For my Christmas commentary on the Social Gospel Blog, having finished part 4 of the Christmas story last week, I’m going to delve into the touchy subject of sin against God. https://shoutout.wix.com/so/cdNQ771-S?languageTag=en #sin #God #SocialGospel #therealBible #realChristianity
One of a kind 3 Volume Set of Biblical Teaching Series taught from a modern 21st century perspective, offered exclusively on E-bay — http://ebay.us/yT31Wk?cmpnId=5338273189 #SocialGospel #modernChristian #progressiveChristianity #therealBible #ChristianBlogs
Commentary this week on the Social Gospel Blog with Minister & Author Paul J. Bern will be about the definition of sin, and whether such a thing can ever be forgiven or not — https://shoutout.wix.com/so/c1NOLvgMr #sin #SocialGospel #ChristianBlogs #truth
The Apostle Paul’s Teaching About the Resurrection (part 2)
(1st Corinthians chapter 15, verses 35-49)
When we finished last week’s study, we were focused on the apostle Paul’s teaching to the early church about the true nature of the resurrection of Jesus Christ after being buried in a borrowed tomb for three days. After admonishing them for allowing some man-made teaching about the Resurrection to infiltrate their congregation, Paul then continues with his explanation of the resurrection from a Scriptural viewpoint by answering what is apparently yet another question the congregation had raised regarding the nature of the Resurrection. Paul continues his train of thought beginning at verse 35.
“But someone may ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’ How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as He has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.” (1st Corinthians 15: verses 35-41)
I think the main thing Paul the apostle was trying to communicate here is that what kind of bodies we will have after we die is neither here nor there as far as the Word and our Faith are concerned. It is a side-issue in the form of an unhealthy diversion from Truth. Our “bodies” will be spiritual, and there is simply no comparison between spiritual beings and physical ones since they are of a completely different nature. It would be like trying to compare insects to fish (imagine that!). There are many different types of bodies of various kinds, and each has its own beauty in its own way, with each having a special uniqueness that sets it apart from the others, emulating the uniqueness of each person within the whole of humanity.
All of us are unique individuals, and by extension sovereign forms of life here on earth and of the heavenly and magnificent kaleidoscope of the universe. And since each was created by God, it becomes a reflection of His glory for all to see and marvel. Paul then goes on to compare all this to the last resurrection in the book of Revelation, where all those who ever lived and died will rise for one final judgment, and each will have to give an account of themselves – how did they live, who did they help, who did they protect, and above all, who did they serve.
“So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; if it is sown in dishonor, it will be raised in glory; if it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit’. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have born the likeness of an earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” (1st Corinthians 15: verses 42-49)
Paul’s commentary here is pretty clear, and so requires no explanation per-SE. But I think that it would be helpful to those readers less familiar with the Bible if I substituted some 21st century vernacular for the Biblical terms of old. We are born mere mortals, but unwavering belief in Christ makes us immortal, effectively giving us a chance for eternal life. Paul’s second comment applies directly to me and others like me, who started out in life as orphans or as unwanted “throwaway kids”: Although I was “born in dishonor” (with no real family or social standing and no inheritance of any kind), accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior back in 1992 has caused me to be “raised in glory” at His second coming because I did everything in my power to try and mold myself into someone useful for Him, leaving my old life and all the negative stuff that went with it (bad childhoods, crappy marriages, etc.) behind in the past, where it belongs. That is my personal testimony regarding this portion of Scripture, and I exhort and encourage all who read this who started out in life as being disadvantaged in any way to follow my example in this matter as I have tried to follow the example of Christ. Oh yes, you can all do this, and the Bible tells you how.
For example, if you are “sown in weakness”, lacking confidence and/or self esteem, belief in Christ will cause you to be “raised in power”, giving you a quiet confidence and internal peace that can only occur when we give our hearts completely over to Jesus Christ, because doing so blocks out all fear. And fear is something we should all be doing without, substituting unconditional faith in Jesus in its place. Paul then goes on by comparing Adam with Christ, with Adam being the first man and Jesus being the last in the form of a “life giving Spirit”, foreshadowing the future spiritual coexistence with God for all eternity in heaven after our physical lives are over. “And just as we have born in the likeness of an earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the Man from heaven.”
So, in closing, if there is anyone reading this who has not given their heart over to Christ and wishes to do so, now is as good a time as any. You don’t have to do anything dramatic or fancy, just quietly ask Jesus to come into your heart, for the purpose of Him abiding there forever, in whatever way feels comfortable to you. You can rest assured that once He enters, and He will, He will be there to stay for the duration of your life. In the process, you get a new friend in Jesus, a new dad in the form of God the Father, and millions of new brothers and sisters – as few or as many as you want. So let the peace of Christ, which is beyond human comprehension or intellectual understanding, be within you, replacing all the old negative emotions and traumas that you can now let go of. Because now you have something infinitely better to take their place, the man in the glory, Jesus Christ!
