I spent the week of August 13 on your behalf in Atlanta attending three meetings dealing with denominational issues. First, I met with the "Tall Steeple Preachers" of our largest evangelical Presbyterian churches. Then I met with the Presbyterian Coalition, which endeavors to bring together the members and leaders of the various spiritual renewal groups present in our denomination. Then I spent the rest of the week at the Presbyterian Global Witness gathering. I was joined in these last two meetings by our Clerk of Session John Lehman and our Associate Pastor Jim Birchfield. Needless to say, all week we were dealing with the tough stuff emerging from decisions made at our General Assembly that are threatening the very Peace, Unity and Purity that those actions were designed to provide. At all three of these meetings, we had to keep reminding ourselves that, in dealing with these very important truth issues, we not develop an attitude, tone and even message that is insular, negative, carping, vengeful, punitive and unloving. Instead, we need to see ourselves as the "missional church" in which, yes, some of these culture-war issues are important, but that we address them in a way that is not insular, inward-looking and self-protective of our denomination and our local churches. Instead, we need to be proactive, loving, looking outward. In fact, on several occasions, the 850 of us leaders who were gathered at Peachtree Presbyterian Church were asked to turn around and look to the windows and the world outside of the church, reminding ourselves that ours in not to be a self-protective, defensive, inward kind of operation, but that Jesus commissioned us to go into all the world with the life-transforming message of the Gospel, calling all people, whatever their walks of life, besetting sins, ideological commitments, economic systems, racial backgrounds, multiplicity of languages, to follow Him as Savior and Lord. We are to be an "uncommon community," a phrase from your church's vision statement, not trying to force our way on the world, but to invite people to be set free through faith in Jesus Christ. Some are called to dedicate themselves to political action in any one of these particular areas. Fine. That's their right. But that dare not be our overarching mission statement. We're called to worship, evangelism, nurture and servant ministry!

So, if you wonder what gift you should most desire, let it be the gift of prophecy, spoken in love, in contrast to the gift of tongues. You see, a spiritual gift, clearly, understandably exercised, is of primary significance as it builds up the church. The gift of tongues, or any other expression that is confusing to others, as wonderful as it may be, isn't as important. Why? Because it has a way of distracting from the primary purpose of ministry. Paul writes:

"Now I would like all of you to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. One who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up. Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I speak to you in some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching?" (1 Corinthians 14:5-6).

You see, there's nothing wrong with speaking in tongues. It is edifying to one's personal devotional life. If there happens to be an interpreter who translates that ecstatic utterance, it can be of edification to others. But the presence of those who can interpret is infrequent. A prophetic ministry communicates with a certain sound. It is understandable in the language of the people. It brings some revelation, a word from God. That's why here at St. Andrew's, we teach and preach from the Bible.

I know there are some who like interesting stories and problem-solving messages. All the interesting stories in the world, all the entertaining, problem-solving messages are empty of help for you if they are not founded in the Word of God and that which is His revelation to us. You and I need that word of knowledge undergirded by love. And that knowledge is contained in the Scriptures and becomes amplified as a teacher or preacher shares that knowledge, as the Holy Spirit filters it through one's study into the flow of the spoken word. Prophetic ministry involves the forthtelling of the truth. No preacher is worth his or her salt if they're not a "Gospel" preacher. The Gospel preacher is one who tells the story, the old, old story of Jesus and His love. This simple and direct proclamation must be declared with great frequency. Far from being boring, the Gospel, presented in a straightforward, honest fashion, has the potential to capture our lives and draw us closer to the crucified and risen Christ.