Category Archives: My Thoughts

Death and Dying

Last May I celebrated my 82nd trip around the sun. My body is starting to feel my age, but my spirit feels ageless. I am still enjoying an exciting and rewarding life of challenge, adventure and accomplishment, like that my late wife Mary and I shared for over 50 years. My life of course changed dramatically when she died six and a half years ago, but I continue to do much of what she and I did together for so long. The difference is that although she is not with me physically anymore, I still carry her spirit with me in my heart and mind.

When I came home from the hospice center on the day Mary died, as I entered our apartment, the realization that she wouldn’t be coming home, that she was dead, swept over me like a tidal wave. I uttered a primal scream, dropped to my knees  at my bedside and cried for a long time. I slept that night as an exhausted man, and when I awoke the next morning, I cried out to God:

“What now, Lord?”

“Why am I still here?

“What do you have in store for me now?

Over the next few months God began to show me what I was to do. I was to share my life experiences with anyone who was going through some of the trials I had endured, to let them know that God will walk with them through it, and bring them out the other side, strengthened and changed. And that is just what I do. My life is much different now that Mary is gone, but it is still exciting and rewarding.

Mary’s death had a profound effect on me. It brought into sharp focus the fragility and unpredictability of mortal life and the necessity of making the most of whatever time we have remaining. I thank God every morning when I wake up still not dead for giving me yet another day of life. And I ask God to help me use my time that day wisely and productively, knowing that when it is gone it is gone and won’t be coming back. In other words,  I strive to live each remaining day to the fullest. And that is a blessing indeed.

I also fully accept my own death as inevitable, but I have come to regard it much differently. I no longer view it as an ending, but as a new beginning, I see it as a passageway to a new and better life, and an everlasting one. Death, rebirth, renewal.

And lately now, I am beginning to view death as a blessing, rather than a curse. As I age and my physical body continues to slowly deteriorate, I realize that leaving behind the pain and the increasing limitations of this body is a good thing. The body will die, but I will continue to live. Death will usher me into a new realm in which there is neither death nor dying, no sorrow or pain, where all my tears will be wiped away, and I will experience joy beyond anything I can imagine.

It’s not that I am hoping for death anytime soon. I still a lot of work to do to accomplish the purpose God intends for me. But when death does come, I will welcome it as a friend and not any enemy.

A.I. vs S.I.

A.I., artificial intelligence, is an evolving technology being highly touted as a tool to improve productivity for individuals and businesses by taking over repetitive or menial tasks and allowing human workers to focus more time on strategic, creative, or more complex responsibilities. It can write essays, reports, solve math problems and much more. A.I. draws on an ever-expanding database of human experience and knowledge gathered over several millennia of human existence. Unfortunately, in its current stage it sometimes produces false results, so needs human intervention to distinguish fact from fiction. There is also growing concern in some quarters about the possible consequences of bad actors using A.I. for nefarious purposes. Nevertheless, it is a new and emerging technology that needs to be understood and dealt with.

On the other hand, I have relied for many years now on what I would call S.I., Supernatural Intelligence, to help me improve my productivity. It draws from the mind of God, whose thoughts are higher than human thoughts, whose intelligence is far greater than human intelligence, and which goes back many millennia to before the advent of time as we know it. Because of this, S.I. alone can answer questions that mankind is still trying to understand, such as how the universe came into existence, how intelligent life evolved, and what man’s role is in this life, his reason for existence. Knowing  the answers to these things, S.I. can provide us with a much more exciting and rewarding life of challenge, adventure and accomplishment that sometimes can produce miracles by guiding and empowering us to accomplish our life’s purpose . I highly recommend that you try it. It is readily available if you ask God for it and will greatly improve your productivity and quality of life, and sometimes produce astounding results.

Anxiety!

The COVID19 pandemic, followed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Ukrainian response, the Hamas attacks on the State of Israel and the Israeli response, as well as numerous other areas of unrest and armed conflict in the Mideast has fostered a state of anxiety here in the United States. This has also been exacerbated by concerns over border security and political bickering preceding the upcoming 2024 national election. As a result, a widespread feeling of anxiety is a significant ongoing issue for many in the American public. And this is also true for the populations of other countries directly or indirectly affected by the global unrest.

“Anxiety is an emotion which is characterized by an unpleasant state of inner turmoil and includes feelings of dread over anticipated events…It is a feeling of uneasiness and worry, usually generalized and unfocused as an overreaction to a situation that is only subjectively seen as menacing…Anxiety is closely related to fear, which is a response to a real or perceived immediate threat (fight or flight response); anxiety involves the expectation of future threat including dread.
The emotion of anxiety can persist beyond the developmentally appropriate time-periods in response to specific events, and thus turn into one of the multiple anxiety disorders…The difference between anxiety disorder (as mental disorder) and anxiety (as normal emotion), is that people with an anxiety disorder experience anxiety most of the days during approximately 6 months, or even during shorter time-periods in children. Anxiety disorders are among the most persistent mental problems and often last decades. Besides, strong percepts of anxiety exist within other mental disorders, e.g. obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder.” (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

The key to understanding both anxiety and fears of the future is that both are responses to perceived or anticipated threats to a person’s well-being. Neither is related to actual current events or extant threats. They involve concern about what could or might happen someday that the individual does not feel they will be able to cope with.

So, what can be done to dissipate the state of anxiety? Since no one can accurately foretell the future, the answer is to focus one’s attention fully on the present and to do what one can do now to resolve (or at least begin to resolve) any current issues. That can go a long way toward preventing future issues which can arise if no attempt has been made to resolve the current ones.

The Bible has some advice regarding anxiety.

Jesus said, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:31-34)

And the Apostle Paul said, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)

As for myself, I am confident that God is still in charge and that he has everything under control, even though I can’t always see how. So, I embrace the mystery and trust that God, who alone knows the future, will provide everything I will need, and will let me know if there is anything I need to do now to be prepared for what is coming in the future. That is why I have no anxiety about current or future events.

