Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Spiritual Gifts, Natural Abilities, Unplanned Ministries and Just Plain Obedience

Garrett Undies

I’ll never forget the Christmas of 2001 when our first son was finally old enough to participate in holiday traditions.   On Christmas morning he jumped up and down anticipating the thrill of opening the packages peeking out from the top of his stocking. He tore into the first gift and held the prize high above his head, shouting with glee: “BIG BOY UNDERWEAR!!” Our ploy to make potty training alluring seemed to be working. He ran to his bedroom and returned moments later to model them proudly.

Underwear, again, appeared among his gifts again the next Christmas. His reaction was not quite as exuberant. Every year since then, both of our boys have continued to receive this “gift,” more for the sake of tradition than anything else. With each phase of development, their reactions have been age appropriate.  They’ve gone from glee to embarrassment to annoyance to resignation to amusement. As long as stockings are hung on the mantel, underwear will be one of the gifts inside them.

Until a few years ago, I used to view spiritual gifts in a similar light to my boys’ perspective on receiving underwear. I thought my spiritual gifts were practical and useful, but not especially exciting. The problem wasn’t with the Giver however, but with me. I had confused spiritual gifts with my natural abilities.

I am good at organizing people and events. This isn’t meant to sound proud—I say it in the same way I would tell you I have brown hair and hazel eyes. It is just a fact about me. Because of this, I served different church ministries in a variety of administrative roles such as organizing logistics for committees, events, Bible studies, students and children. I didn’t particularly derive joy from my service, however I valued the impact each of these ministries had. I knew I could add to their effectiveness by helping them run smoothly.   Since administration was a spiritual gift, I assumed I had it.

The problem was, I was serving Jesus without Jesus. My organizational skills were part of my makeup, but not something that made my heart beat faster or caused me to lean into God for strength, wisdom and guidance. I was using my natural abilities for kingdom purposes, but it wasn’t exhilarating for me because my true spiritual gifts hadn’t been activated. Since learning more, I’ve seen people who have the gift of administration and I can recognize the difference. They get as excited about organizing and overseeing things as I do about teaching and encouraging others.

In light of this, Beth Moore’s comments make perfect sense to me:

“Your ministry is the ever-accruing collection of your life works for the glory of God…You won’t be satisfied until you are living it out because God wired you with a compulsion to do it…The more we ignore His will for our works, the more discontented and out of sorts we’ll be.” (Children of the Day, p. 142)

Scripture tells us that each person who accepts Christ receives the Holy Spirit. When this happens, we receive spiritual gifts. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit…All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. (1 Corinthians 12:4 & 11, NIV) The gifts God gives us are to be used to glorify Him and to build up our fellow believers. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10, NIV)

Discovering I had the spiritual gifts of encouragement and teaching guided me in recognizing when to say “yes” and when to say “no” to different ministry opportunities. It was freeing when I realized declining to serve somewhere opened an opportunity for a person with gifts that were better suited for it.  Instead of focusing on pleasing people, I considered how I could best please God.  I stopped trying to fill open slots where needs were greatest and started praying for God to lead me to the places He wanted to use the gifts He’d given me.

The main difference between using my natural abilities and spiritual gifts is that when I’m serving in an area where I’m gifted, it doesn’t feel like work. I don’t dread preparing a Bible study lesson or have to “gear up” to spend time encouraging someone I’m mentoring.   It can be time consuming and challenging, but it also energizes me. I’ve also learned that my gifts only serve others well when I rely on God’s strength and wisdom instead of my own.

I think this is what Paul, Timothy and Silas meant when they wrote:

With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12, NIV)

There can be a temptation, however, to opt out of certain things because they don’t involve the use of our specific gifts. Sometimes God has unplanned ministries in which He’s calling us to serve. It could be a neighbor in distress or that emotionally needy person who is drawn to you.   God has a way of dropping opportunities in front of us and inviting us to respond.   In those times, we need to rely on Him for an extra measure of grace. God regularly uses challenging situations to stretch our faith and our dependence upon Him. In fact, the Bible tells us He has prepared them for us:

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10, NIV)

Other opportunities to give and serve are just part of being obedient to God’s word and have nothing to do with our spiritual gifts. We don’t get to take a pass on things like helping the needy or giving financially by saying we don’t have the gifts of compassion or generosity.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17, NIV)

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:6-7, NIV)

Some acts of obedience are difficult and costly while others bring joy and delight. In either case, the choice to obey honors God and brings Him glory.

