For the Common Good of All (1 Corinthians 12:4-13)

There are different spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit gives them. There are different ways of serving, and yet the same Lord is served. There are different types of work to do, but the same God produces every gift in every person.

The evidence of the Spirit’s presence is given to each person for the common good of everyone. The Spirit gives one person the ability to speak with wisdom. The same Spirit gives another person the ability to speak with knowledge. To another person the same Spirit gives courageous faith. To another person the same Spirit gives the ability to heal. Another can work miracles. Another can speak what God has revealed. Another can tell the difference between spirits. Another can speak in different kinds of languages. Another can interpret languages. There is only one Spirit who does all these things by giving what God wants to give to each person.

For example, the body is one unit and yet has many parts. As all the parts form one body, so it is with Christ. By one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether we are Jewish or Greek, slave or free, God gave all of us one Spirit to drink. (God’s Word Translation)

Being given a gift from someone is rightly associated with joy, celebration, goodness, and the possibility of what the gift is and how it might be used.

Unpacking Our Spiritual Gifts

And this is why we unpack gifts with curiosity and abandon. It would be weird if we were given a gift, then let it sit unopened. Instead, we typically receive the gift, rip it open, and express gratitude for the thoughtfulness. Then, we explore it, enjoy it, and use it.

The Spirit, likewise, has been marvelously given to God’s people. Each individual Christian is specially provided a gift to open, use, and enjoy. Spiritual gifts graciously given to us are meant for the common good of all. And this use for the common good is where the gift is different than Christmas presents or birthday gifts.

Spiritual gifts are designed by God to be acts and words of service, dispersed for the benefit of others. Yes, they are meant for us to enjoy them. Yet, they are not meant solely for personal satisfaction.

Using Our Spiritual Gifts

So, if a person’s spiritual gift is teaching, they do not stand in front of a mirror and talk at themselves. Rather, they jump into the fray of learning and explaining, and do it in such a gracious and loving way that the enablement of the Spirit is evident.

If a person’s gift is faith, they do not merely step out and act with unusual courage for the purpose of personal betterment in a holy belief from God. They also demonstrate faithfulness to God’s people and to God’s world. The gift is for the common good of all persons.

The accumulation of wisdom and knowledge is meant for the strengthening of faith in others. Spiritual gifts are intended by God to be shared freely for the common good of all people so that people are strengthened in faith and supported for the rigors of daily life in the world.

Therefore, we really need to take some initiative in identifying our gift(s), unpacking them, and indiscriminately using them. Spiritual health and wholeness can only truly be realized through everyone’s active participation in distributing their God-given abilities.

Stewarding Our Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual gifts are neither to be hoarded, nor miserly dealt to only people I like or my own little world of groupies and friends. Any and every ability comes from God, and is therefore, given for the benefit of all persons. Underprivileged groups need the giftedness of others, as well as discovering their own resources so that everyone is built up in a society of redeemed persons.

What’s more, spiritual mavericks are not so helpful here. The Lone Ranger is not a good model for us. Christians are the Body of Christ, meant to function as one. Just as the Holy Trinity of divine persons – Father, Son, and Spirit – work together in unity of purpose and harmony of being, so persons of the Church are to unify and act as one in the mission of God.

Diversity of gifts are to be expressed in unity of building up others and extending Christ’s love to the world. When we harmoniously coordinate our joint efforts in utilizing our collective spiritual gifts, the world is turned upside-down with kingdom grace and ethics.

Goodness, joy, and possibility become alive when people unpack their gifts and use them for the common good of everyone.

Spiritual Gift Envy

Sometimes, we might succumb to “gift envy.” We observe the talented gift of another and secretly wish it for ourselves. The proper remedy to such a malady is gratitude. When we give thanks to God for the gift(s) we truly possess, then envy has nowhere to reside and slithers away.

None of God’s gifts are “sexy” in the sense that they come easily without effort and always look appealing. On the contrary, our gifts are meant to be received and developed with lots of daily mundane work so that we live into the special endowment bestowed upon us.

In reality, this takes a lifetime of development. That’s because the Spirit’s gifts are so generously large – much bigger than we originally observe at first glance. Like an engagement ring in a tiny box, receiving the gift and putting it on will involve commitments and challenges we cannot at the time perceive.

Whatever it is you do well, do it to the glory of God. Allow God to activate it and energize it for the prevailing needs of a church and a world which is in want of seeing spiritual fruit manifested in kindness, goodness, and love.

