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Archive for the ‘Jesus Christ’ Category

I love spring.  The bursting forth of new life thrills my soul.  The awakening of the countryside from the drab greys and browns of winter to multi-colored flowers set against the backdrop of green simply makes me happy.

We recently experienced the birth of our 4th grandchild.  My wife helped with the delivery and today Lilah Joy is 7 days old. We actually have two grandchildren now who were born on Good Friday.  Jasper Leland was born on Good Friday 4 years ago.  As I held Lilah last night I couldn’t stop thinking about what a precious gift I held.  As she lay restfully sleeping in my arms she was totally at peace.

I was reminded that this is what God wants for each one of us… to rest in Him, to put our trust in Him, to be His child and be at peace.  Holding this precious child and considering the amazing love God has for us was both humbling and inspiring.  Roman 8:14-17 comes to mind.  We are His children and He wants to be known as our “Abba”, our Daddy.

It seems appropriate that for most of us Easter corresponds with spring.  Jesus’ resurrection marks the ultimate of new life.  There are a number of ways that Jesus coming to earth, His sacrificial death on the cross, and His resurrection changed the world forever.

There is salvation.  The price for our sin has been paid and we can enter into a right relationship with God as our Father through what Jesus did on our behalf.

There is freedom.  The power of sin is broken because of what Jesus did.  We can experience freedom from the dominating and destructive habits of our old self because of the cross and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit given to each one who accepts God’s gift of salvation.

Oh, and there is purpose.  We no longer are subject to the whims of a fickle nature.  We are called and equipped to live a life that has God-ordained purpose.

There is praise overflowing.  God gave us new life to live in Him and to live for Him.  Our lives are testaments to the one, wholly, and Holy Other.  God is worthy of our constant praise.  We do this best by living in close communion with Him and responding in prompt obedience to His nudges.

Yes, spring has sprung.  The tomb is empty.  And there is new life… radical…rich…full… abundant new life available to all who trust in and give their lives to Jesus – the lover of our souls.  Rejoice my friend.  He is ALIVE!  And so are we.  Death no longer has a hold on us.  Neither does sin, at least it doesn’t have to.  The only power sin has left is the power we give it.  Let sin no longer reign in your body, but live your life totally immersed in Jesus and His saving, cleansing, healing, delivering power.  Again I say REJOICE!

Be blessed today my friend as you bask in the new life Christ Jesus provides.

As a new grandpa’s prerogative, I included a few pics of our new grand-daughter who helped inspire today’s blog.

 

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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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“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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The wellspring of the gifts of the Spirit is the loving heart of God.  1 John 4:16 tells us that “God is love.”  He is the ultimate embodiment of perfect love.  Many of us have a difficult time wrapping our head around what perfect love might look like because of poor examples we’ve seen or experienced in life.  However, that does not diminish the reality that love exists or that it exists in a manner that is life-giving and transformative to the extreme.  Such is the love of the Lord God.

I recognize that I am a fortunate man.  I had two loving parents who modeled love extremely well.  I fondly remember long talks with my Dad as he patiently taught me life skills.  Mom was always there to sooth our fears and tears and encourage us in whatever pursuit we were engaged in.  As we grew more responsible, they gave us the necessary tools for life – shelter, food, clothing, an education, a vehicle to drive, a foundation of faith and service to others, a legacy to live up to.  I grow nostalgic as I think of how my parents strove to bless their four children realizing that my wife and I have tried, in our imperfect way, to do the same for our four children.  The point of this is that if we as imperfect, often too busy, sometimes self-absorbed, parents want to give good things to our children, how much more does our perfect, always present, attentive Heavenly Father want to give good things to us, His children.  If you have entered into the family of faith, you are His precious child.  And if you have not surrendered your life yet, I can tell you He is drawing you and offering you the penultimate relationship life has to offer – adoption into His family, a seat of honor at His banquet table.

What I have described echoes the words of our Lord recorded in Matthew 7:9-11 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!”  God is the perfect Father and He gives His children good gifts.  This is a truth we can hold on to.  After 33 years of living for Him, I testify to the veracity of this scripture.

Even as I write this the Lord has highlighted another scripture – John 8:31-32.  “To the Jews who had believed in Him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’”  Jesus wants you to know that He is for you and not against you.  That He loves you with an everlasting love.  That His banner over you is love.  That you are precious to Him.  That He gave Himself for you.  And He wants to give you everything necessary to live out the life He has called you to.  A life of joyful, fulfilling, abundant, faithful service in the family of God.

