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This week I have had the opportunity to meet a sweet young woman who is battling cancer.  She is a single mom with three children under the age of 10.  We are partnering with her work family to take her meals, to visit with her, and pray.  Needless to say, she has been a primary topic of conversation with the Father this week.  A couple days ago as I was praying, the story of Jesus healing a woman with a chronic bleeding disorder came to mind.  The story is found in both Mark and Luke’s gospels.  Here it is from Luke.

“Luke 8:42a As Jesus went with him, he was surrounded by the crowds.  43 A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding, and she could find no cure. 44 Coming up behind Jesus, she touched the fringe of his robe. Immediately, the bleeding stopped.  45 Who touched me?” Jesus asked. Everyone denied it, and Peter said, “Master, this whole crowd is pressing up against you.” 46 But Jesus said, Someone deliberately touched me, for I felt healing power go out from me.” 47 When the woman realized that she could not stay hidden, she began to tremble and fell to her knees in front of him. The whole crowd heard her explain why she had touched him and that she had been immediately healed. 48 Daughter, he said to her, your faith has made you well. Go in peace.””
I have prayed for healing for many people.  There have been miraculous healings.  There have been healings in other areas of lives than the physical malady we had begun praying for. There have been healings that have transpired through the efficacy of modern medicine which I take on faith the prayer helped to be effective.  There have been terminally ill patients who in prayer it became clear that ending this life well was the appropriate prayer.  And there has been a very small percentage of times when the results were not what I had hoped for.
Through today’s scripture the Lord showed me a new and crucial element of prayer for people who are ill.  Notice that the woman didn’t ask Jesus for healing.  She didn’t come to him with an elaborate petition for healing or a list of reasons she should be healed.  There was not an elaborate process followed to gain his attention and favor.  No, there was really only one thing she felt essential to be made whole.  She needed to get close to Jesus.  Close enough to touch the fringe of His clothing.  Her faith was in Jesus and proximity to Jesus brought about the flow of His healing power.
That’s it.  It is as simple as that – draw close to Jesus and let Him do what He will do.  Jesus is in the “making whole” business.  But be aware, to be made whole by Jesus will encompass much more than just healing from an illness.  He who created us body, soul, and spirit is interested in the totality of our lives.  He wants to perform a transformation in us in it’s entirety, not just on the surface.
This is liberating to me as an intercessor.  I have always known it was Jesus who heals, but I have at times taken on a degree of responsibility that I had to pray it through, that I needed to fast and intercede sufficiently, that I needed to have the right faith to see the healing happen.
I remember a fairly long season of prayer for a 20 year old son of a work friend who was diagnosed with leukemia.  We surrounded the family and prayed and he went into remission.  “Yeah God!”  It was but about 2 years later that it returned.  This time they determined he required a bone marrow transplant.  No match was found so he went through the auto marrow transplant where his own bone marrow was removed, it was radiated to kill all cancer, and then put back into his body.  He seemed to be doing fine and then he picked up an infection.  With no white blood cells to fight off the infection he slipped into a coma.  I felt guilty because I had not kept this young man high on my prayer list.  When he slipped into a coma I joined the prayer team interceding for his healing.  I remember getting daily updates and praying each and every day.  This went on for 40 days.  Amazingly he hung on in that coma.  He did not seem to deteriorate, but as the doctors began telling us, he wasn’t improving and he had to improve.
The break-through came about day 40.  I remember crying out to the Lord from my hotel room in Montreal.  It was in the evening and I looked up at the ceiling because that about how far it felt my prayers for Chase’s healing were going, bouncing off the ceiling and coming back to me.  As I looked up, spiritually worn out, I asked a different question, “Lord, what would you have me pray?”  “Pray for Chase’s mom, that she will release Chase to come home.”  Suddenly the whole prayer changed.  Instead of feeling like I was pushing against a wall, I had a real sense of being aligned with the will of the Father.  Joy and peace filled me and prayer flowed.
It was only a day or two later and the Mom’s prayer request suddenly changed.  Apparently she to had heard from the Lord because instead of the fervent plea to intercede for his healing, she asked us to pray for the Lord’s will to be done and for peace and strength for the family.  Chase passed a day or two after that.
I know the Lord heals.  The story above is one where the healing was Chase going home to be in the closer presence of the Lord.  For others He will touch them with healing as evidence of His love and power on this side of the veil.  In either case, the goal is the same, to draw us closer to Jesus and cause us to grow in our relationship with Him.
Closer to Jesus – it has become the cornerstone of my prayer for healing.
Closer to Jesus – it is the ultimate goal.
Closer to Jesus – where we live and move and have our being.
Closer to Jesus – it’s who we were created to be.
Closer to Jesus.  Close enough to touch Him.  Close enough to be touched by Him.
Be blessed today my friend.

