Tag Archives: Gifts

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.

Spiritually There are No Age Limits

The word of the Lord came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah, and through the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, down to the fifth month of the eleventh year of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah, when the people of Jerusalem went into exile.

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.
Jeremiah 1:1-3; 6-7 (NIV)

While in high school I was part of an incredible church youth group. I almost typed the adjective “unique,” but to this day I don’t think there was anything “unique” about me and my peers. We were typical high schoolers with all the angst, foolishness, idealism, drama and absentmindedness of any group of teens. Our youth pastor for most of my high school years was a man named Andy Bales whose journey has taken him to do amazing things for the homeless in Los Angeles. Our church’s worship leader was a gentleman named Mike Mars.

The thing about Andy and Mike was that they believed that God could accomplish far more through us than anyone else believed or expected (even ourselves). Andy didn’t just disciple us, he taught us how to disciple others including our parents. Mike didn’t just assemble a “youth choir” to sing in front of our parents once or twice a year. Mike taught us how to put together an entire program, how to work together as a team, and then sent us on the road almost every Sunday of the school year to minister to other churches all over our state. Mike didn’t travel with us. He trusted us to do everything ourselves from making a first impression to set up, rehearsal, performance, giving the message, tearing down and loading out for the trip home. A couple of parents or adults chaperones rode along to watch, but they never had to do a thing.

Many of the “kids” in my youth group have gone on to continue in vocational ministries as missionaries, pastors, ministry directors and youth workers. I observed that most others have approached their life journeys as ministry opportunities to serve God as educators, doctors, and professionals in the business community.

This personal experience has colored my own world view. When our daughters were young people I tried to instill in them that they could be used by God’s Spirit and have an impact for God’s Kingdom right now. I’m proud of what they attempted, accomplished, and learned.

I am fond of reminding my local gathering of Jesus’ followers that no where in God’s Message is there an age requirement for being a believer, being called by God, being filled by the Spirit, having spiritual gifts, or exercising those gifts for God’s Kingdom. In fact, the list of Biblical characters who were called by God as young people (without education, without training, without official institutional certification of any kind) is impressive: Timothy, Mary, David, Samuel, Joseph, Esther, and Mark.

In today’s opening chapter of Jeremiah’s anthology of prophetic messages he shares that he was called by God as a boy. As typical of young people, Jeremiah responded to God, “but I’m just a kid!” But age is not a qualification for being called by God or doing God’s work. And when young people are called by God they tend to have spiritually productive life journeys. Jeremiah himself was a prophet for 40 years during a period of time when life expectancy itself was around 30 years (if you were one of the lucky few to survive infancy).

Forgive me for sounding like an old curmudgeon, but along my life journey I’ve observed that our culture seems to expect less and less of our young people. We protect them. We shelter them from life’s natural pains. We entertain them endlessly and hover over them to ensure that they experience minimal discomfort. We build up their egos while minimizing their opportunities to experience the lessons of accomplishing things on their own and learning the invaluable lessons of failure. We keep extending childhood to the point that becoming a capable, responsible adult is a post-graduate crisis experience with its own word: adulting.

This morning I’m thanking God for teaching me as a boy that I had a role to play in the Kingdom of God and that role began immediately. I’m saying a prayer of gratitude for Andy and for Mike who believed in me and my peers more than we believed in ourselves. I’m praying for a generation of young people who will rebel against being treated like snowflakes and who will lead a spiritual storm of revival and culture change that no one expects.

The old curmudgeon rant is over. Have a great day.


The Big Christmas

I grew up in a middle class family in Des Moines with my parents and three siblings. It was a great childhood, and my folks provided for our every need. At the same time, there were not a lot of extras in life.

As the youngest of the four, I was used to hand-me-downs. I got my big sib’s clothes, toys, books, and games. As much as I’d like to whine about this in retrospect, I don’t remember feeling cheated as a kid. This was simply the reality. I knew no different. Times were tough and you do the best you can with what you have.

There was a period of years in my childhood in which my parents decided that each Christmas they would do a little something extra for one of the kids. As the youngest, the fact that one of us got a little more than the others was not something I noticed. I must have been so enamored by my G.I. Joe with kung fu grip that I didn’t notice the extra presents in Jody’s pile.

Then it happened to be my year to get a little extra. I distinctly remember being shocked and amazed that everyone had unwrapped all their gifts but there were still more gifts for me! That was the year I got a train set and this, to me, was a genuine Christmas miracle. You see, we had this dog eared copy of the Sears Wish Book catalog that sat on the edge of the bath tub for bathroom reading. There were toys in the catalog that I knew from experience Santa might bring me. Then there were toys that I’d come to realize, in the economy of the North Pole, my good deeds could never afford. Train sets were definitely on the latter list.

Years later I still have fond memories of that special Christmas when there were a few extra presents under the tree for me. Besides the train set, I have no recollection what the gifts were. I’ve come to realize that the greatest gift that year was my parents making me feel loved in a special way. I unwrap that gift every year when my memories take me back to The Big Christmas.

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.

 

Giving Myself…to What?

Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.
1 Timothy 4:15 (NIV)

There are only so many hours in a day, and there are only so many days allotted to us in our life journey. Each day we give ourselves away. We invest our time, our energy, our thoughts, and our resources towards different pursuits without giving much thought to it. To what am I giving myself?

I was struck this morning by Paul’s admonition to Timothy to “give himself wholly” to use of his spiritual gifts and his work among the Jesus followers in Ephesus. The goal, Paul told him, was his progress.