If you’re like I was and you’re just guessing at what spiritual gifts you have, can I encourage you to find out?  Take Beth Moore’s words to heart: “Your spiritual gifts are means by which you have been distinctively and divinely equipped to manifest God’s presence and power.” (Children of the Day, p. 143).  Start by reading Romans 12:4-8,1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Peter 4:8-11, then get resources to help you understand spiritual gifts and talk with a pastor to determine what yours might be.

If you attend church at CPC, take the S.H.A.P.E. assessment online and find out how God has uniquely designed you. If you don’t attend CPC, pick up a copy of the book S.H.A.P.E Finding and Fulfilling Your Unique Purpose for Life by Eric Rees. You’ll discover more about who God has made you to be so that you can activate your gifts and discover the joy of using them to further God’s kingdom.

Whether it’s natural abilities, spiritual gifts, unplanned ministries or acts of obedience, every good thing starts at the same source: God. Click on the link for a great reminder of this with the song “Every Good Thing” by The Afters.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FY2ycrpbOlw

Moore, Beth; Children of the Day; 2014; Lifeway Press; http://www.lifeway.com

Rees, Erik; S.H.A.P.E. Finding and Fulfilling Your Unique Purpose for Life; 2006; Saddleback Resources; http://www.saddlebackresources.com

 

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The Can of Worms We Must Open

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A few years ago I was hiking with a group of moms from my boys’ elementary school. Among the group of thirty friends and acquaintances, I ended up on the trail with two women that I only knew casually. As we climbed the winding path beneath a canopy of trees, one of them started sharing about her eight-year-old son who was asking questions about sex. She was shocked that a child still in elementary school was already curious and fretted about how to handle his questions. My heart started to pound faster, not because of the hill we were climbing but because I knew God was prompting me to say something. It seemed clear that she was grasping for a plan to navigate these uncharted waters of parenting.

After she finished sharing, she looked to her friend and me and asked, “So, how do you guys handle the whole topic of sex with your kids? I feel like it’s just opening a big can of worms.”

Her friend grimaced before answering. “I just avoid it and change the subject. It’s so awkward.”

I breathed a prayer and chimed in with a different perspective. “Well, my husband and I started talking about sex with our boys when they were pretty little. We knew by talking about it with them when they were so young would make it less awkward when they were older. Plus, it would enable us to be the first ones to share information with them, so we could begin to shape their views about sexuality. We wanted them to see us as credible sources of information so they wouldn’t be embarrassed asking us questions.”

Both women looked surprised and stared at me wide-eyed. Finally, one responded, “Seriously? You started talking about it with them before they were even asking about it? Wasn’t it awkward? Weren’t you embarrassed?”

We continued walking as I shared about the different resources we’d used to guide our conversations. I explained that talking about sex with our kids happened in short snippets over time. We had an open dialogue so that we could address issues and questions in age-appropriate ways rather than having “the talk” that people dread so much. We wanted to give them time to absorb information little by little so that they could build on their knowledge base.

When the hike ended, one of the women asked for more information on where to find resources, which I gladly shared. As I drove home, I started thinking about the paradox in our society regarding sex. Our culture is saturated with it. Even when we’re not seeking it, we’re continually bombarded with magazine covers, TV shows, music and billboards with overt or subtle messages about sex. Our kids are learning about it all the time through their exposure to popular culture. And yet, for as sex-obsessed as our western society seems to be, most parents dread educating their kids and having frank conversations about how to handle their sexuality as they mature.

For followers of Jesus, we should know better. If we’re not actively engaging in shaping our kids’ sexual identities, we are letting the world do it for us. What they’re learning is completely contrary to God’s plan.

First and foremost, we need to have a clear understanding of what the Bible teaches about sex. Before we can talk with our kids, we need to know and embrace God’s boundaries for it. A quick glance at any concordance reveals that the Bible has much to say on the topic. Here is one passage from the many choices:

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8, NIV)

In case we need further clarification about God’s plan for sex, the book of Hebrews emphasizes that God intends it for marriage alone.