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We desperately need healing in our nation.  Historians, Statesmen, and even our Lord Jesus have pointed out that division precedes destruction.  A nation divided, like a house divided, shall soon fall.  A look back in history shows us that the greatest danger to a thriving nation is internal division and strife.  Ancient Rome was one of the greatest nations the world has known, controlling most of the civilized world of its day.  Civilization flourished and stretched its influence across Asia, Europe, and Africa.  But the soul of the nation became corrupt.  Division, strife, intrigue, assassination, and disunity weakened the resolve of the people.  Moral decay left a nation that had once been a nation of laws and nationalistic spirit a giant with a weakened will to fight.  When Rome fell, the Dark Ages ensued.

There are several touch points in our nation that should give us pause.  There is a radical element that has risen inciting protests, disobedience, violence, and even anarchy.  This has been highly publicized, perhaps even with a favorable slant in the media, to the point that the greater portion of the public has chosen sides.  Polarization has occurred and continues to do so as greater focus is given to the “protests” and little effort seems to be taking place to move in the direction of reconciliation.  This is madness.  At the very least it threatens our position in the world as a just and compassionate “leading nation”.  At the worst, and it is a plausible worst, it threatens our security as a nation founded “under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”.

I have been praying for our nation, asking God for healing and for guidance.  It has been my experience that God will guide our prayers when we offer them up in faith.  Last week as I was seeking the Lord’s face, I sensed that I needed to pray for empathy… for myself and for people across this land.  We need to gain a perspective of the issues we are arguing about from the other side’s point of view.  As I have done so, I have seen an interesting thing happen within my heart.  Instead of perceiving all the protestors in a totally negative light, I can begin to see them as human beings with real hurts, fears, and concerns… people a lot like me.  People who have not had the same life experiences as me, therefore they do not have the same worldview.  We live in the same pluralistic nation, but we see it differently.  The only way for us to coexist is for us to have a large degree of compassion for one another that isn’t predicated upon our belief system, our political views, our skin color, our gender… upon the differences between us.

Our differences do not have to divide us.  We have always had differences in this nation.  Our nation was founded as 13 distinct and highly autonomous colonies.  They had major differences.  Our constitution is indeed a marvelous document written to forge a single nation of these distinctly different states.  It leaves significant room for the different expression of beliefs and values of the people while establishing a foundation of law and joining us as a single nation.  And we have persevered as a nation for over 240 years, through good and bad times, with strong dissention and disunity on occasion, with a civil war and many periods of internal turmoil.  But we have remained one, united nation.  Not uniform, but united.  I take four things from this high-level view of our history.  1) There is an enemy, a spiritual enemy whose tool is strife and division, who wants this nation to fall.  2) There is a spiritual protector whose tool is love and compassion, who wants this nation to exist and succeed.  3) There has been, and I believe still is, a divine reason for this nation in the world.  4) It is incumbent upon followers of God to seek His guidance, wisdom, and help in healing this land and fulfilling the purpose for this nation.  2 Chronicles 7:14 are the key verse that we, the Church should be heeding.  “if my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

As the Church, as people who have been rescued by Jesus’ love, as people who once were enemies of God through our sin and disobedience, we should be taking the lead in seeking reconciliation and healing.  Our first step is prayer.  Our second step is empathy.  We need to open the dialogue with people with whom we disagree.  We need to hear their perspective.  We should work toward understanding why they believe what they believe.  And we should understand why we believe what we believe as well.  The Prayer of Saint Francis is a good model.

