Worthless Great Gifts

In Japan when you give someone a gift you call your gift “tsumaranai mono” which means a trivial, boring or worthless thing. Our culture would find it strange to give someone a gift you are calling worthless, in their culture they are trying to be humble and in essence are saying you deserve much more than I am giving you. Many of the worthless gifts I received in Japan were actual very nice gifts.

Towards the end of his first letter Peter writes, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10). Thinking of the verse we get this neat picture of God giving us gifts that we use to serve others which become an expression of God’s grace to the person we serve. That God would give us gifts by itself is amazing, that He would give us these gifts so that we could display His grace to others in us is far beyond what we deserve.

Our thoughts regarding these gifts that God gives us could easily go to, “Wow they must be something really extra-ordinary in order to display God’s grace.” However I would encourage you to read the verses surrounding this verse. You will find extra-ordinary gifts like praying, loving deeply, hospitality, speaking God’s Word, and serving. These are things that we all are equipped as Christians to do and we all can do right now, there is no missing ingredient we need in our walk with Christ in order to do these things. Sadly, we might be prone to label these gifts as trivial or boring yet God has a very different view of them.

May our Heavenly Father help us to view the gifts He has given us not as tsumaranai mono, but as priceless and when offered sincerely God is able to come alongside the gift in the power of His Spirit and display the grace of our Father in a wonderful way.

  • Steve Selle

 

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Unity in the Body for Fruitful Mission

“I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23).

On the night Jesus was betrayed, just before He embarked on His passion, Jesus prayed to His Father for the unity of all believers, those for whom He would die, giving them spiritual life (John 17:20-23). It is interesting to note that as Jesus prays for unity, He also prays for the clear message of salvation, found only in the truth of Scripture. Jesus says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Connecting these thoughts, we see a unique distinctive of Christians. Christians are set apart by God to grow together, as they trust in the truth of Sacred Scripture.

When an individual first believes, the Holy Spirit enters the new-found believer, placing them in union with the risen Lord, fulfilling His promise, “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one” (John 17:23). Inclusive to God’s salvation is an empowerment to believe Biblical truth that unifies us as body members, together in Him (1 Corinthians 12:12). So, how does unity impact our living?  Unity impacts many aspects of the Christian life. One such way is on mission.

It is true that Christ saved us separately, but He did not save us to be separate. A singular Christian can go on mission sharing the gospel. The work will be hard. In time, the weight of discouragement becomes too great and He or she quits. Things are simply too tough to go on.

However, many believers coming together are an “army on the ground” for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Their work will be hard but the encouragement of fellow-workers is sweet as they strive on mission together. One of the great joys of ministry is the joy of working together, shoulder to shoulder, as a gospel witness, making disciples and loving neighbor.

As believers mature in Christ, they intrinsically love Him more. As believers work together, His love flows through them, developing a greater and greater love for each other. The love of the one-another’s striving together will never be in vain because the focus will not be on the strain of labor but on the expectancy of God receiving the Glory. How does that look? Jesus said it this way, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

One candle pierces the darkness. Many candles push darkness away. However, the light Jesus speaks of is no simple candle. His light, inherent only to Him, destroys darkness. It can never be snuffed out. Think about it – As Christians, we are to bear witness or “reflect” the light of Gospel truth into the falsehood of a dark world. Herein unity steps forward to give us the jolt, just when we need it. As we share His truth, making disciples and loving neighbor together.

  • Selby Brannon

Grace to Think as we Ought

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Romans 12:3)

In the Christian life we make progress only as we travel without going off into the ditch on either side of our path. Following right after a quintessential verse on the subject of sanctification, the believer’s transformation as his mind is renewed, Paul goes on to identify two barriers that will immediately arise to frustrate that process. A lack of humility on one side and the presence of a false humility on the other. As Paul recognizes his identity primarily an object of God’s sovereign saving grace he warns not just leaders, not just common folks, but everyone. This is something common to all of us. The need to not think any higher of ourselves than necessary. You’re not all that but it is necessary that you know that you are an object of loving grace. If you are in Christ and have been given faith to believe the gospel, the Creator of the universe has chosen you and adopted you as his son. With that fact established is there any reason for us now to think more highly of ourselves than necessary? Now on the other side we must think soberly or clearly without missing the fact that each of us has a God given measure of faith. Each and every one of us are different as assigned by the Father and carefully and perfectly suited with assigned gifts for His purpose for us in the body. What a confidence we hold as we walk assured of grace to think as we ought.

  • David Ortiz

Urgent?

I have been continuing my journey through the book of Romans and recently was convicted by this verse, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. Rom 10:1” In the verse we have Paul continuing from chapter 9 his desire to see the Jews saved. The word for prayer here is ‘dee’sis’ which gets translated prayer or supplication in the New Testament. The root that it comes from implies a felt need that is both personal and urgent.

Meditating on this I was convicted of my sinful heart that at times obsesses with maintaining the peace in relationships with people outside of God’s Grace and if I am honest a prayer life for my unsaved friends that is often lacking in being either personal or urgent for their situation.

In the verse we see Paul pleading to God for the salvation of the Jews. These are the same Jews that for the most part totally rejected Paul’s message, slandered his reputation, incited mobs to stone with the intent of killing him, and caused him to be imprisoned in Jerusalem for two years … and Paul is still pleading for their salvation.