O Lord, you have taught me that without love, whatever I do is worth nothing. Send your Holy Spirit and pour into my heart your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Living in the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:1-3)

What I want to talk about now is the various ways God’s Spirit gets worked into our lives. This is complex and often misunderstood, but I want you to be informed and knowledgeable. Remember how you were when you didn’t know God, led from one phony god to another, never knowing what you were doing, just doing it because everybody else did it? It’s different in this life. God wants us to use our intelligence, to seek to understand as well as we can. For instance, by using your heads, you know perfectly well that the Spirit of God would never prompt anyone to say, “Jesus be damned!” Nor would anyone be inclined to say, “Jesus is Master!” without the insight of the Holy Spirit. (The Message)

Summer is nearly upon us. In Christianity, this means we are entering the longest season in the Christian Year. By it’s sheer length alone, it behooves us to give it some recognition. We can only do that if we realize where we’ve come from so far.

The Christian Year

The Christian Year began with Advent – a time of anticipating Christ’s incarnation and remembering that Jesus will come again in a second advent.

We have celebrated the twelve days of Christmas, the birth of the Christ child, leading to the season of Epiphany. We kept up the celebration through rejoicing in God’s revelation to the entire world – all peoples everywhere – in having Christ’s earthly ministry of teaching and healing on our behalf.

Lent has come, beginning with Ash Wednesday and moving through six weeks of focusing on spiritual disciplines which prepared us for Christ’s death, and hopefully, our own death to sin, as well.

Then, we rejoiced in the Lord’s resurrection on Easter Sunday, and experienced a fifty day observance of Eastertide, including the Ascension of the Lord.

The Day of Pentecost has come, as we celebrated the gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church, acknowledging our personal and communal spiritual power.

Now, we revel in this season of Pentecostal power, known as “Ordinary Time” or “Proper Time.” It is a time of engaging in the ongoing work of the church to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the Christian’s “proper” and “ordinary” work of ministry.

The Christian Life

All of the work of Jesus in securing redemption for us is directed toward using the spiritual gifts given to us for the life of the church and the world. There’s no going back. We move forward, utilizing everything provided for a godly life in this present difficult age.

Now we develop our ability to walk and live in the Spirit for the rest of our lives – working out our salvation with reverence and respect.

What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13, MSG)

What the Apostle Paul was getting at with the Corinthian Church was that inspired speech from God always exalts the Lord Jesus – and doesn’t point to someone else, especially the speaker.

In their pre-Christian days, many of the Corinthian believers were involved in pagan worship practices which also involved some inspired speech. But the issue for Paul is less about the speaker and more about the direction of the speech. If the inspirational talk only points to self, or someone else other than Christ, then that speech isn’t from God’s Spirit. Any true divine utterance will clearly point to Jesus.

In a society which was continually angling for personal display and a sort of one-upmanship, the Corinthians were prone and/or tempted to fall back into old ways of drawing attention to themselves. But the entire point of spiritual gifts is that that they are given by God to be used for helping others center their lives around the Lord Jesus. Anything short of that is simply non-Christian.

The Christian Commitment

Which is why I bring us back once again to the Christian Year with its seasons that follow the life and ministry of Jesus. Christian time revolves around Christ. Christian commitment centers in Christ. In Christianity, literally everything has Christ in the middle of it. To do otherwise is something other than Christianity.

We may not (and do not) all hold to the liturgical year as Christians, and that’s okay. Yet what isn’t okay is going off to do your own thing by making salvation something you made the choice to have, giving some of your time, money, and abilities at your leisure, as if you’re really the one in control, not God.

The demands of Christian discipleship are complete and total. Christianity is a life, not a hobby. Christians are followers of Christ’s words and ways, not fans cheering him from a distance without getting their hands dirty in Christian service and love.

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Everything we have is a gift given by a gracious God to be stewarded well for the glory and exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our penultimate gift is the Holy Spirit, who helps complete a renovation of the heart so that it revolves thoroughly around Christ.

Almighty God and Father, who gave your only Son to die for our sins and to rise for our justification: Give me grace so to put away selfishness and wickedness so that I may always serve you in holiness and truth, through Jesus Christ my risen and ascended Lord, who lives with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Our Place in the World (Psalm 8)

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
    in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
    and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth! (New International Version)

I adore the psalms. Many years ago, it was the biblical psalter which helped me come to faith. This little psalm for today is illustrative of why I was moved toward embracing a life with God. Psalm 8 grounds us by dealing with the ultimate questions of human existence:

  • Who am I?
  • Why do I exist?
  • What is the purpose of life?

The answers to those questions are supremely important because people throughout history, and now across the world, are asking what meaning their lives really have.

For example, depression is pervasive throughout the world, as well as the church. It’s a huge issue. Peeling back the layers of a person’s life, many have a deep sense of not truly belonging, and of being profoundly misunderstood by others. Many depressed persons are very aware of their own mortality and have a disconnected sense of their personal role in the world.