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand;

to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

 

What I am proposing is not the easy thing to do.  It is counter to the current mood portrayed in images on our TV screens and computer monitors.  It is not aligned with the ever-increasing rhetoric I am seeing in social media.  But as I seek the Father’s heart, it seems to be aligned with what the Spirit is whispering to me… “Blessed are the peacemakers…”  “Love covers a multitude of sins…”  “You will know them by their love…”

Friends, please join me in praying for healing in our nation.  And follow that up by asking the Lord to provide opportunities to engage others in civil discussion.  Seek to understand their perspective.  And ask the Lord to help you understand, and when appropriate, articulate your point of view.  While the media may continue to highlight the strife, let us humbly and quietly seek the common ground, the healing, and uniting that I believe the Lord desires.  When we do, we will also see doors open for the Gospel to be shared and God will get the glory.

Be blessed today.  And be a blessing.

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Start your day with the Bible in One Year, a Bible reading app with commentary by Nicky and Pippa Gumbel. Nicky Gumbel is the Vicar of HTB in London and pioneer of Alpha. ‘My favourite way to start the day.’ – Bear Grylls, Adventurer

Source: Bible In One Year 2017

Hi Friends,

I intend on reading through the bible this year and I am going to use this devotional from You Version to help me stay on track.  I’d love for you to join me.  I am getting a little head start because I know there will be times I miss a day.  This will give me a little cushion for those days.

Be blessed today and be a blessing.

Dan

 

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“For God so loved the World that He gave…”  (John 3:16) Jesus is God’s most precious and most amazing gift.  The fact that Jesus condescended at all is the most humbling gift imaginable.  He, Who had always existed in splendid community with His Father, left heaven to come to a world that was beneath Him in every way.  Yet He came to offer every single person the absolute best there is – a restored relationship with the Father, and an intimacy with the Lord that enlivens life in the best of ways and puts everything into proper perspective.

In coming to earth, dying for the sins of the world, and rising to new life, Jesus began something totally new.  He created the Church – the Body of Christ present in the world today.  For every individual who comes to faith, Jesus puts His Holy Spirit inside them.  The Holy Spirit is a seal of our redemption and a very present Helper in living the life of faith in God.  Jesus spoke extensively about the role of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life in the hours just prior to His crucifixion.  See John 14:15-31, 15:26-16:15.  Practically the first thing He did after His resurrection was impart the Holy Spirit upon His closest followers.  John 20:22 reads “And with that He (Jesus) breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

In our continuing study of the gifts of the Holy Spirit we have focused upon writings from three different epistles written by the Apostle Paul – Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4.  In all three of these passages Paul discourses on Gifts of the Holy Spirit.  The lists of the gifts in these verses contain some overlap, but each also contains unique gifts.  One element that is present in all three is the imagery of the Body of Christ being the bearer of, and reason for, the gifts of the Spirit to exist.  The Gifts of the Spirit are alluded to indirectly in a few other places, but these three chapters give the deepest and most comprehensive discussion of the Gifts of the Spirit.

As I have done in the last two blogs, I am going to include the teaching notes from our lessons on the Gifts of the Spirit.  I begin with some open-ended questions and then we move into the Bible Study on the Gifts.  I encourage you to use these as part of a personal bible study or perhaps a small group study.  I know I was lead to new insights on God’s empowerment of the Body through the study and my personal walk has been strengthened.  I pray that this will do the same for you.

Body of Christ as the Recipient of the Gifts of the Spirit

  • Have you ever been part of a team? 
  • What were the positives of being on that team? 
  • What were the less desirable aspects of being on a team?

Read:

  • 1 Corinthians 12: 1 – 11
  • Romans 12:3-5,
  • Ephesians 4:3-7 & 15-16
  • 1 Cor 12, Verses 12 – 27

How is the Church like a human body?

  • One Body.  Not two… not many…
  • Many parts, but ONE Body.

Why do you think Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, used the imagery of a body?

