Dispatch Indonesia 2013:
I lobbed the massive IED (improvised explosive device) into their midst. Pandemonium ensued. Everyone ran for cultural cover. It was a Scripture grenade (my lecture on 1 Corinthians chapters 12, 13, and 14). A sort of Molotov cocktail of truth; a Bible bazooka, if you will. I delivered the expertly-crafted IED with the all the deftness and delicacy that my professional training afforded me, and I hit them right in the kisser. Bodies were everywhere.
I was invited to speak at a pastors conference at Jakarta Baptist Theological Seminary in Jakarta, Indonesia. It is literally at the end of the earth. You can go due east from Jakarta across the Pacific for more than 12,000 miles before running into Columbia on the west coast of South America. Indonesia is made up of over 18,000 islands and is the largest Muslim nation on earth, with 246,000,000 (that’s million) people from about 300 indigenous tribes. Indonesia is located at the extreme southeast end of Southeast Asia, sandwiched snugly between Singapore and Australia.
I was invited by the past president of the seminary, Ronny Serworwora (I know, don’t even try to pronounce it.). Ronny told me that there was much abuse and controversy in the Indonesian Baptist churches concerning the spiritual gift of tongues, and asked if I would take on the topic at the pastors conference. So, I strapped on a couple of prayer ammo belts across my chest, tied a red bible bookmark ribbon around my forehead, clenched a MacArthur Study Bible in my teeth, hitched up my drawers, and jumped into the fight. The antidote to most controversies in the church today is a good Bible and a proper hermeneutic (Gotcha with that last word, didn’t I?). Hermeneutics is the theological discipline of biblical interpretation. There are rules. Follow the rules of interpretation, and you won’t get into trouble. Break the rules and you’re suddenly in no man’s land.
The room was full of about 40 or so men and a few women, all of whom were either students at the seminary or local pastors and church leaders from around Jakarta. Pretty sharp bunch. I took the group through an exposition of the text (a verse-by-verse study). Things were going well until I started to feel that vague but familiar and dreaded tingle in my innards. You know what I’m talking about. I tried to ignore it, but that never really works, does it? Naturally, it would not be ignored. I mean, I can talk about this, right? They’ve got those animated bears doing that Charmin commercial and all now. Well, before I could take in the full implications of the predicament I was in, it rapidly grew into a gaggle of moving cramps that felt like a swarm of tunneling moles. I kept teaching and looking at the audience to see if they could tell what was going on, but thankfully, they were thus far oblivious.
Every time my interpreter, Halim (who was awesome, was theologically trained in Wales, and whose name rhymed with Kareem, as in Abdul-Jabbar) repeated my remarks in Indonesian, I did that urgent, desperate, guttural plea thing under my breath – “Oh God, no! Oh God, please! Oh God, no! Not right now! Please! This must be Satan, trying to stop me! Oh God, HELP!” I was moaning, and rebuking the devil (not a biblical concept) and starting to do a clandestine version of the diarrhea dance. Pains were shooting up my back, and my legs were getting numb and wobbly. I leaned on the lectern and tried to gingerly wiggle into just the right position without giving myself up to the audience. I stood up straight again, sweating, spoke for another minute or so, hoping for a miracle, and then Halim interpreted. While he did, a wave of heat came over me, and I buckled at the knees. I saw spots. It was time. The baby was coming.
Mortified, I bit off the words, “10 minute break!” to the audience. Then, grimacing, I mumbled through gritted teeth to Halim, “Where’s the toilet?” He led me to a back room, and I rushed in. There was a toilet, per se, but no paper. Where the paper roll would normally have been, there was a water hose attached to the wall instead. It had one of those kitchen sprayer head thingies on it. I had feared this moment ever since learning several months ago that I was traveling to Indonesia for the Bible Institute. Stuart had told me stories. But, I was in pain and just went for it. I finally figured things out, and when it was all over, was surprised and a little proud I had survived the ordeal. I returned to the class with confidence and resumed the lesson as if nothing had happened.
After finishing the second chapter, the audience was demanding I stop the lesson and open a Q&A. I had explained the teaching of the Apostle Paul on the subject. In short, spiritual gifts were from the Holy Spirit, they were distributed according to His will, not everyone got every gift, they included tongues, prophesy, teaching, mercy, leadership, evangelism, helps, knowledge, wisdom, faith, administration, healing, and so on, they are not talents or character traits, every Christian got at least one gift at conversion, other gifts could be given later, we should pray for the ones that build up the church, tongues was an evidence of conversion, but not the evidence, they should operate out of love, pride has no place in the discussion, they are distinct from the fruit of the Spirit, they are in operation today, and they will be done away with at the Second Coming of Christ, when there will no longer be a need for them, since God the Son will be with us (Emmanuel).
The questions came like mortar rounds. Is the occasion of the Apostles speaking in tongues at Pentecost in Acts 2 the same as the gift of tongues? Yes. How can you know if a person has a specific gift? The church discerns and affirms or denies the presence of a gift according to its adherence to Scripture. How do we know if someone has the gift of healing? If they give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the mute, cleanse lepers, heal the lame, and raise the dead – all of these were performed by Christ, and the apostles, and should be evidence of the presence of the gift today, thus, Benny Hinn does not qualify as having the gift. Can a spiritual gift be taken away? Romans 11:29 states that the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable, and this is clear in the life of Moses, whose sin kept him from the Promised Land, but did not cost him the gifts of miracles and prophecy. The Q&A went on for half an hour, and my time was up. I dismissed the group, but several stayed on for another half hour and asked more questions. They were all hospitable and kind, and listened to the voice of Scripture. That’s the thrill and the joy. Teaching the truth with lively Q&A from learned and able students is more fun than a barrel of monkeys. And, I’m the biggest ape in the barrel.
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