Tag Archives: Gift

That Which I am Gifted and Meant to Do

So Moses, Aaron and the leaders of Israel counted all the Levites by their clans and families. All the men from thirty to fifty years of age who came to do the work of serving and carrying the tent of meeting numbered 8,580.
Numbers 4:46-48 (NIV)

Along life’s journey I’ve come to understand that the organization of human beings to accomplish a particular task (or tasks) is an art form in and of itself. Anyone who has had to lead any kind of large scale endeavor understands this. There are numerous models and theories for doing so.

In this morning’s chapter we find the Hebrew clan of Levites were dedicated to the care, maintenance and moving of their nation’s mobile temple and all its furnishings. They alone of all the Hebrew clans set it up, took it down, carried it on the march, and did the work of the Temple while encamped. If you were born into the Levite clan you would not be a warrior, you would work be assigned religious duties the rest of your life.

Throughout history this paradigm has also been followed by many societies. A father is apprenticed into a trade by his father, and teaches the trade to his son. You were born into your occupation just as sure as you might be given the surname of that occupation: Miller, Thatcher, Farmer, and Doctor.

Had things still been done this way, I might be a carpenter today, just as my great-grandfather was apprenticed to be before he came to America as a young man. Anyone who has experienced my carpentry skills knows that this would be a tragedy. While I am capable to do some basic projects, you definitely don’t want me building your house!

In today’s paradigm, we are taught as young people that we “can be anything we want” and this is somewhat true. In our culture we are free to pursue any trade or occupation. I have noticed, however, that just because you desire to pursue an occupation doesn’t mean that you are gifted at that occupation. I have witnessed for years those who desired to pursue certain ministry tasks or roles within the local church only to frustrate the entire congregation by their lack of skill or giftedness. I’ve known preachers who can’t preach their way out of a paper bag, singers who can’t carry a tune with a handle on it, and directors of worship who are consistently lost and unable to capably give direction to anyone.

Just as the generational paradigm had its weaknesses, so also does the “you can do whatever you want” paradigm. Desiring an area of giftedness does not necessarily make you good at it.

This morning I’m thinking about my experiences in leadership with business, church, community organizations, and even the project management required of producing or directing a show. I’ve come to believe that one of a leader’s critical tasks is helping people find their areas of giftedness and helping them both embrace and develop those areas. Sometimes there is a journey of acceptance required to bring us to a waypoint of understanding that I ultimately find joy when I am doing what I am gifted and meant to do.

An Executable Plan

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: “The Israelites are to camp around the tent of meeting some distance from it, each of them under their standard and holding the banners of their family.”
Numbers 2:1-2 (NIV)

If you want something organized and done well, put my wife Wendy in charge of it. I don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure that one out. I have been married to this woman for nearly twelve years, and from our New Year’s Eve gala wedding to countless weekend trips to the lake, from running a box office to a successful string of community theatre awards dinners, she is gifted when it comes to organization, planning and execution of a plan.

I thought about Wendy in the quiet this morning as I waded through the second chapter of Numbers, which had all the excitement of an army field manual. In essence, that’s what it was. The Hebrew tribes had no home. They were about to embark on a giant, traveling encampment with over 600,000 able-bodied fighting men, their wives, their elders, their children, their big-top Tabernacle, and livestock to boot. Talk about an organizational nightmare.

Along this life journey I’ve come to realize that people eventually tend to admire, or to shun, those gifts and abilities that run opposite theirs. Unlike my ezer kenegdo, Wendy, I am a big picture, take-it-as-it-comes, go-with-the-flow kind of guy. When Wendy starts making a meal plan for our weekend at the lake a week ahead of the trip, my natural bent is to roll my eyes and say, “Seriously?! Do we have to figure this out now? Can’t we just figure it out when we get there?

But, I’ve learned over time when you’re at the lake with two to four other adults and no plan, the conversation goes like this:

Person 1: “What are we doing for supper?”

Person 2: “I don’t know. What do you want to do?”

Person 1: “I don’t know. What about you, honey?”

Person 3: “I don’t care. Whatever you want to do.”

Person 1: “I don’t care either. It’s whatever you guys think. Right, dear?”

Person 4: “We could go out, or we could stay in.”

Person 1: “We went out last night.”

Person 4: “Which doesn’t mean we can’t go out again tonight.”

Person 1: “No, it doesn’t. I’m not saying that. We can go out, or stay in. What do you guys think?”

Person 2: “Whatever. We don’t care. We’re okay going out. Aren’t we, dear?”

Person 3: “Sure. Or staying in. Either way is fine with us.”

