A Biblical Pentecostal Experience

power-of-pentecost“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?”

Acts 2:1-8 ESV

I choose to entitle this post; A Biblical Pentecostal Experience because much of what is experienced today and labelled as a Pentecostal experience is not the same as what was experienced in the second chapter of Acts! Let me show you what I’m talking about! When we hear of a Pentecostal experience today in church circles, it is labelled as such because usually people are speaking in tongues. And, most of the time, the tongues they are speaking is a language that is unknown to the speaker and the hearers! The speaking in tongues that is equated to Pentecost today is NOT the speaking in tongues that occurred on the Day of Pentecost in Acts! It IS more like the speaking in tongues discussed in 1 Corinthians 12-14.

These were and are two different phenomena. In Acts Chapter Two, the speaking in tongues was the speaking of a language that was unknown to the speaker, but known to the hearer!  They didn’t speak in a completely “unknown” tongue; they spoke in “other” tongues! On the day of Pentecost, there were Jews and other people in Jerusalem from many different countries that did not speak or understand Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew, or Latin. Greek was the international language of commerce and trade. Aramaic was the language of the contemporary Jew. Hebrew was the “mother tongue” of the Jews, and Latin was the language of Rome. As a side note, Jesus was most likely trilingual; speaking Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek. But whatever the case, there were many in Jerusalem on that day that only knew and understood their native tongue. So, for sake of communicating the Gospel, The Spirit empowered the believers to speak in the native tongues of the various people who were present although the believers did not naturally know or had not learned that language. It’s like me being given the ability to communicate the Gospel in Italian even though that is a language I have never learned! The only Italian I know is the word; “pizza!”

The speaking in tongues discussed in 1 Corinthians, Chapters 12-14 was the speaking of an ecstatic language that one could speak only as they were gifted by the Spirit to speak. Note the difference: In Acts, they spoke in tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance, or as the Spirit “empowered” them! In 1 Corinthians 12-14, they spoke in tongues only as the Spirit “gifted” them! In Acts, on the Day of Pentecost, they all (The Apostles and the 120 people who were gathered together in the upper room) spoke in tongues as the Spirit empowered them to communicate the Gospel to foreigners who were in Jerusalem. However, everyone was not gifted by the Spirit to speak in tongues the tongues of 1 Corinthians 12-14. When Paul asked the question: “Do all speak in tongues?” in 1 Corinthians 12:30, the context and the Greek syntax of the text suggest the expectation of a negative answer! Paul’s point was: Everybody is not gifted by the Spirit to be an apostle, a prophet, or a teacher. Everyone is not gifted with the gift of miracles, healing, or tongues! But the Holy Spirit gives the spiritual gifts as He wills for the benefit of the Body or the Church.

When people talk about a Pentecostal experience, they cite as the main evidence speaking in tongues, but the speaking in tongues they cite is, more often than not, more akin to what happened in Corinth than of what happened on the Day of Pentecost! So, what would a biblical Pentecostal experience look like today? I don’t think it would be a situation where a lot of people speak in tongues that no one understands, but rather I think it would be a situation where people speak and understand the Gospel in a language that can be understood! As strange as it may seem, often in our modern culture, many people are talking, but few people are actually communicating! We often say the same words, while not realizing the words we say may not mean what they mean to us to the people we are speaking them to! If you don’t understand what I’m talking about and you’re over thirty, just spend some time listening to some teen-agers! They use the same words (sometimes), but they are talking a whole different language! A Pentecostal experience is communicating the Gospel to that age-group in their language! I don’t understand it because I can’t make out much of what they are saying, but I don’t condemn “Christian rap” or Christian rappers just because I don’t understand what they are saying! I praise God because that medium is reaching a segment that may not be otherwise reached! In many ways, that phenomenon could be described as a biblical Pentecostal experience.

You see, the main goal of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was not to make the disciples “feel good” or even to lift them to another level of spiritual ecstasy! No! The main goal, the reason the Spirit descended as tongues of fire on the disciples in the upper room, was to endow and empower them with the ability to communicate the Gospel in a language that those foreigners could understand! So, the Holy Spirit gave those disciples the ability to speak a language that was unknown to the speaker, but known to the hearer! That was His agenda then, and that is still His agenda today! The true biblical Pentecostal experience was and is about communicating the Gospel in a language that men and women, boys and girls of all languages, ethnic groups, nationalities, and backgrounds can understand!

 

 

Do Black Lives Matter. . . Only When?

black lives matterFirst, let me preface my statement by saying I protest and detest the recent killing of Black unarmed young men by police officers in Ferguson, MO, New York City, and other places where these acts of excessive deadly force have occurred! I am in no way protesting the protests! But I am curious as to why there are so many protest against these violent acts by the police and yet so few protests against the common every-day-violence perpetrated by young Black men against other young Black men and women in Black communities across the country on a daily basis. It seems to me the subliminal message is: “Black lives matter . . . but only when taken by White police officers!”

It could very well be that the Black community has told White America by its apathetic stand on violence within the Black community that it is OK for Black people to kill Blacks but not for White people to kill Blacks! Until Black people have the same level of respect for a Black life taken in the Black community by another Black person as exemplified in the recent demonstrations, there is a double standard. It’s like the use of the n-word. In most neighborhoods, it’s alright for Blacks to use the word in reference to one another, but it is an atrociously racist word, falling from the lips of a White person! It’s like saying: “It’s OK for us to disrespect us; but it is not OK for you to disrespect us!” We’ve got to find a way to move beyond the hues of skin-tone and understand that all lives matter! The Black skin and the White skin are just coverings; all blood is red and the essential essence of every life is immaterial spirit. Every life has purpose and when that life is prematurely ended, especially by an act of violence, it is a degrading detraction from all of humanity!

