Tag Archives: spiritual gifts

How to recover when you’ve squandered your potential – Characters: Samson, Part 5

9 Nov
Photo by Fernando Dearfer on Unsplash

Samson is an illustration of a man with unbelievable potential for good, yet who allows himself to be degraded by his lusts and revenge.  There is such a lack of desire in his life to follow God, to keep his Nazarite vow, which could have and should have guided him to lead Israel back to God.  Instead Samson’s story is not that of a godly leader, but of a flawed individual who has some amazing individual victories, and a lot more individual failures.

Like Samson, any of us can squander our potential.  We can make choices that ruin what God wants to do in us and through us.  In this third installment of our Characters series, we learned that God wanted Samson to be a godly leader. Samson had been set aside, given the gift of the Spirit of God who empowered him with legendary strength, but Samson used this gift for selfish passions.  This reminds us that we are not robots.  God gives us good gifts, but we have the choice to use those gifts for good or bad.  Consider how different Samson’s story could have been if he had used his gifts for good!

When we think about gifts, we must remember that we are made in God’s image, loved by God, and he is everything we need in life.  We can live out of the deep satisfaction that only God can give us, thus transforming our hearts to follow the ways of Jesus.  Samson, however, was constantly enthralled by anger, revenge and lust, rather than being enthralled by God. He didn’t give credence or credit to God for the gifts he’d been given, and he did not choose to use them for God’s glory.

Yet in the midst of squandering his potential, God is still a redeeming God. It was messy and far from perfect, but God used Samson to free Israel from the Philistines.  It wouldn’t last, though.  If you continue reading Judges, you’ll see how bad it gets.  Samson’s leadership did nothing to bring the people closer to God.  Sure, they had temporary relief from the Philistines for 20 years.  But the deeper issue of who they were went unchanged. The story of Israel as told in Judges goes from bad to worse after Samson.

In what ways has God gifted you? We are all made in His image. We all, whether following God’s ways or not, have attributes of God within us.  How can we use our gifts for Him?  You have time, gifts, talents. Are you using them in ways that benefit the Kingdom of God? Are you intentional in your thoughts and actions?  It will likely take sacrifice for that to happen, for you to grow in your knowledge and understanding of what a kingdom mindset looks like. Then work to follow that. It might go against the cultural flow and assumptions of how to live life. It might go against your family’s wishes for you.  But you will have the peace and joy of knowing that you will be in line with God’s ideas.  

So we should be people who practice confession, repentance, if we are not line with the lifestyle of God’s Kingdom.  We should seek to be humble and teachable, even when you are on the heights. 

Think of the example of President Jimmy Carter who has taught Sunday school for decades, and who has spent years serving with Habitat for Humanity, even now into his 90s. 

Think of the example of Tony Dungy, a Super Bowl winning coach, and who has committed to All Pro Dads and other ministry.

Even on the heights it is possible to be humble. Even when we have gifts that give us laud and attention, we can use them for God’s glory. What gifts has God given you? How will you use them for his Kingdom?

No matter how bad it is, there is hope – Characters: Samson, Part 1

4 Nov
Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash

What gifts has God given you?  Sometimes we call them spiritual gifts.  Or it could be our personal abilities.  Our aptitudes. Things we are good at.  Could be working with our hands.  Thinking.  Art.  Communication.  Leading.  There are many such gifts.   Have you ever wondered if you’re using those gifts the way God wants?

Or maybe you are concerned you’re not using those gifts how God wants.  Maybe you’re wondering if you’ve messed up in life and God has passed you over.  In our quiet moments we can wrestle with those kinds of thoughts, can’t we?  I know I do.  When Michelle and I came home from one year as missionaries in Jamaica, I wondered if we had just ruined something.  I knew intellectually or theologically that God isn’t like that, but the thoughts were there for sure.  The dark thoughts.  The fears that we had squandered something.  Maybe you’ve wrestled with those thoughts too.  In this week’s series of posts, I believe you’ll find some hope.

