“God’s gifts and His call”

“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…” ~1 Corinthians 12:4-7

So many people are lost in this world—asking themselves those immortal questions, “who am I?” and “what am I doing?” and, most prominently, “what is my purpose?” For Christians, these questions are, in part, answered: “a child of God,” “serving Him,” and “to bring Him glory.” The question, then, for Christians is not so much a question of what but rather how. How do I bring glory to God with my life? This question is especially rampant among the young as they try to plan for the future. It’s a struggle that I’ve found myself in ever since my senior year of college when the inevitable “what now?” hit.

I propose that there’s something that runs deeper than the question of “what career should I pursue?” (I’m not going to say it’s more important, per se, because I believe a person’s vocation can be incredibly important in furthering the Kingdom). I’m sure you’ve all heard the cliché “it’s not what you do, but who you are that counts.” I’ve always had issues with that expression myself. I find it to be a little simplistic and not quite accurate considering that what we do is often an expression of who we are—“No good tree bears bad fruit, not does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heard. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks (Luke 6:43-45).” What we do is intrinsically and irrevocably related to who we are. But despite the poor wording of the cliché, I think its intention is right, and I am going to follow that same sentiment in this post.

Ok, so, if it’s who we are that’s important, then, this begs the question, who are we? I think that who we’re created to be—our personalities, what we’re good at, what we’re not good at, etc.—is one of the clearest methods God uses to direct our paths. I.e. if God created someone to be a painter, I doubt He’d have them born blind (not to say that it’s impossible. Beethoven was deaf, after all.) God designed us all specifically and for a purpose, and whether it’s conscious or not, I think most people recognize that reality; why would we have tests that determine our best job fit if we didn’t think that we’d be better suited for one than another?

But, as I said, I want to talk about something deeper than career choice. Let’s say that you’re currently unemployed, does that mean that you’re not bringing any glory to God because you’re not working in the field he created you for? Of course not! This is where the truth in that trite little cliché comes out. Who you are in Christ is more important than what you do vocationally.

If I were to come to you and ask what your main spiritual gift is, would you have an answer for me? 1 Peter 4:10-11 says:

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.”

But how can we do that if we don’t know what those gifts are? Of course, God can use our gifts whether we recognize them or not, but don’t you think we’d use them more effectively if we acknowledged their existence? Just like other abilities, don’t you think they get rusty if we’re not actively using them?

For me, recognizing some of my strengths has added a richness to my life even during this time when I still don’t really know where I’m going to what I’m doing. Our spiritual gifts from God are things we can and should use no matter where we are or what we do. They can give each day a focus that’s clearer and easier to grasp than the general mandate of “bringing glory to God.” If you have the gift of encouragement, you can look for opportunities to encourage those around you. If you have the gift of teaching, find ways to teach your family members or co-workers or friends in the way of the Lord. etc. etc. etc.

This concentration is not intended to limit you; we are all complex creatures and have countless opportunities and ways in which we serve God. Don’t think I’m implying that you only have one or two ways that you can bring God glory and that you should just focus on those. That is not my intention. I merely want to share a perspective that has helped me as I find myself in the company of many—a place without clear direction for future occupation.

In this world where there are so many pressures trying to convince us that we’re worthless, let us find hope in the truth that we are, indeed, fearfully and wonderfully made, purposefully and specifically by and for a wonderful Maker :-). And let me assure you, there is nothing more rewarding than using our God-given gifts to bring glory back to Him.

“We all have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach. If it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” ~Romans 12:6-8 

Advertisements

in love

“Do everything in love.” ~1 Corinthians 16:14                     

I already wrote on this topic a few weeks back in my post “The Mark of the Christian,” but after reading Galatians today, I couldn’t help but to write this tag-on post.

In his letters to the churches, Paul talks a lot about the freedom we have in Christ—Colossians 2, Romans 6 & 14, etc.—Galatians 5 says:

            “You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love (4-6).”

Here, Paul highlights righteousness, and I could write a whole book about the concept presented here—we eagerly await the righteousness for which we hope. Refining us in righteousness is a work God is doing in us, it’s not a work we do in ourselves.

So, what are we to focus on while we eagerly await His righteousness to be made complete in us? “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Love. We have faith, and we love.

