Gifts and Humility

I remember as a new Christian hearing so much about spiritual gifts.  How to find your gift!  How to develop your gift!  Primary gifts!  Secondary gifts! Laying on of hands for gifts!  And for some reason I got really hung up on it and it caused me a lot of stress.  I put a lot of pressure on myself to figure out my gifts and start popping out spiritual “fruit” and ASAP.

I’ve learned so much along the way that I’d like to share….

First of all, RELAX.  Don’t sweat the fruit or the gifts.  An apple tree isn’t grunting out apples.  There’s no flexing or straining, though that’s an hilarious image.  When we relax into God’s presence, when we feed on his word, when the sonshine shines on us; that fruit is going to come forth in season and it’ll will be a natural by product of our walk with God.

Your spiritual gift is going to be something that comes naturally to you.  For instance; I’m an introvert and I’d be a terrible evangelist.  That’s ok, because we’re not all called to that.  What I do really enjoy is quiet time with God in which I unearth treasures from his Word and eagerly share with others through my writing.  I’m a writer.  It’s who I am.  It comes naturally.  I may never witness to a stranger on the bus but I am witnessing to whoever happens across the things I have written.

Another thing to realize is that just because there is a need, and we have a mandate to serve- doesn’t mean we are called to everything, all the time.  In our old church there was a growing sense of resentment for me.  The church was a small one, in a small town, so there were a lot of older people.  There were also a lot of young families.  There was a need for workers in the nursery but no one wanted to be in the nursery.  The older people would bring their young grandchildren and expect there to be someone volunteering, but of course it wouldn’t be them.  They had to make coffee in the kitchen.  So I ended up in the nursery an inordinate amount of time.  I also volunteered to teach the young kids on Wednesday night (again, no one else wanted to).  It was an absolutely terrible fit.  I was awful at it.  This thing began to feel like a giant, life-sucking burden in my life.  If you’re trying to do something for God that he never called you to, that’s how it is going to feel.  However, if you’re operating in your God-given gifts, for His glory, it will be rewarding and even fun.

I’m not called, or anointed to teach children.  I love ’em but I’m just not gifted in that area.  In fact I was so bad that the pastor’s wife was looking for someone to replace me (unbeknownst to me) in the announcements during the church service (of course, I didn’t hear them, I was in the nursery) they made announcements until someone else eventually stepped up.  I was fired from a volunteer position.  Sometimes when you get involved in church you see that there are situations where people don’t handle things with integrity.  If she had come to me and said, “look, toots, you’re sweet and all but not a great fit for this role.”  I would have sighed in relief and graciously stepped down.  But people in pews are just people too.  We ultimately left the church but there aren’t hard feelings.  We wanted a church were we felt like our children were welcomed into a solid children’s ministry.

A different instance occurred where I had gifting but a lack of humility, it was a painful scenario that happened about 7 years ago.  I got invited to a Bible study hosted by another young woman who was a very new believer.  She wasn’t as versed in the Word as I was.  I corrected her a few times and was sort of “taking over” the study.  I had the knowledge and gifting but the wisdom and humility weren’t developed to match.  Our friendship ended over it and I was basically booted from the group.  It was very painful at the time but became an opportunity for me to grow.

Even at this point in my life I am working hard to use my gifting to serve God.  It’s for a very small “audience” and I have hope and dreams for a wider platform but that hasn’t happened yet.  I firmly, 100% believe that when the time is right, God will open the doors and bring a spiritual promotion.  I don’t promote my blog at.all. because I want to be waiting on God.  I have more than a sneaking suspicion that God is putting me through this extended waiting process in obscurity because the approval of man is still way too important to me.  If I had more success now it’d be easy for it to go to my head and make it all about me.  If I am swayed by people’s opinion I won’t be the solid, godly teacher that God needs me to be- A vessel that is pure that he can use.

This scenario is echoed again and again in scripture.  One of my favorites is that of Joseph.  Joseph was richly blessed by God.  He was the apple of his father’s eye.  He had a strong spiritual anointing to the point where he was having dreams and visions.  His future was so bright he needed shades 😉  But then he experienced what had to have looked like a complete abandonment by God and the utter ruin of his life; when his jealous brothers sold him into slavery.  Then, he was just working his way to the top (as much as he could as a slave) when his master’s (shameless hussy of a) wife threw herself at him.  He, being a godly young man, rebuffed her advances.  She couldn’t handle the rejection, accused him of rape, and he was thrown into the worst hell hole of a prison you can imagine.  He did get out of that prison though and became instrumental in saving countless lives from famine.  He even saved and was reconciled to his brothers.  God knew he needed the struggle to develop the character and humility that he would need to be this great savior in his time.  The gifting, the call was always there.  The humility and wisdom needed to catch up.

