Using God’s Gifts

When you receive a gift from someone, whether it be for a birthday, an anniversary, or for no special reason other than the desire of the giver to present you with a gift, that gift is generally meant for you and you alone. We’re not given gifts of jewelry, clothes, books, or flowers for the purpose of giving them to someone else. But what about a gift like a coffee maker, a food processor, or a set of dishes? Those are gifts that we are given for the purpose of using them to serve others by providing them with food or nourishment for the body.

God gives each one of us certain gifts that, just like that coffee maker, are given to us for the purpose of using them to serve others. 1 Peter 4:10 says, “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.” The gifts that God gives us are not used to feed the body, like the food processor or the dishes. God’s gifts are used to feed the spirit, to serve others by helping us to encourage them, comfort them, disciple them, and build them up in their faith.

We may have the gift of speaking, a gift that we should use by allowing God to speak through us. We may have a gift for helping others, a gift that we should use by tapping into the strength and energy God gives us to do so. When we use these gifts to serve others, we are building up the body of Christ, building up God’s children. Whatever gifts God has given us, the ultimate goal in using those gifts is to bring glory to God through His Son, Jesus. (1 Peter 4:11).

When we think about the gifts that we give to others, or that others give to us, there are a great variety of gifts to choose from, as well as a great variety of places or sources from which these gifts can be obtained. The gifts that God gives us are spiritual gifts of which there are, as Peter points out in 1 Peter 4:10, a great variety. In 1 Corinthians 12:4, Paul says that there are different kinds of spiritual gifts. But, unlike the earthly gifts that we give and receive, the gifts that God gives all come from the same source. They come from the Holy Spirit. And, as Peter pointed out, they are given to us to serve one another and glorify God. Look at what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11:

“A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.”

God gives each one of us spiritual gifts according to our own abilities. Our responsibility is to be faithful in using those gifts as we serve one another and give glory to God. When we use our gifts faithfully in this way, we will one day receive the wonderful gift of hearing the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Prayer: Lifestyle or Lifeline?

On the TV game show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, a contestant is asked a number of multiple-choice questions on a variety of subjects. As the monetary value of the question being asked grows higher, the questions become more difficult. To help with those difficult questions, the contestant is given three methods of receiving help with the answer, called “lifelines.” If the contestant is stuck and not sure of the correct answer, he or she can poll the audience, have two of the incorrect answer choices removed creating a 50/50 chance at getting the right answer, or call a friend for help with the answer.

When it comes to dealing with problems or trials in life, how many of us look to use a “lifeline” for our answers? Maybe we “poll the audience,” by seeking the advice of others or looking at the way in which others handled similar problems or trials? Maybe we look at the possible solutions, eliminate some and then play “eenie, meenie, minie, mo” with the remaining solutions hoping for a 50/50 chance at choosing the right one? Or maybe, just maybe, we “call a friend” by going to God in prayer, asking for His help with the solution to our problems.

I’m sure you can agree that the third option, the third “lifeline,” is the best to use in dealing with the things in life that we can’t solve on our own. But here’s another question: Should prayer be treated as a “lifeline?” Should we look at prayer as a last resort, the thing that we turn to when we can’t deal with life’s difficulties in our own power? Should prayer be a “lifeline” or a lifestyle?” Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be turning to God when facing a dilemma, when we are stuck between a rock and a hard place and don’t know where to turn. We should do that! But that should not be the only time we turn to God in prayer.

Prayer should be a lifestyle. It should be something that we do as naturally as breathing, eating, sleeping, or any of the things we do to stay healthy and alive. Scripture tells us that we should be devoted to prayer (Colossians 4:2), we should be faithful in prayer (Romans 12:12), and we should pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Acts 2:42 tells us that the early church devoted themselves to prayer. Jesus prayed (Matthew 14:23) and He taught His disciples to pray (Luke 11:1-4).

