Why I’m Pentecostal: The Change

[Note: Read the first post in this series for some background.]

I don’t have a date to share because I never really considered dates as being important in my faith life. August 2003 is about as close as I get to anything, and that’s for finally admitting who Jesus is.

But I do remember a growing sense that God planned more for those who follow Jesus than just a “moment of salvation” (which I don’t think is an accurate way to describe the life-bending changes that happen). Mark says the gospel begins in the first chapter of his account, but he never said it ended. It doesn’t. The good news goes on forever.

And that’s where things started to go wrong—at least for my belief that the Holy Spirit no longer gifted His church. I couldn’t accept that God was done after just a moment. Salvation was complete, yes, but not the transformation.

I desperately wanted to be like Peter after Pentecost. Up to that point, I’d meekly stumbled after Christ, sputtering along with a whimper. That couldn’t be it. I knew Christ had more for His body than simply a survival mentality.

So, I prayed for what Peter had, for what all the apostles had. I prayed for some kick-the-door-down explosions of God-at-work. I wouldn’t let it go because I couldn’t.

When I first spoke in tongues, it was private (that’s the usual method in my experience). Think of it like putting a nine-volt battery to your tongue and feeling air rushing up from your gut. I wasn’t forced to do it, but it also wasn’t something I controlled. It freaked me out, honestly.

By the second experience, I’d been making my home in Acts, nestled there with calls for the baptism in the Holy Spirit. And it clicked. This was God’s answer for my sputtering test drive. He’d stuck the jumper cables on and shocked me into life.

And my answer to that? Bring it.

[Next up: We finish this with the impact.]

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Why I’m Pentecostal: The Background

Other than the blazing light and literal blindness, my introduction to God came as something of a Damascus kitchen experience. God broke in when I bolted the door shut. I realized early that God wasn’t through being involved in His creation.

That doesn’t mean I had plans for anything more. I knew so little of the Bible then that the idea of speaking in tongues had no room in my growing understanding of faith. Even when I read those sections, I simply wrote them off as something that happened “back then.” Funny how we add an internal commentary to the Bible that dictates our approach.

I’ve often heard that Pentecostalism is stained by emotionalism—and I would plead somewhat guilty. Our emotions help us experience God, after all. We grasp at His complete uniqueness, His ridiculous power, and we can’t help but be smacked with a river of emotion. It’s a flood that cuts through our passive lives. And God led me to understand how emotion can build our faith.

Following Jesus began with fits and starts—like learning to drive a five-speed. I’d slam down the gas and get a roaring engine, but no movement. I’d hit the clutch at the wrong times and make a grinding sound that shook me. I bumped and sputtered along for months.

And then I got mad. The kind of angry you get when you want God to work the way you think He should. I wanted Him to get rid of the junk and just move me along. I wanted to have gumption, courage, and a hard edge if needed. I wanted Spirit (though I didn’t know that then).

In anger, I tore into my Creator (just being honest). I told Him that He needed to make the five-speed transmission work magically now. I told Him I wanted to be more like Peter, who seemed to suddenly morph into this warrior of the gospel after Pentecost.

I’d love to tell you that right then—right that moment—the Holy Spirit rushed into the room and lit it up. But He didn’t.

Instead, I kept learning to drive the stick shift.

[Next up: The Change]

Mind Blown

Thinking about God sometimes pushes me to the limits. Wrestling with a Being who is everywhere at once, eternal, uncreated, three-in-one, one-in-three—such thoughts reach the limits of what gray matter can do.

And I love it.

I love not being able to put God in a box and slam it shut. I love not having a full picture of our Maker because no one can. The stress of it pushes me forward, compels me to keep digging and learning. It’s like the tension in a novel that moves the plot. I have to keep turning the pages because I need to know who God is.

If His attributes make my mind reach its limits, grace blows it wide open. This unfathomable Creator loves a limited, weak, flawed, failing, messed up, complaining human. That’s enough to destroy every dendrite I have.

Consider my mind blown—and I hope yours is, too.

You’re Invited to Wait

I hate waiting because I can’t see. Even standing on my tiptoes, trying to figure out what God’s doing, I can’t always catch glimpses of the changes He’s causing. I’m blinded by my condition—my stuck-in-the-present focus on life. I see what’s now; He sees what’s later. The difference is huge.

