Saturday, July 09, 2011

Convo with Pastor - Ezekial 22:29-30 - The Best Gift

The people of the land
practice extortion and commit robbery;
they oppress the poor and needy
and mistreat the alien, denying them justice.
I looked for a man among them who would
build up the wall and stand in the gap before me ... 
Ezekial 22:29-30
Do you know what the best spiritual gift is? Besides love (see 1 Corinthians 13), the greatest spiritual gift is a willing heart.
I have a friend who says his call -- to use the language of Ezekial 22 -- is "to stand in the gap."
If we lived in a sinless world and everyone one poured their best into the kingdom, there wouldn't be gaps. We'd have more applicants in the church ministries than we had jobs. We'd do more and more and more -- not for the sake of busyness, but because we couldn't hold our service in.
We live, however, in a busy, sinful, distracted world. Too many of us are busy, and because we're tired, we leave gaps in the wall. Too many of us are distracted, and because we're constantly focused on "the good," we don't focus on "the best." Therefore, there are again more gaps. Sin leaves even more gaps. We desire too many things other than the upbuilding of the kingdom.
The greatest gift in the kingdom is a willing heart. It is seeing the holes and plugging them.
We can do this as longsuffering martyrs, making sure everyone knows our sacrifice. Or we can ...
  • do everything for the glory of God -- 1 Cor 10:31.
  • do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him -- Col 3:17.
  • do everything for the sake of the Good News -- 1 Cor 9:23
  • do everything with love -- 1 Cor 16:14
  • do everything without grumbling and arguing -- Phil 2:14
  • do everything through Christ who strengthens me -- Phil 4:13
  • follow God's example in everything you do -- Eph 5:1
  • work at everything you do with all your heart. -- Col 3:23
  • be faithful in everything [you] do -- 1 Tim 3:11
  • and always do for other people everything you want them to do for you. -- Mt 7:12
Indeed, "do everything God has given you to do" (2 Tim 4:5).
Or in other words, stand in the gap. The greatest spiritual gift is not necessarily doing what's easy; it's doing what's needed for the building up of the kingdom.
How willing are you to just march forward and say, "God use me!!!"
In Christ's Love,
a guy who does a million thing
he never thought he would have
(and counts himself very blessed)
Indeed, we can be like Paul who said, "Everything we do, beloved, is for the sake of building you up, [because,] in everything we do we try to show that we are true ministers of God." (2 Cor 12:9, 2 Cor 6:4). And when we yield our hearts to God, "God is able to do far more than we could ever ask for or imagine. He does everything by his power that is working in us" (Paul again in Eph 3:20).
Over the years, I've witnessed too many people using spiritual gifts as an excuse to not serve. "Oh, I can't do that, it's not my gift." Moses tried this with God. "Oh, I can't do that. I can't speak to Pharoah. After all, I have a speech impediment."

The biggest impediment to my going forward is simply fear. Sadly, I all too often let fear control my actions (or lack of actions.)