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” (Hebrews 13:4, NIV)

We cannot allow our culture to influence our kids with the idea that the Bible’s teaching about sex is outdated or irrelevant. It may surprise you to learn that when Paul wrote to the Thessalonians they were living in a sex-saturated culture. In her session five video in the Children of the Day study, Beth Moore shared information about how people viewed sex in Thessalonica during the time of Paul’s ministry there. I looked up the commentary she referenced and found this description:

“In antiquity, ethics was the domain of the philosophers and not of the gods. Normally religion did not have anything to do with the moral-ity of the worshipers. In fact, a number of cults promoted a lifestyle that would have been viewed as immoral from a Christian perspective. Dio-nysus, the god of wine and drunkenness, is depicted in reliefs, statues, and mosaics with a vine and grapes laced through his hair and a down- turned empty cup in his hand, a symbol of drunkenness…The god promoted drinking wine and encouraged this solitary so-ber man to seek the sexual pleasures Aphrodite brings. Aphrodite was herself the symbol of sexual license and the patroness of the prostitutes.”*

For Christians, maintaining sexual purity then was as difficult as it is now. Despite this, we must not forget that God created sex. He is not trying to take away our fun by placing clear boundaries around what is and is not part of His plan. He wants what is best for us, not what is easiest. Helping our children to understand this when they are young enables them to enter the teen years with a clear sense that God has something better for them than casual sex with random people. It protects them from the lifelong scars that come from being sexually active in each new relationship they enter before marriage. We are setting them up for a much healthier view of their sexuality than the world offers. Giving them clear explanations also helps them resolve to wait for covenant relationships with their future husbands or wives. Praying for them helps too.

My hiking partner was right in one way: teaching our kids about sex is a lot like opening a can of worms. It can be messy and complicated trying to deal with that tangled and writhing mass of topics that make us squirm. But when we control the can opener and the pace of emptying the can, we get to take out one worm at a time to examine it carefully. It’s a lot less overwhelming that way.

Maybe you’re open to the idea of talking with your kids about sex, but you don’t know how or where to start. First, pray that God will give you wisdom, calm your nerves, remove the awkwardness and provide good opportunities to begin the dialogue. From my experience, I found it’s best to set aside time intentionally with one child at a time. Here are a few resources that you also might find helpful:

-Christian author and speaker Maryflo Ridley was the first person who helped me understand the importance of teaching our kids and shaping their sexual identities while they were still young. Her website has a host of great resources:

http://maryflo.org/#&panel1-3

Books:

-For parents of kids from Kindergarten through middle school the God’s Design for Sex book series by Stan and Brenna Jones is a great jumping off place. It has age appropriate books to read with your kids at different stages in their development (the first one is for ages 5-8 and they go up from there)

-For parents of elementary age kids:

The Squire and the Scroll: A Tale of the Rewards of a Pure Heart by Jennie Bishop is a great book to build a foundation in your kids that values purity. It doesn’t discuss sex specifically, but lays a foundation for future conversations.

-For parents of middle school and high school aged kids:

Five Conversations You Must Have with Your Daughter by Vicki Courtney

Five Conversations You Must have with Your Son by Vicki Courtney

And the Bride Wore White by Dannah K. Gresh

Raising a Modern Day Knight by Robert Lewis (this book is more about what true manhood is, but the principles in it connect to how to treat women and sexuality)

-Other Websites for parents of teenagers:

http://vickicourtney.com

http://www.virtuousreality.com

If you need a little courage to begin this journey, click on the link to hear Shane Harper’s song “Hold You Up.”

Moore, Beth; Children of the Day; 2014; Lifeway Press; http://www.lifeway.com

*The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letters to the THESSALONIANS, GENE L. GREEN, © 2002 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing copied from http://www.wtsbooks.com/common/pdf_links/9780802837387.pdf


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The Pros and Cons of “More”

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Crossing the floor of my younger son’s bedroom sometimes feels like navigating my way through a bed of nails. When he is deep into his creative mode, colorful plastic Legos with hard edges and sharp corners cover his carpet. He can sit for hours surrounded by a pile of his favorite building materials. Vehicles, skyscrapers, spaceships and mini figures have overtaken much of the real estate on his bedroom floor. Although I often point out that he has more than enough, requests for new Lego sets regularly appear on his birthday and Christmas wish lists. He sighs at my lack of understanding when I use words like “gluttony” or “hoarding” to describe his obsession with Legos. It’s a good-natured disagreement over a fairly minor issue.   He thinks he needs more and I think he has more than he needs.

