Tag Archives: spiritual gifts

Why is simple complicated?

given on Sunday, July 16, 2017

Scripture connections:

Opening: Romans 5:10-11, NLT

10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

 Sermon scriptures:

Romans 11:3-6, NLT

Elijah the prophet complained to God about the people of Israel and said, “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”[a]

And do you remember God’s reply? He said, “No, I have 7,000 others who have never bowed down to Baal!”[b]

It is the same today, for a few of the people of Israel[c] have remained faithful because of God’s grace—his undeserved kindness in choosing them. And since it is through God’s kindness, then it is not by their good works. For in that case, God’s grace would not be what it really is—free and undeserved.

Romans 12:1-2, NLT

And so, dear brothers and sisters,[a] I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.[b] Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Romans 12:9-18, NLT

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection,[a] and take delight in honoring each other. 11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.[b]12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

Closing: Romans 16:17-20, NLT

17 And now I make one more appeal, my dear brothers and sisters. Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them. 18 Such people are not serving Christ our Lord; they are serving their own personal interests. By smooth talk and glowing words they deceive innocent people. 19 But everyone knows that you are obedient to the Lord. This makes me very happy. I want you to be wise in doing right and to stay innocent of any wrong. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. May the grace of our Lord Jesus[a] be with you.

 Reflection: Why is simple complicated?

One of my favorite cookies is a ‘no-bake’ cookie. Not only does it have all the chocolate one could possibly want, but also it does not include the extra work of baking them, especially on hot summer days. The no-bake cookie is simple, right? Well, the name of the cookie may be somewhat misleading.

In a similar manner being a Christian is really simple, too. How difficult is it to remember the new law versus the Ten Commandments of the old law? Surely being Christian is simple. Love God. Love one another.

When God decided to send Jesus with a much less complicated law, those who were faithful may have understood the Ten Commandments; but religious leaders had continued to add layers of rules to their lifestyle that complicated faithful living and could have lead one to breaking a law that they may not have even known existed.

Being faithful was not simple.

Jesus delivered a simple way to be faithful: Love God first, then love one another as you want to be loved. How simple can it get? Yet we tend to complicate even the new law. Paul knew the complicated law of the Jewish faith, so when he began his work sharing the new law delivered by Jesus, he wrote letters to keep encouraging the young churches.

Paul referred back to the ancient prophet Elijah about how God had not forgotten his people even though it may have felt like it. God does not forget the faithful Jewish people; he just tried to simplify their laws by sending Jesus to demonstrate how to live a faithful life. Paul’s letter goes into detail about the personal responsibility of all new disciples—whether Jew or Gentile:

  • 12:1 give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you.
  • 12:2 let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.
  • 12:3 Don’t think you are better than you really are.

 

Being a Christian should be simple, but we tend to complicate lives by what we do and do not do.

Paul continues to explain to the Roman church that God has given us each gifts to use: prophecy to speak out with faith; gift of serving; the gift of teaching, gifts of encouraging, giving, and showing kindness. The list is not complete, it simply lists a few of the skills God gives us to use in our lives, but we tend to complicate our lives with some very negative behaviors as Paul goes on to explain:

  • 12:9 Don’t just pretend to love others.. . . Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.
  • 12:10 Love. . with genuine affection and . . .honor each other.
  • 12:11 Never be lazy. . .
  • 12:12 . . . be ready to help . . . eager to practice hospitality.

 

The list details the simple law of loving one another. Sadly, though we can be criticized for what we do, but living simply means ignoring those who “persecute you” and as Paul says in 12:16-17:

 

Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

 

Just like no-bake cookies. The name makes the cookie sound easy, but the instructions do not always include the difficult tweaks that good cooks know make the cookie so scrumptious or how to make them extra special with secret ingredients.

Paul listed the special instructions so the Gentiles could live in community with the Jews who had generations of instruction in living faithfully. The Jewish faithful had to have the special instructions so they could adjust to a simpler lifestyle and not judge the Gentiles. We, too, need to read through Paul’s letters to remember how to live faithfully, also.