This conversation can go on in circles for hours, which is not only maddening but also squeezes out actual time having fun and enjoying meaningful conversation.

When Wendy starts asking about a meal plan a week before our trip to the lake, I choose in. I’m still not good about anticipating and initiating a plan on my own (but it’s a growth opportunity for me!) Things run more smoothly and everyone enjoys themselves more when there’s a well executed plan.

This morning I’m thinking about a boring chapter laying out an executable encampment plan for taking the population of the entire Des Moines area on a sustained wilderness march. Sometimes the message is not in the text but in the context. Life is full of daily, weekly, monthly and annual events which run more smoothly with an executable plan. The untold story of many of history’s greatest victories lies in the quartermasters and gifted planners who were able to successfully and efficiently move armies and supplies at the right time in the right way. That’s not my gift.

I’m reminded this morning of the blessing of peace and flow in life that exists only when you have a person with the giftedness and authority to anticipate need, create a workable plan, and execute that plan. I get to experience that blessing because I’m married to such a person.

 

I’m an Epic Fail at Gift Giving

If you bring a grain offering baked in an oven, it is to consist of the finest flour: either thick loaves made without yeast and with olive oil mixed in or thin loaves made without yeast and brushed with olive oil.
Leviticus 2:4 (NRSV)

I have a confession to make. I am generally an epic failure when it comes to gift giving. In fact, forget the “generally” and just call it epic fail. The procuring and giving of gifts doesn’t come naturally like it does for others I know and love. I have to think about it. I’m forgetful about special days. I constantly second guess myself. I agonize over what the recipient would want and enjoy. Once the gift is given I am insecure about the gift I gave and agonize over whether I should have given something else.

The truth of the matter is that my agony over gift giving is, in part, because it points to a core self-centeredness in my soul. It feels like an inability to know and love others better than I love myself. I hate that. I need help.

In today’s chapter, God’s ancient rules state that a blood sacrifice should be accompanied with a gift. The grain offering was basically a loaf of bread made with the finest ingredients. It required that the giver remember, think, set aside time, prepare the gift by making and baking it, then bring it to God at the altar. The blood sacrifice was about atonement, the grain offering was about gratitude.

For forty years the nation of Israel wandered around the wilderness in search of the promised land. Each night God sent a gift known as Manna. It arrived with the dew each morning. It was bread from heaven and it sustained them in the long march.

Now God says, “if you want to say thank you, make me a nice loaf of bread.” It tells me that you remember the manna. It says to me that you appreciated my gift and were grateful. It is consider-ate. I appreciate the thought. I value the sacrifice of time and effort you took to think of me in this way. It’s a tangible expression of your love.”

This morning I’m feeling, once again, repentant. I’d like to think that I’ve made progress in this spiritual journey. I know I have. Nevertheless, God’s ancient prescription to be a good and grateful giver of gifts reminds me this morning of core changes that have yet to be made; work still in progress after all these years.

This is a reminder to me that no matter how much progress I’ve made I still need help. I still need a savior. I still need forgiveness, and mercy, and grace. And, it strikes me that this is exactly the point of God’s ancient law in the first place. The law was given to ultimately make our need perfectly clear to us. To which, God responds with a gift. You will find it wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

chapter a day banner 2015

The Christmas Ham Puts it in Perspective

Source: Tennessee Traditions
Source: Tennessee Traditions

When you give blind animals as sacrifices, isn’t that wrong? And isn’t it wrong to offer animals that are crippled and diseased? Try giving gifts like that to your governor, and see how pleased he is!” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. Malachi 1:8 NLT

When I am neck deep in a stage production, my heart and mind tend to get focused on the play. Last night was first rehearsal for The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, which I’m directing. Here in the early morning hours my brain is already pondering last night’s rehearsal and what needs to be accomplished in the weeks and months ahead. So, it’s no shock that when I read this morning’s chapter I made immediate connections with the story. It’s one of the things I love about God’s Message. It always meets me where I happen to be in the journey.

In the play, a family of bullies from the “wrong side of the tracks” invades the small church Christmas pageant. It’s sweet, funny, and heart warming. In the process of the play this rag-tag group of sibling ruffians hear the story of Christmas for the first time and began to internalize what it means.  The older brothers, who play the three wise men, decide to forget the fake  props of gold, frankincense, and myrrh and instead bring the ham from their family’s welfare Christmas basket (still wrapped with a bow) to the baby Jesus. After the show, they refuse to take the ham back even though it’s their family’s Christmas meal. “It’s a present, and you don’t take back presents,” one brother explains.