It turns out the Bible has quite a bit to say about the concept of “more” but the issues have much higher stakes. Sometimes abundance is positive, as we see when Paul, Silas and Timothy urge the Thessalonians to please God and to love one another more and more:

“As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more…  Now about your love for one another 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 of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more.” (1 Thessalonians 4:1,9-10, NIV, bold print added)

There are other times, however, when Scripture shows “more” as not necessarily positive:

-Hatred: “Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more.” (Genesis 37:5, NIV, bold print added)

-Corruption: “But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways. (Judges 2:19, NIV, bold print added)

-Fear: “Saul became still more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy the rest of his days.” (1 Samuel 18:29, NIV, bold print added)

-Sinful Behavior: “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” (Ephesians 4:19, NIV, bold print added)

Beth Moore explains the tension between positive and negative abundance in our lives: “Something is going to grow. Something will get ‘more’ of us. Will it be hatred? Coldness? Addiction? Sensuality? Perversion? Devotion? Affection? Belief? Blessing? Ask yourself this question as I do the same: knowing the propensity of things to grow, which way do I want to go? ‘More and more’ one direction will force its antithesis into ‘less and less.’ We get to decide which we want to feed and which we want to starve.” (Children of the Day, p. 93)

Sometimes it’s wise and healthy to take a step back and evaluate the things in our lives that are influencing us “more and more.” Use the questions below to consider how each area impacts what grows “more and more” in our lives:

The company we keep:

-Are our typical activities and topics of conversation honoring to God?

-Does alcohol play a prominent role in our times together and would we still have fun without it?

-How are our personal attitudes and outlooks affected after spending time together?

-Are our worldly friends rubbing off on us more or is our Christian faith rubbing off on them more?

The social and extracurricular activities in which our families participate:

-How do they impact our schedules and ability to have healthy time margins?

-Does involvement in them still make it possible to go to church and be involved in Christian community?

-Are they defining our self-worth or our children’s self-worth?

-Are they bringing out the best in our families or making us more prone to comparison and unhealthy competition?

The entertainment we enjoy:

-Do the movies, TV shows, magazines, books, websites, social media, blogs, games and other past times we like influence us more toward worldly viewpoints or godly ones?

-Do we make time for entertainment, but struggle to find time to spend with God daily?

The material things we acquire:

-Do we talk about, look at and shop for material things continually?

-Are there any material things that have captured our attention and become the central focus of our lives?

-Are we willing to make needed changes when we recognize that material objects are mattering to us “more and more”?

The personal comfort we crave:

-Do we spend a significant amount of time arranging for and focusing on our own personal comfort?

-Is an emphasis on our physical, emotional and relational comfort causing us to become self-centered?

-Is being comfortable more important than letting God stretch us in new ways?

Finding a healthy balance with these things is a lifelong endeavor that requires constant prayer and vigilance. Not all of these issues have black and white answers–just like my son’s view on the quantity of his Legos differs from mine. The Bible is one of the best places to find clear answers.  Determining if you have more of something than you should is between you and God.

If you’re feeling convicted after reading through the questions and consulting Scripture, do not be discouraged. This is a great step toward healthy growth and shows that you have a teachable heart. God is ready and waiting to help you when you admit your struggle to Him. In addition to praying, you may need to ask for help from a wise friend, counselor or pastor.   There is no need for guilt or personal condemnation.   God’s Word promises us: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning.” (Lamentations 3:22-23a, NIV)

The good news is that there are things that we can pursue “more and more” without worrying about negative effects:

The Bible: The more we study it, the more we can be amazed by how God’s truth is woven together from start to finish. The more we learn, the hungrier we become to know more.

Prayer: The more we lay at the feet of God, the more we see Him working in our lives. This leads to more trust in God and more peace in all circumstances.

Jesus:  The more time we spend with Him, the more He reveals Himself to us and the deeper our relationship with Him grows.

The Holy Spirit: The more we ask Him to fill us, the more He gives us wisdom and enables us to impact the lives of others.