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Friday, July 08, 2011

Convo with Pastor - Luke 1:18 - Discovering Our Gifts

Zechariah said to the angel,
"How will I know that this is so?
Luke 1:18
In my years as a pastor, I've watched plenty of kids head off to college. Some know exactly what they want to do and be and charge headlong toward a degree and a profession. Most do not. Most haven't heard a definitive "call."
Being a teacher can be a call and a passion. Being a nurse can also be a call and a passion. Some are called to be machinists, workers, and producers, utilizing their craft to bless a company (and all the people it employs). Others are called to management and to help others be more productive. But students are in an awkward place until they identify their call and passion. So what do they do?
Our goal today is to learn how to determine our Spiritual Gifts, and I bring up seeking direction in college because the process is the same. How do we learn about our gifts?
1. Take an Aptitude Test -- As high schoolers point toward college, they're often given aptitude tests. Based on what a student says they're interested in, possible careers are suggested. The church has aptitude tests called spiritual gifts inventories. Google "Spiritual Gifts Inventories" and take one online.
2. Talk to a Guidance Counselor -- An inventory of gifts and aptitudes reflect what we think about ourselves. Talking to a pastor or a faithful spiritual friend invites in the insights of others. Like a coach, spiritual friends and mentors can help us see ways that God is already using us.
3. Do an Internship -- Schools often place students in internships because, among other things, it helps students see the good, the bad, and the daily of this kind of work. In the church, one of the best ways to see if you're gifted in an area is to just start serving. Say, "Well, I'll never know if God wants me to teach if I don't try." Just do it for a season. Follow through on the commitment. Ask for advice and help when needed. If its a newly discovered gift, praise the Lord. If its not, you've just defined your "career path" more clearly in terms of what you don't want to do.
4. Pray -- Students often go to human guidance counselors but forget to go to the true guidance counselor. Only one guidance counselor knows us inside and out -- because he made us! When we want direction, we should start with prayer!
In Christ's Love,
a guidance counselor
I have taken Spiritual Gift tests numerous times ... even recently. I have talked the results over a little bit with a couple of folks (including Pastor).  I have done things that are directly related to the gifts, but it seems like others aren't accepting of my gifts.

But the one thing I haven't done much of is pray. That is a true weakness of mine. Something I know I need to work on.

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Thursday, July 07, 2011

Convo with Pastor - Psalm 1:3 - UNDERSTANDING GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT

They are like trees planted by streams of water,

which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
Psalm 1:3

Spiritual gifts first began to make sense to me when I heard a pastor tell a story about a tree.
This pastor had a favorite kind of tree. It reminded him of his childhood. So he bought on from a nursery and planted in beside his house.
It died.
The next spring he bought a new tree, same variety, and planted it in about the same spot. It withered and faded too.
Then a neighbor came over and said, "Why do you have a _____ tree in the shade? These trees need sun." So the pastor took the tree and planted it in the sun and it thrived.
He said, spiritual gifts are like this. God has created us for a place in his service, but people get discouraged because they've been planted in the wrong place.
Tomorrow we'll talk about how to discover your true gift, but if you find that you've been planted in the wrong place, don't be a victim, lamenting your spot or lack thereof, pick yourself up by your own roots and try something new. Indeed, keep planting and replanting yourself by streams of living water.
In Christ's Love,
a pecan tree
(tall, productive, and a bit of a nut)
Traveling around the midwest, you can always tell where there is water. You are driving for miles and miles and there is nothing but farmland. It is a combination of low rolling hills, jagged buttes and canyons, flat prairie, wheat fields, cow pastures and small towns.  One thing that is a given - when you see trees, you know there is water nearby. 

Maybe it's not planting yourself, but patiently waiting for roots to grow as you drink deeply of the living water. 

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Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Convo with Pastor - 1 Corinthians 12:1,4,7

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters,
I do not want you to be uninformed.
There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit
for the common good.
1 Corinthians 12:1,4,7
People are shocked and amazed. They constantly tell me, "I don't know how you do it. I don't know how you remember everybody's name."
But here's the shocking part: "I am actually lousy at remembering names!"
It's been that way all my life. If I meet someone at Robbie's football practice, for example, I won't remember it for two seconds! But something amazing happened my first Sunday in my first church. Names and families were suddenly woven into my heart and mind like a tapestry.
That's not me. That's God! It's a spiritual gift, breathed by the Spirit, for upbuilding of the church.
Our spiritual gifts do not necessarily match our abilities in the world. Imagine a person's who's least likely professional job would be to teach. Their brain, for example, may not remember one fact well enough to convey it to a third-grader. But teaching about God and faith is about much more conveying information. St. Peter put it this way, "always be ready ... give an account for the hope that is in you ... with gentleness and reverence." The best Christian teachers are those who love the Lord and love his children and are willing to tell of the hope, joy, and faith within them."
What is the gift that comes more naturally to you in the church than in the world?
In Christ's Love,
a guy that can't remember
his own name some mornings
That is a very interesting concept. What is a gift that comes more naturally in the church than in the world? It is actually something that I have been fighting against. Telling God and others that I DON"T do that! What is it? Public speaking. However, I have willingly spoken in front of crowds at church. More than once. In fact, I am attending a conference in a couple of weeks to learn how to develop my skills as a public speaker.