Paul drives this point home as he goes on to say:

           “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself (5:13-14).’”

It’s interesting to note what Paul offers as the contrast to indulging the sinful nature. He does not say “do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, be pure” or “rather, be holy” or “rather, be righteous”—all things that seem to be reasonable converses to indulging the sinful nature—instead, he says, “serve one another in love.” Now, of course, we are called to be pure and holy and righteous, and there are several places in scripture that emphasize that point, but the focus is Love. The focus should always be love.

As I said, I know I just wrote about this, but I can’t seem to write about it enough.

“Because a man is a man, he is to be loved at all cost.” ~Francis Schaeffer


“…but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.”

Back in the days of Xangas and Livejournals, I posted a blog about an experience God blessed me with that somewhat revolutionized my understanding of Him. Because it had such an impact, I’ve shared the anecdote with many people throughout the years, and I’ve decided that I want to share it with you.

I wrote this March of my senior year of high school:

              I had an interesting revelation yesterday. I got so excited about it, that I wanted to share with everyone: 

              We often have a negative mentality about God’s laws and rules. We think of them as things that keep us from having fun—that in order to follow God, we have to make all kinds of sacrifices and won’t get to do the things we really want to do. But that’s not how it’s supposed to be at all! God blessed me with a personal illustration of His desire for us through my relationship with my parents.

               People always talk about how much a person changes while they are in college because they’re no longer under their parents’ control. It’s not until they get off on their own, without those rules and restrictions in place, that they see who they really are. Well, yesterday I was talking to my parents about that concept, and we all agreed that we didn’t really think it would affect me in the same way.

              When I thought about it, I realized that I don’t really have “rules” that my parents have laid down for me to obey. As my dad pointed out, “You had rules when you were little, but you don’t need them now.” It was an interesting revelation. I don’t really have rules. I have a freedom with my parents, and I never feel like I’m being held back or restricted; it’s not because they’re lazy parents, or that they don’t have standards or morals! It’s because there’s nothing I want to do that goes against their desire for me. My will is so well aligned with my parents’ will that the rules aren’t necessary. 

             I was thinking about that and couldn’t help but get terribly excited. That’s how it’s supposed to be with our relationship with God! It’s not like he’s forcing us to give up things that are great fun. The more we know Him, and the more we love Him, and, most importantly, the more our hearts grow to be like His, the less we will want to do things that are outside of His will. The more like Him we become, the more our wills will be aligned with His…

          Isn’t that incredible? I get chills just thinking about it. What a perfect freedom that will be!  

As I said, this is an experience that’s never far from my mind, but to go back and read the words of 18-year-old Me was special nonetheless. It’s one thing to read and know promises like “…Those who fear him lack nothing. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing (Psalm 34:9-10),” but it’s quite a different thing to actually understand and believe them. It was an encouragement to see how I’ve grown in understanding this truth since that day in March, and I’m looking forward to the hope of growing in it even more.

Amen.


In All Circumstances…

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” ~Romans 12:12

My Aunt Valerie was one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever known. She was bright and beautiful, loving and warm and an absolute joy to be around. Even when she was dying of cancer, she bore a smile on her face and courage in her heart.

The day before her funeral, the family was gathered at the home she’d shared with her husband and children in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and my uncle said something that’s been with me ever since…

With tears in his eyes, he smiled and said, “Valerie would go out in the morning with ten things on a to-do list then come home at the end of the day after accomplishing only one of them—the other nine having gone terribly wrong. Now, if that happened to most people, they would be frustrated, thinking about the nine things that went wrong—I would be. I would think of that as a bad day, but not Valerie. Valerie would come home pleased and excited, thinking about the one thing that went well, instead of the nine that didn’t; that was just the kind of person she was.”

I wish I could say that from that moment on, my heart was completely reshaped to have that same attitude, but those of you who know me, know that’s not true :-p. All the same, my uncle’s words that day had a deep impact on my thinking and my heart. I hear them in my head all the time and am challenged and encouraged to live life with the same beautiful outlook. I miss my aunt and wish she was still alive, but what a beautiful model of hope and trust she left behind her.

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians ~5:16-18


Against All Hope

“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations…” ~Romans 4:18

That verse has always really gotten to me. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed… It’s so encouraging and convicting at the same time. Encouraging, because it reminds me that we, as Christians, have so much to hope in. Convicting, because it points out how weak my faith often is.