Cosmogenesis et al. vs The Universal Christ

From very early times mankind has wondered about the origin and nature of the universe and our place in it. Many theories have also emerged over the years about the origin of life and where it can be found. Let’s examine some of these theories.
Early man looked at the movements of the sun, the moon, and the other stars and planets and concluded that the Earth was at the center of the universe and these all revolved around it. They believed the Earth was essentially flat and if you could travel to the extreme edge of it, you would fall off. This belief was challenged once sailing ships which ventured far enough from shore were observed to sink below the horizon only to rise and reappear as they returned to shore. Gradually the belief grew that the Earth was a sphere like the heavenly bodies observed. Thie evolved to the point that, in 1492 A.D., Christopher Columbus set sail towards the west to find a route to India which lay east of Europe, discovering the American continent instead. Then in September 1522 a remnant of the crew of Ferdinand Magellan, although he had died along the way, completed the first circumnavigation of the Earth, proving conclusively that Earth was a sphere.

The next big change came in the middle 1500’s A.D. when the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus proposed that the planets, including Earth. have the Sun as the fixed point around which they orbit. This representation of the heavens is usually called the heliocentric, or “Sun-centered,” system. Needless to say, the idea that Earth was not the center of the universe caused great consternation in religious circles and fostered a surge in scientific investigation of the nature of the universe.
Sir Isaac Newton, an English mathematician, physicist, astronomer, alchemist, theologian, and author, was a key figure in the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment that followed. In his pioneering book Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), first published in 1687, he formulated the laws of motion and universal gravitation that formed the dominant scientific viewpoint for centuries. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the mechanical worldview developed from the work of Newton, René Descartes and Francis Bacon, saw the universe as a great machine put in place and set in motion by God, the master technician, which ran itself with a precision such that the movement of its parts could be calculated with great precision.

Then Albert Einstein published his theory of special relativity (e=mc 2) in 1905, which described the relationship energy and matter. Ten years later (in 1915) he published his general theory of relativity, which postulated that gravity might not be a force like the other physical forces, but a result of spacetime’s curvature. Einstein’s field equations, published in 1916, predicted the expansion of the universe, but he initially believed that the universe as a whole did not change, thinking he had made a mistake somehow in his equations. By 1922 Russian mathematician Alexander Friedman had shown Einstein’s equations allowed three different solutions, one of which was the model of the universe expanding through time, and he tried to convince Einstein of this. But direct evidence of this theory was needed, which came when observational cosmologist Edwin Hubble observed through the telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory in California that the cosmological red shift showed the universe was expanding at a calculable rate. It was Georges Lemaître then, the Belgian mathematical cosmologist, who in 1931 invented the theory that the cosmos was expanding from a powerful explosion at the beginning of time, i.e., the Big Bang theory. Working backwards from the current state of the universe, scientists have theorized this all began roughly 13.8 billion years ago, which is thus considered to be the age of the universe.

So, the universe was once again seen as a vast machine with predictable movement of its parts, as previously envisioned by Isaac Newton, René Descartes and Francis Bacon, except this time it was dynamically expanding, rather than remaining static. This theory worked quite well on the macroscopic level with large objects which could be observed, and which could have their characteristics and movements precisely calculated. The study of quantum mechanics, however, beginning around 1900 and progressing throughout the 20th century, deals with microscopic or subatomic particles, and it began to change our understanding of the nature of the universe.

Quantum mechanics differs from classical physics in which energy, momentum, angular momentum, and other quantities have discrete values which can be accurately measured. In quantum physics, objects have characteristics of both particles and waves (wave–particle duality); and there are limits to how accurately the value of a physical quantity can be predicted. Superstring theory, which emerged in the 1980s, added the suggestion that the microscopic landscape is suffused with tiny strings whose vibrational patterns orchestrate the evolution of the cosmos, which appears to resolve the conflict between general relativity and quantum mechanics. It also suggested the existence of additional dimensions beyond the four we are familiar with, bringing the total up from four to ten or eleven, possibly including more than one dimension of time. One thing is absolutely clear from all these discoveries. There is much more to the physical universe than meets the naked eye.

So much for the current status of an evolving universe. Although we now believe we know how and when the universe began, the question remains: What set off the Big Bang that started it all and why? Many scientists have realized that the way in which the universe has evolved had to be exactly as it has been in order for the unfolding of life on the Earth, the only place in the universe where we have found it so far. Based on what science has discovered, three main schools of thought have formed. Each of these agree that the expansion of the universe is extraordinarily elegant. The first focused on the idea of a multiverse of many different universes, one of which (ours) evolved exactly as needed to produce life. The second suggested it was all somehow by design, But whose? And the third focused on the inner ordering dynamics of the universe, without saying how that came about.

There is no way we on Earth can verify the existence of other universes than the one in which we reside, so let’s stick with the other two approaches. The design approach requires an entity with the ability to not only conceive, but also execute, the design. Christians believe that entity is God, but many others dismiss the idea that God exists. We’ll return to that later. The third approach suggests the universe has a mind of its own. Let’s explore that idea a bit. Many authors have written about this. Eckhart Tolle, for instance, a German-born spiritual teacher and self-help author, in his extensive writings, offers a very contemporary synthesis of Eastern spiritual teaching. He claims there is no ultimate distinction humans, God, and Jesus. He urges us to keep in touch with the deepest source of our Being, a term he uses to describe the universal essence he says we all share. When asked if he was talking about God, he replied: ‘The word God has become empty of meaning through thousands of years of misuse…The word Being explains nothing, but nor does God…Nobody can claim exclusive possession of Being”.

Carl Sagan, the American astronomer, planetary scientist, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, science communicator, author, and professor, said: “The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us — there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.”
And: “The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding… They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival”. And as to human life he said” “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” He makes no effort to explain how and why the cosmos came into existence, only that it does and that as it evolved it produced life.

In his book “Cosmogenesis; An Unveiling of the Expanding Universe” Brian Thomas Swimme begins by saying he wanted to discover “the mathematical structures of a cosmic primordial intelligence that knew we were coming.” Scientific discoveries over the last four and a half centuries, he says “have enabled us to discover our cosmic genesis, which can be summarized as: the universe began fourteen billion years ago with the emergence of elementary particles in the form of primordial plasma, which quickly morphed into atoms of hydrogen, helium, and lithium; a hundred million years later, galaxies began to appear and in one of these, the Milky Way, minerals arranged themselves into living cells that constructed advanced life, including evergreen trees, coral reefs, and the vertebrate nervous systems that humans used to discover this entire sequence of universe development.” His conclusion is that the universe began structuring itself from the beginning with the objective of creating life in an environment that was perfectly suited to harbor and maintain it. And he seems to imply that the universe did this of its own accord.