Is this a gift I would have developed for something worldly? No.
But it is a gift that I know God has given me and that I need to hone to share his love, grace and mercy.

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Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Convo with Pastor - Titus 3:4-5 - KINDNESS

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,

patience, KINDNESS, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Galatians 5:22-23 

when the goodness and loving kindness
of God our Savior appeared, he saved us,
not because of any works
of righteousness that we had done,
but according to his mercy
Titus 3:4-5
I remember one time reading about an event in famed religion professor Huston Smith's life. Preparing for a conference, he picked up their keynote speaker, Aldous Huxley, at the airport.
On their long drive to the university, Smith dared to ask the famed and aging atheist if he had an great insight on the meaning of life.
Huxley replied: "You know, Huston, it’s rather embarrassing to have spent one’s entire lifetime pondering the human condition and to come toward its close and find that I really don’t have anything more profound to pass on by way of advice than, "Try to be a little kinder.’"   
Without the hope of heaven, I guess that's the sum of a famous atheist's life -- "Be nice."
Another famous writer and thinker also advised that we should be nice and kind. But this great thinker -- the Apostle Paul -- linked kindness to both Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul said that kindness is a fruit that the Spirit wishes to pour into you. In other words, "true kindness" is Spirit-inspired. And in light of this "true and Spirit-inspired kindness," listen to Paul explanation of kindness from our verse for today. In his letter to Titus, Paul said that ... 
  1. the greatest measure of kindness is from God, through Jesus Christ. 
  2. He linked kindness to "lov[e]" and "mercy."
  3. He showed how the actions of Jesus Christ are the fullest expression of kindness. 
  4. Which implies that Jesus' actions are the model for us expressing kindness.
  5. Finally, he also said that God's loving kindness leads where? To salvation!
Think about that. Kindness for kindness-sake is nice. But in the end is it really kind to be nice and friendly but leave people on a road that inevitably leads to death and destruction? The whole point of Jesus' cross-directed life was a kindness that put us on a road to salvation.
Which means ... If Jesus' links kindness and mercy to eternal salvation, let your kindness lead to salvation too.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who'll stand with
the famous writer and thinker
who's sold more copies
.. who do you think it was
Huxley's Brave New World
or Paul and the New Testament?
(The Bible is the best seller every year!)
The bible is the best selling book every year ... yet the least read.

Kindness ... if we truly think about it and apply it, we would all lead drastically different lives. There is a cliche' - 'kill 'em with kindness" - be nice to everyone - especially those it is difficult to be nice to. Hold doors, smile, make eye contact, pay for someone's order in a drive through.  Kindness doesn't have to be with people you know, It can be anonymous.  And random.

