Thursday, February 5, 2009

Just Noise?

Note added Saturday noon: Yesterday someone asked what prompted me to be writing this post about Spiritual Gifts. Usually I let you know but this time I didn't. Here's the answer: We have our Alpha "Holy Spirit" retreat coming up soon, and I was also thinking about the Holy Spirit in connection with our Wednesday teaching of youth. My "introduction" got lost in the editing... Part of it ended up being put on a page dedicated to "Alpha" -- see link under church stuff at right. So it goes with blogging... I appreciate your comments, whether in person or otherwise.

Here's what I wrote Thursday -- with a few tweaks...


Speaking in Tongues!
Miraculous Healings!
Prophecies and "Words of Knowledge!"

What are these things? What are we to think about them? Are they gifts from God or emotions running wild? Many Christians have experienced the Lord's power in these ways. Are some of us missing out?

Some of the best teaching on the Holy Spirit that I've heard is from Nicky Gumbel. Nicky is the speaker for Alpha, "a practical introduction to the Christian faith." Alpha covers many topics (see link under "church stuff"...) that I appreciate. One of the things he does extremely well is to teach about the Holy Spirit. In those teachings he leads us from the Holy Spirit's work in creation, through Old Testament prophets to Jesus and the work of the Spirit in our lives today. It's in connection with those teachings that we encounter "speaking in tongues" and the rest.

Nicky has experienced the more miraculous "spiritual gifts" in his own life and ministry but he doesn't insist that we need to have those same experiences. I think he does a pretty good job--and his British accent, humor and stories keep us interested in what he has to say. On the retreat, however, I do find it good to tweak or nudge us back to what I think are the basics of the Spirit -- the simple faith, hope and love taught in First Corinthians 13.

Speaking in tongues, miraculous healings and prophetic "words of knowledge" haven't been on center stage for most Lutherans. In fact, as Nicky says, we (and his "Anglican" denomination) sometimes forget about the Holy Spirit. That doesn't mean the Holy Spirit isn't alive and active in our midst! Wherever people trust in Jesus for salvation, the Holy Spirit, in its full biblical sense, is at work! Nicky does a good job reminding us of that in his Alpha course.

At our church, many of us first learn about the Holy Spirit as young people. We're beginning a unit (with a long break for Lent) on the Holy Spirit in our grade 7-9 Youth Discipleship Training. Just like in Alpha, we are taught about the Holy Spirit's work in creation, in the prophets, in Jesus Christ and in our lives today. But we don't tend to put a lot of emphasis on things that will immediately seem supernatural. We do mention "gifts of the spirit," but we don't focus there for long.

Here are the basic teachings we learn about the Holy Spirit in Martin Luther's Small Catechism:
  1. The Holy Spirit calls us, one by one, to faith in Christ. He does this as the Love of God is expressed in the Gospel in Word and Sacraments. The Holy Spirit also uses the sufferings of this life, blessings and the example of others to get my attention. We respond, one by one, to the call of the Holy Spirit by repenting of sins and trusting Jesus as Savior.
  2. The Holy Spirit enlightens. Through hearing God's Word, the Holy Spirit helps me see my sinfulness and to believe that Jesus is my Savior. I need that enlightenment because by my own reason I am unable to truly know God or the things that He has done or said in his Word.
  3. The Holy Spirit gathers us into the whole Christian church when he calls us one by one into fellowship with Christ and makes us into one family before God. The "gifts of the Spirit" are given so that the members of the church, like the parts of a body, may work together for good.
  4. The Holy Spirit sanctifies, renewing me through the Word and Sacraments so I am follow Jesus as a disciple and live in the way God intended in the beginning. This life long process is shown as love grows for God and others, as I find myself wanting to live as God wants me to, striving against the devil, the world, and my own sinful human nature.
  5. The Holy Spirit preserves me when, through the Word of God and the Lord's Supper, He feeds and strengthens my spiritual life, giving me instruction, guidance, correction and comfort, keeping me in God's grace.
Why don't we have all our youth speaking in tongues, doing miraculous healings and giving prophetic "words of knowledge" to their friends? What we do might seem kind of boring! Are we missing something? Maybe so, but I will say this: It's in the practical every day lives of people who love and care for their neighbors that the most precious gifts are shared. Our church is amazing in practical and spiritual acts of love. I've never been part of a more caring and prayerful church.

Yes, the Holy Spirit is alive and well in our midst--and not only at Alpha! We can and will expand our understandings. We can and will learn, and experience, more of the supernatural--especially through PRAYER. Nicky Gumbel's faithful teachings can help us. But, the basics of the Holy Spirit's work is already here: faith, hope and love. And, without those, without love, any gifts, supernatural or not, are just noise.

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