Speaking Into the Atmosphere: An Abuse of Faith and Worship

There is a serious problem afoot in the church today: Theology, sermons, and teachings are being based on songs from the top gospel hit-list rather than from a correct exegesis and interpretation of the biblical text! People are by-and-large doctrinally deficient and grossly ignorant of what the Bible really says about faith and life! The old prophetic word is coming to fruition before our very eyes: The people of God are indeed perishing for the lack of knowledge!

At the time that I am writing this post, I am on the verge of completing forty-one (41) years in the preaching ministry! A lot has changed within the church in the neck of the woods where I labor. For instance; forty-one years ago (1978), there were no ‘Baptist Bishops!’ Forty-one years ago, there was no amour-bearer ministry! And forty-one years ago, there certainly was no pervasive practice of church-people, decreeing and declaring, speaking into the atmosphere or calling those things that be not as though they were! Yes! A lot has changed in the church in the last forty-one years!

Now, as I write this post, please know that it is not my intention to be judgmental or critical, but rather to express what I believe to be biblical truth. I do not profess to be perfect or without error, but I do believe what I am sharing in this post is the biblical truth, therefore, I echo the words attributed to the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3:15: “Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you.” (NLT)

I heard in a song some years ago and now I am beginning to consistently hear it in the preaching and teaching in many corners of the church; this notion of speaking into the atmosphere! It sounds ‘holy’ and ‘pious’ but is it biblical? Is this a practice endorsed or commended in the biblical text? I would suggest that it is not! Not only that, but I would also suggest that this practice is detrimental and constitutes an abuse of faith and worship! Let me show you what I am talking about:

First of all, while our words do have the power to change conditions around us (for instance, words can create tension, anger, relief, or laughter in our communication with people), the type of change that is suggested in speaking into the atmosphere in the worship experience is mystical and manipulative! It is an abuse of faith! For instance, when this ‘speaking into the atmosphere’ is suggested, there is no disclaimer given that mentions the condition of the speaker’s relationship with the Lord. In other words, if a person is not right in their relationship with the Lord, no matter how much they ‘speak into the atmosphere’ or even ‘pray the prayer of faith’ there will be no good results; they are wasting breath and time! When we are not in right-relationship with the Lord, it effects our communication with the Lord! Deitrick Haddon is mistaken: God doesn’t hear a sinner’s prayer without restrictions; the only prayer God hears from a sinner is the prayer of repentance! The Prophet Isaiah reported to the ancient Israelites: “Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.” (Isaiah 59:1-2 KJV) King David said: “If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” (Psalm 66:18 NLT)

This ideal of ‘speaking into the atmosphere’ has no biblical basis. In other words, there is no biblical example of such a practice! There is no record in the Bible of people ‘speaking into the atmosphere’ in the manner it is practiced today! In fact, in addressing the practice of publicly speaking in tongues, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church: “So now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you speaking in other tongues, how will I benefit you unless I speak to you with a revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? Even lifeless instruments that produce sounds– whether flute or harp– if they don’t make a distinction in the notes, how will what is played on the flute or harp be recognized? In fact, if the bugle makes an unclear sound, who will prepare for battle? In the same way, unless you use your tongue for intelligible speech, how will what is spoken be known? For you will be speaking into the air.” (1 Corinthians 14:6-9 CSB) When Paul said, ‘you will be speaking into the air’ he meant publicly ‘speaking in tongues’ is useless without accompanying interpretation. That’s the closest the Bible gets to the practice of speaking into the air! And in that context, it was used as an example of a fruitless activity!

