Your spiritual gift is worth more than a plate of cookies

As I’ve stated in many other posts, I love giving people things. I love giving gifts. Birthdays. Christmas. Anniversary. Just because. There’s nothing better than to show up unexpectedly and deliver a present to someone just for the heck of it. Anyone else ever been there?

It’s a great trait to have, sure, but it can be a double-edged sword too. What if you don’t have enough money to purchase gifts? What if you don’t have time to make something intricate and beautiful? Can you still go see people if you don’t bring a gift? Maybe that sounds silly, but that’s one of those silly little fears that pop up at the back of my head. I can’t just show up at somebody’s house or workplace without something give, can I? That’s rude, isn’t it?

What I need to remember (and everyone like me) is that the best gifts you can give aren’t always wrapped up in boxes and ribbons. Sometimes, the best gift you can offer is your time and your perspective on following Jesus.

wood-light-brown-dessertToday’s verses are Romans 1:11-12.

For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord. When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.

In my life, I’ve never longed to visit anyone to bring a spiritual gift. Have you? This is Paul talking to the Church at Rome, though, so if Paul can talk like this, it’s most likely something we should pay attention to.

Paul is this legendary figure in my mind, so it’s hard to remember that he had nothing. He traveled from one corner of the continent to the other. He didn’t have a home or family. He didn’t have possessions really. So of course he had no tangible gifts to bring people. But what he could bring to share with others was the spiritual gift God had given him.

I don’t take my spiritual gifts seriously often enough. If you’re a Christ-follower, you have one too, and God has given them to us so that we can enrich and encourage the Body of Christ, the Church. So what if you don’t have time to make cookies? So what if you don’t have enough money to buy something nice? The gift of your time and your care and your love is worth more than you might think.

What I also love about this is how Paul states that he wants to visit to encourage the people of the Church at Rome but that he also needs encouragement too. If Paul can admit to needing encouragement, heck–I’m right there with him.

So don’t beat yourself up if you can’t give someone a gift. And absolutely don’t let your perceived lack of something prevent you from spending time with other believers. Don’t underestimate the power of the spiritual gift God has given you. He can use you to bless people ten times more than a plate of cookies could. You just have to let Him.

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Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves

I’m really hard on myself. Any other performance-driven perfectionists out there? When you start out living life that way, it can be awesome because people who aren’t perfectionists love people who are. Maybe they get on each other’s nerves, but every boss wants to hire a performance-driven perfectionist because they will kill themselves getting it right. And no discipline is ever needed because they’ll be harder on themselves than a boss ever could be. They never take vacations. And they’re always on time.

That’s how it starts out. But as life gets busier and busier, maintaining your status of perfection gets more and more difficult. You can’t just pick and choose perfection, right? Everything has to be perfect. So life at home must be perfect, with everything clean and neat and in order. Life at work must be perfect, with projects on time and people’s opinions of you high. Life at church must be perfect, with all your different ministries under control. Your social life has to be perfect too. And so do your hobbies. And so on and so forth.

“Perfection” is hard work. Truly, perfection is unattainable, but we strive for it anyway.  And when we don’t achieve it, we rip ourselves to bits.

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Romans 12:3.

Because of the privilege and authorityGod has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.

This verse is part of Paul’s talk about how the different areas of the Church are like different parts of the body. One part of our body can’t say to the other part that they’re not important (unless it’s an appendix, but even that must have a purpose or we wouldn’t have one, even if it’s just job security for surgeons). The church is the same way. Different people are gifted in different areas, so you can’t pick and choose what parts are more important. If you esteem the mouth and forget the big toe, you’ll have lots to say, but you can’t stand up.

But that’s not what struck me about this verse today. The statement, “be honest in your evaluation of yourselves” is what really hit me this morning.

Be honest in your evaluation.

What does that mean? In the context that Paul is using here, he means that you shouldn’t think you’re all that because you have certain gifts. It’s a pride issue. Don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought to.

But it works in both directions. Don’t think too highly of yourself, but also don’t rip yourself apart because you aren’t perfect. Be honest about it. Don’t exaggerate. Don’t let your emotions or your feelings dictate your perspective about yourself. Don’t let your life situation or circumstances tell you who you are.

Be honest.

How? The first step comes from knowing what God thinks about you.

God thinks you’re awesome. He thinks you’re brilliant and funny. He thinks you’re a great mom. He thinks you’re a great dad. And the plain truth is that nothing you can do or say will ever convince God to love you less (or even more) than He already does. He loves you too much already. So put that perspective in place the next time you start tearing yourself up, you insecure perfectionist you.