I’m reminded of a sweet season of extended prayer many years ago.  We were living in Louisiana, but I was praying for my family who all lived on the east coast.  Literally I had been drawn to pray for an hour or more every day for certain things going on in the family, but specifically for my family who lived a long way away.  My wife and I were reasonably content having started a family of our own, but I had a real burden of prayer upon me.  One night as I was pacing and praying in our closet, the Lord spoke very clearly to me.  “Son, I’m going to give you the desires of your heart.”  I distinctly remember saying, “No Lord, not my will, but your will.”  To which the Holy Spirit responded, “That is why I’m going to give you the desires of your heart.”  I was humbled, thankful, and awed all at the same time.  Now I had not been trying to get back to the east coast.  I don’t think I had done anything to start the process or even look for another job, but within 9 months or so, through a series of amazing (you could even say miraculous) circumstances we found ourselves living in southeast Tennessee.  By the way, I don’t know if I had read the verses in Psalm 37:4 prior to this event, but today they stand as one of my life verses.  “Take delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

As we pour our heart into knowing the Lord, growing in our relationship with Him, obeying His prompting, He wants to give us good gifts.  He desires us to desire the things He wants to do in us and in the lives of those around us.  Let’s go back to the verses just before Jesus talks about the Father giving good gifts to His children.  In Matthew 7:7-9 Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given to you.  Seek and you will find.  Knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks the door will be opened.”  When we are His children and we are responding to His love, when our desire is to love and obey Him, He will give us good gifts.  Even before a person turns to Christ the Lord loves them and has offered the ultimate gift, His Son, Jesus, so they can enter into the family of God.  He wants us to have the gifts of the Spirit to edify us and to strengthen the Church – the body of Christ.  His love toward us and His love for the Church are the wellspring of the spiritual gifts.

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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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I serve on the Care Team at Church.  We meet people with God’s love and give them hope.  I feel called to this.  But it’s not always easy. 

From the conversations I have I see that Hope is a commodity often in short supply.  Usually the visit for care is the result of multiple crises in a person’s life.  Often it is the result of personal decisions combined with events outside their control.  Almost always there is some degree of loss that precedes the loss of hope… decline in health, the passing of a loved one, a job loss, a broken relationship…  The end result is that the initial loss precipitates a void wherein hope is drained from the individual.

Our goal in Care is very simple.  We seek to allow the Lord to work through us to help the Care Receiver know that Jesus loves and cares for them.  It is amazing how He does this.  Empathy is our connection point.  Often the Father matches life experiences that the Caregivers have walked through with the challenges the Care Receiver is facing.  This empathy is more than just important, it is essential in being a conduit of God’s love and hope.  We do not theorize, postulate, or pontificate, but rather we seek to be like Jesus and know the person as a valued child of God.  With this relationship established we are able to take the next step.

With sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and an attitude of love, we seek to help the individual identify the root of the loss.  In most cases there are decisions that have been made that need to be understood.  While we seek to deal gently with the broken, we do not treat sin lightly.  It is vitally important that sin be clearly identified and labeled as what it is.  While not all poor decisions are necessarily sin, those that are must be confessed and repented of.  The Word of God is the key here.  With Love we share what the Bible says and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.  (Sidenote – It appears to me that where we Christians gain a black eye in the public realm is when we take on the role of prosecuting attorney for God.  Don’t get me wrong, we are to flee from sin, to resist the devil, and do all in our power to promote what is good, decent, and godly.  But if we simply speak the truth from the Word of God, we can leave the emphasizing of what that means to the Holy Spirit.) 

Where it is possible, attempts to undo the damage of the sin are appropriate.  Restitution is a bold, and often beneficial step in the process of repentance.  When I became a believer there was a person I had wronged in my college days.  The Lord impressed upon me that I had a concrete step to take with that person so I drove 600 miles for a face-to-face confession of my sin and to ask for forgiveness.  At the time I was just trying to be obedient to what I understood the Lord was showing me I needed to do.  Today I recognize that it was a major step in my growth as a believer which freed me to be ready for what lay ahead.

Many times forgiveness is a key act in the repentance and healing process.  One of the diabolical aspects of sin is that the victim is often the one who ends up bound in cords of unforgiveness.  There is great liberty in forgiving someone who has done you wrong.  I have had a few “done unto” events and I can honestly say that the Lord has blessed me, not in spite of those things, but through those events after I forgave and then gave the situation to Him.  This is something I have personally experienced and it is essential in the healing process.  (Truth in writing, the forgiving part requires persistence.  The enemy will initially bring the event back up to try and revive the pain and emotional turmoil.  This is a good time to rebuke the thought and repeat your decision to forgive and verbalize that it is in the Lord’s hands.) 

