When Our Gift Gets in the Way

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. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
(Romans 12:3-9)

Anna and I were talking about the concept of when our gift can actually become a curse. She was listening to some lessons online about this very thing, and she pointed out that sometimes we don’t know when to use our gift and when to turn it off. There are occasions when what God has blessed us with a talent but the way we use it can really cause a hindrance in our relationships.

Here is an example from Scripture:

Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda.
(Proverbs 25:20)

It may be that your gift is you are an incredibly positive and upbeat person. You always see the bright side of everything. That’s wonderful! But you might come across as really annoying or even as one who minimizes the pain of others by how you approach them. A sister who just lost a spouse may not want to hear you sing, “Sing and be happy.” If you are that person who always sees the bright side, you might have trouble comprehending why others do not. You will have to be very careful then on how you approach someone who doesn’t share that same gift.

Some people are great teachers, but what comes with that sometimes is that those who are really gifted at telling others what they need to do have a hard time turning that off. They are not really good at listening and asking questions and truly finding out what’s on someone’s mind. Having something to say is not always the right thing. Solomon said, “There is a time to be silent” (Ecclesiastes 3).

On the reverse side of that, there are sometimes those who are really gifted at being awesome listeners, but it may be that God wants them to speak up in that situation. Being silent is not always the right thing. Solomon said, “There is a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3).

Just something to think about today. What are your gifts and talents that God has blessed you with? Have there been times that what you are really good at has actually become a hindrance in your relationships? What can you do about that with God’s help? Have you asked God to help you use your gift in a way that will lift up and not hurt others?

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.
(Romans 12:15-16)

Holy Ground – The Church

In Monday’s article, we looked at the event in Joshua’s life when he was asked to remove his sandals from his feet because he stood on holy ground. Here are three observations we made Monday:

  1. God is holy.
  2. Wherever God’s presence dwells is to be regarded as holy.
  3. Changes must be made to recognize and honor the holiness of God.

Today we are going to take those concepts and apply it to how we view our relationship to the church.

In 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul used the “temple” analogy and applied it both to individuals (1 Corinthians 6:18-20), and to the congregation here in chapter 3. As a Christian, you are holy and set apart because you are God’s dwelling place, and as a congregation the same is true.

For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
(1 Corinthians 3:9-11)

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
(1 Corinthians 3:16-17)

In this section of Scripture we learn that the congregation is God’s building/temple, Jesus is the foundation (see also Ephesians 2:19-22 and 1 Peter 2:4-9). God’s Spirit dwells among us, and God will “destroy” anyone who causes harm to His holy temple.

God’s church is holy ground. He is holy, and His presence dwells within the congregation. So, knowing that, how do I “remove my sandals” to recognize the holy presence of God?

Seek truth and unity. How we worship God matters because He is holy. The way we handle God’s word is vital because God is holy. The way we treat each other within God’s church also matters because of the holy presence of God. Jesus wants us to restore relationships before we worship because it affects how we worship (Matthew 5:23-24).

Seek pure relationships. Paul told Timothy to treat the young women in the church as sisters “with all purity” (1 Timothy 5:1-2). The church is holy, so our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ must also be holy. There were clearly men who took advantage of others and used the church as an opportunity for fulfilling their desires (2 Peter 2:13-14; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8; 2 Timothy 3:6). When we see the church, when we look at our brothers and sisters, we must look with holy eyes, see and treat others as God sees them. God takes it seriously, and God’s people take it seriously, too.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
(1 Peter 2:9)

God’s Family—Mayer Road Case Study

  • Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.  Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;  rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality…. (Romans 12: 9-13)
  • rejoice with those who rejoice…weep with those who weep… (Romans 12:15)
  • But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. (Hebrews 13:16)
  • Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing…let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being… (1 Thes 5:11)
  • Bear one another’s burdens(Galatians 6:2)
  •  And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

Please consider these verses. Each of them have a specific moral issue for which Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote to admonish, instruct, and encourage the various brethren receiving them. I do not want to add to or take away from these lessons but want to emphasize these principles as I consider what is happening in Casco, Michigan as Christians come together for one of our own and do what they can to rebuild for one of our own.

Not too long ago, one of our families experienced a profound loss as their barn burnt in the middle of the night with all their equipment and livestock inside. The physical and emotional loss was tremendous and the ramifications are still felt as each of us continue to deal with the loss. This event was enough to burry many families…to cause many individuals to lose hope. That is not how this story ends though!