You may not understand His love, but you can accept it. Accepting it will change your life.

The second part is finding a way to look at yourself realistically. Don’t let your emotions drive your view on things. Emotions aren’t trustworthy because they’re broken.

As you might imagine, I love to write. I write all the time. Even when I don’t have a pen, I’m still writing in my head. But the biggest problem with my writing is me. I hate everything I write. I cringe at the thought of inflicting my ridiculous sentence structures on people. This blog only became public after people begged with me to share my thoughts online. The truth about this blog is that it’s not about me. I’m just posting what God is teaching me on a daily basis and if someone gets something out it, it’s through His grace and not my talent (especially at this time in the morning).

But, that being said, people have made it abundantly clear to me that I have a gift for writing. And that’s what it is, a gift. Granted, it’s a gift that I have worked very hard to refine, even if I do interject dangling participle every now and then or end a sentence with a preposition (on purpose).

Yes, I hate most everything I write, and nothing I get down ever meets my expectations. But to look at my work and declare that I am a horrible writer (which I do all the time) isn’t honest. It’s a lie, and it’s damaging.

Have you ever been there? Have you ever been trapped in the cycle of self-criticism that stunts your growth and tears you up inside?

Take a step back and be honest in your evaluation. Everyone has gifts. Everyone has talents. Nobody is more important than anyone else, but you’ve got something that God has given you to do that only you can do.  Don’t let self-doubt and perfectionism get in the way of accomplishing your God-given purpose.

Chill out. Give yourself a break. God loves you, and He gave you a gift. You’re not perfect, but He is. So He can use you even when you don’t always get it right.

Little yellow bug on a big yellow flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Sometimes the body needs a break

I have a sore on my tongue. Yes, that’s probably TMI, but it’s true. In fact, I’ve had a sore on my tongue for about a month. It’s one of those obnoxious sores that just nags the devil out of you, and nothing you do to it really seems to help it. And it doesn’t really hurt. It’s just annoying. And it makes talking less fluid than I normally prefer it to be. People probably haven’t noticed because I’m good at hiding things, especially since I’ve had to be talking nonstop for the last month it feels like.

What amazes me is how something so small can cause so much irritation. Like a splinter. You can get a splinter in your finger or in your foot, and it can feel like a whole tree is lodged in there. And then it turns out that it’s just a teeny tiny microscopic shard, and you feel like the world’s biggest wuss. Or a speck in your eye? Gosh, there’s no pain like that. And most of the time it’s an eyelash. An eyelash! Yeah, that’s really dangerous.

But isn’t it amazing how one tiny problem with one tiny part of your body can cause the rest of your whole body to stop functioning the way it’s supposed to? I mean, your body still functions. But it’s really really difficult to focus on doing the things you’re supposed to be doing when you have an eyelash stabbing your cornea to death…or an elm lodged in your little toe…or a sore on your tongue.

The Body of Christ (that is to say, the Church) is the same way.

Little yellow bug on a big yellow flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Little yellow bug on a big yellow flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 12:27.

All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.

You see, there are two definitions of church. A church can be a building, yes, and that’s the general definition I think most people apply. But the Church (capital C) refers to those people who have chosen to follow Christ. The Church, our fellow brothers and sisters in faith around the world, is more than a building–it’s a family. And the Bible calls it a Body. The Church has been compared to the Body of Christ, with each part having a specific purpose, meaning that each member of the Church has a reason for existing.

Some people are the hands. Some are the feet. Some are the mouth. You get the idea.

I’ve posted previously that my church (talking about the collection of folks at NewSpring Wichita) is in the midst of a massive outreach called Judgement House. There’s no other time at NewSpring where you get to see the concept of the Body of Christ played out so literally. It’s amazing to see how a body functions.

But if one part of the Body stops working, the other parts have a hard time getting the job done the way it’s supposed to be done. Like a splinter or a sore or a homicidal eyelash in a “real” body, the Body of Christ can have issues too. After all, even though we’re redeemed, none of us are perfect. And those issues can sometimes cause difficulty for other parts of the body. But what’s truly amazing is watching how the other parts take up the slack.

If you have a lash in your eye, you have another eye that can still see, and your hand is there to seek out the offending lash and make it go away. Similarly with a splinter, you can shift your weight to your other foot or gesture with your other hand. And if your tongue stops wagging, you can still communicate with your hands (at least I can).

I’m rambling at this point because I’m exhausted from all these nights of Judgement House, so I’d better get to the point. Basically last night I just got to thinking about how sometimes body parts need a break.