I mean, really now, Abraham was about a hundred years old. Romans 4 says that “his body was good as dead” and “Sarah’s womb was also dead.” From a human perspective, his becoming the father of many nations was the very definition of a hopeless case. It should have been biologically impossible. Abraham had such a strong reason to not believe God’s word, and “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised (20-21).” Wow. Amen.

I find myself in situations far less “hopeless” than that, and I still lose hope! Granted, God may not tell me so specifically what he is going to do in my life, but the Scriptures are full of reasons to hope (Romans 15:4).

Romans 8:24-27 says:

“For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”

What a promise. The Holy Spirit is my advocate when I don’t even know what to pray for.

1 John 3:2-3:

“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.”

Yet again, what a promise! Not only do we know that we will be like Him, we have the promise that by having that hope in Christ, we purify ourselves. If only we could hope perfectly, and consistently. Friends, let us always have hope and always encourage one another towards hope, for those who hope in the Lord will not be disappointed (Isaiah 49:23)! Amen.

 “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” ~Ephesians 1:18-19


“Blessed Are the Meek…”

I’ve spent the past few days trying to land on a topic for my next post. Different options have struggled to gain prominence in my mind, but I finally decided that I just needed to choose one and write, or else this whole blog thing is never going to work. So, here I go.

“For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; the upright will see his face.” ~Psalm 11:7

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about justice. I realize how often I want to act as a vigilante, taking justice into my own hands. It mostly happens when I feel like I’m the only one who really can bring justice. For example, if someone wrongs me, and I’m the only one who knows enough about the situation to legitimately confront them, I want to do just that. It gets under my skin—not just the thought that someone can do something unjust and easily get away with it without repercussions, but that they are never going to know how wrong they really were. I know that if I were to confront them, they wouldn’t hear or receive it, but the thought that they’re going to carry on through the rest of their life feeling perfectly innocent and justified is just too much.

But then, I pause and realize a few things:

  1. Even if it seems clear that the person sinned against me, I’m human; therefore, I err; therefore, I could be wrong.
  2.  Even if the person was legitimately, biblically wrong in what they did, it’s often the case that the reason I want them to be confronted has more to do with my desire to feel better than my desire for their spiritual growth. And
  3. If it’s really God’s will for them to see that what they’ve done is wrong, He will convict them. How silly and prideful it is for me to think I’m the only one who can.

As Christians, we’re called to confront our brothers and sisters in love (very important couple of words there), but justice belongs to the Lord—He will judge His people (Deuteronomy 32:36). Exodus 14:14 has become an important verse for me in this area:

 “Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still (13-14).’”

Wow. What a concept. “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” I so often want to fight for myself, in big matters, in small matters, but who could be a better advocate than the mighty Lord who fights with pure motives and perfect justice? “For the Lord is a God of justice (Isaiah 30:18).”

Throughout the Psalms, it seems like David is constantly asking God to administer justice on his behalf. “Awake, my God; decree justice… God is a righteous judge (Psalm 7:6 & 11).” May we never forget that truth: God is a righteous judge. He knows the heart of each man; He judges and brings conviction.

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. (Psalm 37:7-8)”

It is true that in these verses, David is referring to men who are not God’s people, but I think the concept still stands—it is God’s place to fight for us. I’m not saying we shouldn’t stand up for ourselves or that we should always be passive; that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m only saying that in these situations, we shouldn’t grow angry or afraid. It is God’s place to examine and convict hearts, and we need to have peace in the knowledge that He will do just that.

I have to constantly remind myself, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).” It’s so difficult to swallow my pride and stand down as God fights my battles for me—especially when I don’t see the evidence that He’s fighting them. It’s so easy to feel like meekness is synonymous with weakness, but the truth is that when we choose to be meek, it only gives the appearance of weakness; the reality is that humbling ourselves  to take whatever comes with grace and patience, actually requires a lot of strength. Meekness requires the strength of humility.

It’s a daily challenge for me to humble myself with meekness before the Lord and let Him, the God of justice, be my advocate.