  • One Body.  Not a team… Not an Organization… Not a Committee… A living organism, a BODY.
  • Not just any Body.  The BODY of Christ.
  • Central nervous system.  With what we now know about the body we can see the Holy Spirit living in the believer is like the central nervous system transferring vital information back and form between the brain / head (Christ is the “Head” of the Body) and all the varied organs and members of the body (That’s us, the Church)
  • White blood cells. The body has a defensive mechanism living and working inside it.  The Holy Spirit serves in a similar role with the Body of Christ.
  • The interdependence of the parts. No part of the Body can live apart and independent from the other parts.  The maximized capability of the body is when all parts are healthy and performing it’s intended role.
  • The body will not survive without several of the parts.  There are organs of our physical body that we cannot live without… heart, brain, spine, etc.  Some of the gifts of the Spirit are supernatural enabling that the Body of Christ must have… apostles, pastors, teachers, leaders, etc.
  • The body can be ill, but still survive.  There are maladies that can and will affect the Body.  Steps can be taken to help the body remain healthy, but we don’t always take those steps and we will at times succumb to illness.
  • Life and death are potential states for the body.  Life is a matter of the body parts functioning.  The imagery here is a little more of a stretch, but when taken in context of Jesus resurrection, there is a picture of the body living through death… like the Phoenix rising from the ashes of death.

What key attributes does Paul exhort his readers to strive for in these verses?

Humility, gentleness, patience, love, seeking of unity, accepting of diversity, empathy

Why are these attributes so important in a body?

The Body of Christ is a diverse conglomeration of parts.  The world tends to emphasize our differences, to puff up pride, and promote a self-centered world view.  Isolation, whether as an individual or small group, is the antithesis of the unity pictured in a healthy, fully functioning body.

What are the outcomes of all the members of the body functioning as they are designed?

  • Not uniformity, but unity.
  • Not all the same, but each valued and vital.
  • The roles are varied.  The parts are varied.  The gifts and abilities are varied.  The whole body knit together accomplishes far more than the capabilities of each part alone.

Read Ephesians 4:1-16

Christ Himself gave:

  • Apostles
  • Prophets
  • Evangelists
  • Pastors
  • Teachers

Imagery of the Body with Christ as the Head.  We are to grow into unity and maturity within the Body of Christ.  Growing in unity means growing more intimate with Him and allowing Him to transform us, to change us.

Every part does its part, its role.

Our role in God’s plan is to draw close to Him, live a life in intimacy with Him, receive His guidance and gifts, and operate in those gifts in obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

We will all fit into God’s plan.  If we submit to Him, He will equip us and lead us in fulfilling our God-ordained destiny.  Since He is sovereign, He already knows what our destiny is.  Since He allows us to exercise free will, He does not force us to walk a certain path.  He knows what is best – His perfect will, but He will work with us wherever we are.  The optimum is consistent and continual obedience.  However, He will work with us whenever we submit to Him and will use us wherever we are when that happens.

One short side story.  There was a co-worker of mine for several years who steadfastly refused to turn to Christ.  He was at times a very difficult person to deal with, but the Lord always, always kept bringing me back to praying for and loving this man.  After he retired he got into serious trouble, was arrested, and sent to prison.  During the time leading up to his being sent to prison he contemplated suicide.  On one particular day he knew he had to make a decision.  Either he was going to walk into his bedroom and end his life or he was going to pick up the old family bible his late wife kept in the living room to see if there was something there that could give him hope.  Fortunately when he walked into his house he turned to the right and picked up the bible.  In it He found a reason for hope.  This prideful man who had lived for himself for 60+ years fell on his knees, repented of his sins, and accepted God’s forgiveness.  Shortly afterwards he headed off to prison for seven years.
I wrote to him in prison.  He was a different man… gentler, softer spoken, broken in good ways, hungry to know Jesus more.  And after he got out I met with him and we had Church.  It was good.  I was blessed to play a role in encouraging him.  The gift of exhortation and encouragement is a Spiritual Gift that God has given me to use for the benefit of the Body.  This story I just shared is 25 years in the making.  Yet God loved my friend enough that He placed people like me in his life to intercede, to encourage, to exhort, and to evangelize.  Today he is walking in freedom and growing in the gifts God has given him to build the Body of Christ.

As we walk in the gifts the Lord has given us, we will become the part of the body we were created to be.  God will not leave us guessing, but rather He will cause confidence to grow as we walk in the Spirit.  He is able to send us counselors and teachers, people who have experienced God’s gifting in the same or similar areas, to help us grow in the gifts we are to walk in.  We are His Body and He is passionate in His Body being whole, healthy, and beautiful.

Be blessed today my friend.  And be the vehicle of God’s blessing in someone else’s life today.

