God’s Gifts: Accepting and using spiritual gifts

given on Sunday, December 14, 2012:  Gifts even in midst of a national tragedy.

        Jesus loves me!  This I know,

         for the Bible tells me so.

         Little ones to him belong;

         they are weak, but he is strong.  [UMC 191]

 

Those words became a litany running through my head as soon as I stumbled into the news that the Sandy Hook Elementary School was the sight of an unthinkable mass shooting.

Elementary children, kindergartners, first, second, third, and fourth graders.  Why?

Teachers, principals, secretaries, paraprofessionals, and maintenance personnel all hovering around children doing all they could to protect them.  In loco parentis. (The legal definition means that in the absence of parents, the teacher/administrator, etc. serves as the parent).  When parents drop their children off at the school door, these professionals become the parents while the children are in their care.  Why?

The litany rings through my head again:

Jesus loves me!  This I know,

         for the Bible tells me so.

         Little ones to him belong;

         they are weak, but he is strong.

Jesus, the teacher, is God’s gift to us.  Even though it has been 2,000 years plus since the man Jesus began walking this earth, we are still his students.  While Jesus lived as a man teaching us, he was also serving in loco parentis.

God loves his children so much that he sent Jesus to be present with us and to teach us how to live.  Each and every one of us, whether family, friend, or stranger, are enrolled in life’s classroom.  Not one of God’s children is ignored.  Not one of us is overlooked or deemed dispensable.  Not one of us goes without receiving God’s gift of grace.

Turning on the TV these last 48 hours has thrown us into the chaos of today’s world.  It is filled with evil, and the shooting yesterday once again causes the world to scream out ‘Why?’   No answer can make sense of this tragedy, but the litany continues:

         Jesus loves me!  This I know,

         for the Bible tells me so.

         Little ones to him belong;

         they are weak, but he is strong.

Jesus is our teacher, the textbook is the Bible, and the Holy Spirit provides the fruits that enrich our lives.  As students we also have the ability to learn.  Not one child born into this earthly world is ignored.  Each one receives special gifts to use while living on this globe.

During the horrific moments at Sandy Hook Elementary School, as well as any of the horrific moments recorded in time or experienced by any one of us, spiritual gifts leap into action.

Remember that God has given us a spiritual basket of fruits that In, Following Jesus, Carolyn Slaughter defines as “a cluster of character qualities that are progressively produced in us through a life constantly yielded to the Holy Spirit.  [p.55]”  Those nine fruits are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Slaughter continues to explain that the spiritual gifts are “a supernatural power within you to serve others. … more than a human talent or a skill that you have learned; it is the work of the Holy Spirit in your life, empowering you in a specific way to serve well…  It is how the Spirit chooses to be revealed through you…as a teacher, a helper, an administrator, or any of the other spiritual gifts.  [p.64]”

Undeniably Slaughter’s examples were mirrored in the tragedy in yesterday’s shooting because those teachers, helpers, administrators and all the others responding to the 911 call had to rely on those spiritual gifts to continue working for the well-being of the children.  At that moment, the world witnessed God’s spiritual gifts in action.

The list of spiritual gifts is long, 20 according to Slaughter, but think of how many different talents and skills it takes to run this world.  All of God’s children have spiritual gifts and all are needed to keep this world in operating condition.  Yesterday’s events also provided a worldwide broadcast of how well individual gifts fit together to meet the needs of the moment.

Reviewing the list of spiritual gifts may seem like a classroom drill, but it also causes us to stop for a moment and consider just what it takes for a global community to work fluidly:

