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Tuesday, June 12, 2012, 5:01 PM
Not very long ago, I sat in on a Bible study during which the leader told the group the so-called "sign gifts" of Pentecost are no longer in operation today.
I grew up in a tradition where people believed this, and I worship now in a tradition where some believe this and the thought continues to disturb me because no one has ever given what I consider a satisfactory explanation for denying the operation of these gifts.
Are we presumptuous to assume we can know or understand why these gifts were given? Are we presumptuous to assume we can say when God will or will not present these gifts to us? Are we disobedient when we reject them because someone told us we could?
Do we not understand that many Christians in 2012 live in situations quite similar to first century believers? Many live in areas where there are no established churches or religous broadcasts. Many today live without scriptures in their languages (or unable to read those that are published), many live in hostile surroundings where they cannot obtain devotional books or study Bibles. Many live around people who are willingly or unknowingly ignorant of what the New Testament teaches. Some of these believers are in what we in North America might call "remote" areas (what a horrible phrase), but some of these believers live in large, urban areas of North America and Western Europe.
What are these gifts of Pentecost? What are these gifts of the Holy Spirit?
How can we believe the world does not need visible, tangible proof of God's total power over time, space, nature, and matter?
The gifts are wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues and interpretation of tongues, helps, administration.
Who honestly believes the church and the world do not need these expressions of God's power? Have we substituted reading books and listening to speakers for the discerning of spirits? Have we substituted vitamins and pills for the gift of healing? Have we substituted self-help seminars for the gift of faith? Have we completely forgotten about the gift of helps? Are we embarassed to speak in tongues because we know those who have faked and forgered this gift? Does prophecy appear unsophisticated and uneducated?
Is the church as weak as it is because we have rejected these means of Jesus Christ showing Himself to be powerful and all-powerful in our time? Can we even imagine how powerful (and this does not mean rich, prestigous, and envied) the church would be if these gifts were accepted and embraced and honestly, faithfully demonstrated?
Are we trying too much to be like the world? Are we ashamed to affirm that God moves through us in ways we do not always completely understand and cannot always plan for and anticipate?
"To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, A)">to another a message of knowledge B)">by means of the same Spirit, to another faith C)">by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing D)">by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, E)">to another prophecy, F)">to another distinguishing between spirits, G)">to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, H)">and to still another the interpretation of tongues." (1 Corinthians 12: 8 - 10, NIV)
Why are we arrogant enough to say this is not true for those of us living today? What is the remedy for this?
We are gifted for worship and service, not for fame and fortune. I have no doubt people operating in these gifts live in and around me and I see them daily. They are humble enough to share God's gifts without holding a meeting and charging admission (or asking for a donation), without telling everyone how "blessed and highly favored" they are, and are obedient enough to say: "Have Your way with and in me, Lord."
They are living the true life of worship and service, the true life after Pentecost.
(c) 2012 Deborah Evans
Friday, May 25, 2012, 12:52 PM
Last Sunday was Ascension Sunday. I was raised in a Christian tradition that did not celebrate the Ascension or Pentecost. Easter was the major ---actually, only-- day of celebration on our religious calendar. Of course, we celebrated Mother's Day and Father's Day during May and June, but celebrations for Ascension Sunday and Pentecost were missing. Why?
I wonder if these days seemed too "magical" or "supernatural" to highlight and celebrate as fact. Did we have a hard time imagining ourselves with Jesus' mother and the apostles as they watched Jesus elevated from their vision into a heaven they could not see? Did we dislike--or even despise-- the idea of loosing and losing control of ourselves in a Pentecost-like appearance of the Holy Spirit? We were ashamed to admit to seekers or non-believers that we believed these were true events because they are recorded in Scripture? Did we not want to open ourselves to subdued laughter and silent mockery by others who did not understand these events?
I suppose all of these things could explain why these special days in the church calendar have fallen out of favor. It's too bad, and it's a trend we should reverse.
The Jesus any of us will ever encounter is truly a supernatural person, as He always was. For those of us living in this time, we can no longer know Him as the carpenter from Nazareth, the teacher and controversial rabbi, or the master storyteller and healer. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:16: " Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer."
John, known as the Beloved Apostle, sat next to Jesus at the Last Supper and leaned on Him in loving, but reverent, familiarity .When this same John saw the Ascended Christ and recorded the vision of Him in the first chapter of the Book of Revelation, John wrote these words: " I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,” and “What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.” Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; 16 He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me,“Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death. Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this."