On the other hand, design scientists, such as William Dembski, pursue the idea that the universe is just right for life because an outside divine agent has designed things that way, which is in keeping with Isaac Newton’s belief. They regard the design approach to be philosophically superior because it provides an actual explanation of why the universe is the way it is, going beyond the bare fact that it is. For those of us who believe in God, the Bible offers much to support this theory. To start with , the first book of the Bible tells us that in the beginning of time, God created the universe, sun, moon, stars, the planets, and then all living things, including human beings made in his own image and likeness. And these were placed on Earth, one of the planets, in an environment that was perfect to nourish and sustain them. That is still true today, in spite of all our misbegotten efforts to deface and destroy it. And it will remain so until God replaces it with a new and better Earth, in spite of our fears of nuclear annihilation.

To answer the questions of the origin of the universe and particularly of life, the Apostle John wrote:
“From the first he {Christ} was the Word, and the Word was in relation with God and was God.
This Word was from the first in relation with God.
All things came into existence through him, and without him nothing was.
What came into existence in him was life, and the life was the light of men.”
(John 1:1-4 The Bible in Basic English)

So although Jesus in the form of human flesh was born and lived, died, and rose again during a specific period of time, Christ was present in the beginning.
Jesus himself said: Truly I say to you, Before Abraham came into being, I am.
(John 8:58 The Bible in Basic English)

In his book, “The Universal Christ” Richard Rohr says:
“The revelation of the risen Christ as ubiquitous and eternal was clear affirmed in the Scriptures (Colossians 1, Ephesians 1, John 1, Hebrews 1) and in the early church when the euphoria of the Christian faith was still creative and expanding’.
But, he says:
“When the Western church separated from the East in the Great Schism of 1054, we gradually lost this profound understanding of how God has been liberating and loving all that is.”
He continues:
‘A cosmic notion of Christ competes with and excludes no one, but includes everyone and everything (Acts 10:15, 34) and allows Jesus Christ to finally be a God figure worthy of the entire universe.”
“Everything visible”, Rohr says, “without exception, is the outpouring of God.”
And “God loves things by uniting with them, not be excluding them.”
Rohr goes on to say:
‘What I am calling in this book an incarnational worldview is the profound recognition of the presence of the divine in literally ‘every thing’ and ‘every one”.

This agrees somewhat with what Eckhart Tolle, Carl Sagan and Brian Thomas Swimme postulated, but instead of an amorphous Universe, Rohr says this is the very person of God in Christ. So what is God’s purpose in creating all this? The Apostle Paul told the church at Ephesus:
“God has allowed us to know the secret of his plan, and it is this: He purposes in His sovereign will that all human history shall be consummated in Christ, that everything that exists in Heaven or earth shall find its perfection and fulfillment in Him.” (Ephesians 1:9, 10 J B Phillips translation)

So the universe and everything in it, including us, was brought in being through Christ and will culminate in Christ. That is the whole story, pure and simple.

Diversity and Inclusion

I have recently realized that God has been teaching me about his perspective on diversity and inclusion. If you take a good look at God’s creation you can’t help but notice the immense diversity of it. Stars, planets, galaxies and right here on Earth, grasses, trees, flowers, insects, birds, animals and human beings of all shapes, sizes and colors make it obvious that God loves diversity. And God calls us to love and care for all of his creation, not excluding anything or anyone, but including everything and everyone in our circle of love and care.

God began teaching me about this early in my life, giving me a love for his creation and over time a love for the people in it. My life began in an era of rabid segregation, separating people of color from polite white society. Fron an early age, I remember signs in public places designating white and colored restrooms and drinking fountains and requiring blacks to ride in the back of buses and streetcars. There were white churches, black churches and Hispanic churches (mostly Roman Catholic) and people in those had little if anything to do with those of different ethnicities.

All of my friends were white, and I never associated with anyone of color until I got to junior high and high school. That was when I began to experience diversity and inclusion. The schools I went to bordered on a part of Dallas called Little Mexico, an Hispanic enclave that no longer exists, having been now displaced by the Uptown Dallas area as part of the drive for urbanization. However, in the mid to late 1950’s Little Mexico was a thriving community that preserved Hispanic culture and mores. And, as a result of its proximity to Little Mexico, about one-third of the students at North Dallas High School were Hispanic. Most of them were second and third generation American citizens, born in the United States, who spoke English as fluently as us white folks. I developed friendships with many of them, taking classes together and participating with them on sports teams and in social clubs. I still keep in touch with some of them today, more than 60 years later. I accepted them as equals, having no qualms about their ancestries or the fact I was a Protestant, while they were Roman Catholics. I discovered that we had much in common, including our core religious beliefs.

However, because of the segregation laws in force at the time, it was much later that I began to have any interaction with blacks. As a matter of fact the first black man I ever met and made friends with was while I was in the M.B.A. program at what is now the University of North Texas. We were in a management class together and were assigned a joint work project requiring a lot of research and report writing. We met outside of class, sometimes at his apartment, and got to know each other well. We became a good team and got a good grade on our work product. His name was Ernest P. Boger. He was a sergeant in the U.S. Army, who had been the valedictorian of Blake High School in Tampa, Florida and became the first African American student at the University of South Florida. He graduated in 1965 with a degree in psychology, with minors in Russian and music. He later earned an MBA from the University of North Texas and a Doctor of Management degree from the International Management Centres Association (IMCA), of Buckingham, England.
In 1984 he became the first Black professor in what is now known as the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management at the University of South Carolina. Boger went on to become head of the Department of Hospitality Management at Bethune-Cookman College. He then moved to a role as tenured professor and hospitality and tourism management department chair at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, retiring from that position in 2020. A very talented individual with a distinguished career. Meeting and working with Ernest when I did dispelled any notions I might have ever had about racial inferiority. And in the years since I have had the privilege of becoming good friends with many men and women of color.