Christian Music: The more we listen to Christian music, the more we’re drawn to the heart of God and to seeing the world through a biblical lens.

A Godly Perspective on our Time and Finances: The more we see our time and money as belonging to God, the more willing we are to put aside our personal agendas in order to pursue Him, give generously and serve others to further His kingdom.

For more inspiration, click on the link to hear Colton Dixon’s song “More of You.” Make it your prayer as you listen.

(quote from Moore, Beth; Children of the Day; 2014; Lifeway Press; http://www.lifeway.com)


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Taking the Hindrance Out of Our Hurt

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The yellow ball bobbed in the water as my son swam behind it, pushing it forward with urgency as he sprinted the length of the pool. A player from the opposing water polo team was closing in on him fast. Suddenly, my boy’s body jerked to a stop and he appeared to be swimming in place. His opponent had reached out underwater and grabbed his ankle, pulling him backwards to keep him from getting any closer to the goal. I stared wide-eyed and turned to my husband, “Are they allowed to do that?”

He smirked before answering. “Well, not exactly, but sometimes it’s better to get a foul than to let someone shoot on the goal.”

Water polo, it turns out, is all about the teams creating hindrances for one another. I’ve often sat in the stands wincing as I watch one player put a hand on the shoulder of his opponent and hold his other hand high in the air, attempting to hinder him from scoring or passing to a team mate. I wouldn’t last five minutes, but my son seems to be energized by that kind of opposition. I’m amazed as I watch him pivot his body to swim around an opponent and drive toward the goal. For water polo players, moving past the hindrances seems to make a shot into the cage even more satisfying.

Could the same satisfaction come from getting around our own hindrances for God’s glory? If you’ve been doing Beth Moore’s study on 1 & 2 Thessalonians, you already know the answer is “yes.” She discusses several hindrances Paul identifies that can impede us from moving forward in our faith.

“14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last! 17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us.” (1 Thessalonians 2:14-18, italics added, ESV)

Beth explains: “According to 1 Thessalonians 2:14-20, both people and Satan had authentically been successful at hindering Paul. But that’s just it. He kept pressing forward and refused to let the hindrance itself become a hindrance. He kept his squinting eyes on the goal. He didn’t get furious with God over all that had been permitted in his path or demand to know why God would make His will so utterly impossible to fulfill. He just stayed at it. He believed. He persevered” (Children of the Day, p. 70.)

In water polo, coaches use two terms as they shout directions to the players. During defensive plays, they’ll yell “press” when they want defenders to put pressure on offenders. The opposing players jostle in pairs, each trying to gain the advantage.   During offensive plays, coaches yell “drive,” spurring players to move toward open water and to find a position near the goal to score. Good players don’t let up on either one of these things. They press until they avert a goal and they drive until they score one.

Perhaps we can borrow some of their strategies when faced with our own hindrances in the spiritual realm. Rather than letting hindrances and the hurt that often accompanies them shut us down, we can use them to grow in our spiritual maturity and ability to be used by God. “What if, instead of fixating on taking the hurt out of our hindrance, we prayed for God to take the hindrance out of our hurt?” (Children of the Day p. 70)

Beth lists several “equations” to illustrate her idea. A few that resonated with me were:

Heartbreak – hindrance = depth

Disappointment – hindrance = faith

My pain – hindrance = my passion

I even added a few of my own to the list:

Insecurity – hindrance = authenticity

Self-consciousness – hindrance = sensitivity to others

Any hindrance we’ve experienced provides an opportunity for God’s transformation in our lives. When we lay them at His feet, He uses them to bless others. Consider Paul’s words: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5, NIV)

When we give God our hindrances, He matures us even as He heals and comforts us. The ways we learn and grow enable us to become a blessing for others facing similar challenges. In the process we are reminded that we are beloved children of the Almighty God, Who is hindered by nothing.

Click on the link below to watch Jason Gray’s music video “Remind Me Who I Am.” It provides some great visuals to help you remember that our hindrances do not define us. After watching, add your own equation to the comments section below and share the hindrance you need to relinquish to God so He can use your hurt for His glory.

Your Hurt- Your Hindrance = Your Opportunity to Impact Others and Glorify God.

(Moore, Beth; Children of the Day; 2014; Lifeway Press; http://www.lifeway.com)