Lessons From the Ongoing Fukushima, Japan Disaster On How Not To Take Care of the Earth
by Minister Paul J. Bern
For this week’s commentary I have decided to post a follow-up to last week’s message about the 75th anniversary of the dual atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. I don’t usually do this, but since this an anti-war ministry, and since the response to last week’s anti-war message was nearly 100% positive, I have composed this supplemental message as a follow-up. I would suggest that the reader go back and read the first posting (it’s about a 5-minute read) in the link above before continuing. Thanks to all of you, I love my readers so much! But now, let me move on to this week’s topic – what happens to the earth’s environment when nuclear power is used as an energy source?
The worst nuclear disaster to strike Japan since the 2nd atomic bomb fell over Nagasaki in 1945 occurred in the spring of 2011 at the Fukushima, Japan nuclear power plant, following the epic earthquake and tsunami centered in northeast Japan. Earlier this week the New York Times reported the disturbing news that a wide area around the Fukushima plant “could soon be declared uninhabitable, perhaps for decades, after a government survey found radioactive contamination that far exceeded safe levels. The formal announcement, expected from the government in coming days, would be the first official recognition that the March accident could force the long-term depopulation of communities near the plant, an eventuality that scientists and some officials have been warning about for months.” Just two weeks ago, it was reported that radiation readings at the site had reached their highest points to date. The wide release of radiation, and fear of same, has forced the Japanese and others all over the world to reflect on what happened to the country in 1945, and the continuing threat of nuclear weapons and energy today.
In its main story marking the 66th anniversary of the atomic bombings back in August 2011, the Times highlighted the new activism of survivors of the bombing (the “hibakusha”) this year; campaigning against nuclear power, which has provided most of their country’s energy needs. No one in the world can relate to the fears of a wide populace terrified that they (and perhaps the unborn) may be tainted forever by exposure to airborne radiation. One may ask how it is possible that Japan, after its experience with the atomic bombings, could allow itself to draw so heavily on the same nuclear technology for the manufacture of about a third of its energy. There was resistance, much of it from Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors. But there was also a pattern of denial, cover-up and cozy bureaucratic collusion between industry and government, the last especially notorious in Japan but by no means limited to that country.
Sumiteru Taniguchi, now 82 and currently director of the Nagasaki A-Bomb Survivors Council, recently commented, “when the conversation turns to the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, it is as if the floodgates open,” Taniguchi said. “Nuclear power and mankind cannot coexist. We survivors of the atomic bomb have said this all along. And yet, the use of nuclear power was camouflaged as ‘peaceful’ and continued to progress. You never know when there’s going to be a natural disaster. You can never say that there will never be a nuclear accident.” Taniguchi is perhaps the main iconic symbol of the “hibakusha” today, thanks to footage of him taken after the bombing, showing him, months after the attack, still on a floor, spread-eagled, his entire back an open wound, flaming red. It was part of footage shot by a US film crew, and suppressed for decades.
In April, 2011, five survivors’ organizations, including Taniguchi’s Nagasaki group, submitted a statement to the Japanese government declaring the collapse of the “safety myth” around nuclear power. This included a demand for change in the government’s energy policy to prevent creating any more “hibakusha”. Their statement further demanded that it distribute health record booklets — similar to the ones that are distributed to atomic bomb victims and can be used as proof of radiation exposure — to nuclear power plant workers and residents living close to them, and also provide periodic health examinations to those populations. It is a well-hidden fact (thanks to the lame stream media) that numerous A-bomb survivors over the decades sought help from the government after falling ill or suffering cancer and other diseases, allegedly from radiation exposure, but by many accounts had been abandoned. Will the people who are suffering from invisible dangers in Fukushima be subjected to the same treatment? If that’s the way things turn out in Japan, the Japanese people will surely rise up and demand government intervention – or do the job themselves.
As I write this, Japan and TEPCO, the Japanese utility company that has been in charge of this ever-widening disaster, are making futile attempts to stop the gushing leakage of some 400 tons of radioactive seawater that is coming from the three melted-down reactors each day. That’s right, everyone, 400 tons a day of radioactive sea water is flowing unabated into the northwest portion of the Pacific ocean. The entire northern Pacific ocean is now contaminated by this radioactive seawater. It will remain this way for a very long time afterward – decades at the very least.
Contrast this to God’s original instructions that he gave to us at the creation of the earth: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground’.” (Genesis chapter 1, verses 26-28)
The book of Revelation states quite clearly what will ultimately happen to those who pollute the earth, such as what happened at Chernobyl, Russia in the 1980’s and in 2011 at Fukushima, Japan. “And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying: “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign. The nations were angry, and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great – and for destroying those who destroy the earth” (Revelation chapter 11, verses 16-18)
When it comes to nuclear issues — from atomic weapons to nuclear power — no two nations could be more irrevocably intertwined than Japan and the US. After the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, despite dissenting voices of some of its own citizens, America drew mostly wrong conclusions as it plunged into nuclear expansion. There was a relentless public relations campaign — unleashed by the Truman administration almost within hours of the Hiroshima bombing — that led to the erroneous conclusion that blinded the Americans (and later the Japanese) to the insidious, long-term damage of radiation. Prominent journalists and media outlets of the time embraced, with enthusiasm, the so-called “Dawn of the Atomic Age” and America fell into a kind of nuclear entrapment that is with us to this day.