As a young man my friends and I knew very little about the workings of the Holy Spirit, and sometimes joked about so called “holy rollers”. But in January 1970, near the peak of the Jesus Revolution, my wife and I came into contact with young people our age who were filled with the Holy Spirit and were passionate about sharing their love of Jesus Christ. We were awed by their joy and enthusiasm and decided we wanted that for ourselves. So we did as they suggested and jointly committed to following Jesus wherever he led us. God then baptized us both with his Holy Spirit and we began to manifest the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit. That led us eventually to membership in charismatic Methodist and Presbyterian churches, as well as an Assemblies of God church, where we witnessed and participated in many moves of the Spirit and learned more about what God was calling us to do with his guidance and empowerment.

As a youth my friends and I also joked about homosexuals, jokingly calling each other “queers”. It wasn’t until more recently that I came into contact with actual members of the LGBTQ community and was surprised to learn that included some of my friends and family members of other friends. Then I met a dynamic young woman about my daughter’s age who had experienced a rather traumatic childhood, having been abandoned (given up for adoption) by her birth father and mother and abused by her alcoholic foster father and mother. She developed a very strong relationship with God to overcome her circumstances and has become a passionate advocate for changing the business world by calling for individual entrepreneurs and businesses to focus on the ways in which they can make a positive contribution to society, rather than on just maximizing their profits without considering who might be negatively impacted by their actions.

She and I shared some of the same passions and we became good friends to the point that I became one of her (unofficially) adoptive fathers. It wasn’t until sometime later that I discovered she was gay when she wedded a same sex partner. I have since met her wife and have come to love them both. My own daughter and her husband have also met them and formed a bond with them.

My appreciation of the LGBTQ community reached another milestone when I helped chaperone a New Years Eve celebration for LGBTQ youth at our church, including some of our own youth members and 40 or 50 others. They were mostly very quiet and seemingly shy at first, but as midnight approached began to show more excitement and enthusiasm. We all ended up having a great time together. And a number of their parents who were there commented on how much they appreciated having a safe place for their children to enjoy themselves without fear. This party has held in the youth room of our church, which has a large sign over one of the doors declaring; “All of God’s children are welcome here’. So much for ending any homophobia.

Then a few years ago a group of men from our church were invited to a Ramadan prayer service and evening meal at an Islamic Center in Carrollton, Texas. We were welcomed ss honored guests and placed at the head table on a raised platform and our names displayed on a video screen. We attended the evening prayer service, standing quietly at the rear of the men’s section and silently praying. After that we joined with all of the congregants in a sumptuous meal. Some of us spoke briefly to express our gratitude at having been invited and our hopes for improving relationships between our communities. So much for Islamophobia. They were people with hopes and concerns for their families and community just like ours.

Most recently I have had the opportunity to meet and share with homeless people for the first time. I have participated with friends from my church and also First Presbyterian Church of Plano, along with the Streetside Showers ministry, at the Assistance Center of Collin County in Plano. Some 80 to 100 homeless persons showed up to take showers in a mobile trailer with three shower stalls, and to receive a change of clothes (shirts, pants and shoes), as well as sharing a meal provided by a rotation of local churches. Grace Presbyterian Church members provided coffee and chairs to sit in for those who wanted it. I spoke with several of those who came to receive help and learned that they were no different than anyone else I knew, except that for one reason or another they had fallen on hard times and could use a helping hand. So much for disparaging the homeless.

To summarize, God has gradually, but persistently, exposed me over the years to many people and situations I had never experienced before and knew little to nothing about. He has shown me a lot about the diversity of his creation and his desire for me to include all into my circle of love and care. And because God’s creativity is so boundless and his love so all inclusive, I am certain that he has much more to show me. I eagerly look forward to it.

What Did I Do to Deserve This?

When we say, “What did I do to deserve this?”, we are usually referring to something bad that we have experienced. I have had a number of those experiences myself. I have had cancers three times, losing my left eye to the first of these. I have developed atrial fibrillation and hypertension, requiring half a dozen prescription medications and several surgeries, including the implantation of a pacemaker to control these conditions. I have been out of work several times for periods of six months to a year (actually self-employment with zero income for that year). And my wife Mary died nearly six years ago leaving me a widower. I suppose I could ask, “What did I do to deserve all this?”

However, I also have a great deal to be thankful for. I am now cancer-free, I have learned to live with monocular vision for more than 30 years, and I am still reasonably fit and active. I can still drive my own car and I can walk and run (though not often) without any assistance. And when I look back over the 81 years (so far) of my life, I have much more to be thankful for. I was happily married to a charming, lovely, highly intelligent, loving and caring woman for nearly 53 years, and we shared an exciting and rewarding life of challenge, adventure and accomplishment all of those years. We had opportunities to enjoy professional careers in several different industries, including aerospace manufacturing, commercial/industrial building construction, commercial real estate, telecommunications, and university academia, as well as stints as independent consultants in marketing and career transition.

During our years together, Mary and I were able to indulge in our joint passion for travel, seeing new sights, and experiencing new cultures (and foods) in all 50 of the United States and more than 60 foreign countries around the world. We lived in a number of cities in Texas, as well as spending 9 years in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and 2 years in Virginia Beach, Virginia, meeting and becoming friends with many people in each  place. We also had opportunities to associate with people in several different Christian denominations, including Roman Catholicism, United Methodist and Charismatic Methodist churches, a Southern Baptist church, an Assemblies of God church, a Charismatic Presbyterian church, and since 1985, a PC(USA) Presbyterian church, discovering in the process that they all had the same basic Christian beliefs, although differing in more peripheral issues. In other words, they were all part of the same universal family, even though they often quarreled over different perspectives on what they considered matters of importance.

I have a delightful daughter, a wonderful son-in law and two terrific grandsons that I stay in close contact with. Since my official retirement in 2010, I have been able to offer my services on a pro bono basis to counsel people in job transition on how to find the best possible employment opportunities to do meaningful work that utilizes their talents, abilities, experience, passions, and personality, while maintaining a healthy work-life balance. A very rewarding experience for me. And I am still able to indulge in my passion for constructing and flying radio control model airplanes.

So, all in all, I have a great deal to be thankful for, and the truth is, when I ask, “What did I do to deserve this?”, the answer is emphatically “Nothing!”. I have been the recipient of God’s grace all the days of my life, in spite of my many failings and misadventures. And since grace is defined as unmerited (or undeserved) favor), I have done nothing to deserve it.

