I’ve always written myself off. So in hearing that I have gifts, that we all have gifts, I immediately retract and exclude myself. Sometimes I just miss how someone as broken as me could be gifted at something, that there’s no way gifts, grace or influence were given to me, as if somehow they’d be wasted if they were given to me. This is a bad habit that robs us of the truth.
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.”
— Ephesians 4:7–8
I don’t know your gifts. I don’t know your grace. But I do know that you’ve been called. I know how easy it is to exclude yourself and write yourself off, thinking that God only uses some people mightily, and that a calling to be used by the creator of the universe is only for the talented or the gifted or the sociable or the funny or the attractive or the smart. I can’t express to you how untrue that is. You’re gifted. There are gifts and grace that you are meant to steward, influence in your home or your workplace that only you have. Find your gifts. Submit to your calling.
You got this! You gonna kill it! OK, don’t kill it. (Or anything else, for that matter. Thou shalt not kill, remember?) But you are a winner! Can I get a what, what?!
Hype it up, y’all! We’re on the winning team! Hello?! I can’t hear you!
Fo’ real tho, I wanna kick a shout out to my fellow Jesus freaks! We are on fiya! (Wait, wrong team.) OK, we are holy-ghostin’ it! (That’s better.)
We have something that hell’s rebellion don’t got, and I ain’t talkin’ fire extinguishers. I’m talkin’ ‘bout something that fans the flames. Burn, baby, burn. I’m talkin’ spiritual gifts.
Spiritual gifts are just another way God says, “I luh you, boo.”
When we use the spiritual gifts God gives us, we bringin’ out the flame throwers. We throwin’ out the works of service that are gonna win more people over to our team. That means we only gonna get betta. Believe that! And if we all do what we’ve been called to do, we’re only gonna be bigger and stronger than any scheme Satan tries to use against us.
Therefore, I remind you to keep ablaze the gift of God that is within you…
— 2 Timothy 1:6 HCSB
Can I get an amen?!
If you have ever caught an episode of How Stuff Works, on the Science Channel, you probably found yourself shaking your head in amazement a time or two as you learned how things go from rough sketches on a drawing board to those finished products you use every day. Something as simple as a morning cup of coffee can be truly remarkable should you discover in detail everything involved in getting that caffeine fix to your lips.
The other day, I walked into the common area of a local retirement center where a group of senior ladies was seated together assembling a large jigsaw puzzle. Knowing most of the ladies individually, I knew them to be as different from one another as the individual pieces of the puzzle they were attempting to put together. Their places of origin, religious preferences, tastes in fashion, music, food, likes and dislikes all different, as diverse as the Texas landscape. About the only thing I could find that they shared in common was their silver hair and, at that moment at least, their solidarity in putting together a thousand small pieces of a puzzle so that it would come together to look like the picture on the box.
Having listened to David Griffin teaching from Ephesians 4 on Sunday, I got home thinking about those episodes of How Stuff Works I had watched that revealed the many different and diverse steps and processes used to get coffee from a tree in the field to my cup each morning, and then of those senior citizens working their jigsaw puzzle. In those thoughts, coupled with David’s sermon fresh in my mind, I saw a picture of God at work in the Church.
Its members — teachers, preachers, pastors, evangelists, worship leaders and so forth — are different by divine design, using the diverse gifts God has given them. He is busy at work, piecing each individual member together, unifying a diverse body. And when all is said and done, the completed puzzle will look like the picture on the box, a mirrored image of his son, Jesus.
Personally, I am happy being just one small fragment of the puzzle God is putting together, glad to take my place each Sunday knowing he has determined that, without me, the puzzle would not be complete. What a humbling thought. Exhilarating, too.
remember that you were at that time separated from Christ…having no hope and without God in the world.
— Ephesians 2:12
Being a junior high girl can be rough. As I look back on it now, it wasn’t that other kids were really mean to me. I wasn’t bullied or overtly ridiculed or anything like that. What hurt was this constant feeling of being alone, being separated from everybody else, feeling like a freakish other surrounded by those who seemed to feel together, included, because they belonged. In 7th grade, the few people I did know had a different lunch period. I went through the entire school year, eating lunch all by myself. I felt painfully aware most moments of being separate from everyone else, and that made each morning feel pretty hopeless.