John was so overwhelmed by the Ascended Jesus he could only respond by falling on his face in awe. Jesus Christ is not "The Man Upstairs" or "The Big Guy in the Sky." His fully expressed presence would overwhelm all of us.
Jesus left the Earth in the same manner as He will return. He is the Eternal Supernatural God-Man who chose to become one of us for a while so that we could be with Him forever. His visible, bodily ascension is the ultimate proof of His origin, His resurrection, His divinity, His power over nature, and a forward witness of His second coming. It is worthy of celebration.
."..while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11).
(c) 2012 Deborah Evans
Tuesday, May 15, 2012, 1:18 PM
A number of the blogs and feeds I follow have carried intense (and intensely emotional
) discussions in the last month or two about obesity and black women. A series of recent articles, including one in the New York Times ,
have questioned why so many black women are obese, perhaps even morbidly obese.
Objections to the tones of these articles have arisen around the apparent lack of solutions, empathy, or concern for the health of the women whose "issues" are being dissected and discussed.
I don't know if more black women are obese, compared to other women. If that is true, then what does it mean, and is there a spiritual component?
I have been a variety of sizes as an adult, and those changes have often reflected what was happening in my life at the time. I have jokingly said it took ten years to lose the "baby fat", but it is all gone now. What happened, and why?
As an American woman of African descent, here is my take on this subject. I am not a qualified dietitian, health care provider, or nutritionist. But here's what I've witnessed and learned from others:Food means many things to many people. If it means deep comfort, things are going to go bad
. One of the most powerful prayers I ever prayed regarding healthy eating was short and simple: "Dear Lord, help me to love the food that is good for me and hate the food that is bad for me." Praying that prayer consistently was a turning point for me. I literally asked God to reset my palate and change my desires away from things that would damage my health and my well being and my ability be healthy in the Earth and do His work.I made a commitment to cooking whole foods from scratch on a regular basis. That required eliminating something else from my schedule. I did just that.
I do not shop exclusively at Whole Foods Market, although I enjoy buying treats there. I shop at a regular supermarket. I shop about twice per week because I purchase a lot of fresh vegetables and fruits that lose their nutritional value after too many days in the fridge. I do bulk cooking//prep of certain foods (brown rice, beans, veggie salads, etc.) so that I know I will always have something to eat at the end of a workday. I use very few frozen, pre-made dinners or meals. I eat very little meat because I can buy a wide variety of vegetables for the same dollar amount that one roast will cost.I cared less about being slim and more about being well
. These two are not necessarily the same. I began to consider food as fuel and not as a retreat into pleasure. I worked on building social events around activity instead of around sitting at a table (in a home, or in a restaurant) and eating. I continue to pay attention to the true cost of my food
. I went into a fast food restaurant recently to buy a soda (yep!) and read the posted menu prices for the combination/extra value meals. For the price of one "extra value meal", I could buy an entire chicken. From that chicken, I could have wings, real chicken nuggets, meat for a chicken salad, and then make real broth from the carcass. Suddenly, that "extra value meal" looked outrageously expensive.
Someone has called food the 'last acceptable addiction." We all have to eat in order to live, so I don't know if I would call excess eating an addiction, but I learned many years ago moderation was a good thing, a thing to be pursued and valued.
Still, I am disturbed and hurt by what seems to be a constant media barrage suggesting that black women are fatter than all other women, thereby less attractive, less disciplined, less feminine, and less valued/valuable. That's a dangerous message. It's a dangerous message because when a society begins to categorize subgroups in that way, bad things almost always follow. I have worked with the public for enough years to know there are many women of all colors who are overweight and the overweight status is more often tied to income than to color.
So, is there a spiritual component to all of this? I think so.
If we want to move beyond where we are in our self-images and ideas, we can't afford to listen to the world (the worldly media, especially) tell us how we should look and how we should not look. Nothing I see in a magazine or on a site should be a role model for my appearance. The ability of Photoshop and other software to change and remake someone in deference to an editor's choice means that media cannot be my model. I am better off eating healthy foods, grabbing a salad once per day, drinking four glasses of water a day, and letting nature take its course.