Ask the best cooks you know what the secret is to their no-bake cookies and you will get a list of suggestions just as Paul’s letters provide a range of suggestions to the various churches. In Romans, he begins wrapping up his letters with a few other points:

  • Chapter 13: “Respect for authority”
  • Chapter 14: “The Danger of Criticism”
  • Chapter 15: “Living to Please Others

 

And then he concludes the letter with personal notes and plans. These last chapters are like the special notes the experienced cooks write in the margins of their recipes—some even dating when they made the recipe and for whom it was made.

My no-bake cookies are seldom the same any two times. Why? I tweak the recipe based on what ingredients I have available, who the eaters are, and even the time I spend on making them. And what are the notes along my recipe card? The most critical one is to let it boil at least 3 minutes. My favorite tweak is peanut butter added to the recipe. I have even changed it to a non-chocolate no-bake cookie, but it is not greeted as favorably as a dark chocolate version is.

Being a faithful Christian should be easy with God’s new law delivered by Jesus Christ. Why, then, do we seem to make it so difficult? Paul knew personally the extent of the law’s change, and he did whatever he could to encourage the new church to live simply. In our personal lives, we must spend some time evaluating our own practices. Are we living faithfully? Are we respecting each other? Are we demonstrating our gifts in all the ways that we can to love one another?

The recipe may sound easy since it says “no-bake cookies,” but the more we develop our discipleship as Christians, we learn how to tweak the law to make the best Christians we can of ourselves. We need to work to be better. We also need to work together to be the church God asks us to be. When we fail, then we need to reread the recipe and try again. The result will be worth the reward.

Closing prayer

Dear God,

You have delivered us a message, a recipe for faithfulness.

Generations have preserved the simple instructions,

But we look for ways to make them even easier to follow.

 

Just like excellent cooks know, the simplest recipes

Need practice to reach perfection.

Guide us in following your words so we too may reach perfection.

 

Help us to toss out what has not worked

And to try again to find the best ways to love one another

And to carry your message to others in our community.

 

Open our hearts so we can love freely.

Open our minds so we can learn from our mistakes.

Open our doors to all your children who seek

life now and life eternal

with you, our father,

with Jesus Christ your son,

and with the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

 

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Pentecost’s purposes to ignite God’s people, church

given on Pentecost Sunday, June 4, 2017

 

Scripture connection:

 Opening scripture: Acts 2:1-4, NLT

On the day of Pentecost[a] all the believers were meeting together in one place.Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages,[b] as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.

 

Scripture connection:

John 7:37-39, NLT

37 On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! 38 Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’”[a]39 (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given,[b] because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory.)

 

John 20:19-23, NLT

19 That Sunday evening[a] the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

 

Closing scripture: Psalm 104:31-34, NLT

31 May the glory of the Lord continue forever!
The Lord takes pleasure in all he has made!
32 The earth trembles at his glance;
the mountains smoke at his touch.

33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live.
I will praise my God to my last breath!
34 May all my thoughts be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.

 

Reflection: Pentecost’s purposes to ignite God’s people, church

Summertime is grilling time. Good food takes some work and it takes a good fire to get just the right flavor for summer meals. Personally, I prefer a charcoal grill even though it is somewhat unpredictable and difficult to control. But does that flavor ever make the meat that much better!

The fire that cooks the meat is critical; and without it, the meat never reaches the dinner table. The fire can flame and then be tempered to perfection; or the fire can flame and left unattended, it simply dies out. The cook must be alert and learn how to temper the flame, how hot to keep the coals, and how to manage the meat throughout the grilling process to reach the perfect rare, medium rare, medium well done or well done but certainly not burnt to a crisp.

Flames symbolize the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Baptism through the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-21):

 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,[b] baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

God sent the Holy Spirit to ignite the disciples and the church.

The events of that day were life altering for the disciples, but Pentecost also altered the world’s culture. Pentecost had two purposes. First, each of those disciples gathered in that room were frozen with uncertainty even fear. They had no vision as to what they should do or even whether they should venture out the door. The culture was against them, or at least it seemed that way. The Jewish leaders were after them. The secular world did not want their message. And even the political arena did not provide any protection for this new lifestyle.

Jesus was gone. Certainly there were the Apostles who were suppose to take over the leadership, but they did not seem to know what to do. God stepped in. God baptized each of the Apostles and the other disciples gathered together with the Holy Spirit. God was not only with them, but now within them. The Holy Spirit is God in us, not just above, beside or with us, but in us.