Though a terrible and fiery loss, what really resulted was God being glorified, His children strengthened, and an opportunity for those outside the faith to see the hope available through Jesus. I can’t emphasize the significance of the good that has been done, is being done and will continue to be done because of all the experiences around this great loss, clean up and rebuilding process. The work is far from done but isn’t that the case for all of us? Don’t we all have profound loss and struggle? Aren’t we all experiencing physical and spiritual struggles?

In all of that, do we do what we must? Do we put our full faith and trust in God’s love and power? Do we share our struggles with each other or create an environment to make it ok to do so? Do we take the time to not only pray for those who are struggling or hurting…but also to rejoice in the happiness, success, and blessings of our most dear brethren? Even if it isn’t as a result of a great struggle conquered…but in a blessed life…do we rejoice?

We are so blessed in one another and what is happening in on Mayer Road this week is another piece of an exceptional example of that…but we can see the same awesome God and Christian family in the everyday goings on in our own lives. Take time and thank God, thank each other and rejoice! We are here for but a short time and times aren’t always going to be easy…but we all share the hope of Heaven and living now within the context of eternity is such a blessed place to be. Living there with like-minded loving brethren makes it even the sweeter. Take a moment, see God’s blessings in His family and thank Him…and hugs always help too…because that right there is what God’s love looks like.  Have a blessed day brothers!

Why the Church: Looking Up

Why the Church: Looking Up

Today is a sermon for you to take time to listen to / watch over the weekend, entitled “Why the Church: Looking Up” by Ralph Walker, Jr.

Please also read and meditate upon the passage below from Ephesians 3 and what the Holy Spirit through Paul wrote about the church.


To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith–that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
(Ephesians 3:8-21)

Nehemiah 3

Rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem was a monumental task. The fact that they did it in 52 days just blows the mind. Considering all the obstacles they had to overcome takes it to a level that clearly demonstrates God’s hand was in this good work.

And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work.
(Nehemiah 2:18)

I encourage you today to read Nehemiah chapter 3. Sometimes chapters like this can be skimmed through because at first or second glance it seems like just a factual list of the workers, what they did, and where they worked.  But that very list is what is so amazing.

But read the chapter carefully and think about a few things:

  1. The high priest rose up, with his brothers – The first verse shows that the spiritual leaders of Jerusalem took the lead. They were priests, but their hands were dirty and their knuckles got scraped and bloody. If you want to be a leader in God’s good work, you have to lead by example and get your hands dirty, too.
  2. Next to him, next to them, after him – Phrases like these are repeated often in Nehemiah 3. The work on the wall was divided into 42 sections. But each group worked on their section as part of the greater purpose/project. They were not working independently. Also notice that they did not finish one section before moving on to another. Each section was being worked on simultaneously (Nehemiah 4:6), thus closing the gaps.
  3. But their nobles would not stoop to serve their Lord (vs. 5). Not everyone put their hands to this good work. Don’t expect 100% participation.
  4. Opposite their house, beside their house – Nehemiah stationed people in areas where there would be the highest motivation to do the best work. Folks were building / repairing the walls and gates nearest their houses (vs. 10,23,29-30). If you know this section of wall is directly connected to the survival and safety of your own family you are going to give it your all!
  5. Rulers, priests, perfumers, merchants, goldsmiths – Another point to make here is that the people working on this were not experienced wall building contractors. I’m sure some of these men had hands that were meant for inside work, and they initially had a lot of blisters and used muscles they never even knew they had! But they all put their shoulders to the work on the wall, whether they were a noble or a servant, male or female, merchant, goldsmith or perfumer. This is a clear picture of the church, guys (Ephesians 4:15-16)!
  6. With his daughters – This was a family project. Shallum was there working with his daughters (vs. 12).
  7. People from outside the city, like from Jericho (Neh. 3:2), and from Gibeon and Mizpah (vs. 5,7) and Tekoa (11 miles from Jerusalem, vs. 5,27) worked on the wall. Think of the influence God’s good work has on those around us.
  8. Repair, rebuild – The word “built” is used 6 times in chapter 3 and means “rebuilt.” The word “repair” is used 35 times and means to “make strong and firm” (compare Ezekiel 13:1-16; 22:28). They were sorting through the rubble and using the stones around them to help repair and rebuild.
  9. Tekoites – In verse 5 we find the men of Tekoa working on one section, and in verse 27 they worked on “another section.” Think about it…when they finished with “their” section, they did not walk away, they moved on to “another section.” Great principle for us to remember. Keep working in God’s work, you are never finished, just re-positioned.
  10. Zealously, carefully – Verse 20 in the NASB says Baruch “zealously” repaired the wall, while the NKJV says he “carefully” did it. Either way, you can see the spirit of the men and women working on the wall. They cared. This was not just a job, this was God’s work, and it directly affected their family, their city, their Jewish brethren. And most of all it was done for God’s glory.

