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Monday, September 27, 2010

September 27, 2010 A Faithful Advocate

Sometimes it really helps who you know.

In the 17th century, God blessed a man by the name of Gian Lorenzo Bernini with incredible artistic abilities. Heir apparent of Michelangelo, Bernini is best known for sculptures such as Apollo and Daphne and The Rape of Prosperpine, but he was also sought out by the Church and nobility for his paintings and architecture. One of his most beautiful works, however, was neither commissioned by pope nor created for payment. His bust of Costanza Buonarelli (or Bonarelli), shown here, captures the beauty of a “regular” woman, not a mythical figure or heavenly host. Costanza was, in fact, Bernini’s mistress.

Bernini openly insulted Costanza’s husband (his assistant), thus making the affair public. To make matters worse, Costanza was suspected of also having an affair with Bernini’s brother—Bernini sent someone to her home who savagely cut her face. But it was Costanza who was arrested and imprisoned for adultery.

The Pope himself, Urban VIII at the time, stepped in on Bernini’s behalf, not wanting to lose his sought-after services. His penance, instead, was to settle down and marry. Apparently Bernini changed his ways—his marriage lasted 34 years and produced 11 children.

It is a tragic tale of love gone terribly wrong, with devastating consequences, but it is also the story of a man with helpful connections. Not to in any way excuse Bernini’s actions, but if you’re going to completely mess up your life, you would be wise to know someone powerful enough to speak up for you, smooth ruffled feathers, calm the turbulent waters.

I submit that we are, each one of us, more like Gian Lorenzo Bernini than we might be comfortable with. Perhaps our sins are not so public. Perhaps they are not so hurtful. The truth is, however, that we are all guilty before a pure and holy God. We have all sinned, Romans 3:23 tells us, and fallen short of his glory. James 2:10 goes on to say that “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (NIV).

Costanza had no powerful connections to keep her from prison. Bernini’s talent assured him of friends in very high places. What about us?

C. H. Spurgeon (1834-92) wrote of our own “connection” this way:

"If any man sin, we have an advocate." Yes, though we sin, we have Him still.
John does not say, "If any man sin he has forfeited his advocate," but "we have an advocate," sinners though we are. All the sin that a believer ever did, or can be allowed to commit, cannot destroy his interest in the Lord Jesus Christ, as his advocate. The name here given to our Lord is suggestive. "Jesus." Ah!
then He is an advocate such as we need, for Jesus is the name of one whose business and delight it is to save. "They shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins." His sweetest name implies His success. Next, it is "Jesus Christ" Christos, the anointed. This shows His authority to plead. The Christ has a right to plead, for He is the Father's own appointed advocate and elected priest. If He were of our choosing He might fail, but if God hath laid help upon one that is mighty, we may safely lay our trouble where God has laid His help. He is Christ, and therefore authorized; He is Christ, and therefore qualified, for the anointing has fully fitted Him for His work. He can plead so as to move the heart of God and prevail. What words of tenderness, what sentences of persuasion will the anointed use when He stands up to plead for me! One more letter of His name remains, "Jesus Christ the righteous." This is not only His character BUT His plea. It is His character, and if the Righteous One
be my advocate, then my cause is good, or He would not have espoused it. It is
His plea, for He meets the charge of unrighteousness against me by the plea that
He is righteous. He declares Himself my substitute and puts His obedience to my
account. My soul, thou hast a friend well fitted to be thine advocate, He cannot
but succeed; leave thyself entirely in His hands.

Costanza’s actions led to dire consequences, and apparently she was indeed guilty of many things. Even so, a cry of “unfair!” springs to our lips upon hearing her tale. Perhaps Costanza cried out to her heavenly advocate within prison walls, receiving forgiveness and hope. All that is known of her on earth is the bust sculpted by her famous once-upon-a-time lover, but I’d like to think that God in his mercy reached down to comfort her at her point of greatest need and drew her lovingly to himself. Her face is famous only through Bernini, but her heart…like each person’s on earth…is known to God.