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Monday, July 04, 2011

Convo with Pastor - Romans 7:15,19,24,25 - Self-Control

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness, and SELF-CONTROL.
Galatians 5:22-23 
Paul said,
I do not understand my own actions.
For I do not do the good I want,
but the evil I do not want is what I do.
Wretched man that I am!
Who will rescue me from this body of death?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Romans 7:15,19,24,25
Romans 7 is perhaps the most poignant description of human nature in all scripture.
How many of you have ever cried with Paul: "The good that I want to do, I do not do. But the evil I don't want to do, that's the very thing I do! Wretched man that I am!"?
I know I have. I'm repeatedly weak. I'm frequently tempted. My biggest consolation is that if Paul -- a real live saint -- couldn't completely marshal his thoughts, words, and deed, what chance do I have?!!!
I don't joke about that in order to justify sin. Rather, I turn to Galatians 5 to discover what chance I really do have. This same Paul tells us that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit.
Paul calls these nine attributes "fruits" for a reason. In nature, a cherry branch can't just decide one day to squeeze out a lemon. Why? Because it's attached to cherry tree.
In the same way, it's nearly impossible for me squeeze out self-control unless I'm attached to the Tree of the Life. Through the branches of the Holy Spirit flow the nutrients of love, joy, peace, and self-control. Think about it ... Isn't this why recovery groups tell us that one of the key steps is connecting with our "higher power."
We know who our higher power is. And if we're honest, we know that on our own we'll wind up weak and wretched. But thanks be to God that through Jesus and power of the Holy Spirit we can gain self-control as we rely on him instead of on ourselves.
Today, let's say that the fruit of this fruit is "independence"!
In Christ's Love,
a guy who's thankful today
for the freedoms in our country 
Self-control is the hardest fruit of the spirit for me.  So often I feel completely and utterly out of control. I will do, say or react to something and only afterwards stop and realize that I really didn't want to do that!

I guess one of the first steps to self control is fully giving control to God.

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Sunday, July 03, 2011

convo with Pastor - Matthew 11:29 - Gentleness

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, GENTLENESS, and self-control.
Galatians 5:22-23 
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me;
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
Matthew 11:29
In Matthew 11:28, Jesus invited us to come to him when we're weary and carrying heavy burdens. Why should we approach him to find rest for our souls? He answers that in the next verse: Because he is gentle and humble in heart.
Let me simplify that: Why should we approach Jesus with our burdens? Because he's gentle.
What is gentle? I often define words with a picture in mind ... 
  • With a mother and a baby in mind, I'd describe gentleness as loving, caring, and lullabies. 
  • Picturing a hospice nurse, gentleness describes the soft touch of a compassionate hand.
  • Looking at summer field, gentleness is wind that ripples the grass and brings relief to humid day.
  • Looking at another part of the field, gentleness is the opposite of the bull in the corner. Indeed, gentleness is the opposite of angry and snorting and opinionated.
  • Gentle is also like my dog Lucy. When Mary Louise added chickens to our back yard, our retriever understood that these fuzzy creatures were new members of our family. She allowed them to crawl on her back and peck at her fur. 
How loving and caring is your touch? Or are you more like the obstinate bull?
The truth is that all of us have a bit of bull and bruiser in us. That's why Paul reminds us that gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit.
When we yield ourselves to the spirit's leading we begin to let go of anger and ego and look more and more like our gentle Savior. And in so doing, we begin to transform our world around us with gentle grace.
In Christ's Love,
a clumsy bull who wants to look
more like my gentle retriever
(if Pastor is a clumsy bull then I am a rabid creature ... he is one of the gentlest people I know!)

With others outside of my family, I can be gentle. Especially with my patients at work.
However, with my family and myself especially - I am often angry, stubborn, cynical, bitter. When I am reading the bible, praying, trying to focus more on God and his way - I find myself being more patient and gentle with my kids. And myself. When that happens, sleep is better as well. And my mood. and my overall outlook.

Hmmm ... maybe there is something to prayer, study and focus.