I was reminded of the Christmas ham this morning by Malachi’s prophetic rant about the cheap props we too often offer to God. We have everything and yet we tend to give to God what we don’t want or need. We offer our leftovers and hand-me-downs. Then, just like the old widow that Jesus spied at the collection box one day, someone who has nothing gives everything they have and reveals our paltry offerings for what they truly are in the eyes of the Great Recipient.

I’m guilty as charged this morning. Have mercy, O Lord. I’m sorry.

Faith and Acting: They’re Both About Our Motives

Ah Wilderness Rehearsal[Believers] should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. Titus 3:1b

[God] saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. Titus 3:5 (NLT) [emphasis added]

In acting you learn to study a character’s motivation:

  • “Why does my character say this?”
  • “What is driving my character to do this?”
  • “What is it that my character wants when he walks over here?”

Motivation is also critical in understanding our real life and relationships. It is essential, I believe and have discovered, in understanding my relationship with God.

I believe one of the most important lessons we can know about God’s Message to us is this: Entering a relationship with God, attaining eternal life, and receiving forgiveness for our tragic choices and mistakes cannot be earned through “doing good” or “living a good life.” It comes as a gift through what Jesus did when he suffered, died, and rose from the dead. All we do is humbly acknowledge it, receive the gift, and ask Him to come into our life.

For me, it was a simple conversation with God I quietly had in my head and heart in which I said, “God, I know I’ve blown it a million different ways. I need you. I believe that you died for me, and I want you to in my heart and life. I give my life over to you.” Once I took this step and received the Gift, I was inspired and motivated to do good works in response to this extravagant gift of Life I had been given.

The critical differentiation is in the motivation of the good that we do. We do good, not out of a motivation to earn God’s favor or stack the spiritual ledger in our favor with the hope that it might be enough to get us into heaven. Our motive for doing good is overflowing gratitude for the Gift we have been freely given through God’s kindness and mercy.

As with acting, if you don’t get the motivation right then our faith is only a poor attempt at going through the motions.

Spiritual Gifts Do Not Come With a Gift Receipt

Presents
(Photo credit: quimby)

Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! 1 Corinthians 12:29-30 (NLT)

Over the past two days, most of us have opened a number of Christmas gifts. Stop for a moment and consider something with me. The gifts we received this Christmas were determined by the giver. While I’m sure there are exceptions, I’m assuming you did not look at someone else’s gift on Christmas morning and take it for yourself. I’m betting you didn’t tell the giver that you didn’t want the gift you were given nor did you demand that you be given what another person had. We understand that we have been given a gift and it is ours to accept no matter what we may have desired, wanted, or wished for. It is a gift and we are to be grateful and appreciate what we have been given (even if we decide to try and make an exchange or return later).

So, why is this such a hard concept when it comes to spiritual gifts?

One of the most destructive tendencies I have observed in the church is the allowance we give to members of our body to freely exercise the delusion that they have been given certain spiritual gifts when the opposite reality is abundantly clear to all. One of the most loving and profitable things we can do is to help each believer truthfully identify, acknowledge and accept the ways in which they have been spiritually gifted by God the Giver, and the ways in which they have not been gifted no matter how much they may desire it. Our refusal to do so results in the Body of Christ carrying out our mission blindly limping along, unable to hear clearly, with one arm tied behind our back.

Chapter-a-Day Proverbs 19

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 22:  Treasury Secretary'...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

If you help the poor, you are lending to the LORD—
      and he will repay you!
Proverbs 19:17 (NLT)

A month or so ago Wendy made an off-hand comment in the midst of a conversation. I can’t remember what we were talking about, but I remember the short comment she made. “You never regret giving,” was the gist of what she said and it stuck with me for the simple truth of it.

Throughout life there are many crossroad moments when the bills, the debts, and the stack of monthly payments seem overwhelming. The idea of giving a portion of my paycheck away to church, a friend in need, and/or a worthy charity suddenly seems ludicrous.

“My donation’s not much. It won’t really make a difference in the grand scheme of things.”
“I would feel better if I had a little more change in my pocket this month.”
“It’s my money anyway. Why should I give it away?”
“I can’t afford to be generous.”

But, I’m reminded of Wendy’s comment. In the end, I’ve never regretted writing that check or handing over that cash. We are so blessed and the act of giving is a regular reminder that it’s really not my money.  Giving is a way of counting my blessings, being thankful for all that I’ve been freely given, learning to be content, and consistently considering the needs of others rather than only thinking about myself.

Beyond that, I’ve experienced exactly what King Solomon was getting at in the proverb above. God always seems repay financial generosity (and does so with some very interesting examples of compounding spiritual interest).

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