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Speaking In Tongues: A Reflection on My First Experience.

 

This reflection came as follow-up to a recent sermon I preached about speaking in tongues.

Speaking in tongues isn’t a gift I have ever experienced personally. But I have been in services and groups where people were speaking in tongues. I’ll never forget my first experience of being in a worship service of speaking in tongues. In 1999, I was asked to be a music leader for a little congregation in a little building in backwoods east Texas.

I was new to leading music in worship so I jumped at the chance to serve to gain experience. I confidently began leading “Lord, I lift Your Name on High” (an easy go-to song for someone new like me).

As I began playing, people clapped along and called out to me to bring it loud and bring it faithful. The sounds of praise filled that tiny little building in a mighty way. But at the end of the first verse, I heard something different from the lyrics I was singing and leading. It was a sound I had never heard before.

one woman’s eyes were partway closed, her hands in the air, and was loudly singing something I cannot completely describe. I didn’t understand the language coming out of her mouth. I was so taken aback I didn’t realize I had stopped singing and was just standing there staring! Oops. I regained my composure and just focused inward on what I was doing so I wouldn’t get tripped up further.

Well, that voice started a chain reaction and by the end of the song I was about the only one of us who was singing lyrics. The same thing happened the next song. I went from shocked, to puzzled, to weirded out thinking in my immature mind “what did I get myself into?!” But by the end of the songs, I was the weird one out as I was about the only one not trying to speak in tongues. The pastor was engaged in tongues as well and encouraging others to experience that deep expression of the Holy Spirit. He told me after the service I shouldn’t be ashamed or worried I wasn’t speaking in tongues because it would come to me one day and I would know the Spirit in a much deeper way. It hasn’t happened (yet?) but I have gotten to know the Spirit much deeper than my 18 year old self did.

My Reflection and How I look at worship practice differently today

What do I make of that? Was I not being faithful? Were they not being faithful? Could I truly not experience the Spirit deeply without speaking in tongues? After this experience, I thought to myself “what a load of bologna.” And, I have to admit, in that instance, by biblical standards, I think things were a little off in that setting and it helped form an unhealthy assumption about tongues for me at the time. I didn’t understand it. Nobody interpreted; we just had to trust the Holy Spirit was present by way of “tongues.” Since then, much has transpired in my life through experience and through study that leads me to believe the Holy Spirit moves and lives and empowers people in many different ways.

I’ve learned in worship that as soon as we become gate-keepers to the power of the Spirit one way or another, we let way too much of our need for human power and human control (typically over others) take over. Whenever we condemn and judge another person’s faithful experiences as valid versus not valid—no matter how foreign they are to us—we become judge and jury about God’s work and revelations to this world. If God is going to work in us, and through us, we have to check our ego and anxiety at the door to the throne and humble ourselves in worship. It’s the only way we can see where we are united in Christ, not divided by how “we” or “they” think worship and faith is to be practiced.

Now, plenty of guiding and accountability is needed in the community about understanding how we worship and receive the Spirit, but not to where we tear down another’s—or an entire community’s—faithful expressions. We have to take our experiences personally and collectively, and reason them with Scripture and traditions, human faculties and discernment tools that are God-given in our lives.

When we truly try to see with eyes of grace, we can become more aware of what Paul the Apostle wrote about the subject of tongues and Spiritual gifts in his letter to the Corinthians (especially chapters 12, 13, and 14), that Spiritual gifts are of God and they are meant to build up the Body of Christ, not destroy. They are not meant to place us above or below another sister or brother (a problem Paul felt the Corinth community was having with a variety of practices). They are not meant to be taken in isolation, but collectively as the Body. They are to be tested and observed to discern God’s will through prayer and discussion, through study and more prayer. How do you experience the Holy Spirit?


final-bridges2Rev. Matt Bridges is an ordained elder in the United Methodist church and currently serves in New Mexico as the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Lovington. Matt has served in ministry in one form or another for the last seventeen years. In particular, he has a passion for music ministry and other types of worship ministry. In all of the things he’s learned in ministry, if he were to write a book on worship right now it would most certainly be titled1001 Times (and counting)  I said “Well, I’ll Never Do It ThatWay Again” in Worship. He is joined in ministry by his wife, Corinne, and daughter Emilie. And they all love being the church together.

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Do all the good you can, every day, in every way that you are able.

As you all know, I’ve been sewing pillowcases for charities for a while.  So far since Jan. 1 of 2016, my mother and I have made 400 pillowcases for charities such as the El Paso, Lubbock, Amarillo and Albuquerque Ronald McDonald Houses, St. Andrew’s Hospitality House and more recently I made them for Veterans in local nursing homes.  I still have some to deliver, but more than half of them have been distributed to their intended locations.   The more of these I make, the more ideas I have of who these pillowcases can serve.