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” ~Proverbs 11:2

 


The Mark of the Christian

“Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.” ~1 John 2:10

“You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and have set you apart from the nations to be my own (Leviticus 20:26).” God has always intended for his people to be set apart. In the Old Testament, it was the Israelites’ adherence to the law that set them apart from the surrounding nations, but with Christ’s coming, things began to look different. The disciples worked to gather grain and Christ healed people on the Sabbath (Matthew 12, Mark 2, Luke 14, John 5). Christ declared all foods clean (Matthew 15, Mark 7), and God’s People expanded to include the gentiles. What, then, was meant to set them apart from unbelievers?

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:34-35).

What is the mark of the Christian? In a word, Love.

The Church is so easily distracted by legalism—its members criticize and judge each other rather than loving one another. It is true, “we are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God;” we are to “abstain from sinful desires” and “live good lives among the pagans (1 Peter 2:9,11, & 12);” not only this, but we are to hold each other to that standard as well. But when we do challenge each other, what measuring stick are we using to determine that standard? We all know the example of the Pharisees wrongly judging Christ and His apostles time and again, but the warning against such behavior doesn’t stop with them. In Colossians 2, Paul had a lot to say on the matter:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ…

…Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ…

Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence (Colossians 2:8,16-17, & 20-25).

In determining their standards of holiness, Christians so easily depart from the true holiness of Christ to follow human commands and teachings instead. Rather than loving our brothers and sisters and building each other up as the Bible so often calls us to do, we tear each other down and judge those around us based on what they are wearing or what movies they watch.

The title of this blog is stolen from Francis A. Schaeffer’s book based on John 13:35. If you haven’t read it, do! Being busy is no excuse because it’s only 35 pages. 35 pages of well-put, solid truth. Schaeffer writes:

If I fail in my love toward Christians, it does not prove I am not a Christian. What Jesus is saying, however, is that, if I do not have the love I should have toward all other Christians, the world has the right to make the judgment that I am not a Christian.

It’s a sobering thought, isn’t it? It is our love for each other that should set us apart. Yes, we are to dress modestly (1 Timothy 2:9); yes, we are to use discernment with what we watch and listen to; yes, we are to take care of our bodies, but love should be our priority. Christ said that men would recognize His disciples by their love for one another! That is what the unbelieving world is supposed to see and marvel at.

When I was in college, I was blessed with an experience that illustrated this point beautifully. I wrote a story for a creative writing class I was in; it was a silly story about two friends who fall for the same guy, and throughout it, the characters care for each other and want what’s best for each other even though it means self-sacrifice and pain. They don’t do it perfectly, and they definitely aren’t happy about the sacrifices they have to make, but they make them, because they love each other.

After reading it, the professor approached me and said, “Mereda, the people in this story aren’t realistic at all. This isn’t how people treat each other!”

My knee-jerk response was, “In my world, it is!”

Truth be told, it wasn’t a very well-written story, but that wasn’t because the people weren’t realistic. That type of community was very real to me. The community I grew up in and the one I had in college were both comprised of people who did their best to love each other well. Of course, we failed all the time. We were all selfish; we all hurt each other, but we tried, and by God’s grace, often succeeded. Ridden with flaws though it was, the story clearly depicted my genuine experience of a loving, although messy, Christian community.

I looked at him and said, “This is how my friends act. This is how Christians treat each other.”

I’ll never forget the look on his face. Rather than brushing me off entirely—which I had good reason to expect from this particular professor—there was a glimmer of intrigued fascination in his eyes before he blinked it away and said, “Well, ok, fine, but that’s not how normal people act.”

Ah! Exactly! That’s precisely what I’m talking about! It’s not how “normal people” act because we’re not normal! The world doesn’t understand the kind of love that is possible through Christ.

At the last supper, Christ prayed for the believers:

I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (John 17:22-23).

Our unity and our love for each other should be so different from anything the world knows, that it in itself is a testimony to Christ’s coming and God’s immense love for us.

While reading through 1 Thessalonians last night, I was so encouraged by these words to the church in Thessalonica:

Now, about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia.

What a great testimony. The apostle Paul himself says to the church, “I don’t have to remind you to love each other because you already do.” We have proof that it’s possible for a Christian community to love well, so why don’t more of them do it? Why do so many of us lose our proper focus? It is my prayer that it could be said of us: “Now, about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.”

Amen.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” ~Colossians 3:12-14