Pentecost surprised the disciples. Suddenly there was an entirely new ability to communicate, a new level of consciousness of God’s presence, all the cultural barriers between the diverse group disappeared. In the midst of the event, the baptism of the Holy Spirit empowered, ignited the disciples to move into action to establish the second purpose of Pentecost—build the church.

The Jewish people practiced worship in the temple. The sacrifices, the prayers, and the hymns were part of the faith practices that in effect led to Jesus’ crucifixion. The followers of Jesus did not have an identifiable worship center, nor did it have the hymns. Jesus had changed all the rules and even the non-Jewish, the Gentiles, were now part of the faith group following Jesus and he was gone.

God needed a church. He needed the disciples to establish faith communities so The Word could continue to be taught, to share God’s teachings and expectations, and to grow the ministry beyond the immediate region along the Mediterranean Sea. Now it was time to send the disciples out to carry out Jesus’ work.

Pentecost ignited God’s people into action. The earliest disciples spread out from that room and began sharing the message with others in as many different ways as they could. The baptism of the Holy Spirit empowered the followers to use their own skills and talents to do all that they could in any way that they could to teach about God: to care for the sick, to feed the hungry, to protect the children and others who unable to care for themselves, and also to live their own productive lives as citizens of the world.

The new faithful demonstrated how Christianity worked in a world challenged by the political and business world around them. They faced the challenges of hate crimes, of greed, of political turmoil, and held on to the promises Jesus made that those who confessed their sins, were baptized by water and the Spirit, and lived by the Golden Rule would receive eternal life.

Without the Holy Spirit’s presence within the lives of these disciples, the second purpose of Pentecost would not have developed. The Church is the result of Pentecost. Remember the definition of Pentecost:

Pentecost is the day on which the Christian church commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and others assembled in Jerusalem. It marks the beginning of the Christian church and the proclamation of its message throughout the world and is often referred to as the birthday of the church. (Glossary: Pentecost n.d.)

 

The Holy Spirit ignited the Church. Since that fiftieth day after Jesus arose from the grave, the Church began growing.

Today the Christian faith circles the globe. The history is not easy to follow, but the work of the disciples has continued to carry God’s message forward—along the paths and the routes around the globe. The message continues with little regard to the thousands of years the calendar records. The work of the faithful continues to teach, to heal, to feed, to clothe, and to befriend men and women who are neighbors, friends, co-workers, strangers, and yes, family.

The fire of the Holy Spirit has ignited each one of God’s disciples. The newest disciples work right alongside the oldest ones to continue God’s work. The Holy Spirit knows no exhaustion. The Holy Spirit equips each and every follower with skills that can be used to serve one another in love. The Holy Spirit connects faithful Christians around this world and even with those who have been and are yet to come. This group of followers makes up the body of the church yet today.

Is our church alive with the Holy Spirit?

Is the flame being well tended in our small community?

When guests arrive at the table, does the meal feed them?

Today we join at God’s table to share in the bread and the cup and it is always open to anybody and everybody who confesses their sins and accepts Jesus as their savior. That openness is what God asks from each of us in all that we do. With the power of the Holy Spirit, we do so that God can reach all children in one way or another.

Today, at the table, look at the world with God’s eyes and know that you are to tend the fire so that everybody is ready to be with God throughout eternity. You are filled with skills and talents by the power of the Holy Spirit, so use them in any way that you can to share God’s love with all you can. Do not let the fire snuff out.

Closing prayer:

Dear God, our Creator, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit,

 

Today we join together in worship

Remembering those earliest disciples

Frightened and uncertain without Jesus.

 

Today we thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit

That ignited those disciples to carry the Word

Outside the closed doors so others heard the story.

 

Today we stop to reflect on how the Holy Spirit

Continues to work in our own lives

And through the church to which we belong.

 

Today we confess that we fail to keep the fire

Of the Holy Spirit burning brightly

In our lives and in the life of our church.

 

Today we ask you to reignite us

As we share in the bread and the cup

So that we can continue to grow in faith.

 

Today we ask you to speak to us

With how to tend your fire personally

And as a community of your faithful.

 

Today, God, fill us up.

