A Gift Unused

I was rummaging around in my kids’ pencil box when I came across these fun stickers I picked up in London last year. My daughter had only used two of them, and I thought “I should use these up on something!” But before I could decide on what to bedazzle with British cuteness, I stopped – I had given those to her. They were hers to use, or to set aside and forget. That’s how gifts work.

It hit me that that is how God’s gifts, the spiritual gifts, are too. He gives them to us and it’s up to us whether we use them or not. The apostle Paul tells Timothy to “…fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” 2 Timothy 1:6

Apparently Timothy has the choice NOT to do that, and let the gift go unused.

I saw it in my own life, how some gifts I have been clearly given (stories for another post) at times fall into neglect. I get distracted, bitter, disillusioned for one reason or another; my eyes wander off of the Kingdom and God’s plans to redeem the world.

And I miss out! I miss out on the joy of being part of His work, seeing lights come on, seeing the weary take heart, experiencing first hand His love for others in action.

We’ve been given this incredible call to be God’s hands and voice to each other, to the world. Let’s not let those gifts gather dust or get lost in the pencil box of life. Let that light shine!

What gifts or callings has God given you? Seek the Lord and ask the Spirit to fan into flame those gifts He’s given you!

30 Days to Stay & Pray

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Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

I woke up yesterday for church feeling pretty lackluster. Even before the sun rose that morning I had been feeling these nagging questions in the back of my mind. Why do I go to church? What is even the point of this?

I could answer my own questions of course. Community is good. Maybe I’ll be encouraged or be able to encourage someone else. God moves through His people in community. The writer of Hebrews pretty much commanded we show up (Heb 10:25). All of these are good reasons to get in the car that have propped me up many a pooped-out Sunday morning.

But shouldn’t it feel good too? I used to get excited about going to church. I never wanted to miss it. What changed? I’m friends with many of the pastors & elders at my church, and I know they’re seeking God. It’s not them. My friends there are the same. Nothing minor has changed like the music or decor that would affect my mood.

Maybe it’s me.

I haven’t been to church much this summer. Between travel and sickness my Sundays were otherwise occupied. And here’s the thing: I find that the less I go, the less I want to go. If you’re thinking, “Well, maybe that’s telling. If you don’t miss it, maybe it’s not for you,” let me just say that I get that reasoning. But it’s the same way in my life with the Bible. The less I read the less I want to (and the converse is also true!). But the Bible is most definitely for me, and for you. Some things just take discipline, like exercise and eating well. The acquired pleasure in them, and the health they bring is the reward.

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”Matt 6:21

Jesus was talking about where we spend our resources. And my time has been spent elsewhere this summer — I haven’t been attending or volunteering or praying. And so now I find my heart is elsewhere, too.

In those early morning minutes as I was dragging myself out of bed, a thought occurred to me. And it was such a powerful urge, laced with the certainty of its importance, that I suddenly turned to my husband and said,

“We need to pray for church. Every day for 30 days.”

So I’m committing to it: to invest in my church community by praying for it every day. And if you look around and see a church you don’t feel like going to anymore, will you pray for it? Or even if you DO feel like going, will you pray for it? Invite God’s work there. Pray for the leaders. Pray for the volunteers. Pray for the person sitting next to you! Ask the Lord where He would have you join the work there in any measure. Every day.

Because we go to church to encounter God together. He designed it to function this way. Don’t cut ties if you’re feeling thirsty, pray for rain! And if it’s already raining, pray for a soaking! Do it for your sake and for the sake of the person beside you in the pew, for the sake of the Kingdom.

30 days, every day. Even just a few sincere sentences on the drive to work or while you fold laundry.

Will you join me? Let’s see what the Spirit will do when we say “Thy will be done in this place.”

 

 

Faithful Father

Old Faithful in Yellowstone photo by Emily Campbell on Unsplash

I recently read The Epic of Eden, a fantastic book on ancient Near Eastern culture and how it shapes our understanding of the stories in the Old Testament. In one particularly moving part the author explains the meaning of a story in Genesis 15 where God makes a covenant with Abram – a covenant involving a flaming torch and smoking oven that float between the cut-up pieces of sacrificed animals. Ummm…? I used to walk away from that story thinking, “Dude, ancient people were weird.”

But as it turns out, it’s a beautiful picture of God’s love!

(Did not see that coming.)

In the culture of that day, when a weaker person or nation wanted to get protection, they would go to a more powerful king/individual and enter into a common kind of covenant called a suzerain/vassal covenant. The powerful one would agree to look out for the weaker person and usually grant them land, in exchange for tribute and military service. To seal the deal, the weaker member would bring an offering, cut it up, and walk between the sacrificed animal pieces as a symbol that, should they violate the terms of the treaty, may they come to a similar end. (yikes!)

So Abram, in a moment of doubt about God’s promise to give Canaan to his descendants, asked God “How can I know that you will give me all this land?” God then enacts this kind of treaty with Abram, so that he could understand God’s promise to fulfill this land grant. But here is the truly beautiful part – rather than Abram walking through the bloody pieces, God did it Himself, effectively saying, “If you, Abram and your offspring, fail to keep your covenant with Me, may *I* suffer this fate in your place.”

We know well how Israel failed to keep the covenant. And we know Who paid the price for the disobedience of all of us children of Abram…

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

What a kind and merciful Father we have!! Faithful to a thousand generations, whether they be faithful or not.

Rejoice…Always?

Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash

“Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice!” Philippians 4:4

I have long struggled with this verse. How can I rejoice always? When my kids are fighting, when I get the stomach flu, when a job is lost or a car crashes or the person I didn’t vote for gets elected? Rejoice?

Doesn’t that seem a little dishonest?

But there is this key phrase in the verse that I ignored because I didn’t understand it. The command is not just to rejoice; it is to rejoice in the Lord.

It hit me yesterday, like a divine gift from above out of nowhere. It means to fix our eyes on all that we have been given in Jesus! THAT is plenty to rejoice about and we can do it always because the gift is stored up “where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal.” It isn’t touched by life circumstances; it comes riding on the very promise of God himself and cannot be revoked.

“Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.”  1 Peter 1:4-5

You see, the promise God has given us is that no matter what happens here, redemption is coming. Redemption of everything. My body could be killed or diseased but I’m going to get it back, perfected. Never to die or suffer again. This world is going to be redeemed, remade, perfected. The testimony of Paul is that our current troubles are “light and momentary” – they’re temporary. The promise has been made that death and suffering don’t get the last word – Jesus WON. Darkness is on its way OUT. And we’re not headed for a disembodied future floating around somewhere; the promise for all of creation — the physical and spiritual realms that God made in the beginning — is NEW LIFE. Forever.

When I take even a moment to reflect on that, rejoicing is the only response!

And even now, walking these hard roads to redemption, we are not alone. We do not bear any burden by ourselves; He is with us always, in our innermost and outtermost struggles, to the end of the age. Even David, long before Jesus came, understood the joy of the Lord (and often had to wade through his own fears and grief to remember it). Meditate on this Psalm.

And rejoice in the Lord!

“Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing.

You guard all that is mine.

The land you have given me is a pleasant land.

What a wonderful inheritance!

I will bless the Lord who guides me;

even at night my heart instructs me.

I know the Lord is always with me.

I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.

No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.

My body rests in safety.

For you will not leave my soul among the dead

or allow your holy one to rot in the grave.

You will show me the way of life,

granting me the joy of your presence

and the pleasures of living with you forever.”

Psalm 16: 5-11