Realizing that is why when people ask me how I am doing, I now answer, “I am doing remarkably well, much better than I deserve.”

Emergence Christianity

(Taken from the book of this title by Phyllis Tickle)

The Great Reformation of 500 years ago “was about the change, politically, in Western governance from fiefdoms, baronies, and hereditary domains to the nation-state configuration that for most of the last five centuries has informed the Western way of ordering life”

“The Great Reformation, economically, was about…birthing, and then enabling capitalism as a dominant characteristic of Western ways…The Great Reformation was also about a world that, in order to communicate its new ways and profit from them, abruptly needed a literate population for commercial reasons.”

“The Great Reformation was also concerned with the discoveries being made in the physical universe and, as a result, of human ability to begin to pierce, penetrate, understand, manipulate, and even in some ways change or harness the power for the betterment of mankind”

“The Great Reformation was about a whole shopping list of things, every one of them part and parcel of who we are and what our society for the last five centuries has been.”

And “religion, whether we like it or not, is intimately tied to the culture in which it exists… Just as surely as one of the functions of religion is to inform, counsel, and temper the society in which it exists, just so surely is every religion informed and colored by its hosting society”

Now we are in another time of transition, one that is having as great an effect on society and religion as the Great Reformation. It is known as the Great Emergence. And the Christianity that is now emerging is quite different that which emerged from the Great Reformation.

According to a recent Barna survey these are the five top responses to the question of why people are beginning to doubt Christian beliefs and, as a result, leaving Christian churches and becoming self-styled spiritual, but not religious people.
• The hypocrisy of religious people (42%)
• Science (31%)
• Human suffering (30%)
• One religion can’t have all the answers (29%)
• Conflict in the world (24%)

In other words, people are abandoning organized religion as it exists today because they do not see that it understands scientific realities, is unwilling to examine other possibilities than its preconceived opinions and is failing to address human suffering in the form of racism, poverty and outright intolerance of people that are not like themselves, often resulting in physical conflict.

This is obviously a far cry from what God birthed the church to be, a loving, caring, accepting body of people who invited one and all to join them, and who took measures to ensure that everyone’s needs were met. So God is once again stirring the waters of human society and religion to flush out the detrimental aspects of both and to usher in a new era of human relations that more closely resembles the kingdom of God on Earth.

As Phyllis Tickle pointed out in “The Great Emergence” in the five hundred or so years since the Great Reformation North American Christianity has evolved into four, roughly equal groups or categories to form a diagram called a quadrilateral.

What is happening as God stirs the waters is a blurring of lines between the four sectors, with the result being a gathering center. Where there were once very distinct segments of Christianity whose leaders seldom spoke to one another, much less tried to understand the other’s point of view, the advent of the world wide web and the burgeoning social media exposed the people in the pews to a great variety of differing opinions and they began to wonder if they still had all of the answers to the burning issues arising in the society in which they lived.

In the center of the quadrilateral, “where the four corners of the segments had met, now there was s swirling center , its centripetal force racing from quadrant to quadrant in ever-widening circles, picking up ideas and people from each, sweeping the into the center, mixing them there, and then spewing them forth into a new way of being Christian, a new way of being Church”

So what are the basic characteristics of Emergence Christianity?

  • Radical obedience to the words and teaching of Jesus Christ as recorded in Scripture and as received, during discernment, prayer, and teachings, into their own beingness
  • Insistence that the Bible tells one story in the Old and New Testaments, so there is a respectful connection between Judaism and Christianity
  • Willing susceptibility to the power and truth of story, but suspicion of propositional truth and especially of doctrinal and/or dogmatic exegesis.
  • Belief that theology as a conversation is something to be used as a means, not an end.
  • To always opt for grace over morality
  • To be entirely persuaded that orthopraxy, or right action, trumps orthodoxy, or right belief, every time
  • To know above and beyond all else, that the Bible story tells us that there is a kingdom, that it is now and not yet, here and also there, come and coming and then, knowing this, to live every minute of every day accordingly

 

 

The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why

(Taken from the book of this title by Phyllis Tickle)
The Right Reverend Mark Dyer has observed that “the only way to understand what is currently happening to us as twenty-first- century Christians in North America is first to understand that about every five hundred years the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale.”

“That is, about every five hundred years the empowered structure of institutional Christianity, whatever they may be at that time, become an intolerable carapace that must be shattered in order that renewal and growth may occur. When that mighty upheaval happens, history shows us, there are always at least three consistent results of corollary events.”

“First, a new and more vital form of Christianity does indeed emerge.
Second, the organized expression of Christianity, which up until then had been the dominant one is reconstituted into a more pure and less ossified expression of its former self.”

“The third result is of equal, if not greater, significance though. That is, every time the incrustations of an overly established Christianity have been broken open, the faith has spread-and been spread – dramatically into new geographic and demographic areas, thereby increasing exponentially the range and depth of Christianity’s reach as a result of its time of unease and distress.”

So what we are witnessing today is the cracking open of the carapace (hard shell) of religious doctrines that have caused so much strife and divisiveness in Christian churches to allow for repentance (change of mindset), renewal and growth of understanding of formerly taboo subjects. That is, God is calling the Church to learn to see things from the divine point of view, rather than from our preconceived and narrow perspectives.

History shows us that Dyer is correct in stating that this occurs about once every five hundred years. Those of us in the reformed tradition are fond of celebrating the Great Reformation of the sixteenth century, five hundred years before our time. The Protestant tradition arose from this time, resulting in significant changes to the then extant structure of the Church.

Five hundred years before that, in 1054, the Great Schism occurred, dividing the Church between Greek and/or Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Both of these segments flourished in their respective spheres of influence.

Five hundred years before the Great Schism came the fall of the Roman Empire and the elevation of Gregory I, who became know as Gregory the Great because of his work in “leading a continent that was in total upheaval into some kind of ecclesio-political coherence and…{guiding} Christianity firmly into the monasticism that would protect preserve, and characterize it during the next five centuries.”

As Phyllis Tickle says: “When Christians despair of the upheavals and reformations that have been the history of our faith – when the faithful resist, as so many do just now, the presence of another time of reconfiguration with its inevitable pain- we all would do well to remember that, not only are we in the hinge of a five-hundred-year period, but we are also the direct product of one.”