 

 

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Before launching into this study, I want to put it into context.  Sadly, the spiritual gifts can be a controversial topic within the Church.  There are two extremes we can take which, if we hold too tightly to, can cause us to miss the ultimate purpose of the spiritual gifts, which is to build up the Body of Christ and to draw unbelievers.  (See 1 Corinthians 14)

On one hand, we can de-spiritualize the gifts of the Spirit to the point that they are simply natural human traits and capabilities maximized.  In this view we take something that is manifestly a supernatural empowerment of the Holy Spirit and turn it into an ability that we train and build up purely through regular exercise.

On the other hand, we can over-spiritualize the gifts of the Spirit to the extent that every manifestation of the gifts must be connected to an ecstatic event.  We work ourselves up into such a spiritually-heightened state that we are finally ready for the Holy Spirit to fall on us and the mighty works of God can begin.

These extremes are not so much false as they are simply much too narrow to capture God’s purpose in giving the Gifts of the Spirit.  Additionally, these extremes fail to adequately capture the experience within the breadth of the Body today.  The Church and it’s 2 billion adherents experience God’s grace sufficient for life in a broad range of environments and circumstances.  God is continuing His work around the world drawing people to Himself out of every nation, tribe, and people group.  And He does this through His people being obedient to the leading of the Holy Spirit, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and responding to the Holy Spirit.  The work is a collaborative effort between the Spirit of God and the people of God yielded to the Holy Spirit.  Our yielded-ness leads to the Holy Spirit moving in us to accomplish great and mighty things.  Many times that manifests itself in the spiritual gifts.  That is what this study is about.

 

This blog is from the notes I pulled together for our home group study.  I used a few on-line resources (which I will note at different points in the paper) and copious hours reading and praying over the scriptures.  I have been overjoyed to find new insights in the Word as the Lord expanded my understanding of spiritual gifts, particularly with respect to the source and foundation of why He gives them.

For the study, I usually began with general questions to draw us into topic, followed by more directed questions related to the text we were studying.  It is my intent to leave this to aid others who might want to expand upon this for their own study.

A final disclaimer.  Many years ago I entered a bit of a longer fast seeking God’s direction in my life.  I was ready and willing to go into ministry if that’s what the Lord wanted.  At the end of those three days, the Lord spoke very clearly to me.  He said, “Son, I’ve not called you to be a preacher.  I’ve not called you to be a teacher.  I’ve called you to be a man of prayer.  You will preach and you will teach, but first and foremost, you are to be a man of prayer.”

That was around 25 years ago.  I have seen those words played out perfectly in the meantime.  As I share this with you, I do so with a sincere sense that the Lord has made this one of the times when I have been called upon to teach.  Recognizing that teaching is one of the gifts I scored a middle-of-the-pack score on (Spiritual Gifts survey which I will identify later in the study), I can rightly assume that whatever good comes from this is due to the Holy Spirit enlivening it in me and in the reader.  Fortunately, these are spiritual gifts and as such God is able to do abundantly, amazingly, above all we can ask or imagine.  I sit here confident and overflowing with thankfulness that this is true.

 

Key Chapters Discussing Spiritual Gifts

Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4

 

List of Spiritual Gift Possibilities in Key Bible Passages (italics indicates a gift repeated in other places in scripture)

Romans 12

exhortation, giving, leadership, mercy, prophecy, service, teaching

1 Corinthians 12

administration, apostle, discernment, faith, healings, helps – service, knowledge, miracles, prophecy, teaching, tongues, interpretation of tongues. wisdom

Ephesians 4

apostle, evangelism, pastor, prophecy, teaching  

Misc. Passages  (the following are implied as gifts in other scriptures)

celibacy, hospitality, martyrdom, missionary, voluntary poverty

 

OTHER GIFTS FROM THE LORD

Salvation, Church, Family, The conveniences He provides.

 

 

Lesson One

(Select two or three of these questions for ice-breakers to lead into today’s discussion)

What is your favorite gift-giving event?  What makes it your favorite?

What is one gift you have received that you value above all others?

What is a particularly memorable gift you have received?  What made it so memorable?

Any stories of gift-giving gone wrong?

What is the purpose behind giving and receiving gifts?

How about with spiritual gifts?

Have you given a gift and had it received poorly?  How did you feel? 

Have you ever received a gift poorly?

 

What are gifts? 

Transfer of an item from one who has or possesses the means to have something to one who does not currently have.