Prayer is an important part of the life of a follower of Jesus Christ. As I said before, it should be a lifestyle and not simply a “lifeline.” Think about it. Let’s say that you had a close friend who came to you or called or visited you only when he had a problem. When all was well, he all but ignored you. How would you feel about that relationship? Would you feel it was a bit one-sided? God desires to be in relationship with us. He wants us to spend time with Him. He is always there for us when we need Him in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1). But He wants us to seek Him first, to spend time with Him before we bring our problems and our requests to Him. He knows what we need and He wants to give it to us (Matthew 6:31-33). And so, prayer should be a lifestyle, not a lifeline.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

There are some things that need to be done repeatedly. Take laundry, for example. We wash our clothes, we dry them, we fold them, and then after we’ve worn them, we do it all over again. Wash. Dry. Fold. Repeat. And unless you don’t mind walking around in dirty clothes, it’s a process you will do at least weekly, right? Wash. Dry. Fold. Repeat. Wash. Dry. Fold. Repeat.

Among the many things that Scripture teaches us we should do as believers are to be joyful, to be consistent in prayer, and to be thankful. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, the apostle Paul wrote: “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” In other words, “Rejoice. Pray. Give thanks. Repeat.”

When should we rejoice? When should we be joyful? In 1 Thessalonians 5:16, Paul tells us that we should be joyful always. Not just when things are going great. Not just when we feel like all is well with the world. We should be joyful in all circumstances, good and bad. We should be joyful when we are in the best of health and we should be joyful when we get concerning news about our health. We should be joyful when we have plenty and we should be joyful when we have nothing. But how can we be joyful in the bad times? Psalm 28:7 gives a great answer: “The LORD is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.” We can be joyful in the bad times because God is our strength, God is our shield, and He is there to help us.

When should we pray? On Sundays? A couple of times a week? Once a day? 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says that we should never stop praying. When it comes to prayer, we need to look at the example of the early church. Acts 1:14 tells us that the early believers got together with one main purpose, to be united in prayer. Paul tells us in Colossians 4:2 that we should be devoted to prayer. Prayer should be as much a part of our daily lives as breathing is. In Luke 18, Jesus told His disciples the story of the persistent widow who went to the judge repeatedly in order to seek justice against an adversary. Jesus told this story to show them, and us, the importance of continually praying and never giving up (Luke 18:1). But this is not because God takes delight in making us ask for things over and over again. Persistent prayer, praying without ceasing, builds our faith.

And when should we give thanks? When we’ve received what we seek from God in prayer. When we are completely satisfied? Yes, we should be thankful in those times. But, as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, we must be thankful in all circumstances, good or bad. Why? Because giving thanks in all circumstances is God’s will for each and every one of us who belongs to Christ. A thankful heart is also a heart of worship. Psalm 50:23 says that giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honors God.

So, every moment of every day, those of us who follow Jesus Christ, who believe that He died for our sins and is the Lord of our lives, should remember to…

Rejoice. Pray. Give thanks. Repeat.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

“Pray for Those Who Persecute You”

On Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019, three Christian churches in the island country of Sri Lanka were bombed during Easter services, resulting in the death of over 200 people. These bombings are yet another example of the persecution of Christians around the world. According to Open Doors, an organization that ministers to persecuted Christians, every month, an average of 345 Christians are killed because of their faith, scores of churches are burned or attacked, and many believers are held without trial, arrested, sentenced and imprisoned. And, when believers around the world suffer, each member of the body of Christ suffers with them (1 Corinthians 12:26).