But not only does the practice of ‘speaking into the atmosphere’ have no biblical basis, it is a well-documented practice of ancient magic and New Age mysticism! I believe there are many church-people today, who believe more in magic than they do in God and this ‘speaking into the atmosphere’ is a prime example! But even more surprising than that practice is the pervasive erroneous belief that merely saying the phrase; “In the name of Jesus” makes a difference in faith, prayer, and practice! However, the difference is not in merely saying; “in the name of Jesus,” the difference is in actually functioning in the name of Jesus! To pray, preach, or do anything without a relationship with Jesus and think by merely saying; ‘in the name of Jesus’ after or as it is being done gives it validity is as much effectiveness as saying ‘open-says-a-me’ or ‘abbra-ca-dabra!’ ‘In the name of Jesus’ was never meant to be a catch-phrase or a chant-formula to tack on the end of our prayers or actions. In the name of Jesus means to act or function on Jesus’ behalf or in his stead! It is the somewhat like our power of attorney. The one who acts or functions in the name of Jesus is one who acts or function with the authority and in the same manner as Jesus himself would act or function! It was never meant to be a ‘catch-phrase’ or an endorsement formula to justify our actions and prayers!

Now, I’ve talked about speaking into the atmosphere as an abuse of faith, in addition, it is also an abuse of worship! Here’s the reason why! Most modern worshippers are completely ignorant of the true purpose of worship! The word ‘worship’ comes from the Old English; ‘worth-ship.’ Therefore real worship is not about the one who worships, but rather about the one who is worshipped! Real worship is not about what we get, but rather about what we give! In real worship, we ascribe to God His Worth! Therefore, the person who refuses to worship is, in essence, saying; “God is not worth it!”

The focus of real worship is God; not us! Therefore, when church-people fight about contemporary worship or traditional worship, the argument has more to do with cultural and personal preferences than biblical correctness! The bottom-line is both are vain and useless if the primary focus is on the worshipper instead of the Worshipped! And that’s my problem with this notion of ‘speaking into the atmosphere’ in the worship setting. It seems like an attempt to coerce the presence of God, which is in reality, not necessary because God is omnipresent; there is no place that God is not! In addition to that fact, God is within every believer in the Person of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, whenever and wherever believers congregate, there really is no need to invoke, invite, or summons the presence of the God who is already there! In addition to that, Jesus said: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20 KJV) Therefore, our worship should be a response to the Lord’s presence, not an attempt to ‘invite His presence!’

In thinking about the ideal of inviting His presence, it reminds me of what happened with the contest on Mt. Carmel:

“And Elijah came near to all the people and said, ‘How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.’ And the people did not answer him a word. Then Elijah said to the people, ‘I, even I only, am left a prophet of the LORD, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.’ And all the people answered, ‘It is well spoken.’ Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, ‘Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.’ And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, ‘O Baal, answer us!’ But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, ‘Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.’ And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.” (1 Kings 18:21-29 ESV)

Therefore, my friends, in regard to ‘speaking into the atmosphere,’ such a practice has no biblical basis and is alarming similar to, if not the same as, ancient magical and modern New Age practices; both of which are contrary to real biblical faith! Be careful of how your theology is shaped and formed! Perhaps it is time for us to spend less time on Facebook and more time in The Book! It is well pass time for us to allow the Bible to inform our theology and singing instead of allowing popular Gospel music to inform our theology and practice!

Earning Wings?

As I write this, first of all, I don’t want to come across as being flippant, disrespectful, or insensitive to those who have died or to those they left behind. My aim is not to agitate but rather to educate. With that being said, let me get into what stimulated me to write this post.

I was perusing my Facebook page the other day when I ran across this post of someone commenting about a person who had recently died. I was particularly arrested by their suggestion that the person who had died had; ‘earned their wings!’ Now, this was not the first time I had seen that comment, for across the years, I had read it too many times for me to count! Perhaps, this time for me was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back! At any rate, I felt the need to write this post to address this erroneous idea.

There are basically three errors that are inherent in the notion that when a person dies they have ‘earned their wings.’ First of all, the idea of ‘earning’ is completely opposite of biblical teaching. The Bible teaches that salvation cannot be earned, but rather is the result of God’s unmerited divine favor, known as grace! The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian church; “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9 NKJ) Therefore, there is nothing we can ‘earn’ because everything we receive from God is by God’s grace! The Old Testament Prophet Isaiah wrote: “But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags. .”  (Isa. 64:6 NKJ) [in the Hebrew text, ‘filthy rags’ is a reference to a woman’s menstrual cloth!] The best we have to offer in regard to earning merit with God is utterly repugnant!