‘It is especially important,” she says” to remember that no standing form of organized Christian faith has ever been destroyed by one of our semi-millennial eruptions. Instead, each has simply lost hegemony or pride of place to the new and not-yet organized form that was birthing.”

Tickle continues: “Christianity became a global religion as a result of the Great Reformation. A large part of that globalization was in direct consequence of Protestantism’s adamant insistence on literacy, which in turn led more or less directly to the technology that enabled world exploration and trade. As a result, Catholics and Protestants alike could, and did, carry Christianity out of Europe and into the world beyond, often in strenuous – and energizing – competition with each other.”

Unfortunately, the Church that Protestantism and Catholicism spread to other continents was largely colonialized in nature, treating the natives of those continents as subjects, or worse as slaves, with all the negative consequences and resentments that fosters. This was manifested in the United States in the 19th century as the country and its churches were sharply divided over the issue of slavery. The result was the secession of the southern states leading to the Civil War and to the split between northern and southern branches of Christian denominations.

Although the country was reunited following the end of the war and many, if not most, denominations have since reunified, lingering resentments and attempts to nullify the effects of ending slavery continue to this day.

More recently both the country and the churches are increasingly at odds once again, this time along staunch liberal and conservative lines, over issues such as systemic poverty and institutional racism, as well as immigration policy and the LGBTQ community, especially over same sex marriage and the ordination of gays. And this is not just in the United States, as racism, intolerance, subjugation, and resultant poverty are rampant in all corners of the globe.

All is not lost though. As Tickle concludes: One does not have to be particularly gifted as a seer these days, however, to perceive the Great Emergence already swirling like balm across that wound, bandaging it with genuinely egalitarian conversation and with an undergirding assumption of shared brotherhood and sisterhood in a world being redeemed.”

So be aware that it’s time for another rummage sale. It has already begun and will continue until a new and better form of Christianity emerges, one that more closely represents the kingdom of God on earth.

THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

In his book, “Christianizing the Roman Empire A.D. 100-400”, Ramsay MacMullen undertakes to understand how Christianity, which the pagan Roman Empire considered to be a dangerous cult which it sought to destroy, came to be the official state religion of the empire within the space of 300 years.  He asks:

“What did Christianity present to its audience?  For plainly the process of conversion that interests me took place in people’s minds on the basis of what they knew, or thought they knew.”

And he concludes:

“The Christian church grew in strength and influence through the power of God demonstrated in manifestations of the Holy Spirit.  The defining moment of course came in A.D. 312 when the Roman emperor Constantine was converted to Christianity.  With Constantine as its patron and benefactor the Christian church at last enjoyed toleration rather than persecution, and financial benefits in the form of endowments of land, the use of public monies for the construction of basilicas and even tax exemptions.  Over time, as the church became more and more institutionalized, the demonstration of God’s power became less and less evident.  The church began to rely instead on political and military power to further its cause.  Eventually the unity of spirit which was the hallmark of the early church was lost as divisions arose over church doctrine, and the church of Jesus Christ splintered into numerous competing factions, each convinced it alone was the true church.”

Although the Christian church of the 21st Century, fractured and fractious as it seems, bears little outward resemblance to the unified, dedicated, Spirit-empowered body of believers to whom Christ first entrusted the Great Commission, God’s purpose for it has not changed.  For, as the Apostle Paul reminded the Christians at Rome in the 1st Century A.D.:

“God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29 NIV)

In other words, despite all protestations to the contrary, God’s plan for the church, the mission to which he has called it, and the gifts he has offered to the church to enable it to fulfill that mission, have remained unchanged throughout the centuries.   The mission – to demonstrate to all those living in the world and to all the heavenly spectators God’s purpose in Jesus Christ:

“And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment–to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will… “(Ephesians 1:9-11 NIV)

His intent was that now, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ephesians 3:10, 11 NIV)

And the gifts given to accomplish this:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38 NIV)

Everyone who accepts God’s gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ becomes a member of the body of Christ and also receives the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Each and every one is thus given direction and empowerment to fulfill our own God-ordained destiny, and when each has done so individually, then the church will have collectively fulfilled its own destiny.  This will occur because God has thus ordained it, whether or not the church collectively understands and embraces its destiny.  Remember Jesus Christ is the head of his body, the church, and he can and will direct and empower the members of his body to accomplish his Father’s purpose in him, even though the left hand may not know what the right hand is doing, much less why it is doing it.  It is not necessary for us to understand everything God is doing in the body of Christ.  It is enough that we begin to understand what God is doing in us, and that we respond to him positively, allowing him more and more latitude to work his will in us.

The Gift of The Holy Spirit

God’s desire is to work in each of us in exactly the same way he worked in Jesus Christ and has worked in the members of Christ’s body since the day the church was born.  That is to say God desires to work his will in us and through us by the power of his Holy Spirit.  He makes this possible by giving to each of us the gift of the Holy Spirit.  What a gift that is!  God has, in his Holy Spirit, given us a gift of unlimited power and scope.  This is the same Holy Spirit who:

  • Is instrumental in God’s creative work (Genesis 1:2; Job 26:13; Job 33:4; Psalm 104:30)
  • Conceived the only begotten Son of God (Luke 1:30-35)
  • Descended upon Jesus at his baptism (Matthew 3:16)
  • Anointed Jesus for ministry (Luke 4:18, 19)
  • Raised Jesus Christ from the dead (Romans 8:11)
  • Came upon the church at the Day of Pentecost (Acts2:1-4)
  • Empowered the church of Jesus Christ for ministry (Acts 4:31; I Corinthians 2:5)

In the Old Testament we are occasionally told the Spirit of God came upon an individual, such as:

  • Moses (Numbers 11:25)
  • Joshua (Numbers 27:18; Deuteronomy 34:9)
  • Gideon (Judges 6:34)
  • Samson (Judges 14:6; Judges 14:19; Judges 15:14)
  • Saul (I Samuel 10:6)
  • David (I Samuel 16:13)
  • Ezekiel (Ezekiel 11:5)
  • And others less well known

These individuals were all used mightily by God to accomplish his purpose – but they were few in number.  However, in the New Testament, we are told on the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came upon all of the believers – not only came upon them, but also filled them.  They were baptized with the Holy Spirit and they were filled with the Holy Spirit.  As Paul later explained to the Ephesian church, the baptism with the Holy Spirit sealed them and guaranteed them their inheritance:

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession–to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13, 14 NIV)

Having been baptized with the Holy Spirit, Paul admonished them to continue to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  This would allow the Holy Spirit to manifest in them both the fruit of the Spirit and spiritual gifts.