All this to say, in this age where everyone promotes themselves, go against the grain.  Embrace the quiet and solitude that only comes with knowing God in the secret place.  The place where you won’t get any recognition or accolades from man, but you’ll have a prime spot to hear from God.  Trust that God’s timing is best.  He’s working things out in advance for you.  While you’re waiting do everything you can to prepare yourself for the dreams and hopes that he’s placed in your heart.

“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Jeremiah 33:3 

 

Advertisements

Making Time

With God’s help I’ve been enacting some positive changes this month.

For one thing, I completely cut out sugar.  I’m feeling a lot better and one odd side effect is that I need less sleep.  I’ve been waking up super early, like 5am!  This has been really great because I’ve been spending way more time with God in the morning.

I sit here and cringe at the thought that anyone would think I’m more holy than I am.  I struggle, I’m prone to wander.  That’s why I need all that time in God’s presence before I start my day.

One thing I pray everyday is that the Holy Spirit would enable me to surrender my will.  It’s a daily dedication.  Because if we don’t, we have a way of assuming control again!

One great quote I heard was this, “God made no provision for you to live the Christian life.  You have to allow Jesus to live it through you.” Pastor James Macdonald.

The amazing and wonderful thing is that as I’m faithful to show up, God is faithful to meet me.  I sense his presence as soon as I open my little pink leather-bound Bible.  It’s great.  It’s wonderful.  It’s worth dedicating an hour to in the wee early hours.  It sets the tone for the rest of the day.  I feel more joy and peace and less struggle.

So I want to encourage you to make the changes necessary in your life to carve out more time to meet with the God that created the Universe, the God that cares uniquely for you. 

Lessons from Daniel

I started reading the book of Daniel a couple mornings ago.  I prayed that God would show me new treasures in the text because I’ve read this book quite a few times.

Well, treasure has been popping out!

Daniel was stolen away from everything he had known as a young man.  He was immersed in Babylonian culture.  He was well-versed in their literature.  He was completely removed from the practice of worship as he would have been able to practice it in Israel.

He was even given a new name.  Which is incredibly meaningful.  A name wasn’t just a name in those days.  It carried meaning.  King Nebuchadnezzar rebranded him as Belteshazzar.  His birth name had meant, “God is my judge.”  Belteshazzar literally meant “Bel (their idol) protects the king!”

Even though he was taken from his homeland and they attempted to take his very identity, Daniel never compromised.

I find it interesting that he was so uncompromising that years later, in the fifth chapter of Daniel, the Queen states that “an extraordinary spirit, knowledge and insight, interpretation of dreams, explanation of enigmas and solving of difficult problems were found in this Daniel…”  

Daniel, though immersed in this pagan culture, stayed faithful to his God and his own identity.  He lasted through multiple Kings and in the end he was still “Daniel” after that “Belteshazzar” title had faded away.

God blessed his stout devotion and prospered and protected him.  We all know how God shut the mouths of the lions, right?  It wasn’t just a couple lazy lions either.  When Daniel was rescued out, his accusers (and their families) were thrown in and didn’t even hit the ground before they were mauled and broken by these same lions.

The practical application for us today is that we need to be faithful to our God and our God-given identities though we, too, are immersed in an increasingly hostile environment that would attempt to lure us away and bring our identity into question.

“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:26

 

 

The Sunrise

My son, Gabe won student of the month at his school.  The theme was “courage”, which I thought was extremely fitting!

His school had an awards ceremony this morning at 8 am so we had to wake Gabe up way earlier than usual to get him there.  We couldn’t tell him why, since it was supposed to be a surprise.  We usually let him sleep until 9 and get him to school around 10:15 after a bath and various treatments…se we all had to get up pretty early to get him there on time.

As we were about to head out the door we saw the most beautiful sunrise.  Because of his sleep issues, Gabe hasn’t seen a sunrise in a long time.  He stood at the window and marveled for a good ten minutes. 20171201_071752Something about the sunrise inspires praise.  It’s a little bit of glory breaking through the bleakness.  It’s the light cutting through the darkness.

20171201_072329

 

The ceremony was pretty brief and there were a lot of proud parents there but I’d doubt that there were any more proud than we were.20171201_115819  For me, this moment represents so much.  At one point I told Gabe that he was so brave.  He said, “but Mom, I’m scared a lot.”  I said facing hard things and not quitting makes you brave.  If we never felt afraid we wouldn’t need courage.

God is faithful.  He promised to never leave or abandon us.

“Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Psalm 30:5

Suffering and Heaven

18920650_10158894564500074_8516742202078951748_nYesterday I took just Gabe out shopping.  I don’t often get to spend alone time with him and I was reminded what an amazing kid he is.  He has such a tender soul.  He wants to run an orphanage when he grows up… but he also wants to drive a Ferrari, so… 😉

We had a fun time, just the two of us.  On the way home he kept asking me about Heaven and what it’ll be like when Jesus comes back.