I really don’t sit down the whole time I’m at Judgement House. I could. But my brain wanders if I sit still so long, and I want to stay focused. So I pace. And a few hours of pacing isn’t that big of a deal, but we’re talking eight hours of pacing. By the end of the night, my feet are killing me.

Well, the other night–after a night of pacing–I came out to my car to find it frosted over. It’s starting to get cold here. And honestly the last thing I really wanted to do was stand out in the cold and scrape the icy frost off my windows. But I wanted to go home. So I started working on it. And that’s when a young man I’ve known for ages popped over to my car and helped me. I later found out that other folks all over the parking lot had the ice cleaned off their windows too. I’m not sure if it were the same guy, but whoever it was made me think about how awesome the Body of Christ truly is. He didn’t need recognition. I didn’t even ask him for help. He just saw a need, and he jumped in. That’s how the Body of Christ is supposed to function.

So what does that mean for us today? Well, if you follow Christ, you’re part of His Body, so that means you need to keep your eyes open for a way to help another part of the Body out today. I can’t tell you how or what or where, but I can tell you that there are needs everywhere. And you don’t run across needs by accident. A lot of the time, God has put you where you are “for such a time as this.”

So don’t be crazy but don’t be lazy either. If the Body is struggling, step in. We’re all in this together.

Water Boy for the Marion Warriors football team - Hutchinson, KS

Well-oiled machines don’t have squeaky wheels

I got to go to another football game the other night. I haven’t been to many, and the ones I’ve gone to have only been high school. My lack of a competitive nature has really caused me to stay away from sports for most of my life, but my best friend is a sports editor/photographer for her town paper, and she had a game close to my house the other night. So I dropped by to chill on the sidelines with her … literally because the temperatures dropped into the 30s as we stood there.

But throughout the game, I noticed this one kid, whom I took a picture of. He was smaller than all the other players. He wasn’t treated very well; they all yelled at him. And for all the abuse he took, he had to run around–not on the field where he could get any glory for his hard work–but on the sidelines making sure the players stayed hydrated.

And it got me thinking about the Church.

Water Boy for the Marion Warriors football team - Hutchinson, KS

Water Boy for the Marion Warriors football team – Hutchinson, KS

Today’s verses are 1 Corinthians 12:12-26.

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.

Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?

But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”

In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.

I love my liver. It’s pretty important, if you didn’t know. Kind of like my pancreas is important, even though it probably doesn’t function the way it’s supposed to all the time. And if I didn’t have my gallbladder, whew! No more greasy foods for me. There are parts of our bodies that we can’t live without, even though no one gets to see them.

When was the last time you walked up to someone and told them they had a lovely colon? Never? Well, maybe their intestines aren’t visible, but if they didn’t have a functioning colon, they wouldn’t be standing upright talking to you.

Like a little finger. Or a big toe. They’re small parts of your body, but try walking without a big toe. Try picking stuff up without a little finger. It’s just as impossible to function on the outside without those two parts as it is to try to function on the inside without a colon or a liver or a pancreas.

People get to thinking that their mouths are the most important (anybody see the debate?). Or they get to thinking that their eyes are the most important or their ears or their hair or their arms or legs or whatever our culture deems as beautiful or intellectual or attractive. But what good is a head without a neck? What good is a mouth without a nose or ears? Most of your sense of taste comes from your sense of smell. Most of your ability to speak comes from your sense of hearing.

There’s no part of the human body that’s unimportant. Yes, pieces and parts can be removed, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have lasting effects from their absence. And just as that is true of the human body, it is true of the Church.

No one is minor. No one is most important. Everyone has a function. Everyone has a design. And we are all designed to work together for one purpose: drawing people to Christ.

So if you’re a big bad Christian and everyone knows you and you walk into your church next Sunday and some little teenager holds a door open for you with a smile and a bulletin, and you think you’re more important than he is? … You’re wrong.

If you’re a children’s Sunday School teacher full of knowledge about the Bible and in possession of a carefully categorized flannelgraph collection, and you think you’re more important than the little kids you’re teaching? … You’re wrong.

Even if you’re a pastor, even if you’re a deacon or a trustee or an elder, even if you’re a worship leader or an actor or an usher … none of you are more important than the little old lady who cleans the bathrooms. You all matter, and you all are important, and you all have a job to do. And while you could probably do your job without the little old lady who cleans the bathrooms, you would feel her absence decidedly if she weren’t there.

So the next time you’re tempted to feel important at church, think about how difficult it would be to walk without a big toe. Remember that Church was designed to be a unit of many small parts, a well-oiled machine with a specific goal and purpose. So don’t be the squeaky wheel.