America needs to repent, but the government would never do this voluntarily. And so, if we the American people – those of us who are sick and tired of all the wars overseas and the profligate spending by the Pentagon – will have to make this a bottom-up repentance of war and killing. Most importantly, we must also get out in the streets and protest, demanding an end of the US military-industrial complex, so all American citizens can begin turning our planes and aircraft carriers, and especially all the nuclear armaments, into scrap.
This Is What An Authentic 21st Century Church Is Supposed to Look Like
(1st Corinthians chapter 12, verses 14-31)
Today I will conclude chapter 12 of 1st Corinthians in my ongoing blog about the writings of the apostles (to get a copy, visit this link, guaranteed virus-free). Last week in part 1, you will recall how the apostle Paul was explaining to the 1st century church at Corinth about the many different functions of various church members, and how they are interrelated to one another. He described the gifts of the Spirit as they are applied to the various church members, with no one gift being more important than any other. In the conclusion of chapter 12, the apostle Paul compares the church to the human body as he analogizes the two. So let’s start up where we left off last week, beginning in verse 14.
“Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body’, it would not for that reason cease to be a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, it would not for that reason cease to be a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts but one body.” (1st Corinthians 12, verses 14-20)
Now let’s go back to last week’s study for just a minute. You will recall Paul the apostle naming the “gifts of the Spirit” as being wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in tongues (other languages), and the interpretation of tongues. When taking them in context like I am doing in the above Scripture, it is clear that Paul meant multiple things are happening all at the same time within the true Church – the one that’s not a corporation or a social club. Not everybody can be a pastor, or an elder, or a deacon; not everybody can have gifts of healing and of miraculous powers, nor do all speak in tongues, or interpret, and not all prophesy either. But each part within the church is absolutely indispensable to each other, and each part is an essential part of the whole body of Christ’s church. And, as Paul the apostle wrote, the various parts of the body of Christ are arranged exactly as God wants them to be. That is all part of His good, pleasing and perfect plan for each of us, according to his most excellent will. Let us now continue at verse 21.
“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’. And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’. On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to 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.” (1st Corinthians 12, verses 21-26)
Each part of the true Church of Jesus Christ is interdependent on one another, and all work in unison for the edification of that Church. There is no such thing as a one-man band in authentic Christianity, but instead the church possesses a “team spirit” that is Spiritual in nature. And there is total equality among the membership so that “its parts should have equal concern for each other”. And so we see that, in the spirit of true Christianity, everyone has an equal standing within Christ’s church, and no one is higher or better than anyone else. This is why equal protection under the law is part of the US legal code passed by Congress back in 1965. It is based on the Bible, as Rev. Dr. King correctly pointed out repeatedly during the civil rights era, prior to and in the days leading up to the day of his assassination.
I have one more comment about this passage before I move on. Paul wrote in verse 22 above, “those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts we think are less honorable we treat with special honor”. The work of those within the Church who are weaker, presumably meaning those persons of lesser stature either because they are new or because they have spiritual or personal issues they are working out, counts for just as much as a long-time member who has grown strong in his or her relationship with Christ. There is no such thing as a pecking order or a hierarchy in a church filled with true followers of Christ. Authority is distributed laterally among the membership, and Christ is the sole head of the church.
And then there is the part about those who “we think are less honorable, we (should) treat with special honor”. Remember what Jesus said in the four Gospels about, “Those who put themselves first will be last, but the last will be first”, and again when Jesus said, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted”? Jesus was clearly referring to the rich and the poor, and to those in positions of power and influence, and to those who crave it. And so the parts of the church, the very poorest and most insignificant members of the church, who seem to be the least ‘honorable’, should be treated with special honor.
Social and economic position count for nothing in the true Church, but passion for Christ is everything. If any of us should die tomorrow, we can’t take anything with us. Our cars, clothes, furniture, houses (if you are lucky enough to still own one of those), our jobs and all our friends and loved ones are going to be left behind when we go home to be with the Lord forever. In the end, our relationship with Jesus Christ is the only thing that will remain of what we once were. It is that very relationship that sets apart God’s people from the rest of humanity. And now allow me to wrap up the remainder of today’s study.
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.” (1st Corinthians 12, verses 27-31)
Each member of the Body of Christ has their function, and it will invariably be the one thing that they do best within the overall structure of the Church. The best way to find out what your ministry is, or what function you serve for the glory of Jesus, is to first pray about it. Assume nothing, and do nothing on your own that you have not prayed about previously. In other words, don’t do anything without talking to God about it first unless you are absolutely sure that your will and God’s will are synchronous. God will open the right door for you, he will do so at precisely the right time, and He will do it in the right church.