Today, Jesus, teach us.

Today, Holy Spirit, ignite us. –Amen

 

Works Cited

Glossary: Pentecost. United Methodist Communicaiton. http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/glossary-pentecost (accessed June 2, 2017).

The Life Application Bible. Vol. NIV. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.

The United Methodist Hymnal. Nashville, TN: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989.

 

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The Gifts of Christmas: Open and use

given on January 4, 2015

 

Have you finished putting away all the decorations and gifts, washed the new clothes, played with the toys, and read all the books? Surely not.

The calendar indicates a new year, and just a few days into the year, I bet many New Year Resolutions have already been discarded. In fact, how many of you have really even written down resolutions?

Think about how Christmas today tends to signal the end rather than the beginning. Because we live on a 12 month calendar that begins in January and ends in December, the tendency is to end not begin. Yet consider that gifts that the Wise Men/Magi brought the Baby Jesus. Did that visit demonstrate an ending or a beginning?

A year ago, the Epiphany Sunday’s sermon was also about the gifts the Wise Men brought to the Baby Jesus: gold, frankincense and myrrh. The symbolic meaning linked the gifts to the prophecies and the nature of the baby. Gold represents royalty. Frankincense, culturally, established the connection to God as it was used to lift prayers to God. And, finally, the myrrh signified the humanness of Jesus since it was used in burial.

These three gifts hold symbolic significance in the story of Christmas, but do these gifts get opened? Knowing that the beautiful packages under the tree are filled with all types of wonders is one thing, but when they are opened are they used?

God’s gift of his son was the end of an era. The Law of the Old Testament no longer was working. The Old Stories were known, recited, but unused, as God had intended that they be used. Even the prophecies were not effective. A new era began that first Christmas with God’s gift of his son. The hosts of angels announced it to the shepherds and the Wise Men showed they knew by the gifts they brought to the baby.

Did these gifts sit unopened and unused? Did people believe the news the shepherds shared? What happened after that first weekend, that first week, or even the first year? Did God’s gift get opened and used or not?

Unlike gifts we wrap and put under the trees for our family and friends, the gift of a baby could not provide an immediate change. The very nature of humanity is that the baby has to grow and to learn before joining the adult world and contributing to society. The Baby Jesus needed almost 30 years to be ‘opened and used.’

Have you opened and used God’s gift to you? Have you considered even opening the gifts God gave you personally and use them? Have you kept your gifts secret and not share them with the ones you love? Have you found ways to use God’s gifts daily or have you discovered that they are worn out and need fixing or replacing?

Gift giving is a cultural or social practice. Yet, God’s gifts are born within us. Sometimes it is difficult to see the gifts and know how to open them, but all gifts have value when opened and used. God’s gift of his son was opened and in the three years of his ministry, an era closed and a new era opened. As cruel as society was to Jesus, the gift was opened and used and even destroyed; but the result was phenomenal.

The Christian faith has grown and grown throughout the centuries and into the millenniums. The people who opened God’s gift and used it did not have an easy life. Many were martyred. Many were imprisoned. Many were censured. Yet, God’s gift continues—as long as it is used.

The new era continues, as long as God’s gift continues to live by the gift giving we continue now. God gives each one of us special gifts to use and it is up to us to open and to use them. When we do, with the purpose of continuing to share God’s gift with others, the era continues to move forward.

Remember the lesson on spiritual gifts that Paul shared with the Corinthians? In I Corinthians 12, Paul talks about the gifts each person has and even goes on to explain how it works to share God’s love and how each person working with others continues sharing God’s love.

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.

A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice[b]; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge.[c] The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. 10 He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages,[d] while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. 11 It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.

These are the gifts, have we opened and used them? Are we so worn out that we quit using them? Are we guiding the next generation in how to use their gifts? Have we kept the gifts carefully wrapped up and unopened over the years?

Our responsibility, as a new year begins, is to make sure all the gifts are opened and used. Maybe we are tired, but we can teach others our skills so they can carry them forward. We can share what we know with others and then let them find new ways to use the gifts, too. During the next few weeks, we will review some of the very basics of Christianity. We are a generation ready to let the next generation open their gifts.