So, I get upset. And the whole time I’m missing the point.

Waiting on God isn’t inaction. He doesn’t usually call us to sit on our haunches and let the world spin away around us. He calls us to “in-action”—that is, reflecting inwardly on what’s going on. Sometimes, He has to force us to wait because we wouldn’t reflect on our lives if He didn’t. We don’t want to see the messes we make. So, He slows us down, points the messes out, and then—to top it off—fixes them with grace.

Waiting is an invitation to let God transform us from where we are to being more like Christ. He sees the present and the future—He knows where we’re going. We don’t, and we don’t need to. When we wait, He takes care of that.

Now, knowing that won’t make waiting easier, but it could make it more fruitful.

How to Find Rest

Unlike the things around us, rest is not humanity’s default state. We don’t fall back into rest after we’ve accomplished something. Instead, we move to the next thing that distracts us.

By rest, I don’t mean kicking up our legs while we watch football. I mean time spent focused on God’s Kingdom and not our own. I mean when we give up on the busyness of this world to recharge. In that way, it’s essentially a fast—giving up our stuff for a time to take up God’s stuff.

Rest doesn’t just happen. You don’t accidentally fall into your room, turn off your phone, and just listen to God. If you take that approach, you’ll never experience true rest. You’ll spend a few moments praising God—and then you’ll be thinking about what update you’re missing or what you need to do later.

But you need rest. When we rest, we let God show us exactly where He needs to work. We let God speak to the hurts we’ve been trying to ignore in our an update-a-picosecond culture.

Getting into the rest mentality is tough, but here’s how you can make it happen:

  • Schedule times of rest. If you don’t put it on your calendar, you won’t do it. Something else will bump it off. Tell people you’re busy, and let only real emergencies intrude. Make these times ongoing and regular if possible.
  • Prepare yourself. Before you go into a time of rest, leave a buffer. If you enter into a prayer time or Bible study right after you’ve just checked your Mint.com balances, you’re going to be thinking about that. Take a walk or spend some time clearing your mind before you go in.
  • Go in with a plan. Unfocused quiet time can often lead to meandering thoughts. I suggest making a list of things to pray about or read.
  • Watch yourself. Thanks to the Internet, your brain has been conditioned to multitask. You’ve got to make it a point to bring your mind back to what you’re doing in the present. That’s why a plan can be helpful.
  • Leave time to listen. It’s not all about talking. Sometimes you just need to wait and see if God speaks. No, I don’t mean audibly, but I do mean pointing something out to you.
  • Do something about it. If God does show you an area to work on, take notes.

Rest isn’t optional. God calls us to do it for our own good.

How History Feels

To their credit, my two little girls sat patiently as the Cherokee peace chief explained his slit ears, metal breastplate, and high-heeled shoes. On the table in front of him sat a rifle, swan feathers, a clay mug, and other shards of the past. He only stumbled once in his recreation of what happened nearly 300 years ago on this peninsula of land jutting out into the Tellico Reservoir.

I love the way history feels, and I can easily become a nostalgia junky. The narratives that draw together people, locations, and wars latch onto me. The connections that run through mountains, rivers, and small towns dig under my skin. The history of grace absorbs me.

I have to be careful. Otherwise, I’d spend too much time living back there and not paying attention to grace here and now.

There’s something in history that we often overlook. Sure, learning about the past supposedly keeps people from repeating mistakes (though I’ve yet to see that be the case). And we need to see where we’ve come from, to understand the ebbs and cycles in the story of civilization. But it’s more than that.

History—much more than just a learning tool—is the story of human failure. If that sounds morbid, it is. It’s how humans have failed to love, failed to live up to God’s standards, failed to even head in that direction. There are tiny currents that push back against the raging waters (and those are some great stories to focus on), but the direction has been clear.

What we learn, if we care to glance back, is that humanity has no chance—apart from grace. Our history lays bare the need for a raw, relentless love. We’ve stumbled and scrambled, fought and exiled. And yet no amount of human effort has ever satisfied the searching, the wanderlust. We’ve pushed on, pressed on, killed on. And never reached our goal.

But always there is God. The history we have points to the sparks He created in the darkness, the fires He kindled in the tragedies. Always there is God, appearing where you least expect. Always there is God breaking through.

I love history because He’s there in the midst of our failures. He never lets go; He never disappears.