So if you find yourself in a church where there does not seem to be any place where you can be a helping member, or even where you fit in for that matter, this is a sign that you need to look elsewhere for a church you can call home. Keep seeking and let God show you the way. Let the Holy Spirit lead you to where you belong, because if it worked just fine for me, then it will for you too. In the meantime, follow the apostle Paul’s advice and “eagerly desire the greater gifts” of the Spirit. God has the perfect place for you in his Church, and the supreme sacrifice of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected is what allows us to have this special relationship with Him. No one place within the church is more important or valuable than any other, nor is any one single person, not even the pastor. No matter what Spiritual gift you may have, it all counts equally as much in the true church of Christ. And if it counts equally within Christ’s church, then all is equal in the sight of God. In next week’s study, we’ll be moving on to chapter 13, ‘the love chapter’.
On the 75th Anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, It Is Fitting That We Revisit This Horrendous Anniversary
by Minister Paul J. Bern
On this poignant anniversary of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan at the end of World War 2, it’s very important that all Americans have a day of mourning for being the nation that launched the atomic age. The worldwide proliferation of nuclear weaponry started with the US. So, in keeping with this anniversary, I think it’s time to revisit this 5-year-old Web posting from my own archives. I also wish to do something I forgot to do when this was first posted back in 2015 – I want to apologize to all my Japanese readers, all of whom lost relatives in the war.
The Nuclear Genie Is Out of the Bottle, and It’s America’s Fault
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
On July 16th, 1945, the ‘Trinity’ nuclear test here in the United States plunged humanity into the Atomic Age. The first-ever nuclear bomb was detonated in New Mexico, at the Alamogordo Test Range. Within just days, the first nuclear bomb ever used in wartime was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, and a second one was dropped on Nagasaki less than two weeks after that. In the first blast at Hiroshima, well over 100,000 people were instantly vaporized in the initial explosion, and the death toll at Nagasaki was tens of thousands higher. Over the next month or so, over a million more individuals died from the aftereffects of radiation poisoning.
But, what is generally not known – especially here in America with its propaganda machine otherwise known as our “free press” – is that the US use of nuclear weapons against Japan at the end of World War 2 was unnecessary. Let’s not forget that the winners of wars are the ones who write the history books, and the US is no exception. The fact of the matter is that by the summer of 1945, Japan had already been bombed back to the stone age. In point of fact, Japan was already attempting to start negotiating for peace. But the Japanese wanted to do it secretly, so as to not alarm the Japanese people (sound familiar?), and US military leaders wanted the announcement to be public. And so the die was cast, and the rest is history.
In the late 1940’s Josef Stalin, Russia’s leader and dictator at the time, acquired an atomic weapon through quite a lot of espionage, much to the discredit of America’s “intelligence” community. As a response, the US supplied England and France with the technology and experience needed to build a few bombs of their own. By this time it was the 1950’s, and within just a few years Communist China developed their first atomic weapons. By the 1960’s, other countries such as Israel, India and Pakistan had nukes as well. The genie was out of the bottle, and there was no putting it back. It was too late. And it all started with one nuclear test in the New Mexico desert in 1945. I have been studying up on this as of late, knowing that we are living in the End Times, and that the world as we have known it is drawing rapidly to a close.
Speaking as a minister who openly stands against war and killing, the one verse I have found that corresponds to these times and the accompanying nuclear proliferation can be found in the book of Daniel in the Old Testament, chapter 7 and verse 7, which reads as follows: “After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast – terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns.”
To put this into context, Daniel had a vision in chapter seven where he saw four “beasts” come up out of the sea. The sea in Bible prophecy usually always symbolizes all the nations of the world. The first was like a lion, but it had eagle’s wings. What country uses a lion as its symbol? Great Britain. The eagle’s wings, then, represent America, whose symbol is an eagle, and who is an offshoot of the former British Empire. OK, so what’s the second one, you ask? The second beast Daniel saw in his vision looked like a bear. What country uses a bear as its national symbol? Russia. And Daniel’s third beast looked like a leopard, which symbolizes Germany.
The fourth beast which is unlike all the rest could only be the United States, since it has the most powerful military force in human history. But what do the ten horns represent? Could they be nuclear powers? According to a new report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), nine nations — the United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea — possess approximately 16,300 nuclear weapons in total. This is an obscenity because it’s enough atomic power to blow up every city on the planet several dozen times over. But it’s even more than an obscenity, it is utter madness and insanity. The whole world has been hijacked by madmen!
But still, that’s only nine countries that have nukes, so who’s the tenth one, the one that completes the symbolism of Daniel’s ten horns that he saw on the fourth beast? It has got to be Iran, there is no other explanation that I can think of, at least for now. No other country is as close to developing a bomb as Iran, everybody knows that. But this is a prophecy that has yet to come to pass. But you can all be sure that this will be happening in the near future, no doubt about it. And once it does, Daniel’s prophecy about the beast with the ten horns will be fulfilled.
Since the British Empire and two world wars that were initiated in part by Germany have come and gone, this is the only part of this prophecy that has yet to be fulfilled. Once that happens, once Iran gets its hands on its first nuclear weapons – which is only a matter of time – the prophecy will be fulfilled and the stage will be set for world war three, which will be a brief but exceptionally deadly nuclear exchange (more on that in a separate message later). If it involves Iran and Israel as I suspect, then surely America and Russian will become involved sooner or later. And that’s when world war three will really start in earnest. It’s all getting very close now. Prepare yourselves accordingly if you have not yet done so. We are just about out of time.