Let the fun begin! We know the generations have opened and used their gifts from God so all the millenniums’ generations can receive the greatest gift of all—God’s love. Paul knew how important it is for all to work together:

27 All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. 28 Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church:

first are apostles,
second are prophets,
third are teachers,
then those who do miracles,
those who have the gift of healing,
those who can help others,
those who have the gift of leadership,
those who speak in unknown languages.

29 Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? 30 Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! 31 So you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts.

God sent his gift to us so that we might know God’s love now and forever. He also gave each of us special gifts to use. Have we opened the gifts and used them? Have we worn them out and need to replace them or to fix them? Or, is it time to see the new gifts around us, open them and use them.

As we begin using a new year, let us resolve to use all the gifts we have and we see around us to continue sharing the ultimate gift—God’s love. The time is now! The need is now! Let us have fun opening the gifts and putting them to use. The era continues and God’s love grows.

Please join me in a closing prayer:

Dear Loving and Giving Father,

Thank you for the gift of your love

with the birth of your son.

Thank you for announcing the news of his birth

with the host of angels.

Thank you for guiding the Wise Men to the stall

with gifts telling the secrets of who the baby is.

As we begin a new year, we resolve to open and use

gifts that you give us upon our birth.

Guide us through the year as we learn how to use,

to share, and to give so others receive your love.

Our gift to you is the sharing of your love

as we work to transform our community with your gifts.

–Amen.

 

 

 

 

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Unwrapping God’s Gifts

given on Sunday, December 23, 2012, the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Only two more days remain until Christmas.  Are you ready?  I still have chores to do, not to mention cooking my portion of the Christmas dinner.  Then there are the gifts to wrap, and a few to deliver.  I even need to finish up the Christmas cards—sure hope I can get them postmarked at least the day before Christmas.

Why in the world does all this matter?  The Christian celebration of Christmas has exploded into a thousand plus one expectation.   The reason for the season remains wrapped up in one package—the Bible.  The gift wrapping so often remains untouched with it just sitting there looking pretty.  Are we afraid to open it up?  Yet, it is just the first layer of wrapping and inside that package is all the gift of life one ever really needs.

Have you tried opening up God’s gifts?

Have you been afraid of opening them up?

Have you opened them, put them away, and forgotten about them?

Have you honestly accepted them and put them to use?

Have you used them to give to others?

The first gift is God’s grace.  Have you accepted that gift?  Are you confident in knowing God’s grace is always with you?  As easy as it is to say, accepting God’s grace means modeling it, too.  Do you accept others with grace, knowing that person is also one of God’s children who receive just as much grace as you do?  Do you demonstrate God’s grace in the day-to-day interactions with people?

Unwrapping God’s gift of grace should be simple, but it really is not.  Receiving gifts can be uncomfortable.  Maybe it is from someone you did not know, and you do not think you should accept it.  Consider how many do not know God, maybe this is why they don’t choose to accept His grace.

Maybe accepting a gift from someone is awkward because you do not have anything to give back to him or her.  Look around the community.  Do you think that is a possibility why some do not step into church and accept God’s grace?  Is it possible that accepting God’s grace appears only to be done inside a church?

When giving a gift, the excitement of giving is not connected to getting a gift back.  Rather, giving a gift brings joy into the givers heart.  Isn’t that what God’s gift giving all about?  Doesn’t He give and give without asking anything in return?  But what happens when someone accepts God’s gift of grace?

God’s gift of grace, when accepted and re-gifted, turns into a force that cannot fit into any one box.  By re-gifting God’s grace, we continue to see other lives transformed.  Certainly simply accepting God’s gift does not mean the real life issues simply disappear, but it does mean that more of God’s gifts appear.

Unwrapping that first gift of grace leads to accepting the other gifts that come with it.  Remember the fruit basket?  The cellophane wrapping the fruit basket allows others to see all that is in it.  Unfortunately it can also keep anybody from tasting the wonders wrapped up in it.

God’s gift of the Holy Spirit’s fruit has two ways of enriching one’s life.  First, by accepting the gift the shift in the health of the receiving party’s life is quickly transformed.  The Holy Spirit’s fruit can be consumed, but it cannot be destroyed.  Those nine fruits can take a non-believer whose life is bitter, unhappy, filled with self-pity, and miserable and change that non-believer into a young Christian who becomes excited about life.