Finally, who values me, and why? Ultimately, I am God's child whether I am slim or morbidly obese. As God's child, I can make and sustain good choices about health, wellness, and eating. Regardless of my choice, I am still God's child, worthy of the love of the Creator of the Universe. God does not love me less because I am not "pretty" according to the standards of the world.God's love and presence can motivate me to make good choices. But even if I don't, that love assures me I am valued and valuable. As I am valued and valuable in God's eyes, I am freed from always chasing the moving target of human approval and human acceptance.
(c) 2012 Deborah Evans
Monday, May 7, 2012, 8:01 PM
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new Earth, for the first heaven and the first Earth had passed away..." Revelation 21:2
Throughout the gospels, Jesus tells his listeners and followers the Kingdom of Heaven is within them; He tells them how worthy they are of God's love---describing it in this way:
4] "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders  and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.'  I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
 "Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?  And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.'  In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." ---Luke 15:4-10
Christ has opened Paradise.
There is a way to God, despite all of the failures and mistakes that dot the human record.
It really doesn't matter what time, culture, or historical background any of us come from. We know and experience the stain of sin, missed opportunities, life-long hurts, depression, unsolvable frustrations, undeserved injuries.
No other tradition offers what Christianity offers: a way back to God that doesn't depend on our fortitude, our actions, or our good works. Christianity's way to God depends totally upon God seeking us, restoring us, and keeping us in the path to life. That is a burden lifted from the heart.
Christ has opened Paradise.
Paradise is open, but not one soul is forced to enter. God's love always permits choice, choice that God honors even when it brings pain to us, sorrow to the world, and sadness to the heart of God.
God waits to rejoice when your soul reaches up and says: "I can't do it alone, show me the way, and I will follow."
Those words are the beginning of a journey that will end in that "new heaven and new Earth" because Christ has opened the way to God.
That is life after Easter.
(c) 2012 Deborah Evans
From Paravanes: Meditations
Tuesday, May 1, 2012, 11:14 AM
Matthew 25:41-46 – “Then He will also say to those on the left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels! For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger and you didn’t take Me in; I was naked and you didn’t clothe Me, sick and in prison and you didn’t take care of Me’… Then He will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me either.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
I blogged from this scripture recently, and it's a text that makes many people uncomfortable.
Years ago, I blogged about what it might feel like to be truly starving, very hungry, and not knowing how or where to get food. That post is here.
How many Christians feel more comfortable---and "righteous" condemning those who are "without" than in helping them, or finding ways to help them, or praying for insight and courage to find ways to help them? Why is this the case so often?
It is not pleasant to think about hunger in America, because we like to consider ourselves "the greatest country in the world" and in the greatest country in the world, there should not be millions of people living in an ongoing state of hunger. True, few people will actually die of hunger in the United States, but too many live with hunger and something can be done about it.
The picture about of the empty refrigerator is one most of us will never see (unless we are moving or cleaning out). My guess is that many who are hungry do not have a completely empty refrigerator, but do not have enough food for everyone in the house to feel satisfied after a meal. My guess is that many who live alone and without enough money are lacking enough food to stay healthy or get well. My guess is that the many teachers who buy and bring breakfast bars to school for their hungry students know that hunger has a strange face, a face we might not recognize at first sight.
The hunger situation in America is a true and deep challenge to the church.
Regardless of what we may think of how and why people have found themselves in a situation of persistent hunger or malnutrition, can we not see how the gospel compels us to help in some way? Throughout the Old and New Testament, God calls His people to be just and to help the poor. Maybe we are given that call because one day, all of us may need the assistance of others. Maybe we are given that call because when we act on it, we prove beyond question the authenticity of the gospel, of our redemption, of God's love and goodness expressed in and by those who say they are His children.
Nature and current events do not demonstrate the love of God. Nature is ruthless with the unprepared and untrained and unprotected. Current events are a picture of how deeply humanity can sink into barbarism without God. If nothing else, current events should chase us into holiness and service. Because there is so much pain and suffering in the world, our expression of authentic Christianity should be a showing of loving care for those who are hungry. Would you really preach a sermon or explain salvation to someone who hasn't had enough to eat and then condemn them for not believing the message?
The most basic way to say it is this: if you love souls, you will love bodies. Souls on Earth need bodies to live in and bodies need food.
I am participating the the CROP Hunger Walk this month. I urge you to find a CROP Hunger Walk near you this season and participate.
If you are too busy, I ask for your support as I participate.
Proverbs 14:21 – “The one who despises his neighbor sins, but whoever shows kindness to the poor will be happy.”
(c) 2012 Deborah Evans