This post is about hope, but it is necessary to understand that hope is a tender flower that requires the proper soil.  What I have described above is required to prepare the soil of the heart to receive the seed of hope.  Make no mistake, hope will not flourish in the wrong environment.  There is a plethora of hope-killers waiting to stamp out the flower of hope, but Jesus’ words should encourage us – “Fear not, for I have overcome the world.”  He is the MASTER Gardener and the Giver of Hope.

Which brings us to the next step – sharing the Word of Life.  The bible is full of God’s promises.  In caregiving this is an apt time to share words that speak into the Care Receiver’s life situation.  Frequently after a conversation I stand amazed at how the Lord brought the right scripture to mind at the perfect time in a conversation.  It is important to regularly read the Word so that it performs its transformative work in you (Romans 12:1-2) and becomes the source of your wisdom to share with others.  The final piece of this is the active work of the Holy Spirit to bring to mind the right word for us to speak and then apply that word in the Care Receiver’s life.    

This leads to the climatic step in Care Giving – Prayer.  I’ve mentioned speaking and verbalizing a couple of times already.  I’m prompted today to mention that it is often necessary to speak things into existence.  The bible begins with God speaking all of creation into existence.  Through the Old Testament we see God putting His words into the mouths of His prophets.  When Jesus walked the earth He spoke and people were changed, healed, delivered, saved.  He even spoke to the wind and waves and they obeyed Him.  He is the Lord God Almighty.  To Him every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess (Phil 2:9-11).  Now for a time He has chosen in His great mercy to give mankind a little more time to turn to Him.  In this window we do not yet see everything under the heavens fully submitted to Him.  But make no mistake, it is all under His dominion. 

As believers God has placed His Holy Spirit into us.  We are His ambassadors.  An ambassador is a representative of a sovereign nation living and residing in a foreign land.  Even though they live in a different country, the full weight of their home country rests upon them.  When they speak, they are speaking for their home country.  As Christ’s ambassadors, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are to speak God’s Word and His words into lives.  Prayer is how we do this.  God gives us the responsibility and privilege of praying what He wants to do in the lives of those He sends our way.  The enormity and mystery of this overwhelms me, but I have experienced it too many times to ignore or discount.

The final step is living out the hope which God has called us to dispense.  In some instances, it will mean we walk with the Care Receiver for a time, for a season, or as life-long friends.  In other instances, it will mean praying for and encouraging them for just that intersection of time, trusting the Lord to continue the good work He has begun.  In every situation though, God has called us to look to Him in child-like trust and nurture the hope that He promises us in His word and He places in our heart. 

A final application.  Please forgive me ahead of time for this final inclusion, but it is a burden I’ve been bearing for several weeks now.  It is also the primary reason I haven’t blogged in a while.  You see, I, like a lot of Americans, am disappointed in what I see in our political process.  It wearies me to see the division and acrimony blasted forth for all to see and endure.  I do not see hope there.  I have chosen a candidate to vote for, but it is more because I see a terrible choice and a little less bad choice.  My friend this has tended to get my eyes off the Lord and onto lesser things.  This weekend I was able to minister care to others dealing with real world, right now issues and I was able to fellowship with others who love God and are striving to live lives of abundant hope.  In so doing I saw my malady for what it was.  I was being drawn to put at least a portion of my faith in things that are not worthy of my faith, nor able to give real hope. 

And then I lifted my eyes…  Jesus is the only one worthy of my total faith and the only one who gives real hope.  And that hope does not disappoint!  (Romans 5:1-5)

Two final thoughts.  I finished this blog last night, but for some reason I didn’t post it.  This morning I woke and called my wife to do our devotion.  (I travel a lot in my work so we do our devotion together over the phone each morning.) The following scripture just jumped out at me.  It is the exclamation point from the Word on what I have said.

Psalm 62:5-8

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him. Truly He is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart to Him, for God is our refuge.

Today is the one year anniversary of the passing of four of our youngest son’s friends in a tragic car accident.  James, Josh, Mills, and Sarah are not here with us any longer.  The pain and loss is still very real for their family and friends.  But with eyes of faith we look forward to the day when we will see them again.  They trusted the Lord and were His children.  And one day we too will pass from this life to larger life.  And the reunion will be real and it will be good.  This is hope that we can hold onto.

