Tag Archives: Abilities

Cooperation, not Competition

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.
1 Corinthians 3:5 (NIV)

Our local gathering of Jesus followers has two venues for worship, and each Sunday there are worship services that run in both rooms at the same time. For the past few years I have had the honor of working with a team of individuals who are developing their gifts and skills in teaching. Every season there is a rotating team of people who take turns teaching on Sundays and then meeting mid-week to discuss their experience and improve their skills. It’s a diverse group of both men and women of different ages, educational backgrounds, and vocational experiences. It’s been a fascinating experience for me to lead and participate. I’ve learned a lot.

One of the things I’ve tried to impress on our team of teachers is the reality that each week I get up to teach there will be those who are excited to see me up there, and those who who are not. As we represent a diverse cross-section of humanity, we each will appeal to different individuals within our gathering. Those who are gifted teachers and develop those gifts will naturally develop broader appeal, but no teacher enjoys universal appeal (not even Jesus). It just is what it is. I think that’s why Jesus’ followers are called a “body” and the spiritual gift of teaching is given to a diverse number of individuals across all parts of the body.

As I’ve been studying the early history of the Jesus Movement, I am repeatedly struck at how quickly the story shifts from the original twelve apostles to a host of other characters. In many cases, these almost anonymous individuals, such as Ananias (Acts 9:10-19), pop onto the scene like a bit player with a walk-on role, then make their exit never to be heard from again. Others characters are only referenced or mentioned, but nonetheless they played a large off-stage role. Apollos was one of these.

Apollos was from the city of Alexandria in Egypt, a city of great influence in the ancient world. Apollos was from the upper crust of society in those days. He was highly educated and trained in oratory, the art of speech and debate, which was arguably the most esteemed skill at that time of history. We don’t know how Apollos became a believer, but he arrives on the scene using his speaking and debate skills arguing that Jesus was the Messiah. He was such a powerful teacher and speaker, in fact, that he naturally developed broad appeal within the Jesus Movement, especially with many of the believers of Corinth. Division sprouted among the Corinthians believers as some in the local gathering there began to treat it as if it was a “The Voice” type of competition. Some were on “Team Paul” and other were on “Team Apollos.”

Paul immediately shuts down these notions of competition between the two. It’s not a competition, Paul argues, but a cooperation. Both Paul and Apollos had a role to play in the Corinthian believers faith and spiritual growth. Each brought his own unique personality, style, background, experience, and appeal. Every believer in Corinth had something to learn from both Paul and Apollos. This wasn’t “either, or” it was “both, and.”

In the quiet this morning I’m thinking of the diverse team of individuals with whom I partner to teach among my local gathering of believers. It’s been a blast for me to watch each of them develop their own voice, speak from their own unique experiences, and watch our gathering grow and learn from such a broad range of voices. It’s a weekly and constant reminder that “the church” was never to be a monument to a particular, persuasive teacher or leader. Every local gathering has both a Paul and an Apollos (and an Ananias, and a Priscilla, and an Aquila, and a Chloe and….).

It’s not competition. It’s cooperation. Or else, we’re doing it wrong.

The Southpaw Savior

But when the Israelites cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man.
Judges 3:15 (NRSV)

When it comes to a good novel, I have always loved espionage thrillers. So, it comes as no surprise that I find the story of Ehud, the southpaw who saved the nation, most fascinating. Three things stood out to me this morning as I read the story of Ehud’s assassination of the Moabite king, Eglon, and Israel’s subsequent military victory.

The first thing that struck me this morning was simply how brutal life in the time of the judges really was. Get ready, because we’re just getting started and there’s a lot of brutality to wade through in the coming weeks. I have said it before as we’ve journeyed through the ancient texts of God’s Message, and I’m reminded again: I have to try and take myself out of my 21st century, American cultural mindset to imagine the realities of tribal culture in Canaan 3300 years ago.

The second thing is that Ehud was a lefty, and lefties have always had a pretty bad rap throughout history. We humans are lemmings by nature and history reveals that we are continually suspect of social outliers. Lefties in history were thought to be anything from evil omens to downright evil themselves. As a lefty, I can remember my elementary teachers at least making an attempt to have me write with my right hand because they believed being right handed would be better for me. How silly of us to be afraid of that which is natural, if only different. Ehud’s south-paw sword hand came in handy.

Finally, Ehud hatched a brilliant plan, and he seems to have understood several key pieces of strategy. The fact that Eglon trusted himself to be alone with Ehud tells me that there was trust built between the two. He seems to have known what Don Corleone learned thousands of years later: Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. Then you can strike when the time is right. Ehud also understood that if you strike the shepherd the sheep will be scattered. He started buy killing the King and then the Moabite subjects were easier to defeat. Ehud was also perceptive about human nature. By speaking privately to Eglon, then shutting & locking the door behind him, he anticipated the servants’ reluctance to barge in on the king. He bought himself more time to get out.