The Fruit of the Spirit

The fruit of the Spirit is the manifestation in us of the nature and character of God, as opposed to our own sinful nature.  Only by allowing the Holy Spirit to fill us with God’s nature can we overcome our natural tendencies toward sin.  As Paul told the Galatian Church:

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:16-23 NIV)

Although our sinful nature makes it impossible for us to obey God’s law in our own strength, when we are filled with the Holy Spirit, God’s nature in us changes us so we exhibit character and behavior which are in keeping with his law.   This change takes place in our spirit, or as Watchman Nee calls it, our inner man.  This inner man, our spirit, is contained within our outer man, or soul.  In order for our new Godly character and behavior to reach those around us, the Holy Spirit must get through our outer man.  The outer man must be broken to allow the release of the Spirit from within us.  Only then will our new nature be evident to others.  Only then can those around us share the benefits of the fruit of the Spirit growing within us.

Spiritual Gifts

When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, not only are our character and our behavior towards God and our fellow man changed, but also we are empowered to exercise spiritual gifts.  Or more precisely we allow the Holy Spirit to exercise them in us and through us.  What the Bible calls “spiritual gifts” (Greek: pneumatika – spirituals) are simply manifestations, or demonstrations, of the power of the Holy Spirit.  Since God is infinite and omnipotent, these are by definition limitless, both in number and scope.

The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual gifts are intended for a twofold purpose: the growth and the unity of the body of Christ.  Remember it is God’s ultimate purpose to bring all things in heaven and earth together under the headship of his Son, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:9-11).  The entire creation will be redeemed, beginning with mankind, the crowning achievement of God’s creative power.  As the Apostle Paul said:

“The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Romans 8:19-21 NIV)

So the entire creation is waiting for the body of Christ to be completed, joined to Jesus Christ, its head, as a bride to her husband.  Then, as the Apostle John tells us in the Book of Revelation:

“I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”  (Revelation 21:1-5 NIV)

The growth and unity of the body of Christ are therefore seen to be essential since the redemption of the entire creation will not occur until the redemption of mankind is complete.  Let us examine then how spiritual gifts, manifestations of the Holy Spirit, work to bring about that growth and unity.  The Apostle Paul tells us:

“Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant…

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.

There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.

There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good…

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.  So it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.  Now the body is not made up of one part, but of many…

But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.” (I Corinthians 12:1, 4-7, 12-14, 18-27; 14:12 NIV)

And Paul says God has gifted some individuals within the church for the purpose of training and leading the other members in the work God has chosen them for. As he says:

“He {God} gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13 NIV)

The Distribution of Spiritual Gifts

The distribution of spiritual gifts within the body of Christ is at the discretion of the Holy Spirit.  He gives spiritual gifts to each and every member of the body as he sees fit to enable us individually and collectively to accomplish the work God has called us to.  No one is left out.  No one is useless or expendable.  Everyone has a part to play which is uniquely theirs and is required for the body of Christ to be whole and functioning as God intends it to be.  The Apostle Paul tells us:

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.  To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.

All of these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.” (I Corinthians 12:7-11 NIV)

And the Apostle Peter adds:

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” (I Peter 4:10 NIV)

So we see God intends for each and every one of us, as members of the body of Christ, to exercise spiritual gifts so the entire body can be built up, strengthened and unified.  What are these spiritual gifts? How do we know which gift or gifts the Holy Spirit wants to manifest in and through us?  Let’s begin with a listing of spiritual gifts.

Spiritual GiftsS

As we said earlier, any listing of spiritual gifts is by definition incomplete, since the ways in which the power of the Holy Spirit can be manifested are limitless.  There are, however, numerous spiritual gifts mentioned in the Bible, and listing and discussing them will give us some understanding of the ways God might choose to manifest his power in us.

Over the years we have seen many different lists of spiritual gifts compiled by various authors, but two of the most comprehensive we found are contained in:  “Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow”, 5 by C. Peter Wagner and “Discover Your Spiritual Gift and Use It”, 6 by Rick Yohn.  Starting with a  combination of lists from these two books and adding one suggested by Dr. David Yonggi Cho and one I have observed I have noted at least 31.  But since the list will still be incomplete, we will leave it to you to add others as God reveals them to you.

In most cases, scripture references will be given to allow you to investigate these spiritual gifts for yourself.  Many of these references are quite explicit, while in some others the spiritual gift, though not explicitly mentioned, is strongly implied.  In all cases, the manifestation of these spiritual gifts can clearly be seen throughout the Bible, in the history of the Christian church and in the world around us today.  Let’s see now what these manifestations of the Holy Spirit include:

  • Knowledge
  • Wisdom
  • Faith
  • Healings
  • Miracles
  • Prophecy
  • Discerning of Spirits
  • Tongues
  • Interpretation
  • Apostleship
  • Teaching
  • Helps
  • Administration
  • Service
  • Exhortation
  • Giving
  • Leadership
  • Mercy
  • Evangelism
  • Pastor
  • Celibacy
  • Voluntary Poverty
  • Martyrdom
  • Hospitality
  • Missionary
  • Intercession
  • Exorcism
  • Craftsmanship
  • Music
  • Boldness
  • Writing

Once again, this list is incomplete, as the Holy Spirit’s power is limitless.