Secondly, where did this idea that we will get ‘wings’ when we die come from? (I wrote about this false notion more extensively in another post: Forever Human). Perhaps it comes from a misunderstanding of a statement Jesus made to the Sadducees in regard to marriage after death. Jesus said: “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven.” (Matt. 22:30 NKJ) Men will be ‘like angel’ in that there will be no marriages, not like angel as in being of the same class of being as angels. And where did we get the idea that angels have wings? The only biblical reference to angelic creatures having wings is in Isaiah 6. If you read carefully, you will note that these creatures were not ordinary angels, but are specifically named as: Serephim. There is no record in the Bible of ordinary angels having wings! In addition to that, a careful and correct reading of the Bible will reveal that the function of angels is to minister to the heirs of salvation. (Hebrews 1:13-14) Therefore, for humans to become angels at death is a demotion rather than a promotion! In God’s hierarchy, angels are beneath us, not above us!

Lastly, I also talked about this more extensively in another post (All Dogs ‘Don’t’ Go To Heaven), but it does not matter how much suffering a person went through on earth, that does not qualify them for Heaven! I know we would like to think that all of our loved-ones and friends are at peace in Heaven, but the biblical truth of the matter is all of them are not! Everybody who has died is not resting in peace! The only thing that qualifies a person for Heaven is a correct relationship with God through Jesus Christ!

I know we say things like this in an effort to comfort the bereaved, but I think it does more harm than good when the comfort is based on false hope! Therefore, as we seek to comfort those who are bereaved, let us be careful to give them real comfort from the Word of God and not false comfort from worldly ideas or Facebook theology!

Zombie Theology

zombiesI took a seminary class some years ago that dealt with theology in theater. The premise of the class was that all theater productions, movies, television shows, etc., say something, even if it’s in an obscure way, about what and how people think about God and life. Recently, there have been a rash of zombie movies and television shows such as; The Walking Dead, Z-Nation and others. And of course, classics such as Night of the Living Dead and Day of the Dead still perk the interest of many horror movie fans.

A few days ago, while watching an episode of Z-Nation (the series), I started thinking about the theology of zombies. What are these movies and these television shows saying about God and life? Well, I noticed that in The Walking Dead and in Z-Nation, there are always more zombies than living people! The zombies walk around in a mindless fashion, going no place in particular. I said: “Wow! That reminds me of some people I know!” Do you know anyone who is living their life in “zombie-mode?” They have no goals and they are not going anywhere in particular. They just get up each day in survival mode, just trying to make it through the day. It seems like there are always more people who are going nowhere in particular than there are people who have goals, visions, and plans.

I also observed that the zombies feed off of the brains of the living people! They eat brains, but they don’t get any smarter! And when they bite a person, they turn that person into a zombie too! There are people around who will suck the life out of you! They seem to specialize in always trying to destroy your creative thoughts and many times they will try to steal your ideas, but they never come up with anything original or creative on their own! These are the people who have made “Captain Obvious” their hero! They are quick to point out the obvious problems but are totally clueless and useless in offering viable solutions!

Usually, the zombie apocalypse starts with one infected person who bites another person and before you know it; it’s a plague of zombies! It’s a zombie apocalypse! When I consider many of the idiotic ideas that are being accepted as truth and normal today, I wonder if we are in the midst of a zombie apocalypse! I recently heard of a high school principal who thinks the way to elevate low achieving students is to group them with high achieving students! But what always happen in those cases is that the achievements of the higher students are pulled down by the low achievers! This high school principal must have never seen a zombie movie! A zombie is never cured by biting the living, but when a zombie bites the living, the living always turns into a zombie!

One more thing about the zombie shows and then I’m through! In the zombie shows, no matter how many zombies there are, there are always some living people who have hopes of survival, finding a cure, and having a new beginning! Hopefully this post will be read by people who have that hope! Common sense is not so common anymore! In government, there are not many statesmen around anymore; only politicians! Gun violence, police brutality, racial profiling, government corruption and people killing other people like flies! We’re in the middle of a zombie apocalypse! But, even in the midst of this, there is hope! That hope is found in the God who offers hope in the midst of our despair! So even if you have been bitten, there is hope in God! So don’t give up! Keep fighting the zombies off! Don’t let them bite you! And for God’s sake, don’t let them eat your brains!