I became a Christian at age 22. I can’t remember feeling painfully aware during the years leading up to that of being separated from Christ. While I woke up some mornings during my college years feeling hopeless, I didn’t attribute it to the dividing wall between Christ and me. I thought it had to do with whatever circumstances were worrying me in my day-to-day life.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility — Ephesians 2:13—14
When I was dead in my transgressions, I didn’t realize what a difference it would make to have a Savior who is near me. It never occurred to me that, even though everyday life would continue to hurl all kinds of stuff at me, I would no longer be alone in it. Now, I don’t have to face my day hopeless because I have been brought near. It doesn’t change my circumstances, but it definitely changes me.
Have you ever been through something really difficult, something that knocked the breath out of you and brought you to your knees? I have. At those times, that feeling of being alone returns. It’s not that people don’t care, it’s that they can smile without effort. They can laugh and enjoy life. But in those times, to me, I feel like I’m on the outside of life, looking in. Like there is an invisible wall separating happy people from me, and I have to work hard to muster up a smile.
It was in one of those times that God whispered into my heart, “I’m here.” It was like a lightening bolt, straight into me. It woke me up from my misery and made me feel like I was accepted and loved, like I belonged. I’m a different person since that day. Knowing that I am not an outsider makes the hard stuff more doable. Which is just what Christ intended when he brought me near through his blood. Now, I am able to do the good work that God prepared beforehand for me to do because I am not doing it by myself.
If you have not yet given your life to Christ, I want you to know right now that he died to bring you into his family, to take you from being an outsider to being somebody who belongs. He loved you so much that he was willing to give his life up in order to bring you into his family. He wanted you so badly that nothing could stand in his way of making you his own. All you have to do is accept the gift of belonging that he is offering you right now.
If you are a Christian, I want you to know that the good work he prepared beforehand for you to walk in depends on your ability to view other people as Christ sees them. They are precious, priceless to him. They are worth everything to him. Can you see them that way? Even the ones who are different from you? Even the ones who, in their brokenness, have hurt you? Today, be about the heavenly business of drawing others near. From its earliest days, the church has been in the business of accepting those the world saw as outsiders. Let us, the church, continue that good work. Let’s be wall-breakers and peace-bringers. Are you up for the challenge? You have Christ with you as you tackle it!
Racism isn’t a genetic trait. It’s a learned behavior, a product of social norms, history, stereotypes and prejudices, right? Well, not so fast.
For the student taking an undergraduate class in sociology or anthropology, this is of course the typical response. But for the Christian, there is something much deeper going on here.
When we think of racism, we typically think of it within the context of our American bubble, naturally leading us to automatically think of it in a one-dimensional, black-and-white paradigm. Pun intended.
Our culture and history, having been punctuated with chattel slavery, segregation and second-class rights, has compelled us to view racism in a slightly skewed way. Black and white conflict is certainly one version of racism, and nothing I write here should be taken as mitigating the severity of our past, and the treatment of it in the present. However, except for rare exceptions, racism is a worldwide tribulation, always existing in one shape or form. Racism is universal.
So, while racism does owe itself to certain social norms and prejudices, the root cause is actually theological in nature. Racism exists is because of the fall of man. Ever since Adam and Eve, there have been divisions created between brother and brother, father and son, husband and wife, tribe and tribe, nation and nation. Racism isn’t just about the color of your skin. It can also be about where you are from, what you believe in, and even how you worship God. If you don’t think this is the case, then just open your Bible, and see the divisiveness throughout its pages. Racism has plagued the fabric of mankind since the very beginning.
Though some want to believe that if a group of children grew up on a desert island, that they would never become racist, Scripture shows this to be nothing more than a foolish dream. Sin is universal, and the division would eventually develop, sooner or later. Pretty morose picture isn’t it? Well, fortunately for all of us, there is hope:
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility … So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.
— Ephesians 2:13–19
Not only has Christ given us liberation from our guilt before God, he has broken down the walls that divide us all as humans. He not only provided the way to be adopted by our heavenly Father, he has given us the way to be impartial in our love for people of every tribe and tongue. Not only did Jesus do this, even when we were his enemies, he gave us the ultimate demonstration of how we are to respond to our own enemies.
The Gospel isn’t just about our individual reconciliation to God. It’s a reconciliation that is all encompassing, reaching every sphere of the human experience and all of creation. As Christians, we are all commanded to take part in this grand reconciliation, one action at a time.