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Saturday, July 02, 2011

Convo with Pastor - Luke 16:10 - Faithfulness

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness,
FAITHFULNESS, gentleness, and self-control.
Galatians 5:22-23 
Whoever is faithful in a very little
is faithful also in much ...
Luke 16:10
The magic of Jesus' parables is that they're timeless. He talks about a manager and an assistant. Since we still have managers and assistants, we can easily transfer his point to our modern circumstance.
In fact, I've been a manager. And it's not that I test "employees," but daily everyone's work is a test. We count on others to constantly pull their share of the load.
Most jobs are small. But a person's performance with the little things determines whether I'll trust them with the bigger things. Why? Because a person who is "faithful in a very little [I can count on being] faithful also in much."
When Jesus ascended into heaven, God was doing a remarkable thing. Jesus birthed the church with his blood. And then he left. He handed over the whole kingdom to his apprentices. Then that generation handed it over to the next generation. 
God constantly entrusts the kingdom to fragile human hands. But he doesn't leave us abandoned and alone. He's sent the Spirit to stir faithfulness -- another spiritual fruit -- into our hearts.
How much and how thoroughly the Spirit operates through us is dependent upon us. The more we yield to his leading and give his plans the right of way in our life, the more faithful we will be. Step by step, task by task, day by day, God entrusts his kingdom to us. Our initial responsibilities will be small, but as we prove faithful in the little things, he'll bless us with richer assignments.
Every day ... every assignment ... every opportunity is a test. And every moment the Spirit is standing beside us, full of awesome power and waiting to be asked. The kingdom -- today and for the sake of the next generation -- is waiting for you. God invites you to be a good employee who gets invited into management and prospers.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who doesn't want
to just punch the clock
... I want a salaried position
and stock options in heaven
I think that sometimes just the act of faith ... choosing to be faithful in little ... consistently. Adds up to being faithful in much. Doing one seemingly little thing constantly in faith and looking back we realize how much it really was. The big picture can be too overwhelming.

The illustration from Indiana Jones was used once.  He was facing a huge pit and knew there was a bridge, but until he showed the faith to take a single small step he didn't know the bridge was there. That small step turned into the next and then the next and on until he reached the other side. Faithful in each step got him to the other side.

Faithful in each of our steps will lead us closer to Christ.

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Friday, July 01, 2011

Convo with Pastor - 2 Corinthians 9:11 - Goodness

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, GENEROSITY,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Galatians 5:22-23 
You will be made rich in every way
so that you can be generous on every occasion.
And when we take your gifts to those who need them,
they will break out in thanksgiving to God.
2 Corinthians 9:11
When I learned the fruits of the Spirit, "goodness" was the sixth fruit. And many translations render the Greek word "agathosunae" in this way. My New Revised Standard, however, translates it as "generosity."
In that vein, I love the 2 Corinthians 9:11 sense that we "will be made rich in every way so that ..." Let's consider the three main parts of this phrase.
  • "Rich"? When talking about wealth, our temptation is to say that "some of us are rich financially." But let's be more accurate ... Any of us Americans who can afford the computer we're reading this on are rich by the world's standards! Therefore, rather than worrying about what you don't have -- see Matthew 6 -- give thanks for what you do have.
  • "Rich in Every Way" assures us that there are other kinds of riches too. For example, Jesus said in Matthew 6:19-20, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; rather store up for yourselves treasures in heaven." Therefore, what are the heavenly treasures and spiritual blessings that you do have?
  • "So that" implies that there's a kingdom purpose for every treasure that we do have. What are the richest blessings that God has given you? Scripture calls us to turn around and bless others with all our gifts and treasures. We are "rich so that [we] can be generous."
Our basic human nature drives us to be selfish. Do you doubt that? Look at a two-year-old. Stubborness and hoarding come naturally; parents have to consistently teach the greater virtues of sharing and generosity. We desire certain comforts, want to keep up with the Jones', worry about funding tomorrow and stockpile out of fear. Therefore, pure generosity is a supernatural gift -- a fruit of the Spirit. 
But ... when we surpise a fallen world with a supersized heart, the kingdom grows! 
Paul described the fruit of sharing generously like this: "When we take your gifts to those who need them, they will break out in thanksgiving to God."
Thanksgiving to who? Be generous and see if this broken world doesn't break out a little more in thanksgiving to God.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who's been very blessed
and its for a specific purpose ...
we're all blessed to be a blessing!  
Yes - we are rich in America. Materially rich.
But how rich are we spiritually? And how willing are we to share those gifts with the world?

Lately, I have been woken up in the middle of the night and felt God telling me to count my blessings. All of them.  Not just the bog ones or the obvious ones, but all of them. Even the not so pleasant ones. All my blessings.

And you know what? I have been blessed. More than I can count. In ways I can barely see. Now I need to learn how to take these blessings and turn them into generous gifts for others.

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