someone who isn’t familiar with them, they seem odd and unusual, even incredible. So let me try to point out how unusual that first Christmas truly was, how unlikely it all was in the beginning, yet how everything beautifully comes together to make what we now know as the nativity scene. But isn’t that just how God is, the God we worship and adore? God, like the Christmas story, is mysterious and remarkable, in no way common or predictable. That fact has always caused problems for some people, for many people, because they expect God to conform to their very human thinking. They expect God to follow the laws of human logic in being and acting towards men and women of the earth. But God has always departed from the typical understanding of him by humans. Christmas is a great example of God breaking out of all human expectations because in it God becomes man in Jesus Christ – the most unlikely and unpredictable event of all. In fact, the incarnation as it’s called by theologians, God becoming man, was so unimaginable that the Jews never did accept it and still continue to refuse to believe it. Christians have always accepted it, but have never been able to understand it or explain it very well. But it certainly continues to represent God departing from typical human logic and it continues to challenge us as humans to not get too comfortable in our understanding of God. We aren’t supposed to understand God fully. We aren’t to feel we’ve fully explained him to ourselves or to others. We are to always feel that God is greater than our understanding of him, because he really is greater than our thoughts and ideas about him. Christmas helps remind us of this every year. So this Sunday I’d like to point out three areas where God does the unlikely and the unusual at the first Christmas. All these persons, places and things are not what we would expect. (more…)

The Gospel to every Culture and Sub-Culture

February 11, 2008

Title: The Gospel to every Culture and Sub-Culture

Text: Acts 2:1-13

Time: February 8, 2008

We are still looking at The Book of Acts, chapter two, because there is so much happening in this chapter of the New Testament. Today I’d like to examine the missionary beginnings of the early Christian Church. What is missions? What is a missionary? A missionary is someone who takes the gospel and the teachings of the Bible to a different culture than one’s own. A foreign mission is one in which Christians take the gospel and Christianity into a different or foreign culture. Now that’s a little tricky because in involves translating the gospel into a different culture, speaking a different language, adapting to a different context and situation. It hard enough to share the gospel and Christianity with a person of the same culture and language, but to share the teachings of the Bible in a different culture is more difficult. How many of you have ever traveled to a foreign country? Did you find that it was difficult to communicate? Did you find that the customs and traditions and ways of life were hard to understand and learn? Well, it’s really hard to communicate something as complex as spiritual truth in a foreign culture, but that’s just what God was calling the disciples to do, and that’s also what God is calling the Christian church to do today. Remember the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20? “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very ends of the age.’” This is a mission to take the gospel and Christianity into all the world, into every different culture of the world, into every different language and people group. We are all called to be witnesses to the gospel of Jesus Christ, just some of us are sent to a different culture; these are called missionaries. Now what happens if a missionary goes to a foreign culture but doesn’t learn the foreign language, doesn’t learn the different ways of that foreign culture, but rather just starts preaching and teaching the gospel in English and in the same ways he would in the United States? Would that missionary accomplish much as a missionary? No. Why not? Because in order to communicate the gospel in a different culture the missionary must speak the language of that culture, not expect the people of that foreign culture to understand English. So in other words, the gospel and the teachings of Christianity must be translated into the language of the foreign culture or else nobody will understand it and nobody will get saved and become disciples of Jesus Christ. So what do we see happening on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2? We see God sending the disciples out to preach the gospel to different cultures and giving them the supernatural power to translate that gospel into the language and culture of many peoples. When the gospel is heard and understood by each culture in its own language, then people can convert to Christ and become disciples, which is the whole purpose of missions. If the gospel isn’t heard or understood in the language of each culture, then nobody can get saved and nobody can become disciples of Jesus Christ. So we see how important missions are, and also how important it is to get supernatural assistance from God in order to translate the gospel into the culture of every people group. Only when each people group hears and understands the gospel in its own language and culture, can it fully embrace Christianity. That’s what we see happening in Acts 2. Consider three things found in Acts 2:1-13 (read). (more…)