I explained to him that Jesus will appear in the sky with great glory, riding the clouds.  That every eye will see him, even those that pierced him.  That we will rise to meet him and be changed, to be like him.  That there will be no more sickness, death, pain…

I got choked up and so did he.  He said, “Mom, I can see him coming.”  I said, “honey that’s the Holy Spirit showing you that it’s true.”

You see, just the day before he had been in a lot of pain.  In between tears and sobs he had asked, “if God loves me, why am I suffering so much?”

The conversation, and the sweet presence of God, was something we both desperately needed.  Something that I need more of.

In my own suffering I tend to turn away.  I feel like I can’t take anymore disappointment at times, without losing hold of my faith.  But yesterday, it was like He peeled back the curtain obscuring eternity and gave us both a glimpse of our future and the end of suffering.  I felt a glimpse of the eternity and wonder awaiting us, and looking over at Gabe’s tear-filled eyes, I know he did too.

I know that Gabriel is being molded in ways I can’t even begin to comprehend.  I know he has a huge call on his life.  Even at the age of 8, there is a level of tenderness, empathy and hunger for knowledge of God that is amazing…. probably as the result of all the suffering he’s had to endure.

We can got lost in the hardships we face but we need to remember that life here is short and eternity is long.  We can’t choose the trials but we can choose how we face them.  Our God loves us.

 

.

Spotting Spiritual Abuse

My first run in with alternative *christian* religion was as a brand new believer.  I was hanging out with my soon to be husband; Tim and my sister.  The door rang and a couple young men introduced themselves as members of a church, something to do with saints and Jesus Christ.  I excitedly let them in.  Tim was motioning ‘no’ to me but I didn’t understand why.

I had really no clue that they were mormons- or even what mormons believed.  We sat down and I was hearing them out.  Tim, of course, knew a lot that I didn’t and started grilling them with tough questions.  I was just wondering why he was being rude to these nice young christian guys.

After they left Tim explained that they went door to door and present themelves as a form of christianity but what they really believe is completely contrary to biblical christian doctrine.  When you get to the higher levels you find out about the planets to be populated, becoming a God yourself, and of course- the special underwear that you need to wear.

That event and many other run-ins peaked my interest in cults, especially those that are based off of a false Christ- like the J.W.’s and Mormons.  In case you think I am being narrow minded or whatever- consider this.  Both of these two religions reject the inherit diety of Jesus Christ.  Mormons say Jesus attained godhood through obeying his own gospel.  J.W.’s reject that Jesus was God at all.

One young J.W. women I talked to extensively revealed to me that her hope was basically to survive the apocalypse without sinning and then she might be admitted into heaven.  She wasn’t one of the supposed 144,000 special chosen ones who get a pass.  It sounded desperately sad to me.  Sad and dead wrong.  “For God does not show favoritism.” Romans 2:11

Cult1_682_423092a
FDLS: A Man and his Wives

I honestly could go on and on about the horribly false teachings within just these two groups but I won’t.  The point is- there are many false teachers, religions, and dangerous cults out there and we need to have a basic knowledge of them.  These false religions are so dangerous because they aggresively recruit.  They prey on people’s inherent need to belong and find answers.  Then once you are in they exercise a growing level of control over every aspect of your life.  And finally and worst of all- they are leading people to hell with their false promise of exclusive salvation.

Salvation isn’t complicated.  It goes something like this- the Holy Spirit starts to stir your heart and woo you.  You realize you need forgiveness and saving.  You believe and repent of your sins.  Boom.  Saved.  If it sounds too simple- well check out the thief on the cross.  Luke 23 records this un-named thief crying out, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”  Jesus replied, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”  All the thief had done was to cry out, as an act of faith, and he was saved.  No time for penence.  No religious affiliation.  No tithing.  Just a desperate plea and simple faith.  And that was enough.

We get problems when people don’t accept that salvation is truly grace working through our faith; God’s provision meeting our desperate need.  When people add in hoops to jump through, ‘special extra-biblical revelations’, or even/especially the law.  Throw in a charismatic (nutjob) leader and his *exclusively correct* interpretation of scripture and you have all the makings of a cult.

The first church Tim and I went to was a non-demoninational church that had gotten caught up in the ‘prosperity’ gospel.  When the congregation was encouraged to ‘sow generous seeds’ with credit cards we realized it was time to switch churches.

There are no perfect churches, because they are filled with imperfect people, of course.  But a church should be a safe place to grow in your faith with other believers.  Churches should be like a family.  And the leadership should be approachable and open to criticism.  Most importantly, the scripture needs to be taught by a Holy Spirit led Pastor who genuinely cares for those under his care.

It angers me that people seeking God would be so twarthed, hurt, manipulated or used.  So many have been wounded, brainwashed, isolated, and even killed- such as in the Jonestown massacre.