A False Theology of Death

tombstonesWe live in an increasingly violent society and in view of the constant senseless tragic premature deaths that occur in our society on a daily basis, many people are formulating a false theology of death as a coping mechanism. It is just part of the human make-up to “make sense” of what are otherwise “senseless situations.”
Now, the reason why people are formulating a false theology of death is because of an ignorance of what the Bible says about the subject. But, the surprising thing to me is that while one would expect people who are non-religious and/or who don’t attend church to be ignorant on the subject, much of the false theology of death being promoted is coming from “church people,” even people who are preachers, pastors, and church leaders!
The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica these words: He said, “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep. . .” (1Th 4:13 KJV) In that particular text, Paul used the word “asleep” as a euphemism for death. There were people in the church at that time who were anxiously awaiting the coming of the Lord and they wanted to know what would happen to those who had died prior to the Lord’s coming. They were apprehensive because they feared those who had died would miss the Lord’s coming. Therefore, Paul wrote this section of the text to allay their fears. He didn’t want them to be uninformed or in the dark about what would happen to those who had died when Jesus came back. Yet, over two thousand years later, people are still largely ignorant and uninformed concerning those who have died! Not so much about what would happen to them when Jesus comes back, but rather, about what happens to them when they die.
In promoting a correct theology of death, I think it would be beneficial to cite some of the false beliefs that are prevalent. A few months ago, I was shocked to witness an example of a false theology of death in a church resolution! I was sitting in the funeral service of a dear elderly mother who had spent years serving in the church. All was going well, until they read a resolution to the family by the church. After many “whereas” and “therefore” (I don’t know how to write these in plural form!), the clerk read this: “Whereas on (date) God looked down from Heaven and plucked a gentle flower named (the deceased) from His earthly garden to array His Heavenly bouquet. . .” To be honest with you, I almost fell out of my seat! I mean . . . seriously? I wouldn’t have been so shocked if someone from the congregation had said such nonsense in their remarks, but this was an official church resolution! Now you might be wondering what’s so terrible about the statement. But think about it! The statement implies that God “killed” this dear mother, just to beautify Heaven! I know we say things, trying to comfort the family in their time of grief, but statements like this is a gross misrepresentation of what the Bible says about death and the character of God!
First of all, GOD DOES NOT SPONSOR DEATH! Jesus said in John 10:10, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (KJV) God is not in the business of killing people! It’s God will that we live long, prosperous and productive lives! And if we studied Genesis carefully, we would discover that death was not part of God’s original intent. It was God’s original intention for man to live forever upon the earth! Death came about as a result of sin.
I encountered another case of a false theology of death while attending a visitation for a young man who had been murdered in a shooting. I was walking out the door of the funeral home when I overheard and elderly woman trying to comfort a grieving young person. The woman said to the young man: “Well you know, it was just God’s will and God just called him home!” I almost stopped in my tracks! Seriously? It is NEVER GOD’S WILL for a 24-year-old to be shot and murdered! God doesn’t use murder to “call people home!” It is more beneficial to God and to us to live a long life because we are more useful to God on earth than we are in Heaven! Where are we getting all of this foolishness? We need to learn to call it for what it is! There is a story in Matthew about a man who planted a field, but when it was time for the harvest, the workers discovered tares among the wheat. They asked their master: “Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them: An enemy hath done this. . .” (Mat 13:27-28 KJV) People attribute all deaths as being the work of God, but the truth of the matter is: The enemy hath done this!” And the enemy doesn’t want people to know what he is doing because he knows it is really difficult to truly praise a God that you think is responsible for your grief!
I’ve got one more false theology I want to address and then I will be through with my rant (for now). For some reason, many think that death is a promotion to angelic status. But the truth of the matter is this: Angel will always be angels and people will always be people! People do not change into angels and they do not get wings when they die, even if they were good people! I know we sing the song about two wings to veil our face, two wings to veil our feet, and two wings to fly away, but nowhere in the Bible is it even implied that we will get wings! The song has good rhythm but it has bad theology!
Well, I’ve shared the false theology of death; now let me leave you with the true theology of death! The true theology is this: We live in a fallen world! Because of that, life is often cruel and unfair! Many times the good die young, while people who raise hell seem to live forever! It’s not fair for the life of a young person with potential, dreams and goals to be violently taken by someone who only lives for themselves! It’s not fair for a father or mother of a young family to be killed in an automobile accident while the person who caused the accident, whose license had already been suspended for driving drunk, walks away! No! Life’s not fair, but don’t blame life’s unfairness on God: The enemy has done this! But, in the end, it will all work out! The Apostle Paul said: “Our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” (2 Cor. 4:17 NLT) Paul also said that for the believer, to be absent from the body (dead) is to be present with the Lord! And the Bible says that in His presence is the fullness of joy! The Apostle John received a revelation on the Isle of Patmos, listen to what he saw: “And I John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.” (Rev 21:2-5 KJV)