Put another way, some folks have lost their original purpose of being a person, that they belong to the human family in a way that makes a significant contribution to the world.

Living on such a big planet causes some people to feel small and wonder how they fit in. With such a large universe, which may at times seem cold and capricious, we may ask, along with psalmist, “What is humanity that you are mindful of them?”

That question forms the center of the psalm. Hebrew poetry is typically set up to have the front and the end of the poem point to the middle where the chief focus is found. So then, the psalmist purposely wrote this psalm so we would consider this great question of what God thinks of humanity within the scope of this immense universe.

And it is a staggeringly huge universe! To put it in perspective, if our galaxy, the Milky Way, were the size of the entire continent of North America, our solar system would fit in a coffee cup.

Even now, two Voyager spacecraft are hurtling toward the edge of the solar system at a rate of 100,000 miles per hour. For decades they have been speeding away from Earth, having now traveled billions of miles. When engineers beam a command to the spacecraft at the speed of light, it takes over half a day to arrive.

Yet this vast neighborhood of our sun—in truth, the size of a coffee cup—fits along with several hundred billion other stars and their planets in the Milky Way, one of perhaps 100 billion such galaxies in the universe. To send a light-speed message to the edge of that universe would take 15 billion years.

Out of the billions of galaxies in the universe, what is the planet Earth that God should care about it? 

Even on our planet there are billions of creatures. Yet, of all those bugs, animals, fish, and birds, God has a special relationship with us, humanity, and cares for us deeply. We know that God cares for us, according to this psalm, because he has entrusted us with the responsibility to care for creation.

We are the only creatures who have the charge to steward all that God has created. As people created in the image of God, we have a job that is befitting of a king. We are God’s vice-regents, in charge of tending and caring for all creation. This incredible job is both a duty and a delight.

God has us playing a crucial role in governing and caring for the world he created. Like a parent or grandparent patiently working with a child to teach them responsibility for all that is around them, God teaches us, and has entrusted to us, this large expansive world we live in. Literally everything in all creation is under our stewardship.

People alone have the self-awareness and perspective of the world that is needed to govern the world. Therefore, we can only find our true purpose and belonging in the stewardship of creation. Caregiving is at the heart of being a person.

The only glitch to all this, and why so many lose their way, is that the world is still living under a curse due to the original fall of humanity.

When we allow other dominions to supersede God’s dominion, then we have issues. Whenever the power of money or the significance of a position, job title, or the ability to do certain tasks is our basic identity and place of belonging, then we will likely succumb to anxiety. That’s because other dominions cannot help us find our true God-given majesty as people created in God’s image.

Living a way other than being a proper steward of the world is beneath us because we have inherent dignity as God’s vice-regents over creation.

Mother Teresa once said that there is no such thing as a small thing – only small things which are done with big love. Her sentiment perfectly captures the vision of the psalmist – that all people are crowned with glory and honor and rule with God to do all the small things of life with a love that comes from our Creator.

We continually have possibilities of engaging in good stewardship of all that God has given us. We have the chance to be attentive to all the little things of life, whether gardening, building a bird house, working with diligence and care at our jobs, or keeping our community clean and its citizens healthy and happy – it’s all important. It brings meaning to our existence as human beings.

People, like all creation, are meant for growth. Putting effort into developing our skills and honing our craft, whatever that may be, is what helps us tap into our God-given purpose for being in this big world.

So, may we continually improve what we do, no matter what it is, so that it befits us as God’s people crowned with honor. May we realize joy and contentment – knowing the majesty we share with God in his wondrous world. 

Almighty God, Creator of the heavens and the earth, words are not enough to express your awesome majesty. Our highest expressions of theology are but baby talk next to you.

Grant us awareness through your Spirit that you are here with us. May this awareness lead us to approach life carefully. The words we speak, the songs we sing, the thoughts we think, the joy and sadness we feel – may it all be pleasing to you, O Lord.

For, despite the inadequacy of our words and actions, our life and worship are addressed to you alone. May you make that life complete, whole, and full to overflowing through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns forever.  Amen.

Do You Really Know? Probably Not (Job 38:22-38)

God Answers Job Out of the Whirlwind, by William Blake, 1826

“Have you entered the storehouses of the snow
    or seen the storehouses of the hail,
which I reserve for times of trouble,
    for days of war and battle?
What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed,
    or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?
Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain,
    and a path for the thunderstorm,
to water a land where no one lives,
    an uninhabited desert,
to satisfy a desolate wasteland
    and make it sprout with grass?
Does the rain have a father?
    Who fathers the drops of dew?
From whose womb comes the ice?
    Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens
when the waters become hard as stone,
    when the surface of the deep is frozen?

“Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades?
    Can you loosen Orion’s belt?
Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons
    or lead out the Bear with its cubs?
Do you know the laws of the heavens?
    Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?

“Can you raise your voice to the clouds
    and cover yourself with a flood of water?
Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?
    Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?
Who gives the ibis wisdom
    or gives the rooster understanding?
Who has the wisdom to count the clouds?
    Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens
when the dust becomes hard
    and the clods of earth stick together? (New International Version)

The older I get, and the more understanding I gain, the more I realize how little knowledge I truly possess.

When I was eighteen years old, I thought I had the world pretty much figured out. Since then, it’s all been downhill. With each passing year, my ignorance seems to grow. I suppose this all really makes some sense when talking about God’s upside-down kingdom.

There’s so much of life that is a mystery; and as we accumulate our life experiences, it seems all, not just some, of life is a mystical encounter. In other words, the more discernment I gain, I discover I know a lot less than I thought I did.

God Answers Job from the Whirlwind, by William Blake, c.1804

It seems as if the biblical character of Job found this out the hard way. If there is any person in Holy Scripture that would be wise and understanding, its him. God speaks highly of Job in the Bible.

Regarding the upcoming destruction of Jerusalem, God said, “even if these three men—Noah, Daniel and Job—were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign Lord.” (Ezekiel 14:14)

Job is held up as the model of patience under suffering: “As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.” (James 5:11)

Yet, with all of Job’s integrity, patience, and righteousness, his understanding barely moves the Richter Scale of God’s expansive knowledge.

We might be somewhat familiar with the story of Job. Being a conscientious follower of God, Job is careful to live uprightly. He acknowledges God in all things and worships him alone. Yet, suffering befell him – for no other reason than that God allowed it. Job knew fully well that there was no personal sin behind his awful ordeal of grief and grinding pain.

So, Job contended with God. For an agonizing thirty-five chapters (Job 3:1-37:24) Job questions God and respectfully takes him to task – as Job’s supposed friends questioned him and assume his guilt. Through it all God is there… silent… saying nothing.

The Desperation of Job, by William Blake, 1821

Then, just when we think God is paying no attention whatsoever, the Lord suddenly speaks.

And what is so remarkable about God’s speech is that for four chapters (Job 38:1-41:34) the Lord gives no answers. It’s all rhetorical questions. God said, “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you shall answer me.” (Job 38:3)

It becomes abundantly clear after just a few questions that it would be impossible for any human being to even come close to having the understanding God has. And that was the whole point.

God is God, and we are not. Our questions, however legitimate, real, and raw they are, come from a very puny perspective. Turns out, we just don’t know as much as we think we do.

To Job’s credit, he keeps his mouth shut and listens. At the end of the questioning, Job responds in the only wise way one could, after such an encounter: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” (Job 42:3)

None of this means that, for us, we need to face our hardships and our sufferings with a stoic keep-a-stiff-upper-lip approach. Trapped grief will inevitably come out sideways and only cause more hurt. I believe God allowed Job to express his terrible physical, emotional, and spiritual pain for chapter after chapter because he needed to.

Only when God sensed it was the proper timing did he jump in and bring the perspective Job then needed. And even after being challenged by God about his vantage point, Job still did not receive answers as to why he had to endure the awfulness of loss beyond what most of us could comprehend.

Maybe we lack being able to understand, even if God directly answered all our questions. Most likely, God protects us from knowing things that might bring irreparable damage to our human psyches. Again, this is all pure conjecture. Which leaves us with perhaps one of our greatest challenges as human beings:

We must eventually come to the place of being comfortable with mystery – and even embracing it. We simply will not have all things revealed to us that we want to know. And that’s okay.

There is yet one more comment to observe about God’s questioning of Job: God is sarcastic. Sarcasm often gets a bad rap, much like anger does, because it is so often associated with unacknowledged emotions and/or expressing our feelings in an unhelpful way.

Yet, there the sarcasm is, with the God of the universe. I take some odd comfort in knowing that God can be snarky at times – in a good way.

Anytime we try to pin God down to some tidy understandable categories, the Lord typically colors outside our human contrived lines and demonstrates to us that the divine cannot be contained in our ramshackle box.

I like it that God is playful, wild, and free to be God – even if there are times it may bug me.

God is unbound by any human knowledge, understanding, ideas, or plans. God will do what God will do. God will be who God will be. “I AM who I AM.” Now that’s a God I can put my trust in.

O Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me.

O Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me.

O Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, grant me your peace. Amen.