Transfer of ownership of something.

Freely released into the ownership of the other.

To be a true gift, there needs to be a recognition that the thing received is desirous and good.

For a gift to be good it must be “unwrapped”, appreciated, and used.

Gifts most often come from ones who care for us and want us to experience good things and to be happy.

Some gifts are given to us to help us be more functional and to accomplish specific tasks.

 

Is there timing associated with gifts?

Times of gift giving – Birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Anniversaries, Graduations, Baby Showers, Weddings

Some gifts have an “expiration”, i.e. like a bouquet of cut flowers, a new car.  Some gifts have a lifetime legacy – a deed of land, a wedding ring, a poem written in honor of another.

Some gift-givers are extremely generous and continue to give and give and give.

 

 

Some gift receivers are very appreciative.  Some gift receivers are never satisfied.

Receiving with thankfulness and true appreciation engenders greater goodwill between the giver and receiver.

Receiving gifts with dissatisfaction or grumbling or without thankfulness damages the relationship between the giver and the receiver.

 

Romans 12

To be read in context of the whole chapter.

What is the first gift offered in chapter 12?  Verse 1 – our bodies as living sacrifices.

How is this sacrifice received?  We don’t determine this, but Paul tells us when we set ourselves apart unto God it is “holy and pleasing to God”.  He also affirms that this giving of ourselves is our true and proper worship.

What are the “personal” reciprocal gifts that we receive if we continue to give ourselves to the Lord? (verse 2)

Transformation, a renewed mind, clarity in knowing God’s will.

What are the “communal” gifts that we receive if we continue to give ourselves to the Lord? (verses 6-8)

Part of the body of Christ, prophesy, serving, teaching, encouragement, generosity, leadership, mercy / care-giving.

Are there any pre-requisites to receiving these communal gifts?  (verse 3)

Humility (do not think more highly of yourself than you ought), sober judgment, faith

Take time to make the distinction of the supernatural element of these gifts if they flow from sacrificial living leading to transformed people with renewed minds, living together in humble faith while exercising sober judgment about themselves.

 

What is the outcome of this gift giving, particularly when it entails all members of the body of Christ exercising their communal gifts? (verses 9-21)

Sincere love one to another.

A true rejection of what is evil with an active passion to fight against it.

A passionate embrace of what is good.

Devotion one to another… hugs and warm affection manifested, expressing genuine love.  Lives intertwined and supportive.

Honoring one another – accomplishments celebrated, faithfulness recognized, high-fives all around.

The zeal of the Lord present and richly manifested in lives devoted to Him, to one another, and to whatever work He has called us to at that time.

Joy even when circumstances are not exactly what we would want because hope is so rich and tangible.

Patience even when we are in the midst of affliction.  (I picture the body, particularly those with the gift of care-giving, rallying around the one suffering the greatest.)

Faithful intercession and prayer that moves mountains, breaks chains, heals wounds, and accomplishes God’s purpose, in God’s way, in God’s perfect timing.

Greed is gone as the body supports and shares with one another freely, especially those with the gift of generosity.  A point here – those with this gift also often have the uncanny ability to make money.  I think this may be either an aspect of the gift of generosity or simply a manifestation of the law of reciprocity where Jesus said, “Give and it will be given to you.”

Kindness, a supernatural love for and active reaching out to those who do not share our belief or faith.  In fact, it is a love for those who actively work against us.

Empathy manifested in every life situation.

Unity and harmony that is genuine and from the heart.  This absolutely transcends social status, education, age, race – and any other potential source of division.

The rejection of evil to the point that we do not respond in kind, but rather we are motivated by love and our response is what life within the body of Christ would approve of and support.

Peaceful living, with the full recognition that those not in the body might not live in peace nor want to allow us to do so.  Yet we seek peace.

Our response to evil’s attack is to seek to do good while trusting in God to be our shield, our shelter, and our defender.

 

Prior to this study I have always tended to read the bible with a strong awareness of the textual divisions that editors have inserted.  Romans 12 includes three different divisions… verses 1-2 are under the heading “A Living Sacrifice”, verses 3-8 are “Humble Service in the Body of Christ”, and verses 9-21 are “Love in Action”.  While these textual divisions are often helpful, they can also cause us to overlook some important connections the author may have had in mind.  Reading this chapter without those divisions leads us to see a flow that I believe Paul meant for the reader to grasp.