A few weeks ago we started a series titled Characters. It is about people in ancient Israel that are generally considered to be heroes, but when we read their stories closely we find them to be broken or flawed people who really struggled.  And yet God still uses them.  There is hope for us in that. 

So far we have met Jacob, and his son, Joseph, two of the patriarchs of the nation of Israel.  Their family moved from Canaan (which is modern-day Israel) to Egypt. Eventually tboth died, but their family grew into the nation of Israel, still living within Egypt.

The new King of Egypt, the Pharaoh, feared their growth and enslaved the Israelites, resulting in a slavery that lasted 400+ years.  But God raised up a deliverer, Moses, who led the nation in an exodus from Egypt, headed back to their ancestor’s original home in Canaan, which they called the Promised Land.  When Moses died, Joshua became the leader of the nation.  Under Joshua’s leadership, the nation fought the conquest of Canaan and eventually settled in the Promised Land.  Moses and Joshua were strong leaders who kept the nation faithful to God, but after Joshua passed away, the nation struggled. 

We pick up the story in Judges 2.  In this chapter the writer describes a cycle of sin the nation of Israel went through.  Verses 16-19 give us a summary of the whole book of Judges: sin, punishment, God’s redemption through a leader/judge, and freedom…until the people start sinning again. The cycle would happen all over.  Imagine how God must have felt watching his people turn their backs on him.  Yet he is a faithful God, raising up judges to rescue them. Again, do you see the hope for the flawed?

This week, we’re going to meet one of those judges: Samson.  Turn to Judges chapter 13.  By chapter 13, there have been numerous judges, as Israel has gone through many of these cycles of sin, punishment, judge, and salvation.  We don’t know how many years have gone by since the days of Joshua, but it could be hundreds of years.  What has happened in those years is a gradual spiritual decline in the nation.  A nation that has moved farther and farther from God.  Sound familiar to your nation? 

In chapter 13 we are at the beginning of another cycle of sin.  Verse 1 tells us that the people did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and he delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years!  Who are the Philistines?  They are a pagan people, living mostly along the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the arch-enemies of the nation of Israel. 

Into this national situation, Judges 13 tells the fascinating story of the birth of the next judge, Samson.  The basic details are in verses 1-5.

Already in these opening verses, we see God entering the story to be the faithful, redeeming God that he is.  How do we see this?

First, he is going to give a childless couple a baby.  That happens a lot in the Bible, right?  So often, in fact, that should tell us something about the kind of God he is. He brings hope!

Second, if you read the whole chapter you’ll find that Samson’s parents are decent people.  His dad Manoah seems a bit comical, bumbling.  His mom seems a lot more stable and possibly even more faithful than his dad.  But these aren’t paragons of godliness.  God is gracious.

Third, an angel shows up.  When angels show up, we should take notice.  How many times did angels show up to announce the birth of the previous judges?  I’ll let you research that on your own.

Fourth, there are special vows that God declares must happen in this pregnancy and baby.  Samson’s mom needs to take uncommon measures during her pregnancy: no alcohol, no unclean food.  And what’s more, her son will be a Nazarite for life.   

“Nazarite” is from the Hebrew word that means “separated” or “dedicated,” as the angel indicates about the child in verse 4.  It was a vow that people could choose to take.  But God wanted this child to be born as a Nazarite, and to live that way his whole life. As a result there are some specific rules the child will live by: no alcohol, no touching dead bodies, and his hair is never to be cut. 

Fifth, look at verses 24-25. The chapter concludes with the birth of the child, whom they name Samson, and we learn that the Lord blessed him and the Spirit of the Lord began to stir in him.  That phrase alone is a very rare description for people in the Old Testament.  The Spirit of the Lord only came upon a few people.  Samson was one of them. 

The account of Samson’s birth sets the stage for Samson to grow up to be a mighty man of God.  Think about what we have seen.  His parents were decent people, perhaps especially his mom.  God miraculously gives Samson to them.  Samson is set apart from birth in this special role called a Nazarite.  And the Spirit of God is on him.  Add that all up, and you have all the raw material for Samson to be a dynamic man of God.