I will finish with a quote from D.L. Moody:

“A great many people have got a false idea about the church. They have got an idea that the church is a place to rest in…to get into a nicely cushioned pew, and contribute to the charities, listen to the minister, and do their share to keep the church out of bankruptcy, is all they want.  The idea of work for them—actual work in the church—never enters their minds.”

How Long Nehemiah Prayed

I’m listening to some sermons on Nehemiah and this fellow made a wonderful observation that I want to share with you today.

When Nehemiah, cup-bearer for the king of Persia, heard that his ancestral city of Jerusalem was lying in rubble and his fellow Jews were in distress, he prayed fervently. Between chapters 1 and 2 there is a period of 3-4 months. Nehemiah prayed for 90-120 days before God gave him the first opportunity to petition his boss, Artaxerxes the King of Persia, to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild.

When the people of Israel began to rebuild the walls under his leadership, it took the Jews 52 days to build the wall (Nehemiah 6:15).

Do the math. Nehemiah prayed about this twice as long as it took them to build the wall.

Don’t we have this reversed sometimes? We work twice as long, beating our heads against the wall, because we did not spend enough time inviting God into our lives and our planning. Not enough time was spent seeking God’s advice, God’s will, His wisdom and His plans, and as a result we make our lives and work all the more difficult.

It’s something to think about. Nehemiah prayed about this twice as long as it took him to actually do the project.

 

For Ezra Had Prepared

For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel (Ezra 7:10).

Ezra was born and raised in captivity away from the Jewish homeland of Israel. I’m sure it could have been extremely easy for Ezra to just fit it with the Babylonian and Persian culture. He could have decided to forsake his heritage and take part in the ways of the people around him.

What was Ezra doing while he grew up?

He prepared. Preparation implies that he knew he had a purpose. He was going to teach God’s law in Israel one day. But Ezra knew that in order to teach God’s word in Israel there was work to be done first.

Ezra prepared his heart. In order to teach, he must first be doing what he was going to teach. And in order to practice what he preached, he needed to seek God’s law to know what to practice.

For Ezra Had Prepared

This required a firm decision, an unwavering commitment to follow this path. Ezra prepared his mind and heart first. Long before he arrived in Jerusalem leading a group of returning exiles, he made a commitment in concrete to seek God’s law. Years before he led the people in repentance (Ezra 9-10), he was preparing his heart and mind to seek, learn and obey God’s Law. Decades prior to him being used by Nehemiah to lead the people in spiritual revival (Nehemiah 8), he was setting his heart firmly to follow God’s word.

The long and short of it is that if we want to be used by the Lord in His church, we need to like Ezra set our minds in concrete to follow God’s word and to live God’s way. Ezra’s steadfast determination to seek God’s law and do it prepared him to be in a position later to teach God’s law. This is the same for us, men.

Wear the seat of your pants out learning the word of God. Read it. Listen to it. Study it. Meditate upon it. Saturate yourselves in it. Put your heart in concrete to do what God tells you. That will prepare you just like Ezra to be a leader one day in God’s church.

Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you (1 Timothy 4:15-16)

You may do nothing with us

Below are three passages recounting a time when someone or a group was excluded from working with God’s people. The first passage is from the days of Zerubbabel and the first return of the Jews from captivity to rebuild the temple. The second verse comes from the time of Nehemiah who brought the third group back from captivity to rebuild the walls. Finally, the passage from Acts 8 are words of Peter to Simon the Sorcerer who wanted to purchase the gift of the Holy Spirit with money.

Read these three passages and meditate upon them today.

Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the descendants of the captivity were building the temple of the LORD God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and the heads of the fathers’ houses, and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we seek your God as you do; and we have sacrificed to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.” But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the fathers’ houses of Israel said to them, “You may do nothing with us to build a house for our God; but we alone will build to the LORD God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.” Then the people of the land tried to discourage the people of Judah. They troubled them in building, and hired counselors against them to frustrate their purpose all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia (Ezra 4:1-5).

So I answered them, and said to them, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem” (Nehemiah 2:20).