Until then, be not over-whelmed with the worries and tragedies of this present world! Use them to motivate you to be all that God has called you to be in the short time that life allows! If and when tragedy strikes in your life or in the lives of those around you, know and offer the hope that is available in Christ: “Jesus said unto her, (Martha, the sister of Lazarus) I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26 KJV)

The Source of Your Theology

theologySeveral years ago, I was invited to preach at a church where a friend and a fellow seminary classmate served as pastor. As we sat in his office, preparing to go out into the sanctuary for the worship experience, he informed me that he had a member present in the congregation that night who had some mental issues that might serve to be a distraction for me as I preached. He told me not to take anything the member said during the sermon personally or seriously because whatever the member said during my discourse would most likely be because of his mental issues. (It was a predominantly African-American congregation, therefore, it was OK and expected for the congregation to help the preacher preach! Can I get a witness?) Well, as I was preaching, sure enough, the member started blurting out in a disturbing manner. I don’t remember exactly what I was saying, but I will never forget what that member said! I had made, what I thought at the time was a profound statement, when that member loudly asked: “Where did you get those facts?” Now, because the pastor had fore-warned me, I was able to ignore the outburst and keep preaching without being taken aback. But, as I drove home that evening, that question wouldn’t go away and I found myself asking myself: “Where indeed did I get those facts?”

Many times we often say things we’ve heard other people say and we take them as gospel-truths when their validity may indeed be suspect. This is especially true when it comes to matters of faith and theology. We will often take the word of a preacher or a television evangelist as being a gospel-fact and not verify it for ourselves. When we do this, by default we adopt the theology of the speaker as our own and consequently neglect to exercise the due diligence to work out our own theology.

Now, you might be saying at this point; “That’s all well and good because I am not a theologian anyway!” You may not be a theologian by profession or training, but everyone engages in the theological process. The word “theology” literally means “god (theo)-study (logy)” Theology is the study of God. In its most primary definition, theology simply means; the study of “what you think about God.”

So, what do you think about God and what is the source of those thoughts? Do they come solely from your pastor or some other preacher? Do they come from what you heard your parents say, from your traditions or from common folk-lore? You’d be surprised, but there are many people today who form their theology from the gospel music they hear on the radio! A typical example of this is the belief that when praises go up; blessings come down! This notion didn’t come from scripture, but rather from a gospel song! Nevertheless, I have heard it preached by some preachers as gospel truth!

No matter where you get your ideas about God, the only true and real source is the Bible! However, even when the Bible is your source, you must be sure to correctly interpret and correctly apply what you read! We all would do well to engage ourselves in the task of rightly dividing (correctly interpreting and applying) the Word. Wherever and whenever we hear the word preached, taught, or otherwise discussed, we should adopt the attitude and practice of the believers who lived in Berea during the days of the Apostle Paul. In Acts 17:11 we read:  “And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth.” (NLT) Now this is not to suggest that we should become overly skeptical in regard to what we hear, but rather that we should learn to become critical (analytical) thinkers. When it comes to your spiritual well-being, don’t take any person’s word for it just because of who they are or what position they might have. Be like the Bereans. Listen eagerly and intently, then search and study the Scriptures for yourself to see if what they are saying is really the truth!