In fact, it almost gives us the idea that he could be the one to bring the nation back to the place where Moses and Joshua had taken it.  We even get a hint of that from the angel’s words that Samson would begin to deliver the nation from the hands of the Philistines. 

Everything surrounding Samson’s birth and early years is amazing.  This is a reminder that God is a bringer of hope. If it seems like your life is too far gone, too messed up, know that when it comes to God, there is always hope.

Of Slaves and Apostles – Titus 1:1-4, Part 2

11 Jun

Have you ever called yourself a slave to your boss? A slave to your job? Maybe you have slaved over a project in school. Or perhaps you worked slavishly doing yard work. We use the word “slave” in many ways, even though that word has a horrid connotation because it describes the very awful and very real world of many people today, and throughout history. Slavery is terrible. Would it surprise you to learn that in his letter to Titus, Paul calls himself a slave of God? Is Paul off his rocker? Does God have slaves? What is going on here?

In Part 1 of this series of posts on Titus 1:1-4, I said that we are reading other people’s mail. Today we begin to do just that. In verse 1 Paul starts off in two ways that were very common in ancient letter writing, but might seem strange to our modern eyes. First, he begins the letter by identifying himself, “Paul”.  We always start our letters by addressing who we are writing to. 

Second, Paul writes in a fairly formal fashion.  We’re not used to that.  Our letters are so often very informal: “Hey man, how are you doing?” or just a simple, “What’s up?”  But how does Paul start? “Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness…”  Here is Paul writing to a close friend.  And he starts like that?  To our modern sensibilities, this seems odd.  I want to say, “Geesh, Paul, just talk normal to the guy.”

But that is our culture talking, and I think there is another point that could help explain further why Paul is so formal here.   Look at the end of the letter, chapter 3 verses 12 to the end.  There Paul is more personal in his comments to Titus.  Also in verse 15, the very last phrase, he says, “Grace be with you all.”  Paul doesn’t say “Grace be with you, Titus.”  He says, “Grace be with you all.”  That is a clue, I suspect, that Paul intends the content of the letter to be read to all.  Yes, he is teaching Titus.  But he is also teaching all the house churches in the various towns on the island of Crete.  And thus it makes sense that he would be more formal back in 1:1-4. Let’s continue reading verses 1:1-4.

First of all, he establishes his authority and credentials.  Look at verse 1.

“Servant,” in the Greek language that Paul originally wrote in, is also translated as “slave”.  Slavery in the ancient near east is not the same as slavery that we Americans are familiar with from our history.  In Paul’s day, slaves might actually have opportunity for advancement and position. If you were a servant of the king, for example, you were in a positive position.  Some slaves could purchase their freedom. Slavery was also rarely based on race. But slavery could also be brutal in the Greco-Roman Empire. Please don’t read me as saying that it was okay. It was still one human owning another human, and often mistreating them. That means Paul’s frequent use of this word to describe his relationship with God is curious.  Paul is not saying that slavery is good.  He is saying that he belongs to God.  God owns him.  And that is not a bad thing.  That’s why most English translations use the word “servant” for this Greek word. I tend to think that “servant” takes an unnecessary edge off the concept that Paul is trying to convey. “Slave” is the better word, as harsh as that might sound, because of the connotation that Paul has given up his freedom and submitted it to the will of God.

Second, Paul says he is an apostle of Jesus Christ.  The word, “apostle” can be defined as a special messenger.  There were the 12 disciples of Jesus who became the 12 Apostles, and Paul was added to their number by God’s choice in Acts 9.  The apostolic gift and task is one of seeing where new works for the Kingdom can be started.  Sometimes that is missionary work, church planting, or starting other new ministry.  It is very entrepreneurial and very important.  Paul lived this apostolic life traveling many times across the Roman Empire, starting new churches for God everywhere he went, including the Island of Crete where Paul is now sending this letter to his friend Titus.

So Paul’s primary descriptors of himself are servant and apostle.  In nearly all of his letters, he starts like that.  In other words, he saw his life as defined by God’s mission.  Paul could have talked about his lineage or about his income-earning work, which was tent-making, or about his ministry successes, or his education, or his previous life as an important Jewish leader.  He doesn’t do any of that.  Instead he talks about his role in the mission of God’s Kingdom.  He is a servant and apostle. I find that very instructive.  So can we identify at all with Paul?  Or was he too special, too different? 