Of course, persecution is nothing new to the church of Jesus Christ. The first recorded persecution of Christians took place in the first century when a believer named Stephen was stoned as a result of his faith in Christ. Stephen was arrested and brought before the high council on a false charge of blasphemy (Acts 6:11-14). When the high priest asked Stephen if the charges against him were true, Stephen gave the council a history lesson which ended with an accusation of his own, as he said, “You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.” (Acts 7:51-53)

The infuriated leaders dragged Stephen out of the city of Jerusalem and began to stone him. Stephen became the first follower of Jesus Christ to give up his life for his faith. As Scripture tells us, a great wave of persecution began that day, scattering the believers throughout the areas of Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1). That persecution was led by Saul, a young Pharisee whose zeal for the traditions of his faith led him to go from house to house, dragging people from their homes and throwing them into prison (Acts 8:3). But Saul would soon find out that it was not just these Christians that he was persecuting. As he persecuted the early church, he was also persecuting the Son of God, Jesus Christ. As he rode along the road to Damascus with the intent of arresting the Christians who had fled there and bringing them back to Jerusalem in chains, Saul had an encounter with Jesus.

As he got near to Damascus, a bright light shone around Saul and he fell to the ground. He then heard a voice say, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” When Saul asked the voice who he was, the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” Blinded, Saul got up and headed for Damascus (Acts 9:3-9). From that point on, Saul would never be the same. His life was changed, as was his name. He became Paul, the apostle responsible for writing the largest part of the New Testament, the man who helped to spread the gospel throughout the known world of his time, the man whose inspired words detail the very foundations of our Christian faith. And not only that but, as a follower of Christ, Paul went from persecutor to persecuted.

As we hear about the persecution that we see in this day and age, as we hear about tragic attacks such as the ones in Sri Lanka, we need to pray. We need to pray for our brothers and sisters around the world, especially those in countries that are antagonistic toward those who believe in Jesus Christ. We need to pray for ourselves. In this country, we are not subjected to the kind of persecution we see around the world. But that may change. The world is getting darker and our faith may be tested. So we need to pray that we will stand firm in that faith. And we need to pray for those who persecute Christians. We need to pray that they, like Paul, will have a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. And we need to pray that they will receive God’s forgiveness. Stephen’s final words before he gave up his life for his faith were, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” (Acts 7:60). May that be our prayer as well. After all, in Matthew 5:44, Jesus Himself said, “But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!”

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Finding Wisdom

Some say that wisdom comes with age. In fact, Job 12:12 say that “Wisdom belongs to the aged, and understanding to the old.” There is a proverb that says, “Experience is the father, and memory the mother of wisdom.” And, in March 1917, The Janesville Daily Gazette in Janesville, Wisconsin, said, “Wisdom is digested experience.” But, as Oscar Wilde once said, “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.” All kidding aside, while it may be true that as we get older we do grow wiser because of our life experiences, age alone does not guarantee wisdom.

So how do we obtain wisdom? That very question shows up in Scripture. Job 28:20 asks, “But do people know where to find wisdom? Where can they find understanding?” The next verse says that wisdom is hidden from the eyes of humanity. So, if wisdom is hidden from our eyes, how do we find wisdom? God’s Word is clear that true wisdom can be found in God alone. Job 28:23 tells us that only God understands the way to wisdom and only He knows where it may be found. And so, if we desire wisdom, we can find it only in God. Job 12:13 says, “But true wisdom and power are found in God; counsel and understanding are His.” And Proverbs 2:6 tells us that “the Lord grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding.”

The first Scripture passage that I ever memorized was Proverbs 3:5-6, which says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”

These are great words to live by! God’s understanding is far superior to our own limited understanding. Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so God’s ways and God’s thoughts are higher than our own (Isaiah 55:9). God knows what will happen in the future before it ever comes to pass (Isaiah 46:10). If we want to succeed in life, if we want to live a life guided by true wisdom, we need to trust in the wisdom of God. It’s no surprise that the next verse of Proverbs 3, verse 7, begins with the words, “Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom.”

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

THE THIRD DAY: He is Risen!

