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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Accepting that you fail isn’t accepting failure

Fear. We all experience it. Our circumstances are just different. Maybe you’re starting a new job. Maybe you’re facing a life-changing decision. Maybe you’ve got a project on your plate that you don’t know how to do. And it’s scary.

I wouldn’t say that I run away from things that scare me, but I do have an extraordinary talent for living in denial. And I’m a very creative person, so I can come up with all sorts of believable excuses to get out of doing the thing I’m afraid to do.

I fear failure. I fear letting people down. I fear letting God down. I fear that one day I’ll find that my best isn’t good enough, and that no matter how hard I try, I’ll never accomplish what I’m supposed to accomplish. And that fear gets so strong in my heart sometimes that I convince myself it’s better to not even try, because why get my hopes up, why get anyone else’s hopes up, when I’m only going to fail.

706BA1163FToday’s verses are Romans 8:15-18.

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

You will fail. Period. Just start wrapping your head around it right now. You are going to fail. Every day you’ll fail. But there’s a difference between accepting that you will fail and accepting failure.

Accepting failure is giving up. It’s giving in to the fear that’s lurking in your heart. It’s believing a lie about who you are and who God is. A Christ-follower is never ever called to accept failure, and we have no excuse for accepting failure. Why? Because we’re not God’s slaves. We’re His children, and we have access to every bit of His power.

But accepting that you will fail is different. We have all been there. I was that kid on the barn swing too afraid to jump out of the hayloft because I knew I’d fall and make an idiot out of myself. I was the kid with the answer in that college classroom too afraid to raise my hand and speak up because there was a possibility my answer was wrong. I’m that writer who’s afraid to say what I really think because I’m scared how people will react.

The difference between accepting failure and accepting that you’ll fail is whether or not you pick yourself up again after you faceplant. If you’ve accepted your failure, you’ll stay down. What’s the point of getting up anyway? You’ll just fall down again. That’s what you tell yourself. So you stay down. But if you can accept that you will fail in your life, you’ll be able to get up again. It won’t be easy. And it’ll still be scary. And you may have to go through some really, really hard times. But you’ll try again. And who knows? With God’s help, maybe you’ll succeed.

Don’t be afraid to call out to Him for help. Don’t be afraid to call a friend for help either.

Don’t fear failure. It happens to everyone. It’s what you do with it that matters. Just because you fail doesn’t mean you can’t try again. Don’t focus your energy and emotion so entirely on the outcome of what you’re trying to accomplish. Focus instead on why you’re doing it, but that reason is what you’ll fall back on when you’re looking for the strength to stand up again.

 

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.

Barney the Beefeater, our "ambassador" at the Tower of London, London, England

A different perspective on being an ambassador

Ambassadors are everywhere. We just don’t think about them. I mean, when I think of ambassadors in general, I think of government officials who travel to other countries to represent their home country. I think of politics in general. The term ambassador conjures up all sorts of political symbols and hierarchies that I learned about in high school. But if you think about it, an ambassador can be anyone who represents someone else.

Anyone into Mary Kay cosmetics? I know people who are. Your Mary Kay consultant is an ambassador. And how about the Boy Scouts? Going door to door selling popcorn? They’re ambassadors too. Car salesmen. Customer service representatives. Anyone with a face to a potential customer is an ambassador.

It’s kind of overwhelming if you think about it, especially when you let yourself realize that as a follower of Christ, we are Christ’s ambassadors. We are here to represent Him to the world.

Barney the Beefeater, our "ambassador" at the Tower of London, London, England

Barney the Beefeater, our “ambassador” at the Tower of London, London, England

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 5:20-21.

So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

The first thing I think about when I read these verses is what a stunning responsibility this is. To be Christ’s ambassador? To be Christ’s voice to a world that doesn’t know Him? That’s huge. That’s intimidating on a level beyond terror. If you have chosen to trust Jesus for your salvation, that means you are His voice. You are His representative to the people in your life.

Scared yet?

It terrifies me. That’s a lot of responsibility. That’s a lot to live up to. Because when people see me, they’re supposed to see Christ. When people hear me speak, they’re supposed to hear Christ. When I interact with people, they’re supposed to know that Jesus loves them and that He died for them and that He wants to have a relationship with them. And that’s a tall order from a girl who prefers to hide in the corner at social events.

And that’s where my brain goes automatically. How on earth can I meet those expectations? Well, no, let’s be honest here. My brain goes instantly to wondering how I can exceed those expectations. Merely meeting expectations has never been good enough for me; I have to blast the roof off people’s expectations or I feel ashamed of myself. So because my focus is exceeding the expectations (the rules, the regulations, etc.), I start plotting and planning how I can manipulate a circumstance or a situation so that I can control the outcome.