Spiritual Gifts and Modern Christianity
(1st Corinthians chapter 12, verses 1-13)
Continuing onward today in our ongoing study of the apostle Paul’s 1st letter to the 1st century Corinthian church, let’s move on to chapter 12. I’ll be going over the first half of chapter 12 today, and we’ll get into detail on the second half next week due to the very important and highly significant subject matter contained herein. Let’s begin right away with verse 1: “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed’, and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’, except by the Holy Spirit. 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.” (1st Cor. 12, verses 1-6)
Paul the apostle starts off by reminding the Corinthians how far they had come from a spiritual standpoint. They had gone from being pagans, worshiping gods of wood and stone, to born-again Christians, saved by the blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. What a quantum leap these Corinthians had made in the Spirit! In this there is good news for all of us; that is, anyone who can say without hesitation, “Jesus is my Lord and Savior”, or, “I worship Jesus as the Son of God”, knows immediately that they have the Holy Spirit living within them. Otherwise, they could not utter these words and really mean it. And if they didn’t mean it, others will know it because it will be self-evident. Paul goes on to make the comparison that as surely as there are manifestations of the Holy Spirit within widely varied types of individuals, in the same way there are widely varied signs of the fruit of that same Spirit exhibited within each and every one of us. Paul then goes on to name the different fruits of the Spirit.
“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 these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.” (1st Cor. 12, verses 7-11)
You will notice that Paul names nine different gifts of the Holy Spirit. These different gifts are diverse enough that anyone who is a true follower of Christ Jesus can pick one and begin to pray directly to Jesus for that particular gift, whatever it may be. No special talent or innate ability is required. That’s exactly why all can participate. That’s the first nugget of truth that we can extract from Paul’s writing. In the family of God, nobody gets left out. Everyone participates and benefits equally without exception. So pick a gift, any gift that you think best matches your abilities in the Spirit, and begin to exercise it. If you seem to get off to a slow start at first, don’t let that deter you. Keep practicing, because you know that practice makes perfect.
Remember that you won’t be going it alone, for the Spirit of the Lord will be with you, and He will stay with you because He is dwelling within you. God is very willing to give you supernatural ability in the Spirit that will cause you to excel in an area where you may not have been able to previously. I know this to be true because it has worked for me in the past, and if I can do it then so can you. Let’s go through these nine gifts one at a time.
The first is the “message of wisdom”. Do not mistake formal education, or human intelligence, or any person’s IQ, for what the apostle Paul calls “the message of wisdom”. The 3 things I just mentioned are all carnal in nature, being of the flesh rather than of the Spirit. “Wisdom”, from Paul’s viewpoint then, is spiritual wisdom, a wisdom gained from a lifetime of experience gained from constant devotion to Christ. The “message of wisdom”, then, is a gift generally reserved for the clergy, or for those in academia, but also for older people like myself who have been around the block a time or two, and who have gained wisdom from many years of experience, sometimes even by trial and error. This type of deep and lengthy experience should never be underestimated. When one learns their life lessons the hard way, one tends to learn them quite well, and I’m speaking here from experience.
The second spiritual gift is the “message of knowledge”. Like the ‘message of wisdom’ above, the ‘message of knowledge’ is about spiritual matters rather than knowledge of this world. The message of knowledge can be interpreted here as having extensive knowledge of the Word of God, and this can only be accomplished through years of study. Pastors and those who teach Bible studies have this gift, and it is an honorable thing to use this, or any of these gifts, to one’s utmost for the love of Jesus.
The third spiritual gift is faith. Faith is a gift most often bestowed unto prayer warriors and prayer partners, and to those with gifts of healing (more on that one shortly). Faith is also a very good starting point for new believers as they build their new-found faith in Christ. It is something very good and valuable to hold onto while deciding which one of the 9 spiritual gifts is best for the individual believer. That also includes having Spiritual faith as the chosen gift of the new believer. This is how we exercise our faith as we explore the gifts of the Spirit so that we may discover which gift best suits each of us according to the talents and abilities of the believer.
I will comment only briefly on the next two, ‘gifts of healing’ and ‘miraculous powers’. While these gifts have existed since the time of Christ and His apostles, there are those “healers” today who claim to have these powers, but in reality they are fierce predators. They continue to “heal” people on TV as they charge them for the privilege while broadcasting the results of their “work”. But Jesus warned us about this when He walked the earth, as it is written: “Jesus answered, “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name proclaiming, ‘I am the Christ’, and will deceive many.” (Matt. 24, verses 4-5) Further down in this same chapter Jesus adds, “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert’, do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms, do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man”. (Matt. 24, verses 26-27)
I’m not saying miraculous healing doesn’t exist. As a matter of fact I think it does. All I am saying is that, based on what I have seen on the ‘Christian television’ stations, one should approach what is being taught and what you are seeing with a critical mind, using the Bible as a reference manual for what is on your screen. That is the one sure way to keep oneself from being deceived. Discern for yourselves what is genuine or what is phony. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit has already given you this power. Use it judiciously.