I think we can identify in many ways with Paul. 

First, that word “servant.”  Put your name in place of Paul.  “(Your Name), servant of God.” How does that sound to you?  How does that feel?

That is what you are!  But we so rarely identify ourselves as a servant or slave of God.  It is important to ask, “What kind of servant am I?  What should I be doing to serve the Lord?”  For Paul, this was his central identity.  That is something that we can emulate too!  Serving God should be our central identity.

But what about the “apostle” part?  Can we put our name in there?  We are not all apostles are we?  Are there apostles now?  Every now and then, depending on where you travel, you might see a church sign that has the name of the pastor as, “Apostle so and so.”  Some people clearly still use that title.  Are they wrong?  Let’s talk about that.

In my theological tradition, we believe that there were the original 12 Apostles, the 12 that were specifically chosen by Jesus.  One betrayed him, Judas, and then in Acts 1, we read that the remaining 11 replaced Judas with Matthias because he, too, was with Jesus.

But Paul wasn’t a part of that group.  So how did he become an apostle?  Paul used to be a persecutor of Christians, and you can read the story of God’s miraculous intervention in his life in Acts 9, when Jesus called Paul to be a special 13th Apostle of sorts.  Paul, like the other 12, is included in the group of Apostles because he was personally called by Jesus.

While we believe there are no longer specially called apostles on the level of the 12 or 13, we do believe there is an apostolic gift which Paul went on to teach about in his letter to the church at Ephesus in chapter 4 of Ephesians when he says that God called some to be “apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and shepherds and teachers.”  Using the first letter of each of these gifts, APEST, some of given that name to the five-fold gifting of Christians. And these gifts are given by God to all true followers of Jesus.

What gift do you have? What is your role?  Just like Paul we are all servants, but we also have a gifting from God.  Paul’s gifting was to be an apostle.  What is yours?  There are many gifts assessments that you can take to get a starting point. Those assessments are not the word of God for you, but they can help you think about how God might have gifted you. I recommend the APEST test found here. After you take it, I encourage you to discuss it with those people who know you best. Maybe people in your church small group, or your close family and friends. Then start serving in a ministry in your church that could help you practice your gift. See the test as a discussion starter, or a launch pad. Maybe the test was accurate, but maybe in time you’ll see that it needs to be adjusted.

In conclusion what we have seen in the first half of verse 1 is Paul establishing his identity as a servant and an apostle of God, but why? Check back in tomorrow as we continue the study.

That time the Apostle Paul talked about unpresentable parts

15 Aug

I really think there was a twinkle in his eye.  He wasn’t there when they read the letter, so I have to imagine that twinkle, and the corners of his mouth turning up as he grinned to himself thinking about when they would read this. They would get the letter, gather the group of followers of Jesus together in the house where they would meet and some would read it out loud.

Were there snickers among the group when the reader got to this part?

“[T]hose parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment.”

Maybe I’m reading too much into it.  But with all the possible analogies in this life Paul could have used, he chose that one, and I for one find it humorous.  More importantly, Paul’s image of the church as the body of Christ is filled with images of unity in diversity.body-of-christ

As we think about that group of people we call our local church or our home church, would you say that yours is filled with diversity?  Faith Church has loads of it.  Not just the obvious differences like gender and generations, but also personality types, stations in life, experiences, and perspectives.  We are human. So alike, and yet so unique.  In the church we also see diversity in the varied spiritual gifts.

Because ours is a culture of celebrity, we love to put people with certain looks and talents in the place of honor.  Even though those celebrities are human just like the rest of us, we can start to believe that they are better.  They’re really not, but we treat them that way.  This is a widespread tendency in our world, and it goes on in the church.  We talked about a version of this in the beginning of the 1st Corinthians series when people were taking sides by aligning themselves with BNPs…Big Name Preachers.  Now Paul is talking about how people in the church of Corinth are elevating people with certain gifts.