I’m focusing on my performance. I’m focusing on my actions. I’m focusing on what I need to do to make God happy with me. Anyone see my performance-driven perfectionist self rearing its ugly head anywhere in this?

Well, here’s something I realized today. Granted, it’s something I’ve always known, but it hit home with me today on a level that I hadn’t understood before. I am God’s ambassador.

Yes, news flash, I just said that above. But in my mind there are two perspectives to being an ambassador. One, you have to be careful and watch what you say and how you act because you represent an authority in your life. That’s true. That’s 100% true. But that’s not all there is to it. If you are an ambassador, you were chosen for the job.

Now, before you religious scholars get up in arms, I’m not going to get all theological about this. I could. But the purpose of this blog is to provide a place of encouragement, not only for me but for anyone who is searching. And I don’t intend to start a theological discussion about Calvinism vs. Armenianism vs. any-other-isms that are floating around in the world.

What I’m trying to communicate here is that Christ-followers have been chosen to represent Jesus in the world, just like ambassadors. You don’t get to be an ambassador just because you put on a fancy suit and can give pretty speeches or you have a good handshake. No. You apply for the job, and you’re selected for the position. Why? Because your authority, your boss, has seen the potential that you have and wants you to be his representative.

If you have accepted Christ, God calls you one of Christ’s ambassadors. You have something that you can use to reach out to the world and tell them about Jesus, and it’s not something that anyone else can do. So to all you performance-driven perfectionists out there who are running yourselves into the ground trying to make God happy with your list of accomplishments, this is the heart of what I learned today: Stop. God has already given you the job as His ambassador, so stop treating Him like you’re applying for the position. Stop stressing yourself out over whether or not you’re good enough. Stop worrying yourself bald over what you’re going to say or how you’re going to say it or what other people are going to think about you.

Just do the job. Just live for Him. Love for Him. Help others for Him. And stop worrying about whether you’re going to do a good enough job or not. Because it’s not about you. It’s about Him.

Cliff at the waterfall - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Only human

Have you ever tried to meet impossible expectations? Have you ever deluded yourself into believing that you could accomplish the impossible? And I’m not talking about standing up in the face of persecution. I’m not talking about even winning a battle no one said you could win. I’m talking truly impossible. Like walking on water or flying without a plane or trying to perfect.

Some things are impossible for us.  We’re only human, right? We can do many things, but many things are still outside our reach. Being perfect is one of them.

Cliff at the waterfall - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Cliff at the waterfall - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Psalm 37:24.

Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.

Psalm 37 is one of my favorite Psalms. It’s calming and comforting and encouraging, and if you need a lift this morning, I really recommend reading through it.

What caught my eye this morning, however, is how this verse addresses the fact that we are going to stumble. Usually, I focus on the fact that we’ll never fall because God is holding us. But those three words at the beginning — “Though they stumble” — tell us a lot about God and a lot about ourselves.

I spent so much time as a child trying to be perfect. Because being perfect made people happy, and even then I was an indefatigable people pleaser. I would get so frustrated because I couldn’t be perfect. I could get close, but never all the way because as soon as I had a day when I didn’t do anything wrong, I was proud of it. And that blew the whole thing.

That mentality carried over into my adult years, and even though I knew that being perfect wasn’t what saved me, that didn’t stop me from trying. Perfection was the aim. Never taking a wrong step was the goal. I knew in my heart and in my mind that my actions didn’t make me righteous (Christ did that), but I had convinced myself that being perfect would make God happy. Obeying all His rules, all His laws, and never doing anything contrary to what He wanted: that was how I tried to live.

But I couldn’t do it. And at the end of the day, all I had was frustration, at myself for my imperfection and at God for setting me up to fail.

When perfection is your goal, you’ll never accomplish it. It is impossible for us to be perfect in any sense of the word. Even outside of believing and following Christ, perfection is impossible. In the secular realm, it’s less important actually, because people outside the church know they make mistakes and don’t have a problem learning from them so they don’t repeat them. But in the church, it’s a different story. If you follow Christ and you make a mistake, there must be something wrong with you. Right?

So how do you explain today’s verse?

I could go into detail about all the Scriptures that talk about our dual personalities and our struggle with desires that aren’t of God and how God understands all that, but the simple truth is that we are going to screw up. Because we’re only human. We are going to stumble. We’re going to trip over obstacles in our path. We’re going to trip over our own feet. Even if we try to avoid it, we’ll still stumble because we’re not perfect.

But God says that even though we stumble, we aren’t going to fall.

There’s a big difference between tripping over your feet and taking a nosedive in the mud. Tripping is uncomfortable. You can jar your back. You can twist your ankle. You can stub your toe. You can be afraid that you’re going to fall. That’s all part of stumbling. But falling is worse.

As long as you have God by the hand and don’t let go of Him, when you stumble, you won’t fall because He will hold you up.