A few hours prior to writing this post, I was moved tears after reading an account of a young man who was murdered trying to protect his mother from a home invader! This young man was a middle school scholar with a bright future ahead of him! But his life was viciously snuffed out by someone with a set of morals that deems it OK to rob and steal instead of working!

I know the situation in the Black community is varied and complicated and there are no easy answers. There are social and economic factors that breed a sense of hopelessness and helplessness that seems to pervade many inner-city ghettos. But, we’ve got to find a way! Smoking dope, getting high, getting laid, and shaking our butts, do nothing to solve the real problems! We need the help of the Higher Power for the wisdom and the resolve to deal with the real issues. Not only do we need the help of God, we need every life to make the contribution it was created and born to make! Every life is a minute expression of divinity! Every life has a destiny to fulfill and a contribution to make! Therefore the taking of any life in acts of violence is an assault against God and all of humanity!

So our protest and outrage shouldn’t be confined to the killing of young Black men by White police officers! We should protest, every time a mother has to bury her son because of a drug-deal gone bad! We should protest every time an innocent bystander is killed in a drive-by shooting! We should protest every time a young woman is killed in a domestic dispute by her boyfriend or husband! We should protest every time a gang-banger is killed by another gang-banger!

Yes! Black lives do matter, even when they are not taken by White police officers! Black lives matter! White lives matter! Yellow lives matter! Red lives matter! Green life matters! All life matters! The taking of any life in any unlawful and violent circumstance is reason to protest!

Another Look at Moses and the Ethiopian Wife

Moses and the Ethiopian

“And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman. And they said, Hath the LORD indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And the LORD heard it.”

Numbers 12:1-2 KJV

Most of the commentaries I have read suggest that Miriam and Aaron’s real beef with Moses was not about the Black woman he married. They suggest that the real and only problem was the fact that they were envious of Moses’ unique position of leadership and the criticism of Moses’ marriage to a Black woman was just a smoke-screen of an excuse to address the real problem. But could this interpretation be a case of inserting modern-day Western values and mores into the ancient Eastern text? The unspoken suggestion of most commentaries is that Miriam and Aaron felt that Moses was lowering his social status by marrying a Black woman! But was that really the case? I would like to suggest that it was not!

First of all, who were the people of the dominant culture at that time? Well, I learned in Sunday School as a little boy, that it was actually the Hebrews who were enslaved by the Egyptians! The dominant people in that place and time and in that culture were the Black Africans! Therefore, for Moses to marry a Black woman was not a matter of him marrying someone who was considered socially beneath him but rather it was a case of him marrying someone who was considered to be socially above him! Moses did not marry “down,” he married “up!”

When we consider this possibility, Moses’ marriage to the Ethiopian woman and the complaint of Miriam and Aaron are not so dis-jointed after all! When Moses married the Ethiopian woman, as far as Miriam and Aaron was concerned, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back! E. R. Richards and B. J. O’Brien write in their work: Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible: “The Cushites (Ethiopians) were not demeaned as a slave race in the ancient world; they were respected as highly skilled soldiers. It is more likely that Miriam and Aaron thought Moses was being presumptuous by marrying above himself. That makes sense of the tone of the passage. “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they whined. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” (Num 12:2). In other words: Moses is not the only prophet here. Who does he think he is?” And to top it all off, he has the nerve to try to make himself more than what he is by marrying an Ethiopian woman!

 

Richards, E. R., & O’Brien, B. J. (2012). Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (p. 61). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Keeping It Real?

kid keeping it realWhen I talk with many young people about the lyrics of the rap-songs that glorify the violence that has infected many of our urban communities, their response is that those songs are not part of the problem, but rather that they are just “keeping it real!” In other words, what they are saying is that the rap artists and the rap lyrics are not part of the problem; they are just telling it like it is!

But, even if they are just telling it like it is, or as they say; “keeping it real,” the very act of focusing on and glorifying the negative experiences of our urban communities is, in fact perpetuating the problem! The very act of “keeping it real” is what in fact, helps to keep it real! Now, I am not advocating we completely ignore the reality of the situation by closing our eyes and pretending that it does not exist. What I am saying is that I think there is no really positive purpose served in constantly verbalizing how bad things are! In fact, as I stated earlier, the more we talk about the way things are; the more we keep things the way they are! There is no solution to the problem in glorifying the problem!

So, instead of the rappers and the like, trying to “keep it real,” why not rap and sing about an alternate reality? In other words, instead of focusing, singing and rapping about the way it is, why not focus, sing and rap about the way it ought to be, or the way it could be? It’s just a basic human fact; whatever we focus upon, we attract and it expands in our life experiences! Rapping and singing about the violence in the streets breeds even more violence! It really is serving to “keep it” real!

Think about it! Why keep it real when you really don’t like the reality you have? Instead of keeping it real, let’s work on the dream of making a better society real! We can do that by no longer financially supporting the negative messages that are being broadcast on the airways. The average person thinks there is nothing they can do, but if the records, albums and CD’s don’t sell, the artists, producers and record companies will not make money! If the public decides to no longer tolerate and support the negativity on a massive scale and the radio stations find the moral courage to no longer broadcast toxicity in the name of art and free speech, I guarantee the messages will change!

You say, you’re keeping it real? Well, it doesn’t take much to talk about what is, but it takes insight, foresight, creativity and vision to talk about what ought to be and what could be! Why focus on keeping it real when the same energy could be better used to make a new reality?