The next gift Paul mentions is that of prophecy. Prophecy means to literally proclaim the Word of God while applying it to events from the past, present and future. Evangelists, for example, most often have the gift of prophecy as their spiritual gift, but anyone can have this gift. I once met a Texas housewife who had this gift while having never studied in a seminary, so God can bestow it upon anyone he chooses.
The seventh gift Paul mentions is the gift of ‘distinguishing between spirits’, and he is not talking about a medium at a seance. Distinguishing between spirits also has nothing to do with judging people, so be sure and not fall into that trap. As you have probably guessed, ‘distinguishing between spirits’ is done in the Spirit of Christ, not in the flesh or through intellectual capability. It is a spiritual distinction one can make through a supernatural gift of identifying different types of spirits, mainly being able to separate bad from good, but also as a way to distinguish hidden motives and concealed agendas within otherwise “nice” people.
The last 2 spiritual gifts are speaking in tongues and the interpretation of tongues. Speaking in tongues simply means to be able to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in any foreign language in a supernatural way, while having no specific knowledge of that language. Those who interpret those tongues are the ones who are translating the unknown tongue being spoken back into the native language of the hearer for the edification of that church or group. This spiritual gift exists so that the gospel can be preached in every language on the face of the earth. It is common for missionaries to have the gift of speaking in tongues, or of the interpretation of tongues.
A word of caution here – there are churches that teach that speaking in tongues is the best evidence that believers have been baptized in the Holy Spirit, as if this particular gift is the one that matters most (or worse yet, that it is the only one that matters). If you find yourself in a church that teaches that speaking in tongues is the only, or the primary, evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, get out of there immediately. I won’t name names, but they are a single-minded denomination bordering on a cult, and as such they are not teaching the whole truth, so it would be wise to not associate with them. Remember that even Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light. Paul finishes his train of thought by comparing the human body to the church. “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.” (1st Cor. 12, verses 12-13)
We are all within the body of Christ, which is His church, but we all serve various functions within that Body. Our diverse gifts of the Spirit, which God gives to everyone, make up the different functions of the greater Church. Not everyone can be a pastor, or a teacher, and not everyone is called to be only one thing, all except for prayer. Prayer, my dear readers, is mandatory for all serious believers. We can’t have a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ unless we pray to Him daily. How can we have a personal relationship with Jesus unless we talk to Him? There are also those who have multiple gifts, such as music and dance, and others who focus on a specific ministry, such as missionaries. But instead, in the kingdom of God, everyone does one thing and does it well (even if it’s just being an usher), and all the various functions and ministries that are being performed coordinate together to form the living body that is Christ’s church. As the old song goes, “we are one in the Spirit, we are one with the Lord”, and that sums up His church very well. And next week we’ll finish chapter 12. Until then, be blessed in Jesus’ holy name!
Could Revolutions Come In Two’s? In That Case, the Nature of One Would Be Political, While the Nature of the Other Would Be Inequality
by Minister Paul J. Bern
Although I don’t watch much news on television I have, like many of yourselves, become very much aware of the outrage and the indignation of the American people at the state of affairs of the United States of America. We have record unemployment, a flu pandemic, and massive protests in the streets because of police brutality. To top it all off, we have an avalanche of homelessness that gets bigger each day because there are few or no jobs, thanks to the Covid-19 virus. So far this year, the US has seen 41 unarmed men and women killed by the police such as:
John Crawford III
And most recently, Hakim Littleton
There have been many others too numerous to mention. But, thanks to the injustices against all of the above and scores more besides, it is abundantly clear to “we the people” that war has been declared on us by our own government. When I watch the attack of the unmarked cars with the unmarked police looking like poorly paid wannabe mercenaries, I can’t help but look on with a certain amount of apprehension and anticipation, all at once. It is regarding these very things that the Bible says (don’t forget, I’m a preacher first and foremost) in Psalm 9 and verse 9, “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble”.
I write today about these repeated clashes that have grown into a kind of cultural resistance not seen since the civil rights protests and anti-war demonstrations of the 1950’s, ’60’s and the early ’70’s. This culture of resistance, which has been building up gradually ever since that time, is beginning to have a noticeable effect as it continues to mushroom. Nothing dramatic or anything like that, just slowly but steadily. There are cracks in the pillars of power, and they’re starting to get a little bigger. It’s up to us to shine the light on the lies and the spins, since the main stream press is being paid very well for not exposing the corruption. The cracks in the pillars of power are what supports the ‘black ops’ and shadow government that has been operating smoothly behind the scenes ever since they killed President John Kennedy to seize power back in 1963. Their all still there, from Kennedy’s assassins on down to the Pentagon, State Dept. and the rest of the military-industrial complex. It is up to us – ‘we the people’ – to uncover the systemic corruption that has been steadily stealing America’s future. I currently feel cautiously optimistic because I have seen this anti-corruption movement continue to build momentum over the years up until today.