Some of the spiritual gifts are very visible.  The pastor is front and center, especially by preaching the sermon every week.  This is similar to the worship leader or the teacher.  Then there are the gifts of tongues and prophecy which are very attention-getting.  In Corinth it seems the tongues-speakers and prophesiers were placing themselves in the limelight during worship gatherings.

Are people with certain gifts better?  Are certain gifts better?  And how does talking about unpresentable parts help us answer these questions?

Join us Sunday at Faith Church as we discuss this further!  In the meantime read 1 Cor. 12:12-31, the passage we’ll be studying, to get further acquainted with what Paul was thinking.

The Spiritual Gift Game Show! – 1st Corinthians 12:1-11

7 Aug

Phil Bartelt started things out this past Sunday with “Kingdom Life,” a Spiritual Gifts Game Show!

Do you know your spiritual gift(s)?  Are you using your gift(s)?

When we had sermon discussion group after the worship service, we had a great time talking about what it means to have spiritual gifts, and yet there were a lot of questions that we weren’t able to answer satisfactorily:

Have certain gifts ceased? Paul will talk about this concept coming up soon in 1st Corinthians 13:8 when he says “But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.” And yet in chapter 14:39 he tells the church “be eager to prophesy and do not forbid speaking in tongues.” We know that Paul wasn’t the kind of guy who would contradict himself, but these verses leave us questioning what he meant. This is another big debate in Christian theology around the world. (How many of such debates have we encountered during this 1st Corinthians series???)  At sermon discussion, I asked if we could pause this particular line of discussion until we get further along.  In our sermons on chapter 14 we’ll talk about it more specifically.

When do we receive spiritual gifts?  Growing up, I was always taught that we receive gifts from the Spirit at the moment we become followers of Jesus.  But many times we see people who have natural abilities that they can use for Christ.  Are those natural abilities the same thing as spiritual gifts?  If so, do all people receive spiritual gifts at birth?  And maybe those gifts are only energized by the Spirit at the moment a person begins to follow Christ?  But hold on, what if a person doesn’t remember the specific moment they started following Christ?  While some people have a distinct moment of decision when they chose to start following Christ, for many other people it has been a lifelong process.

As you can see, we didn’t come to a conclusion about that second question because there isn’t a clear answer in Scripture.  What we do know is what Paul says in this chapter, that “to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”  That’s pretty amazing to think about.  Each follower of Jesus has the manifestation of the Spirit in their life!

Many_Gifts_One_Spirit_wide_t_nvAnd that leads to another question we discussed: what if we don’t feel like we have spiritual gifts?  Paul says that all have gifts, but maybe you don’t feel like you have any?  Maybe you watch people serving the Lord, teaching a class, playing an instrument on the worship team, praying in front of people, or sharing their faith in many ways in their community, and you think “I don’t do those things; I wonder if God skipped over me?”

That led us to look at the various lists outside of 1st Corinthians where Paul mentions other gifts.  Romans 12:3-8 has a bunch, as does Ephesians 4:11.  Some have wondered if these lists are meant to be comprehensive, meaning that if you don’t find a gift in these lists, then it must not be a spiritual gift.  Playing music for example.  It’s never mentioned as a spiritual gift, so it must just be an ability?  I don’t feel it is best to look at the gifts lists in Scripture that strictly.  Paul was likely being illustrative rather than exhaustive, meaning that he listed out a bunch of gifts, not intending to speak about every single possible gift the Spirit might give.  As I say that, I admit that I don’t know for sure.  I am also hesitant to call every ability a gift of the Spirit.  Christians through the ages have done a great job categorizing gifts.  At Faith Church we have used the PLACE materials to help people begin to think about recognizing and using their gifts.  PLACE incorporates personal abilities, passions, experiences and personality types into a much fuller assessment of how God uniquely made each one of us. I encourage people to work through the PLACE materials rather than just take a spiritual gifts inventory.

