I did not grow up Pentecostal. My heritage tended to belittle those who speak in tongues and took a reductionist view of tongues in the Bible. So, my exposure to this form of worship has been both minimal and biased.
What does speaking in tongues have to do with Prophets and Dangerous Missions?
(Glad you asked.)
Well, normally… not so much. But in my case, it does. Because I spoke in tongues one time, and it might have saved my life.
Just this week, I read blog posts by two (street) ministers describing violence and the threat of violence erupting amid Christian ministry. With the exceptions (hopefully rare) of those mass shootings that occur in churches and make headlines (such as the shooting in South Carolina last year), most worship services (at least those I have ever experienced) tended to be thankful that in this country we have “no fear of molestation”. But in my experience with street/homeless ministry, I have faced violence and/or the threat of violence on at least three occasions myself.
I have attended worship at the premier homeless church of Lubbock when the cops were called, and they led a member of our church out of the assembly in handcuffs! That is a disturbing sight! But when you reach out to brutish people, and/or people in brutish circumstances, violence can erupt sometimes. In fact, though I was not personally a witness to it, I heard that the pastor at the premier homeless church took a beating from a congregant on at least one occasion, and I have heard and seen the effects of others getting beat up amid the flock.
I cannot simply wish it away. These are the desperate people God loves. They are the sons and daughters, the brothers and sisters, the mothers and fathers who have drifted to the margins of society, but whom God wants back. This requires extraordinary patience as we address, sometimes with harsh discipline, the demons that ravage such precious children of God.
Personally, I have always felt conflicted about calling the cops to save us. We belong to God. He is the Authority over demons, angels, children and cops. I chafe at the idea that we ask cops to do God’s job.
Of course I recognize that is a simplification of a complex issue. If we were discussing medicine, I would not hesitate to call an ambulance when my wife is injured. I have no doubt that my first call would be a prayer to God, my second call to 9-11, and then back to my faith community for their prayer support. In fact, I cannot help but note that last year when I called an ambulance for my dad, the 9-11 operator who took the call was a sister from church! That was a sign from God that he was involved!
And yet, I find there is a tendency, at least in my experience, to let the cops handle the problem. Where is the prayer coverage after the violent one is taken away? Where is the reconciliation? And, for that matter, where is the effort to take the demon on ourselves before we even call the cops?
Acts 4:29 (anybody???)
Where is that prayer of the church in Acts? The church is the tip of the spear, not the cops! We are waging war with evil, but when the going gets tough we call in the mercenaries?
Look, I don’t want to argue against calling the cops, necessarily. But I do want to open the imagination of God’s people to his divine providence. Greater is he who is in us, than he who is in the world! (1st John 4:4). Let us not forget the word of God at such moments.
So, I want to tell a few stories about facing violence and the threat of violence that hopefully will expand your imagination. In this post, I will tell the first one about speaking in tongues. And this brings me, to my question above: What does speaking in tongues have to do with Prophets and Dangerous Missions?
I will now tell you about the day I met Jessica and her friends from Denver behind a liquor store near downtown Lubbock.
I was riding my bike around town searching alleys for beggars, bums, and prophets who might share communion with Jesus and me. I had already shared this exercise with a couple other gatherings when I found Jessica and 3 guys I had never met before. They appeared to be mostly inebriated by the time I found them, but Jessica in particular seemed receptive to the Jesus message. She wanted to join me in worship.
I can only imagine, perhaps I read the situation wrong, but I sense probably not. My guess is that three men and one woman created a sexual tension in the air which was exacerbated by alcohol. My attention for Jessica was reciprocated by her attention toward Jesus, whose shoes I was standing in at that moment. Kinda like the woman and the well. This woman had a lot of men. You might guess that one or two of them might be a bit jealous!
The one cat they called Alabama seemed to be a belligerent drunk. But he also wanted to stress to me that he is Native American, and thus has no interest in Christ. This did not slow me down one bit. I dismounted my bike and began setting out sacraments in a dignified manner (as dignified as one can be in an alley behind a liquor store with beggars, bums, and prophets).
Picture it: I set out a small blanket, like for a picnic. I carefully placed my Bible on the edge. I pulled out my box of wafers and set them next to the Bible, then I found some disposable cups in my bag and began pouring grape juice into them and setting them out around the blanket. All the while, I am introducing myself, praising Jesus for leading me to these souls who want to worship, and meanwhile I got Alabama getting belligerent.
The further I got with this, the more strongly he came on. He was American Indian, he said, and he did not need no white man’s religion. As this attitude escalated, Jessica in particular, began to shun him and suggested that he did not have to participate; he could just go drink behind the dumpster. I began to realize that he was ramping up, and I was already committed to the worship spread. This was Jesus vs. Alabama! And it did not look like there was gonna be any grace! If I doubled up a fist to defend myself, I would destroy my witness of Christ who died for Alabama – the Christ whose shoes I deigned to fill! But if I acquiesced, then Christ would be going home in defeat! I only saw one way forward: PRAY!
Now, it just so happens that I grew up near Indian Reservations in Colorado. I picked up a few words from some of my Indian friends. This did not mean I knew their real meaning. It did not mean I even knew how to pronounce them correctly. And even in this post, I do not know how to spell the terms I used. But I began spouting off random terms from Navajo, Choctaw, and Montezuma Cree!
“Itzchai Chafignai, Juban! Thoza Chinda! Notah a Dinah! Yata he!”
At just that moment, both Alabama and I knew that Alabama did not understand my words, but we also knew that he did not know that I didn’t! I was speaking in tongues I did not know. He was hearing them, and not even understanding them, but they were speaking to a deep place in his soul. Suddenly the fire in his spirit was doused. Alabama became obedient to the call of Jesus! He quietly sat down and began to pray and worship with Jesus, Jessica, and her friends from Denver!
Will that work next time too?
I doubt it very much. But It did that time! I spoke in tongues in a worship service, Jesus cast out a demon, and we did not have beatings or cops to ruin it all. Praise God! And I want very much for my Christian brothers and sisters to imagine alternatives for such scenarios, because our God IS an AWESOME GOD! He certainly expanded mine. I come from a heritage that cannot cope with speaking in tongues, but I have done it.
Prophets are, usually, called to face dangerous missions. It is not your prerogative to survive them, but it is God’s prerogative to take charge of his world, and expanding the imaginations of his people will definitely play a role in that every time!