We who know we have been forgiven by the shed blood of Christ should be the last to need forgiveness again, but we are in almost perpetual need through our thoughts, actions, and words. Thanks be to God for an Advocate who stands with us before the Judge and says, “This one is mine. Remember? I have already paid for that in full.”
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Monday, September 13, 2010

September 13, 2010 The Gift that Gives Back

When I applied for a teaching position at a small denominational school in Florida, the first question the principal asked concerned my salvation; the second, speaking in tongues. “I’m grateful to have a spiritual language,” I said, “but I don’t think it will be an issue.” Happily, the principal was a man who, while holding to a fairly narrow interpretation of scripture in theory, said he also, in practice, couldn’t argue with experience. Just because he hadn’t spoken in tongues, he wisely realized that it didn’t follow no one else had either. In three years at the school, the subject never came up again…although I must confess that a little pamphlet in the school library teaching that tongues are “of the devil” will only be found if very, very heavy bookcases are ever moved.

Speaking in tongues is one of those Bible topics we don’t often hear outside of certain denominations (or non-denominations), but the hoo-hah is entirely of our own making. The Bible certainly didn’t cause it.

Paul wrote to early Corinthian Christians that God imparts several spiritual gifts to the Church. In two lists, we find words of wisdom, words of knowledge, faith to meet needs, gifts of healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, discerning of spirits, speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues, apostolic ministry, teaching, helping, and administration. Paul’s Ephesians 4:11 focuses on leadership, listing apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers.

Even back then, tongues caused controversy. The majority of 1 Corinthians 14 deals with the issue, not –as some might prefer—to squash the speaking of tongues, but to encourage what Paul saw as the more corporately edifying gift of prophecy. I ask you—in churches that rail against tongues, are they also promoting prophecy as the norm? I think not.

The problem comes, I believe, from verse 40: “Everything should be done decently and in order.” Modern churches tend to emphasize the “decently and in order” whereas Paul leaned more toward “Everything (including tongues and prophecy) should be done.”

Our culture is very different from Paul’s, obviously. An hour or hour and a half service once a week doesn’t lend itself to the kind of spontaneous expressions the early Church evidently enjoyed:

What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church” (1 Corinthians 14:26)

Even in a small congregation, this would take a pretty long time! My point is that Paul considered speaking in tongues a normal part of worship. We can waltz around it by quoting verses out of context, but there’s not much leeway with 14:39: “Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.” That, given current time parameters, would more likely use the gift in personal prayer in no way makes it less desirable.

So, we’ve established that speaking in tongues is valid. Does it also follow that this particular gift is necessary?

I think not.

Two accounts of new believers mention tongues as evidence of the Holy Spirit coming upon them (Acts 10 and 19), but they also mention prophecy and praise. How could we require one gift (tongues) but not the others? All of the spiritual gifts are from God: “It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have” (1 Corinthians 12:11, New Living Translation). Better to seek God’s face, rather than his hand, and leave the gift question to him.

Recently a friend of mine announced she was starting a new Bible study for women. Everyone, with one marked exception, thought this a wonderful idea. One woman—whose gifting is apparently that of throwing cold water on the fires of enthusiasm—chose an offensive line of questioning (both pronunciations of the word apply): “Do you speak in tongues?” In her opinion, leaders of Bible studies should be so-equipped. My friend should wait on that study, in other words, until she measured up.

I’m thinking……no. Although it’s possible this person received new revelation, I feel safer going with Paul and the Bible.

Tongues sound foolish, as any language we don’t understand sounds like gibberish. It’s outside the mind. The Bible says it is “uttering mysteries.” It’s also desirable, at least to Paul (and, presumably, to God), who said, “I would like everyone to speak in tongues.” He even boasted that he spoke in tongues more than “you all” (proof he was a southerner at heart.) Tongues edify the speaker, building him or her up—and who doesn’t need to built up? Praise lifts God up. Prophecy teaches those who hear. Tongues give back to the speaker, the Spirit praying things for us we are completely clueless about. Cool.

The Corinthians were trying to out-gift one another, so Paul put things in perspective, telling them to yes, eagerly desire spiritual gifts, but “I will show you a more excellent way…”that no matter what, love was what they should seek (1 Corinthians 13). The Ephesians were trying to learn how to love one another too. So may be we all….which means I suppose I should be lovingly praying for the woman who upset my friend instead of what comes naturally to mind.

Speaking of the super-natural, a friend of mine with white blonde hair and a rather plump physique once got a job around Christmas as a store Santa. A little girl who couldn’t speak English climbed up on his lap, looking sad and lonely. He didn’t know what to do or say but felt led to pray quietly in tongues for the child. To his surprise, she looked up with a big grin and answered him….in her own language.

Is our God awesome, or what?
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