Today, I’m thinking about the fact that God uses our unique differences for specific purpose. Ehud the southpaw was the right guy at the right time in the right place. Our natural strengths and corollary struggles mean that we are uniquely suited to play our part in the Great Story. It’s our job to respect that part we play, and the parts played by others – rather than judging them as better, worse, greater, or lesser.

 

Unique People for God’s Unique Purposes

The Monuments Men Cover…and [King] Ahab had summoned Obadiah, his palace administrator.(Obadiah was a devout believer in the Lord. While Jezebel was killing off the Lord’s prophets, Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each, and had suppliedthem with food and water.) 1 Kings 18:3-4 (NIV)

This past summer I read The Monuments Men by Bret Witter and Robert Edsel. It is the book upon which the movie by the same name was based. One of the more intriguing pieces of the story was person of Rose Valland (Cate Blanchett played a character in the movie based on Valland). There was nothing particularly remarkable about her. She is described as the type of person who blended in and did not attract attention. She was, however, a woman of acute intellect, strong character, and indomitable courage.

Valland found herself a clerk in the midst of the Nazi’s looting of the world’s artistic treasures. A passionate lover of art, she literally risked her life to secretly document which paintings and works of art were stolen and where they were taken. The men who served with the Monuments Men were rightfully praised for their efforts, but were it not for Rose Valland being in the position she held and having the courage to do what she did, many of the world’s great works of art would no longer exist.

As I travel this life journey, I am intrigued to observe how people find themselves uniquely placed in situations and circumstances in which they are able to use their God given gifts and abilities in order to accomplish specific purposes. I thought about Obadiah and Elijah as I read today’s chapter. Here are two very different characters in two very different circumstances who are part of the same events. Elijah the prophet is a reclusive, unpredictable outsider living in the wilderness far away from the centers of political and religious power. Obadiah, on the other hand, is a polished and educated insider working in the administrative heart of the corrupt and evil monarchy. Very different men, very different places, but both uniquely suited to fulfill God’s purposes. God used them both, and they each had a unique job to perform.

I have found that we like to place God, His followers and His purposes into neat little prescriptive boxes that fit our comfortable paradigms. I am reminded this morning by Elijah, by Obadiah, and by Rose Valland, that God uses vastly different individuals of His own choosing and calling to accomplish purposes that lie beyond our comprehension.

 

“Yes, You Can”

Way to go, Taylor! Way to go!

Dad & Madison @ Graduation 05 2010

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…. Ephesians 3:20 (NIV)

When our daughters were growing up, I made the choice that my default parental answer would always be “yes.” I believed that one of the most important lessons I could instill in my children is an understanding of how capable they were.

  • “Yes” you can play in the sprinkler, because life is about joyful everyday experiences
  • “Yes” you can stay up and read in bed, because reading will expand your world
  • “Yes” you can go on a missions trip to the other side of the world, because God doesn’t put an age limit on spiritual gifts or who He can/will use for His purposes, and neither should I.
  • “Yes” you can try out for [fill in the blank], because I believe you can do it, I want  you to believe in yourself, and even if you fail you will learn an invaluable life lesson that will benefit you the rest of your life.

Don’t get me wrong. The answer was “no” on occasion, but as a parent I wanted my “no” to have good reason that I could clearly articulate. I’ve seen too many parents whose default is always “no,” and the negative impact on their children:

  • “No” you can’t because I don’t trust you
  • “No” you can’t because you’re a kid
  • “No” you can’t because I never could
  • “No” you can’t because I don’t want to have to deal with it

I live in a world of fellow adults who have no idea of how capable they are or the difference they could make in the lives of others because the default answer they’ve known all their lives has been “no.” I wanted the default answer in my home to be “yes” so that my children would realize that they are even more capable than they themselves realized, and that I believed in them. More importantly, I believe that God believes in them, has gifted them uniquely, and can do immeasurably more through them than they could ask or imagine.

This past weekend we had the joy of spending some time with Taylor. She shared with us what’s been going on in her soul of late, which she put into her blog post on Sunday. She quoted from Rob Bell’s sermon which dovetails nicely with this morning’s post:

If you are a disciple, you have committed your entire life to being like your rabbi. If you see your rabbi walk on water, what do you immediately want to do? Walk on water. So this disciple gets out on the water and he starts to sink, so he yells, “Jesus save me!” And Jesus says, “You of little faith, why do you doubt?” Who does Peter lose faith in? Not Jesus; Jesus is doing fine. Peter loses faith in himself. Peter loses faith that he can do what the rabbi is doing. If the rabbi calls you to be his disciple, then he believes you can actually be like him. As we read the stories of Jesus’ life with his disciples, what do we find that frustrates him to no end? When his disciples lose faith in themselves. He doesn’t get frustrated with them because they are incapable, but because of how capable they are. 