Father, forgive me for the coldness of my heart at times toward the lost. Change my prayer life that I might plead for your grace and mercy to be revealed in the world you have placed around my life. Move by the power of your Spirit both in my life and the lives around me to bring a harvest for your Glory.

  • Steve Selle

Being Thankful

The world is filled with thankless people and ingratitude is a core trait of unbelievers. The Apostle Paul expressed it this way when writing to the Roman Church, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Romans 1:21). Natural man usually sees positive circumstances as either a matter of good luck or that their success is the product of pulling things together through hard work. There is little interest in being thankful to the Lord for His goodness and common grace.

Conversely, a believer is thankful. During regeneration the believer receives a new nature through the work of the Spirit. Inclusive in His sanctifying work is a heart of thanksgiving towards God. The believer grows in grace and, in turn, thanks God for everything. Stated another way, genuine thankfulness is evidence that God is at his work in the life of His child.

Luke 17:11-19 tells a story of ten lepers who cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Jesus saw them, was moved with compassion and healed them.  Sadly, although ten were healed, only one returned to Jesus, glorifying God and giving thanks – ten asked God for mercy, nine failed to be thankful. Unfortunately, there are times when believers, like the lepers, ask God for help and forget to give thanks.

Our bounty of thanksgiving, even during the twists, bends and flips of life is founded on a right understanding of God. The reason for ongoing thanksgiving is found in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Thanksgiving is an admission of dependence on God who controls all things. Through Scripture, prayer, and the wise council of fellow believers, our confidence grows, as we see His hand of provision. We learn to observe the ways that He is at work in all of our circumstances, even when the path is difficult and unclear, for our good. God is never surprised or caught off guard in adversity, scrambling to make the best out of a hard situation. On the contrary, the Sovereign Lord knows how He is going to use the problem for our good, before it enters our world.

So, if you are a struggling Christian, trust your trustworthy God, He is near. Be assured that in His sovereign love and wisdom you can be confident that He is in control of everything and the ultimate outcome will be your everlasting good.

  • Selby Brannon

Gift of Faith

Before I say too much about spiritual gifts, I want to give you some personal context; my viewpoint is beginning to be reshaped.  As I’m getting older the theological arguments that once intimidated me are beginning to fade.  In the suffering and joy of parenting and pastoring, I am changing.  I have more moments where I long for simplicity rather than complexed explanations.  I do appreciate the clarity of truth.  But the clearer my theology becomes, the more I appreciate the simplicity of mystery.  I can confidently say, “I don’t really know how God works.”  And outbursts like, “God! really?” are a part of my life.

I once thought that in order to function in my spiritual gift, I had to know what it is.  Because wise people said it, and because it seems to make perfect human sense, I spent time worrying about what my gift was.  As if once I crack the code, I’ll know what to do.  The odd thing is, I’ve been a believer for over 40 years and pastor for almost half of that and I’m not really sure I know what my gift is.  Yet, I think the Lord is using me more today than ever before.  Not because I’ve got the “gift code” figured out, but because God is great and I need him.

Friends, this season of life for me is not a reflection of futility, but of faith.  I spend less time trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do and more time fighting to trust the Lord.  To be transparent, as I see God more clearly, I also see people and feel the effects of sin more clearly as well.  I need faith.  I need Him.  By grace, I trust God more today than I did 10 years ago and I love better too. Maybe he is developing in all of us, the gift of faith.

I’m not sure what my gift is.  I’m ok with you not knowing what your gift is.  But I want to encourage you to move forward in your day by faith and love the people around you.

“God can be trusted to work his will in ways both ordinary and extraordinary, and he does not leave it to us to decide which is which. Let’s not, in other words, be timid where the Spirit has made us courageous. He is gifting us for the powerful work of making Jesus look big in the church and in the world.”

For more on the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers, I recommend Supernatural Power for Everyday People by Jared Wilson

  • Jeff Pierce

Does Unity Mean We Never Disagree?

David writes in Psalm 139:14 – “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Is it not implied in our wonderfully-made-ness that we are therefore not clones of each other, but unique and special? And if we are unique and special (and yes, you are!), then does it not also follow that we will not always see things the same way. We are wonderfully different, and fearfully designed by God with a blueprint that is unlike anyone else’s. If you’re with me so far, then that can’t mean whenever we disagree we are not walking in unity, but simply expressing our different-ness. So how does this work?

Unity is Deeper than Disagreement

 I wish I knew more of the back story with Paul and Barnabas disagreeing over including John Mark on their missionary trip (Acts 15:36-41). It appears that Barnabas saw potential in John Mark and was willing to take a chance on him (like he had on Saul of Tarsus), but Paul thought this was a really bad idea. Apparently, John Mark had bailed out on them previously in the midst of ministry labors. Paul and Barnabas didn’t see eye to eye on their observations about John Mark, nor on a decision to include him in their ministry team. So they lovingly agreed to go different ways with different teams. Was this disunity? I don’t think so. Paul and Barnabas get to be different and have different opinions about people and problems. What we do know is that they were both committed to the mission of the Gospel and as a result of this disagreement, God multiplied the number of workers sent out for the building up of the churches. They remained steadfast and unified on the mission even as they disagreed on some of the details, because unity runs deeper than human differences and even disagreements.

We should always be quick to listen and slow to speak, inviting the observations of other trusted friends and counselors, but uniformity and blind allegiance is not what unity is about. Unity is about the love of Jesus that has been poured out on needy sinners. Holding fast to that will preserve the unity even in the face of humble, loving disagreement.

  • Mark Spansel