And no matter how you begin thinking about your giftedness, it is best to bring other people into the process.  Ask people who love you how they see your giftedness.  Then seek out ways to use your gifts in the context of the church.  Some of the best advice I received as a young man headed off to my first year of college was from my mom.  She encouraged me to try a lot of things.  Don’t get stuck in a rut.  I gave it a shot, and I’m glad I did.  It gave me a chance to learn a lot about myself and how God uniquely shaped me. People can do the same in the life of the church.  Be willing to serve, even if you are very unsure that you are gifted in a particular area.  Try new things. Put yourself out there!

Do you know your spiritual gifts?

2 Aug

Spiritual-GiftsSpiritual Gifts…do you know what your spiritual gift is?

Have you ever taken one of those spiritual gifts tests where you answer a whole bunch of questions, and then you tally up the results, and voila, you find out which spiritual gift you have?

Tests like that could be helpful as a starting place, or at least that’s how we have looked at them at Faith Church.

As we continue working through Paul’s long teaching on worship (chapters 11-14), which is based in his concern that the church at Corinth’s worship gatherings were out of control, he wants them to learn that unity is vital to worship. One area they were showing their disunity is spiritual gifts.

We talk a lot about identifying our gifts, but maybe the better question is “What are they for?”

Would you read 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 before worship tomorrow?  Prepare to hear about the purpose of the gifts.  Ask yourself if you are using your gifts for the purpose God intended.

Encouragement Note, PLACE books, CPYU Stuff – The Monday Messy Office Report – April 7, 2014

7 Apr

My Friday tidy office is mysteriously messy by Monday.  Here’s what I found today:

1. Encouragement note – It is simple, but very meaningful “Joel, Hope you have a great week!”  From, anonymous.  Isn’t that cool?  Someone placed that on my desk.  For as long as I can remember we keep encouragement note sheets on the mailslot shelves in our Fellowship Hall.  There are numerous times the biblical authors remind us to encourage one another, such as 1 Thessalonians 5:11.  Next time you are checking your mailslot at church, how about picking up a note and jotting off a few kind words to someone.  I think it is awesome that this person gave an encouraging anonymous note!  Let’s start a flood of encouraging notes.  Thanks, anonymous person!  You might have just launched a movement!

2. Stack of PLACE workbooks – Yesterday we started elective classes, something that I always think is fun. We pause all of our regular classes, and people get to choose a new topic to study. We have four going on during the month of April: Grief Sharing Group, Apostles Creed Video Class, Multiply Movement, and Spiritual Gifts. I am teaching the Spiritual Gifts class, and I was going to do a Bible study of the gifts passages.  But after a discussion with my friend Joseph, I decided to use the PLACE curriculum.  I love how it walks you step-by-step through learning about your personality, giftedness, abilities, passions and experiences, and how they work together to show how you are uniquely you, crafted by God for his glory and service.  My props to PLACE for having such awesome material.  Yesterday we did Session 1, all about personality.  If you missed the class, you can still join up!  Same goes for the other classes as well.

3. CPYU stuff – This past Friday night, my wife Michelle and I, and our friend Becka, went to the 25th Anniversary Banquet for The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding. My wife met CPYU Founder and President Walt Mueller years ago, as she noted on Facebook “I sat there last night, thinking about 25 years ago…and the start of CPYU… And remember very clearly being a sophomore in high school (1991…23 years ago) and listening to this great speaker on my youth retreat. I remember a month or so later having a “boy issue/concern” and sitting down to write a letter about this to the speaker–a guy named Walt! It ended up being several pages long….a week or so later I got a letter in the mail. A response from this Walt. A response that pointed me to Jesus & that gave wise council. Thank you Walt for the work you, Lisa, and your team do. It was invaluable to me as a young lady, to Joel & I when we were youth pastor, and to us as parents of teenagers! Happy 25!”  I couldn’t agree more.  If you have kids, even if they’re not teens yet, please get to know CPYU.  If you have grandkids or if you work with kids, I can guarantee that CPYU will be a great encouragement to you.  Like them on FacebookAt the banquet, we received a copy of Walt’s book Opie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.  Our world has changed, and I’m looking forward to reading this book.  

Now it’s time to clean this mess up!