Take care my friend.  May the Lord richly bless you today as you live a life of tangible hope.

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God is almost never limited by our lack.

We can lack money and yet God can provide the means for whatever He calls us to do.  My thoughts run to a little boy with two fish and five loaves on a remote hillside with Jesus and a crowd of thousands, hungry after a day of teaching and healing.

We can lack strength and yet Paul passes on what Jesus said to Him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2Cor 12:9)

We can lack intellect, but God can still use us.  I have been in a number of situations where I did not know “the answer” and yet the answer has always come.

But I realized the other day that there is one definite lack on our part that can constrain God… the lack of humility!  The lack of humility is powerful, ugly, and spiritually deadly.

There is value in specifically saying “lack of humility” and not simply calling it pride.  Being proud of your children, your country, your church can all stray into an unhealthy region, but for the most part these do not capture the attitude that the bible means when it says in a number of places, “God opposes the proud” (James 4:6).  The lack of humility is that kind of proud.  It is a cancer that sucks the life out of relationships, beginning with our relationship with the Father.

God loves us and He wants us to live in intimacy with Him.  The level of intimacy God desires is predicated upon mutual love, trust, and honesty.  Coming clean about every aspect of our life – from acts done or not done, words uttered or not uttered, even thoughts we’ve harbored requires a humility and honesty that does not come easily to us.  In fact it often requires a degree of divine support to achieve.  But He is near to us to lend us this help if we but bend our hearts toward Him in humility.

As I consider what this humility looks like several pictures come to mind.  A child listening in rapt attention and a teachable spirit… a parent returning from deployment falling on their knees and embracing their family… a “terminally” ill patient who is given a new lease on life.  God is the giver of all good gifts.  As He gives what He desires (which is always better than what we deserve) we should recognize the opportunity to give thanks and receive with humility all that the Lord wants for us.  Often, it is in these moments that He will speak wisdom into our lives that we can’t hear otherwise.

This morning I awoke with a very clear picture of what the lack of humility looks like.  It is one of the formational stories of the nation of Israel and it is found in the 2nd book of the bible, Exodus.  What had begun as a flight to sanctuary at the end of the Genesis had become servitude and slavery 400 years later.  The Pharaoh’s government had become a hard task-master and the people of Israel were crying out for deliverance.  God raised up Moses to serve as His human voice.  The message to Pharaoh was simple, “Let my people go.”  But Pharaoh, who was considered a god in that culture, refused.  Time and again God sent signs of His power and authority to convince Pharaoh and give Him the opportunity to bend His will to the Lord Almighty.  But Pharaoh would not.  The bible says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

Friends, this is a vital spiritual truth.  The longer and harder we resist the Lord, the more difficult it becomes to respond to Him.  It is not that God’s love is not there nor is it that He won’t accept us.  The issue is that until we are humble enough to acknowledge that He is God and we are not, we can’t bend our knee to Him and submit to the foundational truth of faith that God is the great “I AM”, the wholly, Holy Other.  While I am thrilled that my heavenly Father loves me and desires to fellowship with me, it never changes the fact that He is the LORD God Almighty, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

The lack of humility can keep a person from accepting Christ, God’s provision to reconcile fallen humans with Himself.  But it can also rear it’s ugly head after conversion and stifle the spiritual growth the Lord intends for His children.  When I consider my faith walk, I can see how the lack of humility was a key factor in many of the lulls.

The message of today’s post is simple.  Take a moment to examine your life.  Do you have a deficit of humility that is limiting your relationship with God and others?  Are you thankful for the small gifts of grace you receive or are you disappointed because you feel slighted in some way?  Is God actively speaking to you and using you for positive change or is it quiet when you call out to Him?  If any of these answers make you realize that you have a deficit of humility, congratulations! Recognizing this is the hardest step.  Turn to God with your whole heart, acknowledge your sin (if you haven’t already figured it out, the lack of humility is a sin), accept His Lordship over you, and begin to walk in fresh fellowship with the Holy Spirit.

The limits of our intellect do not in any way limit God’s ability to use us.  The limits of our humility constrain how, and how much God can work in and through us.  Choose humility and throw off those constraints.  Reach for the Father’s hand and talk a walk with the One Who loves you to the uttermost.  You will be so happy that you did.

Be blessed my friend and be a blessing to those the Lord puts in your life today.

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