Our best defense is certainly asking the Holy Spirit for guidance.  Jesus promised to send him to help, comfort, teach, advocate, and guide us into the truth always. John 14:16  The Holy Spirit actually indwells every believer and is the down payment, the promise of our salvation.  Jesus told us that we don’t need anyone to tell us how to think or feel or make our decisions.  We can have direct access to the Heaveny Father and be enabled to understand scripture for ourselves because we are indwelt with the Spirit of God himself.  ““But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth…” John 16:13  That promise is for ALL believers.  Not a select few who want to gain power over others.

Here is a list of ten warning signs for a cult from http://www.cultwatch.com/cultic-warning-signs.html

  • Single charismatic leader.
  • People always seeming constantly happy and enthusiastic. Especially if you discover that they have been told to act that way for the potential new recruits.
  • Instant friends.
  • If you are told who you can or cannot talk to or associate with.
  • They hide what they teach.
  • Say they are the only true group, or the best so why go anywhere else.
  • Hyped meetings, get you to meetings rather than share with you.
  • Experiential rather than logical.
  • Asking for money for the next level.
  • Some cults travel door to door during times when women are home alone. They, and this is rather sexist, think that women are easier to recruit and once they have the woman then it will be easier to snare the husband or partner.
  • Saying that they have to make people pay for it because otherwise they will not appreciate it. This is of course a very silly reason, plenty of people are able to appreciate things which they did not pay for.
  • They do not allow their teachings or practices to be questioned. If you question, then automatically the group assumes that something is wrong with you. It can never be the case that anything is wrong with the group’s practices or teachings. Often they will try to shut you down by accusing you of having a “bad attitude”.
  • They will push you to obey by using guilt. They will demand complete “submission” to the group, its leaders and its teachings. They will do this by making you feel absolutely rotten about yourself. They will ridicule you and attack any weakness you might have (or invent weaknesses you might have if they can’t find any). Their goal is to break your will by causing you mental anguish.

Interestingly, a lot of pyramind MLM companies have a lot of the same charactersitics.  Not all cults are religions.  But most are, because people do have a driving need to find truth, answers, connection and God.  Even if a church doesn’t necessarily meet the criteria to be a cult, there can still be spiritual abuse going on.  If there is coercion of any kind, run the other way.  If your church is becoming more legalist and less about grace, run the other way.  If you feel major warning tugs in your spirirt, run the other way.  Abuse could also come in the form of an unhealthy, predatory relationship between a mentor and impressionable believer.

Christianity is primarily a personal religion.  You can’t be saved by belonging to a group.  Your pastor can’t save you.  It is that personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ that saves you.  Church is just a wonderful added bonus (or should be!) to help you find that sense of community and grow in your faith.

I think ultimately the goal of a cult is to steal that.  To steal the joy and freedom that is available in Jesus Christ.  To ensnare people to a counterfeit faith that destroys their lives and ultimately leads them to hell.

I am so sorry if you have been hurt by a religious group.  But please don’t give up on seeking God.  Many people, claiming to speak for Him, have horribly represented Him.  The Bible says that God is love and that Jesus is the way.  People let us down, but God does not.

Hyper Grace?

Mainstream media is eating up the moral failure of another big-time Christian leader, Tullian Tchividjian.  Made even juicier because he is the grandson of revered man of God, Billy Graham.

Tullian was also criticized as leading a ‘hyper grace’ movement, which has become popular.  The movement seeks to set people free from legalism and guilt and to be released in to freedom in the walk with Christ.  Sounds good, right?

The problem comes when we focus on grace to the exclusion of truth.  Jesus himself came full of grace and truth.  John 1:14

Yes, at times the road to holiness is hard, steep and lonely.  If it wasn’t, everyone would be headed there.  “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:14

Our inner man, or spirit, rejoices in the things of God. Romans 7:22  But we all have a sin nature, or ‘flesh’ that is hostile towards God. Romans 8:7

So we daily face a choice- sanctification or rebellion?  untitled

We are all saved 100% by grace.  Yes, we all continue to ‘stumble in many ways’.  But….. salvation is just the beginning.  God has a plan for the life of every believer.  If we cooperate with the ongoing process of sanctification, God can and will do amazing things with our lives.

Pastor James MacDonald often says, “when God says, “Don’t,” He really means, “Don’t hurt yourselves.”  God hates sin because it kills us. Romans 6:23  It separates us from him.  It keeps us under an umbrella of spiritual death and from fulfilling our true destiny.

There is so much at stake.

Jesus’ obedience led him to a cross.  We are all called to follow him to that cross.  To die to self.  To live for him.  It isn’t legalism.  It is the gospel.

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:13

Let’s be children who bear an increasing resemblance to our Heavenly Father in this dark world.