Here in Atlanta’s inner city where I live and work, I have perceived what I would describe as a strong sense of suspense in the air. Some people say that they weren’t feeling enough pain to warrant being angry, and that we hadn’t reached the tipping point as of yet. They’re only interested in taking the safe way out. I have had still others tell me that, as a Christian minister, it is not right for a Web pastor to take sides in favor of the protesters, much less write and blog about it, because the protesters are all “breaking the law”. But to those self-appointed critics I will quote the Book of James, where it is written about those in charge who abuse their authority: “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay your workman who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.” (James chapter 5, verses 1-6)
There are others, however, who are ready to go on strike, such as what is currently happening throughout our nation’s streets. The folks who barricade themselves in their homes and apartments are gradually becoming outnumbered by those who insist on staying out in the streets and making their extreme displeasure known to those who still presume to be in charge. They have staked out a place in the heart of the monster and held it. Excitement and wonder are seemingly everywhere.
Could ‘we the people’ really take on Wall Street and the lobbyists on Capitol Hill? Obviously Wall Street and the offices on K Street in Washington, DC thought so because they ordered excessive and constant police protection. They must have seen something brewing because Wall Street firms had donated unprecedented millions to the NYPD over the previous year. It was police aggression towards peaceful protesters that grabbed public attention and sympathy. For example, a few weeks after the start of Occupy Wall Street in September of 2011, an amazing 43 percent of Americans supported Occupy, a figure that remains largely undiminished to this day.
Nine years later, the physical encampments are long gone, but the Occupy Movement remains, along with its cousins Black Lives Matter, the ‘99%’ and Anonymous Movements, within the hearts and minds of people worldwide. “Occupy”-ing public space was a tactic, not an end in itself. It was a way to make the issues visible, a place for people to gather, a model for a new way of doing things based on respect, mutual aid and democracy and a demand to reclaim what has been ruthlessly taken. When the financial crisis hit in 2008, there was an expectation that the government would respond appropriately to stabilize the economy and that we simply had to weather the storm. What we saw instead were massive bailouts of the industry that caused the crash and greatly inadequate steps to secure jobs, housing and health care. This turned some already catastrophic financial crises caused by runaway private speculation into an immense source of private gain for the same very financiers responsible for creating the catastrophe to begin with. Even worse, it made those catastrophes so much more catastrophic than they really needed to be in the first place. And all this happened prior to the current epidemic of violence in America’s streets and the apparently casual shootings by police officers of unarmed men (in one of the worst cases, a 12-year-old boy was shot to death by the police in Cleveland, Ohio because he held a toy gun).
As a result of all this mess, we’re not heading toward greater income equality. We’re not opposing social and economic injustice like ‘the 1%’ do, but we’re not building up the poor and middle class, or supporting unionization either. We’re not eradicating poverty and hunger, they are getting worse. We’re not expanding educational opportunity because fewer and fewer people can afford it. We’re not rebuilding infrastructure, and yet it’s falling apart. And, we most certainly aren’t doing anywhere nearly enough to improve race relations.
Nothing we’re doing looks anything like the society we built from the New Deal through the 1970s. We’re not doing any of the things that would lead to a more stable and just economy. In fact, we’re doing just the opposite, which means the billionaire bailout society will become even more firmly entrenched. This means that if left unchecked, the trends towards greater inequality and suffering will not only continue, it will accelerate. But the ‘billionaire bailout’ society may have went too far in their exuberance for still more wealth. According to a 2014 Stanford study, “animosity toward the financial sector reached its highest level in 40 years in 2012”. This undoubtedly fueled the Black Lives Matter, Occupy and 99% Movements, and that anger continues to increase to this very day. A majority of Americans believe that not nearly enough was done to prosecute the bankers dating back to at least 2007.
When drowning in so many crises, it is sometimes hard to see above the surface of the water. But the anti-globalization movement and its offspring, the Black Lives Matter, Anonymous, Occupy and “the 99%” movements, are having a noticeable effect (and let’s not omit the Arab Spring of 2011). Since 2000, the World Trade Organization has been unable to advance its agenda and 14 free trade agreements have been stopped by public pressure. Like low-wage workers in the fast food and retail industries, workers must join together to let Congress know that the WTO is not the right path for the US.
It is important to recognize these victories and to build from them. It is also important to remember that we never know how close we are to achieving significant change. The Occupy movement spawned the “Idle No More”, “Workers’ Rights” and ‘Climate Change’ movements. Our eyes are open and we can’t ignore what we now see. We know that it is the plutocratic system, not individual inadequacy, that is causing poverty in America. We know that the $1 trillion given by the Federal Reserve to private banks could have created 20 million desperately-needed jobs. We know that the 400 richest people in the US have more wealth than the GDP of entire countries – like Canada and Mexico, for instance. And we know the names of those who control the wealth and exploit people and the planet for it.