Before we focus on chapter 12, let’s take one step back and place this chapter into context of the entire letter to the Romans.  Romans is written to a part of the church Paul has not yet personally visited.  In this letter Paul provides a succinct explanation of the love and grace of God manifested through the sacrificial life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Through these early chapters we can trace God’s plan of salvation as Paul describes the ultimate gift of God giving His Son… of Jesus giving His life for us.  Paul paints with words God giving over and above anything we could deserve or even imagine comes through.

When we hit chapter 8 we see this new “life in the Spirit” which is available to all who are followers of Jesus.  This too is a magnanimous gift from a gracious and loving Father.  By the time we reach chapter 12 we have had the point driven home again and again – God has given us such a stunning abundance of grace and goodness.  This is the first “giving”.

In chapter 12 we then see giving taking place in three rapid bursts.  The first is in verses 1-2 where we give ourselves to God.  This is a call to total abandonment.  Paul has used old testament imagery throughout the previous chapters so when he speaks of a living sacrifice here, he is tying it to the old testament understanding of sacrifice being a complete giving over.  The only difference is as “living” sacrifices we get the honor of repeatedly deciding to completely give ourselves over to God.

The second giving is God giving spiritual gifts for the edification and building up of the Body.  I will speak about it more later, but I want to clearly state it here – the primary purpose of the spiritual gifts is the building up of the Body of Christ, but building up of the individual believer happens at the same time.  God is the ultimate multi-tasker.  In dispersing His gifts, He accomplishes many things as the Body, and the individual, receives and responds.

Then comes the third giving which is the one I had always missed.  That is the Body of Christ becoming a radiant, shining example of God’s goodness, grace, and love to the world that does not yet know Him.  We become God’s gift to the lost and unbelieving.  Through this, people are drawn to look to Him, to consider the claims of the Church, and to come to faith.

 

In conclusion to this week’s lesson, we see that God initiates the giving through giving Jesus as our savior.  We respond by giving ourselves to Him as our Lord.  He then continues giving by working transformation in us and by giving spiritual gifts to the Church.  The final giving is the Church being given to the world as a manifestly beautiful and attractive “Bride of Christ”.  This final giving includes an invitation to all who have not yet accepted Christ to join the fellowship of believers by receiving God’s initial gift of His Son – Jesus.

In our next lesson, we will investigate the ultimate source of God’s gift giving – His amazing love.

 

Until next time, may the God of all good gifts pour His Spirit out upon you, filling you with His wisdom, His truth, and His love.  In Jesus Name.  Amen.

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As I looked out my window at the rain-splashed tarmac a heaviness strove to lay hold of my soul.  Gray thoughts swirled through my mind –

  • “it’s cold, damp, and nasty outside and this is just the beginning”…
  • “winter’s coming and outside fun is gone for several months”…
  • “I have too much to do and too little time to do it”…
  • “this country is heading in a dangerous direction and I don’t know why people don’t see it”…
  • “this election isn’t going to provide a leader to unite and heal this country”…

A whispered prayer – “Lord help me to see differently.”

Suddenly my thoughts shifted.  Even though the plane had not yet moved my mind went to the ascent we were about to make.  In my mind’s eye I could see the gray giving way to the white of clouds all around.  That white growing gradually brighter until suddenly we burst through into brilliant sunshine.  And my spirit soared.

I know the sun is always there – clouds or not.  Yet there are times when what I see overwhelms and dominates what I know.  More importantly, my mind can then make projections from what I see to build a future that carries me away from what I know.  Worry, anxious thoughts, discouragement, and depression are waypoints on the road my thoughts will wander if I forget what I know.

Jesus is every bit as real as the sun.  In fact Malachi prophetically speaks of Jesus as “the sun of righteousness who will rise with healing in His wings”.  Simply stated that is what I experienced in a small way that morning.

Interestingly my flight was a rather short one so we did not get to a high enough altitude to fully break through to sunshine on that leg.  I watched for it with eager anticipation but the brilliant break-through was not achieved.  But it was not an issue.  I remembered the sun and I was content to wait.