“You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.” Then Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me.”
(Acts 8:21-24)

In all three examples, there are those who with one heart and one soul put their minds to God’s work building God’s things. But also in all three examples there were those whose hearts were not loyal to God and they were not welcomed to join in to the great work of God. In the first two examples, the men were adversaries to the rebuilding of God’s work, and it appears that they remained that way, continually trying to oppose and frustrate the work of God. Thankfully in the final example above, Simon the Sorcerer was moved with godly sorrow and asked for the prayers of Peter (see Acts 8:22).

If you look throughout the New Testament, you will see it is full of teaching and examples showing the importance of having a group of people unified with God and with each other. It is vital to the health and growth of any organization, but especially the church of God.

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus… (Philippians 2:1-5)

Let us meditate upon this in our hearts and pray that our souls are loyal to God, to His people, and to His work. May we encourage others to do the same as well.

Seeing the Blessings Right in Front of You

“And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him” (Ruth 4:15).

Naomi received this blessing from the women of Bethlehem when her baby grandson, Obed, was born to Ruth and Boaz.

I like this blessing because Naomi was gently reminded by the women of Bethlehem that she had a gem of a daughter-in-law in Ruth. Naomi experienced overwhelming grief and tragedy by losing her husband and her two sons, and no one can take away that grief. But sometimes in our grief, we focus so much on what we lost or what isn’t right that we fail to see the incredible blessings of God right in front of our faces.

Naomi may not have had a husband or sons anymore, but she had Ruth, who was better to her than seven sons. Ruth could not “replace” who Naomi lost, but Ruth was still an amazing blessing from God in Naomi’s life.

And now, on top of that, Ruth and Boaz bring little baby Obed into the world and he lays in the arms of his grandma Naomi (Ruth 4:16). Again, this wonderful blessing doesn’t replace who or what was lost, but this baby will “restore” her life and “nourish” Naomi in her old age.

It’s just a thought for us today, men, to take inventory of the blessings of God around us, especially in our families and churches. Since this is Friday, and we usually make some application regarding our relationship with our church families, let’s do that with Naomi and Ruth.

We are tempted at times to look at our congregations and find what is “missing” or what “isn’t right” or who “isn’t doing their part.” First of all we need to be careful that we first look humbly in the mirror and pray for God to help us see ourselves clearly before passing judgment upon others. But how about looking around in our congregations and seeing the “Ruth’s” that are better to us than whatever it is we think is lost or missing? I believe there are a lot more Ruth’s in our lives than we think, and we should be always in prayer with a grateful heart for the godly, loving and loyal friends in Christ that surround us.

None of this is to take away from the faith of Naomi. I believe Naomi was a strong woman of faith and she served God faithfully. She also showed great love and concern for her daughter-in-law Ruth. But we all need reminders sometimes, no matter how strong or mature we may be, to look around and see the blessings right in front of us.

Have You Seen God?

Have you seen God? John was very plain in saying, “No one has seen God at any time.” Do you know what God looks like? Many have undergone the futile task of trying to imagine what God looks like. All kinds of paintings and sculptures have been done through the centuries, and those artistic works reflect the imagination of the artist. They do not reflect reality, because no one could even come close to describing the features of God. God is a Spirit (John 4:24). We see in Scripture that He has hands, eyes, and arms, but we also see God described as having wings. It is all figurative and descriptive.

We go back simply to the words of John, “No one has seen God at any time.” But then again, I ask the question, “Have you seen God?” I can with all certainty and conviction say most positively, “Yes!” I have seen God, face to face, because His image and heart is being reflected and lived out in His people.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit (1 John 4:11-13).

“If we love one another, God abides in us.” Did you see that? God is seen in His people. Christ is reflected in His body. I often preach and discuss the concept of “putting skin on” these Bible concepts. I didn’t come up with that, God did. Notice how John begins his gospel account in chapter 1,

And the Word became flesh (put skin on) and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him (John 1:18).

See that phrase again? “No one has seen God at any time.” But Jesus put skin on, He became flesh and we saw God in the flesh. When you see Jesus in Matthew through John, you see God face to face. But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Not only do we see God in the face of Jesus, we now see God in the face of the people who walk with Him. Jesus develops His heart and His love within His people and then we reflect the face and nature of God in our lives. We become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Have you seen God? Well, if you like me have experienced the love of God lived out among His people then you can shout from the mountaintops with all confidence that you have seen God.

So who will be seen in our lives today? Will people see God through us? Do they hear God when we talk? Are we reflecting the image and glory of God in our relationships?

May God be seen in us today.