Counterfeit Gifts

The Bible repeatedly warns us not to accept every spiritual manifestation as being of God.  Satan (Hebrew: satan – adversary, accuser), too, is a spiritual being with supernatural powers, as are the fallen angels, or demons, under his command.  We are advised to be wary, as Satan is a master of deceit, who will attempt to seduce and destroy us by presenting himself as worthy of awe and worship by virtue of his imitation of the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Christian who is aware that Satan and his demonic spirits are actively seeking to deceive the unwary through the manifestation of supernatural powers which mimic the gifts of the Holy Spirit has cause to remain alert but has no cause for fear.  Satan has no power over those whom he cannot deceive.  In fact, the devils all fear those in whom the Spirit of God dwells and who are submitted to God’s will.  The Apostle James advises us:

“Submit yourselves, therefore, to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Come near to God and he will come near to you.”  (James 4:7, 8 NIV)

And the Apostle Paul says:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” (Ephesians 6:10 NIV)

Having put on all the armor of God and wielding the sword of the Spirit, Paul tells us we should pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests and we should be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

The Bible teaches us Satan and his demons have such fear of the Spirit-empowered Body of Christ they are constantly seeking to thwart the accomplishment of the Lord’s work in and through the church by sowing seeds of fear, doubt, confusion and discord within the Body.  In addition to imitating spiritual gifts for this purpose, they also attempt to influence Spirit-filled believers to manifest their genuine spiritual gifts in inappropriate ways and times.  To safeguard against this, the Bible provides guidelines for the proper use of spiritual gifts to provide for the growth and unity of the church as God intends.

In his first letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul makes it clear:

  • spiritual gifts are distributed in the church by the Holy Spirit as he sees fit
  • they are for the benefit of the entire church rather than the exaltation of individual members
  • they are always to be exercised in a decent and orderly manner

He also explains if their use is not governed by love they are of little or no value. (I Corinthians 13)

“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.  For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.  But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.  He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.

I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy.  He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.” (I Corinthians 14:1-3 NIV)

What Paul means by prophesy is not so much to foretell future events but to share the good news about what Jesus has done for us. As the Apostle John wrote in the book of Revelation:

“…the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (Revelation 19:10 KJV)

So what does all this mean for us today. Simply that we continuously ask God to fill us afresh with his Holy Spirit and that we then allow the Spirit to work in us and through us to accomplish his purpose.

BAPTISMS

We in reformed churches are fond of quoting the Apostle Paul, who said:
There is one body and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling;
One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
(Ephesians 4:4-6 KJ)
Nevertheless, we recognize more than one mode of baptism, including sprinkling, immersion and pouring. Infants are usually sprinkled, indicating that their parents are dedicating them to God. Older children and adults are often baptized by pouring or immersion after making a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. Immersion in particular symbolizing that they have been both crucified with Christ and resurrected to new life in him.
However, there is one baptism which is seldom spoken of today in many churches. John the Baptist said:
I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Matthew 3:11 NIV)
He was speaking of course of Jesus Christ. Men baptize us with water, but Christ baptizes us with the Holy Spirit. That this is a separate occurrence is shown by something that happened when the Apostle Paul visited Ephesus, as recorded in Ephesians 19:1-6 (NIV):
Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied.
Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”
On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.
When we are baptized with the Holy Spirit the first thing that is produced in us is the fruit of the Spirit; that is, love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22, 23 NIV)
In addition, as the Apostle Paul tells us, we are then each given the ability to manifest the Spirit for the common good. (I Corinthians 12:7 ISV) Paul goes on to list 12 manifestations of the Spirit (sometimes called Spiritual gifts). These are not all there are, however. The Bible tells of certain individuals in the Old Testament who were gifted with supernatural abilities by God’s Spirit. These were for certain purposes and were not then available to everyone.
However, on the Day of Pentecost all of the believers present were filled with the Holy Spirit and they all began to speak in tongues and prophesy, as had been foretold by the prophet Joel. Acts 2: 1-21 (KJV) And as time went by and the believers began to share the good news to an ever-widening circle, they manifested many other spiritual gifts to meet the needs they encountered. I am aware of more than 30 types of Spiritual manifestations (or gifts) that have been catalogued. But of course, any listing of spiritual gifts is incomplete since the ways in which the power of the Holy Spirit can be manifested are limitless.
In his book, “Christianizing the Roman Empire A.D. 100-400”, Ramsay MacMullen undertakes to understand how Christianity, which the pagan Roman Empire considered to be a dangerous cult which it sought to destroy, came to be the official state religion of the empire within the space of 300 years. His conclusion: the Christian church grew in strength and influence through the power of God demonstrated in manifestations of the Holy Spirit.
So why are most of us unaware of this, and why don’t we see these manifestations of the Spirit more frequently today? Although it was the demonstration of the power of God that led to the growth of Christianity, over time, as the church became more and more institutionalized, the demonstration of God’s power became less and less evident. The church began to rely instead on political and military power to further its cause. Eventually the unity of spirit which was the hallmark of the early church was lost as divisions arose over church doctrine, and the church of Jesus Christ splintered into numerous competing factions, each convinced it alone was the true church. So it has continued until the present day.
Also, some have claimed that manifestations of the Holy Spirit, or spiritual gifts, were no longer needed after the New Testament canon was established, but that is not really the case. They are still available to us today, but we have largely been unaware of their availability or just ignored them.
But the commission that Christ has given to his Church to go into all the world teaching all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I’ve commanded you (Matthew 28:18-20 ISV) then includes his instructions to announce “the kingdom from Heaven is near! Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers and drive out demons” (Matthew 1:7,8 ISV) . And this is something we cannot do without the manifestation of God’s power by the Holy Spirit.
Periodically over the last 2,000 years God has again poured out his Holy Spirit to baptize many people and spark a revival of spiritual gifts. Such a revival occurred about 50 years ago, beginning in the Haight Asbury area of San Francisco, turning acid-dropping hippie dropouts from society into dynamic Spirit-filled believers in Jesus, and spreading from Southern California throughout the United States and beyond. My late wife Mary and I came into contact with a number of these so-called Jesus people in the early 1970’s and were fascinated by the love and enthusiasm they exhibited. We didn’t then know what they had, but we knew that we wanted it too. So we jointly committed to follow Jesus wherever he led us and he baptized us both with his Holy Spirit and we began to manifest spiritual gifts. That was the beginning of a life of challenge, adventure and accomplishment that totally changed the direction of our lives and provided us with opportunities to go places and do things we had never dreamed of doing. We discovered that God’s plans for our lives were far greater than anything we could have imagined and allowed us to impact the lives of many others in positive ways.
As we recently saw in the spiritual revival at Asbury University and other places, God is now once again pouring out his Holy Spirit without measure and providing all the opportunity to participate in this life-changing experience. The choice is yours. You can ignore this, be a spectator or you can become a participant in what God is doing.
I strongly urge you to choose to participate.