When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right side. The women were shocked, but the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid his body. (Mark 16:5–6, NLT)

The forces of evil rejoiced as Jesus was laid in the tomb on that dark Friday. Their celebration continued as His body lay there the next day. But now it’s Sunday, the third day, and the celebration belongs not to the forces of evil, but to those who walk in the light. What brought this about? An empty tomb! On our February 2018 trip to Israel, a group from Evangel Church visited two different sites that are claimed to be the place of the tomb in which Jesus was laid. There is a difference of opinion as to which is the true site. But there is one thing that they both have in common. Jesus is not there! Jesus is alive! He is risen indeed!

Throughout the world, those who put their faith and hope in Jesus Christ are celebrating the greatest day in history, the day on which our Savior, Jesus Christ conquered death. It is the third day. Death could not hold Jesus. He is alive and has conquered death and the grave. He gave His life on Friday to pay the price for our sin, but on Sunday, not just sin, but also death was conquered as Jesus rose from the dead. Death had no victory over Him. Because of Jesus, death has lost its sting. Jesus was victorious. And those who turn from their sin and place their faith and trust in Jesus share in that victory (1 Corinthians 15:57).

Jesus rose from the dead and can never die again. And because of His victory, we can experience eternal life. We may one day die a natural death but, thanks to Jesus, we do not have to face the second death, eternal separation from God. Thanks to Jesus, we can experience eternal life. Jesus said that He is the resurrection and the life. He promised that those who believe in Him, although they may die, they will still live (John 11:25-26). Because of the grace and mercy of our heavenly Father, given to us through Jesus, His Son, we do not need to face separation from the Father but can have eternal life in His presence. That is cause for celebration! Hallejujah!

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

PASSION WEEK: Saturday (A Day on Which to Reflect)

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.(Isaiah 53:5–6, ESV)

As we have commemorated Jesus’ Passion this week, on Thursday we remembered a day on which Jesus faced betrayal, denial, abuse, humiliation, and trial. Friday we remembered His pain, suffering, and His death on a cross. And now we come to Saturday, a day in which Jesus lay in the tomb. To the disciples who followed Jesus, it was a day of confusion, disillusionment, mourning, and even fear. For Mary, the mother of Jesus, it was a day to grieve the loss of her son. For some Roman soldiers, it was a day to stand guard over the tomb. But for us, living on this side of Jesus’ death and resurrection, it is a day on which we can reflect. We can and should reflect on what the events of the Passion of Jesus truly mean to us.

Because of sin, we were separated from God. The relationship that man once had with God was destroyed. But God, although He is righteous and just and cannot tolerate sin, still desired for us to have that close relationship with Him that existed before sin entered the world. There was nothing that we, in our own human power could do to restore that relationship. And so, God decided that He would do something about it.

Some 700 years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah spoke of the suffering servant who was to come, a person who would come from God, a person who would take upon Himself the punishment for our transgressions. His suffering, His pain, would bring us peace, it would heal our wounds. And, despite the fact that we, just like a flock of sheep, have been led astray by sin, God would lay upon this suffering servant, the imiquity of us all (Isaiah 53:5-6). Jesus was the fulfillment of this prophecy. His suffering and His death was the price that was paid to set us free from the bondage of our sin.

Jesus came into the world for the purpose of dying for us. He is the proof of a God who loves us so much that He was willing to sacrifice His one and only Son so that the relationship broken in the Garden of Eden could be restored, so that the veil of sin that separated us from God could be torn apart (John 3:16). God sent Jesus not to condemn us, but rather to save us. All that we need to do is turn from our sin and believe in the One whom God sent, Jesus (John 3:17-18). Jesus died for all of us (Romans 6:10). Not just for a few, but for as many as are willing to believe. And the best part is that, if you were the only person in the world, He would still have died for you.

Reflect today not just on how much Jesus suffered, not just the horrific and painful death that He endured, but also on the fact that He did so willingly for you. As He hung on the cross, Jesus saw each and every one of us and He endured that death with joy (Hebrews 12:2).

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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