I have learned several things about this simple, repetitive, project.  One thing is that repetitive action, if productive, is very relaxing, and gives you a feeling of accomplishment.  Spending my time producing something useful is very gratifying.  The other thing I learned is that, small things mean a lot especially to the two ends of the life experience.  Very small kids and older people in nursing homes respond the same way, with delight, when receiving even the smallest gift when it is given personally.  Most institutions will take your donations, have you sign a donor list and send you on your way.  When you get the opportunity to personally give your small gift to individuals, it makes you more connected to the recipient and more likely to want to continue to give more of yourself in the future.  If you are one of those people that like to give anonymously there are lots of opportunities to do that.  But if you want to share the light Jesus put in you and spark that light in someone else, find the thing that lets you make human, one on one contact with someone.   

I had two of the best experiences happen in the past month.  I had been praying for a personal experience of connection with someone who would receive one of my pillowcases.  The first was delivering red, white and blue pillowcases to Veteran’s in nursing homes on Veteran’s Day.  Responses of nursing home residents were as varied as their physical and medical situations.  Some didn’t know I was in the room, most didn’t know what to say and were surprised that a stranger came to give them something.  But the ones that sat up and started telling you stories of their military adventures were really enjoyable.  I knew I sparked a memory in them that was important, and it was important to them that someone heard it.  I was glad to be that person.    

Then on Thanksgiving week, I got to deliver to Ronald McDonald House in Amarillo, Texas.  The coordinator there, Mrs. Jan Plequette, has been my contact person there for 4 years.  She arranged for me to meet the Child Life Specialist at North West Texas Children’s Hospital.  When I got there, the staff picked out a pillowcase that they thought would perfectly fit a particular patient they wanted me to meet.  Her name was Mila.  She was 4 and receiving infusions that day.   I was not allowed to know her illness because of HIPAA regulations, but they put me in a disposable isolation gown and gloves and let me give her this specially chosen pillowcase myself.  This little girl was the brightest piece of sunshine I have ever met.   The nurses there at the hospital said that this little girl keeps them all cheered up.  And she was so sweet I had the best time talking to her.  I wish I could have taken her home with me and kept her for a sister.  I would love to have someone like this in my life on a daily basis.  Her mother was so sweet too.  She said she was happy and grateful that a complete stranger would give her daughter a little gift that made the time they spent there at the hospital more comfortable and a less bland and boring experience.  

That experience was my ideal, the dream I had in my mind all along, coming true.  On Veteran’s Day, after delivering pillowcases all day, we went to the VFW for their fundraiser dinner in Cloudcroft, NM.  There I saw the man I knew as Santa Claus my whole life.  He was the man that worked at our local mall and posed for Christmas pictures.  He has been Santa for every Toys for Tots event, every charitable Christmas project and event in Alamogordo for my entire life.  He was there, eating dinner and had a Vietnam Veteran jacket on.  I had never spoken to him outside of his role as Santa.  As he left, I went to our car, and picked out an extra red, white and blue pillowcase and gave it to him.  I thanked him for his service to our country, as I had with all the veterans in the nursing homes I met that day.  And he thanked me and said he knew I made a lot of old people happy that day, and that’s what is so great about being Santa – so we had a little something in common.  I guess if I had to choose a title, I’d choose “The Pillowcase Fairy”.   I really can’t pull off Santa Jr.   

The marketing director at North West Texas Children’s Hospital said she hoped that my doing this would spark interest in others to do something and hopefully encourage kids to do things that were small random acts of kindness.  That is what I hoped to do with this article.  To tell kids that they are an important part of the world and that their outlook on life, if carried with them through adulthood, can affect the world around them.  At the least, an attitude of giving can affect their own life, and at the most, it can affect all those that have received from them.  It may spark others to pay it forward in their own way.  And every different way you can think of to pay it forward is necessary in some way to someone.  

To all the kids who dream of affecting the world in a big way, do it in a way that you know makes Jesus proud, have him as your partner, and you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.


100_3566   Madeleine Fazenbaker is 14 years old and is a wonderfully gifted young lady that lives in New Mexico.  She is very active in her church and her community and truly is a young woman after God’s own heart.  Why pillowcases?  Because when you lay your head on a pillow to rest you can remember this:  “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28 One of her favorite scriptures for small acts of kindness:  Hebrews 6:10 –  God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.