We no longer expect “leaders” to create the change we need. We are all leaders and change depends on our actions and ours alone. Since the system is too dysfunctional to attempt to repair it, the most logical and practical thing to do is replace it. Humankind already has a powerful tool available off the shelf as a basis for launching such a project. It’s called ‘the Internet’, and yet even across the Web we still find cases of inequality due to a lack of Internet access. And yet, computers are gradually getting cheaper, which should have put a sizable dent in this problem. In this instance. We have glaring inequality being shied right through our computer screens.
The culture of resistance necessary to create the kind of world we want to live in is already here. Actions are taking place daily in the US and around the world. You won’t hear about most of them in the mass media. Dairy workers in New York protested their abusive working conditions. Fast food workers and retail clerks from the box stores protested poor wages plus a lack of benefits. Protesters in Vermont, ages 65 to 94, chained themselves to the entrance of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power plant to demand its immediate closure and Marylander’s protested outside an ‘arms bazaar.’ The Cascadia Forest Defenders scaled the capitol building in Oregon to drop a huge banner to protest clear-cutting. Search them all for yourselves, wise up and join your fellow patriots.
Hard work is being done every day to take on entrenched corporate power and create a new world based on principles such as mutual aid, community, equity, solidarity and democracy. Although we face an uncertain future, we embrace the chaos that defines our times. There is no alternative but to challenge the status quo of ever-increasing debt, shrinking job opportunities and disappearing civil rights. We can’t say what the outcome will be or whether we will live to see the world we hope to create. Perhaps the most important piece of social transformation is not a goal but rather is the process of living in a way that is consistent with our values. We live in the culture of resistance which requires constant nurturing to bend the arc of time towards justice. Resistance is most certainly not futile.
On the Origins of Church Services and Its Meaning, and Why It Still Matters Today
(1st Corinthians chapter 11, verses 17-34)
Last week when we left off at verse 16, I made some concluding remarks about the timelessness of Jesus Christ and his 3.5-year ministry on this earth. Much has changed since the time He walked the earth, but Christ never changes, he has always remained constant. This week as we take up where we left off, I will now continue with this week’s study series by returning to the verse-by-verse teaching that you all have become used to, beginning at verse 17.
“In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not! For I received of the Lord what I already passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me’. In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying,’ This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me’. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” (1st Corinthians chapter 11, verses 17-26)
Let me stop at this point and give a little cultural and historical perspective on what Paul is writing about. First of all, we must understand that Jesus Christ walked the earth as a Jewish man, and consequently the vast majority of new converts in the early church were mostly Jewish as well. It was actually Paul the apostle that first brought the message of salvation through Christ to non-Jews, first in ancient Israel and soon after to Greece and what is now modern-day Turkey, and ultimately to Rome, capital of the infamous empire of its day that could arguably be called the world’s first superpower like the USA is today. The Jews of that time had a time-honored tradition that dated all the way back to the time of Moses. They would gather together on the Sabbath and have a celebratory banquet similar to pot-luck dinners today. The Jewish term for this celebration is “Shabbot”, and this tradition is still celebrated today in synagogues the world over, as well as no small number of Christian churches such as this who embrace the Spiritual connection between Christianity and Judaism.
In the time of the early church, there were a lot of poor and destitute persons, many of whom did not always have enough to eat. Besides coming to worship the Prince of Peace, there can be no doubt that they looked forward to attending Shabbot on the sabbath because this was one day out of the week when they knew they could get a pretty good meal. Based on what Paul wrote in this passage, the services in that day and time must have been pretty rowdy by today’s standards, and some believers were apparently far more devout than others. People would show up before the service began, eat up all the food and drink up all the wine and then leave, when in fact the feast did not begin until after the service was over, as well it should.
This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?” It’s pretty clear that Paul was upset with these people who showed callous disregard for the sacredness of the celebration. Paul then reminds them in no uncertain terms of why they gather together to commemorate the Last Supper, and he scolds them for having no appreciation for this solemn occasion, and for total contempt towards those in attendance who were less fortunate. He then finishes making his point beginning in verse 27 while giving the Corinthian church a very stern warning (as well he should have).
“Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it does not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further directions.” (1st Corinthians 11, verses 27-34)
Going to church, whether it is to have a service, revival, or a pot-luck dinner, is a solemn and momentous occasion. Going to church is not so much a religious obligation as it is a celebration of the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. Let us therefore examine ourselves to keep from coming under God’s judgment so we will not be “condemned with the world”. When our physical lives on earth are over – and everybody has their time, including me – we look forward to spending an eternity with our Lord and Savior in heaven, remembering that we would not be there if it weren’t for Him. The time to begin preparing for this is now. Worshiping God is serious business.
Church is not a social club, or just a nice place to network or to sneak a peek at the opposite sex, and it most definitely is not a fashion show like I mentioned in part 1 of this study. Worshiping Jesus Christ is a sacred and highly spiritual co-mingling with Him, and it isn’t always done in church. I pray every day, sometimes at home, sometimes on the bus or the subway, or when I am walking down the street. I can take my church with me everywhere I go if I want to. After all, since Jesus – and the guardian angels that He surrounds me with – is always with me, it seems fitting and proper that I should want to reciprocate. And so should the rest of us.