  • Exhortation (encouragement)—ability to encourage people and assist them in moving toward spiritual maturity and personal wholeness; uses skills of comfort and confrontation, encouragement and instruction.
  • Giving—give of material wealth freely and with joy; uses physical resources in response to assessed needs.
  • Leadership—ability to see ‘the big picture’ and assemble component parts; uses ability to motivate, coordinate, and direct efforts.
  • Teaching—ability to understand and clearly communicate God’s truths to others in ways that leads them to apply God’s truth to their lives.
  • Prophecy—ability to proclaim God’s truth in a way that’s relevant to current situations and to envision how God would will things to change.
  • Mercy—ability to perceive suffering of others and to minister to them with empathy and without condemnation.
  • Serving—demonstrates God’s love through the ability to identify the needs of others and selflessly working to meet them.
  • Wisdom—ability to understand and apply biblical and spiritual knowledge to practical, everyday problems.
  • Knowledge—ability to understand, organize, and effectively use information … esp. for the advancement of God’s purposes.
  • Faith—ability to recognize what God wants to accomplish and confidence God will see it done.
  • Healing—ability to effectively call on God for curing illness and restoration of health in a supernatural way.
  • Discernment of spirits—ability to recognize what is of God and what is not of God.
  • Helps—ability to work alongside others and see the value of accomplishing practical and often behind-the-scenes tasks that promote God’s kingdom.
  • Speaking in tongues—ability to supernaturally speak in a language, known or unknown to others, with no prior knowledge of that language.
  • Interpretation of tongues—ability to understand and communicate the words of those speaking in tongues.
  • Pastoring (Shepherding)—ability to guide and care for a group of Christians.
  • Miracles—ability to effectively call on God to do supernatural acts that glorify God.
  • Administration—ability to organize information, events, or material.
  • Apostleship—ability to see overall picture and respond by starting new churches, pioneering new ministries, or ministering transculturally (missionaries).
  • Evangelism—ability to share the gospel with those who don’t know God.

Yes, this is a long list, but it is one individual’s—Carolyn Slaughter’s—list created and defined based on the scriptures from Romans 12:4-8, I Corinthians 12:4-11, 27-31, and Ephesians 4:11-13.  Other people have made other lists that are similar; for instance, Howard Gardner has crated his list of intelligences.

Jesus loves me!  This I know,

         for the Bible tells me so.

         Little ones to him belong;

         they are weak, but he is strong.

The litany continues.  Jesus, the son of God, loves us.  God loves us unconditionally.  Can you imagine the tears he shed yesterday?  At the same time, he provided all the spiritual gifts needed to manage the emergency as it was underway as well as after the gunshots stopped.

Christmas is typically considered a time of great joy, yet in Newton, Connecticut, joy is accompanied by unbelievable pain.  It takes the enormity of God’s love, distributed by his children through an enormous range of spiritual gifts, to take a community—even a nation—through the process of healing.

Verse two of the litany:

Jesus loves me!  This I know,

                           as he loved so long ago,

                           taking children on his knee,

                           saying, “Let them come to me.”

God so loved the world that he gave his only son.  God as the Holy Spirit gives us spiritual fruit that enriches our lives dramatically.  God also gives us the spiritual gifts that allow us to interact with others to take the children on our knees or to preserve this earth or to love one another in as many different ways as we can to transform this world.

While the joy of living can sometimes be sucked out of our souls, we also know that the pain is temporary, even if it is never forgotten.  We accept God’s grace, we accept the garden he has provided us, and we experience the joy of our earthly lives while anticipating the unlimited joy of our heavenly life.

Verse three of the litany:

Jesus loves me still today,

                           walking with me on my way,

                           wanting as a friend to give

                           light and love to all who live.

This is Christmas.  We are responsible to accept all of God’s gifts and then do all that we can to give light and love to all who live.  If our Christmas celebration can turn on just one more light for God, then the tragedies in this world can lead to transformations in so many lives around this world.

So remember the chorus:

Yes, Jesus loves me! 

                           Yes, Jesus loves me!

                           Yes, Jesus loves me!

                           The Bible tells me so.

We walk through the days of Advent anticipating the coming of Christ, but the Bible tells us that God sent his son over 2,000 years ago, the gifts of our spiritual fruits and of our spiritual gifts are to keep Jesus alive in our world today.  If we don’t, how can the tragedies of this world become transformed?  If we don’t, how can the little children reach Jesus’ knees?  Please join me in prayer:

Dear Loving Father, giver of gifts,

         Today we ask you to bring 20 little children into your lap.  We ask you to include those caring educators who also risked everything to protect these tiny souls.

         Today, in the midst of Advent, we know there are others who have lost the joy in their lives.  Hold them in your arms, let them cry, and then wipe their eyes so they may see your love.

         Today help us to open our own spiritual gifts so we, too, may serve as your earthly servants.  Teach us how to use the gifts in order to love one another and to preserve this worldwide garden.  May our gifts reach out to others who have yet to accept your gifts so the Holy Spirit’s fruits may enrich their lives and they, too, become the children of God.

         Hear our words of our prayers and the hymns as we thank you for the gifts you have given us.  May we work in your name so that others may see your love:

                           Jesus loves me!  This I know,

                           for the Bible tells me so. …

                           Jesus loves me!  This I know,

                           as he loved so long ago.  …

                           Jesus loves me still today;

                           walking with me on my way,

                           wanting as a friend to give

                           light and love to all who live.         –Amen

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