The Bible shares story after story of how faithful followers of God managed difficult life situations and did not see the bad side of life, only the good side.  The Old Testament stories may not always seem fruitful, but consider if the ancient leaders had not understood the value of the Holy Spirit’s fruits.  Would we have the literature of the Bible?  Would we have examples of living a God-centered life?

The nine fruits wrapped up in that basket are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Reading through the Bible, we can find stories that demonstrate how these nine fruits have created rich and rewarding lives of the earliest believers right on through Paul’s congregants who accepted God’s grace and were given the additional gifts of the Holy Spirit’s fruit.

Where does that leave us, hear over 2,000 years later?  Paul was able to accept a life-transforming experience on the road to Damascus, are we?  We can say we have accepted God’s grace and believe in him, but does our everyday living prove that?  We can feel like we have accepted the fruits of the Holy Spirit because we feel good about our lives; but do we live our lives as though they are filled with these fruits or do we complain, whine, moan, and act out as though we have no evidence of these fruits?

Unwrapping God’s gift of grace is the first step, but unwrapping the Holy Spirit’s fruit takes opening one more set of gifts—the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Each and every individual around this globe has special gifts.  The list is lengthy and often identified in a variety of terms, but these gifts are those “supernatural powers” that God gives each and every person.  These powers must be opened in order for us to continue giving God’s gifts to others.

Each day we step out our doors and enter into the community, we use these gifts.  These gifts may fit our daily roles and us so well we do not even realize that they are God’s gifts.  The gifts of the Holy Spirit shine out as we do the daily chores, as we step into our jobs, as we meet and greet one another, as we enjoy our hobbies, and as we raise our families.

There is no way in which one can use up the gifts as long as the gifts are used.  There is no way that one can hide the gifts and enjoy the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  There is no way that one can ignore the gifts and still reach out to others with God’s grace.

God’s gifts of the Holy Spirit are the very keys to living a productive Christian life.  We must unwrap our gifts and know that we are giving God’s grace to others because we have a purpose in our life that uses these gifts.  We know that our gifts make it possible for us to fulfill our purpose in life in all kinds of ways.

Imagine a world where there is no one who is gifted with leadership to guide us in our communities, our jobs, or our various interests:

  • Try to picture the world without artists and musicians and authors not using their spiritual gifts to share their understanding of spiritual fruit.
  • How could others learn about God if there were no teachers?
  • What would happen if there were no workers whose spiritual gift is to complete the last minor details of a project with love in their hearts?
  • Would we be able to unwrap the spiritual fruits in this earthly life to demonstrate what a difference God’s grace makes in our lives?

Life would be so difficult if we fail to unwrap all of God’s gifts.

On Christmas Day, ask yourself:  Did I unwrap God’s gift?  Do I live my life so others may know how much I value God’s gifts?  Do I truly believe that Jesus Christ is God’s son?  Do I understand that the Holy Spirit’s fruit is opened upon accepting God’s gift of his son?  Do I accept the spiritual gifts that God has given me so that I may give gifts to others?  Do I want to see the world transformed by God’s grace?

Unwrapping God’s gift is not really done on December 25.  Unwrapping God’s gift is ongoing.  We must continue reading the Bible to find direction.  We must accept the fact that God loved us so much that he did send his only Son, Jesus Christ Emmanuel, the Messiah, so that each one of us will receive the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  We must also accept the spiritual gifts we each possess in order to demonstrate God’s grace by serving.  In serving, we continue the cycle of giving God’s love to one another in order to transform the world.  And, in the end, we receive God’s ultimate gift of life everlasting.  Death on this earth is not the end but eternal life is the gift unwrapped and given forever.

Dear Loving God,

Thank you for the gift of grace.

Thank you for loving your children

     so much you sent your one and only son

     to teach us about the spiritual fruits

     received when we believe.

Thank you for gifting each and every one

     of your children with special powers

     so that we may share your grace with others.

Guide us as we open the gifts under our trees

     so that we may give gifts year round;

     loving one another

     working to transform the world.

Consecrate each of us so we can step out

     into a world filled with darkness.

Let your light shine out so brightly

     that others will be lifted out of darkness

     to open your gifts themselves.         –Amen

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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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