As I sat on my next flight I engaged my seat mate in some light conversation.  He was amenable and so began a 90 minute conversation starting with work but ranging far and wide from family to travel to the election (I usually don’t go there) to church and faith.  And it was wonderful.  I thoroughly enjoyed making a new friend… so much so that I hardly noticed the weather outside.

After landing I grabbed my bags knowing I had a fairly tight schedule, but I felt the Lord’s nudge to linger for a final word with my friend.  As two new friends it would be normal to part with a firm handshake and a word of encouragement.  But as two newly found brothers in Christ we had the opportunity to go to our heavenly Father with a word of prayer and thanksgiving before parting.

As I then hustled to my car I stepped out the front door of the airport into glorious sunshine… and my heart soared with gratitude anew.  It may have taken a little longer than I first thought, but the sun is always there on the other side of the clouds.  Faith reminds us it’s there.  Patience and perseverance help us get to where we can see it.   And thanksgiving is our right response when we arrive.

Thank you Lord for your loving-kindness to us and to all mankind.  Please use me, use us, to point to you, to reflect your grace in a manner that others can see and receive.  Be glorified in us today.  In Jesus Name!

 

 

 

 

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Our devotional this morning used John 15:5 and I saw a portion of that verse in a whole new way.  Jesus is speaking.  “I am the vine; you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  I guess I have tended to zip over the last part of that verse, the part that says “apart from me you can do nothing.”  Today it struck me that from Jesus’ eternal perspective, the things we do for ourselves, the things that create a lot of busyness in our day but are not done from our connection with Him don’t really amount to much.  Actually I guess more accurately they amount to nothing.  That’s a sobering thought.

So how does that square with having a job to support our family, raising our children to be good citizens, or just being a good neighbor to those around us?  Using the rest of this scripture for context, it comes down to our connection with Jesus and our on-going growth in that relationship.  Our purpose is to become more like Jesus.  That is accomplished in and through every aspect of our life.  Our relationship with Jesus is what prepares and then propels us forward into those things that He has purposed for us to walk in.

Two quick stories from the past two weeks illustrate this.  A little over a week ago I was involved in an auto accident.  Actually I was waiting at a cross-roads and the accident was in front of me and one of the vehicles then rammed me.  I was not injured but my little car is badly damaged.  In the moments preceding the accident I had plenty of time to cross in front of the vehicles, but I uncharacteristically waited.  Because I waited, I became involved.  I don’t feel like I did much in the ensuing care-giving, but others seemed to take comfort in my support and prayer.  And I had a tremendous peace both at the time of the accident and in the days that followed that I was where I was supposed to be and I did what I was supposed to do.  Nothing fancy, but the Father’s peace was tangible.  I am still in contact with some of those involved and I believe the Lord will use this event for good in each one of the lives involved.

Second story – earlier this summer friends of mine in the Care Ministry at church mentioned that a choir of orphans from Haiti were in the US touring to raise awareness and funds for the orphanages they represent.  The family that has been instrumental in making this happen – Linda and David, also go to our church.  These stories raised an awareness that became a Holy Spirit nudge to “do something”.  Yesterday they came for a day of swimming and fun at our house.

In my prayer leading up to this I wanted to have a message of ringing clarity for them or some spiritual insight from the Lord to share.  But what I got was a strong sense of just loving on them and sharing from what the Lord has blessed us with.  In my younger years… maybe even just a few years ago, I would have been dissatisfied that the day wasn’t more spiritual. 

Talking with the host family at the end of the evening though, I heard how the Lord had provided so many manifestations of His grace throughout the process of getting the children here.  And then they explained how they so badly needed the break that our day provided.  They have literally been performing 2 and 3 times a day all summer.  They cleared their calendar to just relax and join us.  That statement just confirmed to me that we did what we were supposed to do.

Friends, I encourage you to spend quality time with the Lord.  Allow His love to color your perspective on all things.  Become one who consistently listens to the Lord whispering to your heart.  Learn to recognize when the Lord is speaking to your heart and obey your heart over what your mind tells you in those cases.  As we do so, we are vines that become more and more fruitful.  And that fruit is the sweetest of fruit because it is fruit of eternal significance.

Blessings to you in abundance.  And let the Father bless others through you today.

By the way, the ministry that our friends run to support the Orphans in Haiti is called “Love Him, Love Them”.  You can find it at the website of that name.

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