This morning I find myself thinking about the natural relationship between what I give myself to and what is being produced in my life. Where am I making progress? What is the evidence of that progress? Am I progressing in ways that are at all worthwhile?

chapter a day banner 2015

Featured image: kevandotorg via Flickr

God and His Resources

paul before felix

At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul, and for that reason he used to send for him very often and converse with him. After two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus; and since he wanted to grant the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison. Acts 24: 26-27 (NRSV)

Over two years Paul was imprisoned by Governor Felix. Over two years he lived under house arrest. No crowds got to hear Paul speak. Paul did not get to journey from town to town speaking to and encouraging fellow believers. For over two years Paul basically had an audience of one Roman Governor and his wife who would occasionally send for him to have a conversation.

I’ve learned along life’s road that God’s ways are not always our ways. We tend to look at Paul’s imprisonment and think what a waste to have Paul languishing under house arrest when there were so many other things he could have been doing with his time and talents. I wonder if Paul thought that too, or if he was content knowing that he was right where he was supposed to be and doing what he was supposed to do.

Sometimes we have to trust that God knows what He is doing with the use of His resources.

Meaning-Full Gifts

Wendy, Suzanna and I have been blown away by Apple’s Christmas ad this year. In the ad, a young lady discovers a 45rpm record her grandmother made for her husband who was away in World War II. The granddaughter spends some time on her Apple computer editing the song, adding her own voice and instrumentals to it. On Christmas morning, the grandmother finds her granddaughter’s iPod on the kitchen table along with memorabilia from that period of her life. Perched atop the stairs, her granddaughter watches her grandmother put in the ear buds, push play, and begin to cry. Then it’s kleenex all around at our house every time we see it.

This year, our entire Christmas seemed to be one gift card exchange. I get it. Our family is spread out, Wendy and I are in transition, our folks don’t really need anything, yada, yada, yada. But, I have to admit that the exchange of plastic cards at times seems boring and silly. This year we gave our brother Lucas a Target gift card, and guess what he gave us? Yep, a Target gift card! Feel the joy. God bless us, everyone.

This year I did give my parents one extra gift that cost me nothing but a little time. Utilizing the existing software on my MacBook, I pulled family photos I have taken and scanned over the years and put them into slideshow. It really wasn’t that difficult. I mixed old family photos of previous generations to photos of our own nuclear family through the years, and added a song from my iTunes library as background. I burned it to DVD and, after the gift cards had been exchanged, I played the DVD for my folks. The best gift I received all Christmas was watching my parents as they watched the slide show. I did feel the joy as I watched them light up at the sight of old family photos and calling out the faces and names of people they recognized from previous generations. Before it was over they had both began to cry. My mother’s tearful hug when it was over was priceless.

Wendy and I have talked a lot about this concept of meaning-full gifts this year. We have become so focused on the consumption of goods, that we are often blind to gifts that will be truly valued. A few Christmases ago our dirt-poor college age daughter gave me a simple candy tin on which she painted a colorful design. Inside were some of her favorite photos of the two of us and a couple of colorful magnets. I could take out whichever photo I wanted, attach it to the front of the tin with the magnet, and sit it on my desk. I don’t remember anything else I received that Christmas. I still remember that.

Wendy and I received two meaning-full gifts this Christmas. Suzanna, our dirt-poor college age, live-in sister, spent time sequestered in her room upstairs working on two drawings for Wendy and me. Her own pencil portraits of Charlie Chaplin and Lucille Ball, with “Merry Christmas” hidden in Charlie’s hat ribbon, and Lucy’s necklace. It was unique, original, and made with her own hands. We will treasure them. The other meaning-full Christmas gift came from my dad who made a stained-glass piece which will hang in a prominent place in our new house (I am choosing not to show a photo of it at this point. We’ll let you see it when it’s installed and the sun is shining through it!). We can’t wait to add it to our collection of family artwork displayed in our home.

2014 suzannas christmas drawings

You don’t really need a ton of creativity or artistic ability to make and give meaning-full gifts. Here are a few suggestions for next Christmas or an upcoming gift giving holiday:

  • A playlist or music mix provides all sorts of possibilities. Share music that is meaningful between the two of you. Share with your children or grandchildren the music that you listened to as a kid, what songs bring back memories, and what those memories are. Share with your parents the music you remember from your childhood or the music that your parents taught you to appreciate. Don’t forget to add some liner notes describing why you chose each song.
  • Memories are always meaningful. What family treasures or heirlooms can you utilize to honor those special moments of the past? Still have that trove of love notes/cards your spouse gave you when you were courting? How about a simple treasure chest box from the local art/hobby store in which you place all of those special notes, along with a brand new love note to add to the horde.
  • Old family movies on 8mm film or VHS videotape gathering dust in the attic can easily be transferred to digital formats which can be edited or played on almost any media. Most computers today come with built-in software which allows you to take the digital video and make your own home movies. You don’t even have to edit. Most family members will love watching the raw, unedited footage of years past.
  • In this age of e-mail, a hand-written letter has become rare, and in my estimation more valuable. I have always believed that our handwriting, sloppy as it may be, is an original work of art. A handwritten letter that’s signed, sealed, and delivered is a welcome surprise amidst the daily pile of junk mail and bills delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. Write a letter thanking your parents for all they’ve done for you (give examples), tell your children how proud you are of them (give examples), say “I’m sorry” to a loved one you’ve hurt, say “I forgive you” to a loved one who hurt you, or take a trip down memory lane and share with a loved one a meaningful memory the two of you share.

A big “thank you” to all who gave me gift cards this year, including my wife. I will enjoy using them on special treats for myself, and am truly grateful. I hope you enjoy the piece of plastic I gave you in return. I hope we all realize that meaning-full gifts are gifts in which the value cannot be established by a magnetic strip on the back.