So Jesus, at the end of his time, tells the disciples to go make more disciples. Then he leaves. He dies. He promises to send his Spirit to guide and direct them, but the future of the movement is in their hands. He doesn’t stick around to make sure they don’t screw it up. He’s gone. He actually trusts that they can do it. God has an incredibly high view of people. God believes people are capable of amazing things. I’ve been told that I need to believe in Jesus, which is a good thing. But what I’m learning is that Jesus believes in me.

“Yes, you  can.”

 

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Playing the Roles We are Given

English: A painting created by Leonardo Da Vin...
English: A painting created by Leonardo Da Vinci depicting St John the baptist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” Malachi 3:1 (NLT)

I am teaching a Wednesday night class on creativity. In the first week I made a case for the truth that every human being is made in the image of the Creator, therefore every human being is creative. How the creativity plays out from one person to the next is determined by a whole host of variables, but we are all creative.

Last night our class talked about the fact that some people are creatively gifted in unique ways. A few individuals are prodigies and artistic geniuses in a way that the majority of us will never know nor experience. This does not mean, however, that our creativity is not necessary nor important.

When I read about the messenger in Malachi’s prophesy, I thought about John the Baptist about whom Jesus said the prophecy pointed. John lived a life scratched out in the Judean desert. His role was to prepare the way for and hand the spotlight over to Jesus:

The interest of the people by now was building. They were all beginning to wonder, “Could this John be the Messiah?” But John intervened: “I’m baptizing you here in the river. The main character in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.” Luke 3:15-17 (MSG) [emphasis added]

I love that John understood his role, and played it well. We so often and unwittingly commit the sin of envy. We compare ourselves to others who have gifts and abilities that we wish we had. We feel less than. We choose to believe that because we do not have the lead role, because we are not in the spotlight, or because our gifts and talents go unrecognized that our gifts and talents do not matter. Nothing could be further from the truth. We each have a role to play, and when we do not play our role the entire drama is diminished.

Chapter-a-Day Acts 4

education
education (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. Acts 4:13 (NLT)

Our culture is blessed by ancestors who believed in the need for education. Before public education was available, virtually all of America’s private educational institutions were founded by followers of Jesus who felt that education was a crucial need for their children and for the successful future of generations who would come after. Today, between private colleges, community colleges, public universities, education for working adults, and on-line coursework, a higher education is more readily available than any time in history.

I have, however, come to realize that our belief in higher education can easily and subtly deceive us. Education is not spiritual knowledge. A diploma does not give you wisdom. A higher education is not equal to, nor superior to spiritual giftedness. I have witnessed many men and women who were placed in positions as teachers and pastors because they had the right educational credentials, but those individuals failed and their churches suffered because they were not spiritually gifted for the task. I have likewise known successful pastors and teachers who never darkened the door of a college or seminary, but who were blessed with spiritual gifts that more than enabled them for the task. Education is important, but a institution of higher learning is not Holy Spirit. Having a string of letters behind your name should never be confused with spiritual knowledge, wisdom or giftedness.

I find today’s chapter fascinating and heartening. Peter and John, these uneducated, blue-collar fishermen from the sticks, had been transformed in a matter of weeks from fearful, skulking followers into bold and capable leaders who would change the course of human history. We can all be encouraged by that. What any of us may lack in education and abilities is nothing compared to what the fullness of God’s Spirit in us makes possible.

Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 3

Harry Belafonte 1954
Image via Wikipedia

At that same time, I begged God: “God, my Master, you let me in on the beginnings, you let me see your greatness, you let me see your might—what god in Heaven or Earth can do anything like what you’ve done! Please, let me in also on the endings, let me cross the river and see the good land over the Jordan, the lush hills, the Lebanon mountains.”  Deuteronomy 3:23-25 (MSG)

When I was young I was called to preach. I’ll spare you the details of how it happened. It’s a story for another day. Preaching and teaching was not an ability I developed or worked at. It was something that I just did and I was good at it. At the same time, I had several friends who were gifted singers and musicians. I loved the way music was so easy for them and I envied the way they could stand up and sing or play and move the audience with their music in powerful ways.

And so, because I envied my friends musical ability I would try hard to sing well and to play music. It was agonizing at first. With practice I became decent at singing and playing. I became competent at it, but I will never be a gifted vocalist or musician. I watched as some of my gifted musical friends tried desperately to communicate through the spoken word. In concerts they insisted on sharing long winded stories and talks between songs. It was agonizing. They weren’t gifted communicators. People wanted them to stop talking and play their music.

Along the journey I’ve noticed this pattern in people. We envy the gifts and abilities of others while failing to appreciate out own. God gives each of us our own gifts and abilities and calls us to serve in a unique way based on those gifts and abilities. We do the same thing with our callings. Moses wanted desperately to cross the Jordan and lead the people into the Promised Land, but that was Joshua’s job; It was what Joshua was called to do. Moses’ calling was to get the people out of Egypt, give them the law, and lead them to the river.

We too often treat our gifts and callings like we do our material possessions. We get bored with what we have and are enamored with what others have. Today I’m reminded that I’ve got to do what I’m gifted and called to do while celebrating what others are gifted and called to do.

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