Posts Tagged ‘spiritual-gifts’

Followup — Studying to Serve, or, On Not Being a Self-Centered Idiot

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

It occurs to me that when I wrote my last post, the basic thought I had in mind got lost in all the reflecting.

Self-centered teaching: Go off, think allegedly insightful, ground-breaking, epiphanic thoughts.  Then gather an audience and broadcast your views.  Stop there.  (Analogy:  A radio.  Tossing spaghetti against the wall, but not really caring if it sticks.  Example: Arrogant, unconcerned professors.)

Christ-like teaching: Because you’re motivated by genuine affection & concern for people, you get involved with people’s lives.  You make time.  Intimacy happens.  You might be a lecture-style teacher, or a blogger, or a radio host–but your life also includes discipleship relationships. You meet with people, you know what’s going on in their lives, you’re concerned about them and their growth.  You follow up.

Why this is on my mind: I’ve been realizing that some aspects of my personal relationships really stink.  Or are underdeveloped.  I want to change–to see all my relationships be more natural, friendly, affectionate, generous, discerning, and humble.  In the area of truth/teaching/doctrine/understanding, I want to include a genuine posture of hearing & receiving.  I want my speaking/teaching/encouraging to come out of an integrated concern for people.  I want to be able to talk about these things naturally, conversationally.

Coincidentally, Frank Turk just posted something this morning on a related subject (comment #6).  He included a highly appropriate verse, so here it is:

Paul, talking to his protege Timothy:

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. (1 Tim. 1:5-7)

Studying to Serve, or, On Not Being a Self-Centered Idiot

Saturday, November 7th, 2009

There is a difference between simply studying and being a disciple.  The same is true on the teaching side.  Why do we do what we do, and what kind of fruit are we seeking?

I love to study.  To read.  To learn.  I’m like many theology-reading, coffee-shop-dwelling, blog-haunting, podcast-devouring twenty-somethings.

It can be a source of pride.  Forget justification by works–we’ve got justification by podcast.  You want to see fruit?  Just look at the list of people who I read & listen to.  Impressive, no?

Studying Well

Do we study to master the information?  To delight in fascinating controversy?  To best opponents?

Or do we study to see God more clearly, to love him more truly?  Know him, to depend on his promises, and to stop living in small-minded, self-centered ways?  Do we study to look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere in pure, undefiled religion before God?  To see and hear Christ, and act?  To rein in spiteful tongues, to speak blessing & encouragement, and to love those who need it most?  (James 1:22-27)

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Spiritual Gifts — Getting Past the Term

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

The other night, in the discipleship & spiritual growth class I’m taking at my church, we were discussing spiritual gifts.  The question came up of how to distinguish between spiritual gifts and natural traits/talents.

Many non-believers are good at things that are also called spiritual gifts–like administration, or teaching.  But spiritual gifts are manifestations of the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit, in believers.  So does that mean that if you were good at it before you began to trust in Christ, then it’s not a spiritual gift?  But then there’s also Eph. 2:10, which says that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ for good works that he prepared in advance for us to do.  So he made us in ways that are suited to the tasks he has for us–natural traits are the work of God, too!  How do you figure out which is which?  Do you need to?

Maybe it’s helpful, maybe not…  The question that I prefer to think about is, “How can I act so that God works through me?  How can I serve the Body of Christ?  How can I care for the people in my community?”  When I read 1 Cor. 12, that seems to be what spiritual gifts are about.

Check out verses 4-7:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

Key point: Gifts are activities.  They’re ways to serve.  These activities of service are manifestations of the Spirit, and they are intended to help the Body.

So, the major question to be asking is:  Does God work through me in this, for the good of others?

It’s not even a question of, “Am I good at this?”  Two teachers might be effectively identical in the way they teach–but the Holy Spirit might regularly move powerfully when the one preaches.  Or you might have people who are totally uninspiring & dry in how they share the gospel–but when they do, the Spirit brings people in.

And when you find a way that you can serve people–something where God works through you–don’t you want to press into that?  Isn’t that something to pursue, whether or not you know precisely what to call it?

Keep in Step with the Spirit

Sunday, December 23rd, 2007

I recently started reading Keep in Step with the Spirit by J. I. Packer, author of Knowing God. The first edition came out in 1984, and it was recently updated for a second edition. It’s a study of the new covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit, dealing with questions that affect the life of every Christian as we seek to “walk in the Spirit”–to live the Christ-centered, God-honoring life for which we were created and saved.

Taking a few excerpts from the Amazon description, it is “not merely a theological study, but a rousing call to encourage believers to implement the Spirit’s directives in their lives.” It is a “radical call to personal and corporate revival”, in which Packer “restates the Christ-centeredness of the Spirit’s ministry, reaffirms the biblical call to holiness, and even-handily assesses the charismatic movement.”

The last part is of particular interest to me. I purchased this book as part of my own extended study into charismatic issues. My personal background is lacking in charismatic-type manifestations. (This is not to say that God has not worked powerfully in my life, or that I’ve had no experiences. But I don’t remember anything that I thought of at the time in charismatic terms.) When it comes to stories of manifestations, my natural inner tendency is to be somewhat skeptical. And since I joined an independent charismatic church last January, I am forced to consider these matters carefully. (To clarify, Hope Chapel does not engage in the sort of chaotic practices that Paul critiqued in 1 Cor. 14. In the main meeting, our charismaticism is mainly manifested in a joyful, energetic worship style. Those who attend are from a variety of backgrounds, with a variety of views about spiritual gifts & prophecy. And the teaching is strongly biblical, and centered on Christ.) (On another side note, I value the fact that Hope is more charismatic than I’m used to, regardless of what conclusions I end up coming to. I think it’s beneficial to be at a church that’s a little more something than you’re used to, within limits–it’s a way of challenging you to learn, to consider, to practice discernment, and to get outside the traditions you hold to just because it’s your background.)

So, I’ve been wrestling with questions related to the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts, such as: How we are to expect the Spirit to work in our lives and in the church, what it means to hear the voice of God, how we are to discern the will of God, and how we are to exercise discernment while maintaining an open and humble spirit and an expectation of the power of God. (more…)

Be Free and Serve (or, Doing God’s Will)

Saturday, August 4th, 2007

“I have a passion for South America. I love the people and the cultures. I really have a heart to see them come to know Jesus and to serve God. But… I’m not sure it’s God’s will for my life.”

“My residency has been very rewarding. I talk to people. I can help them, and make them feel better. I can help them with problems, and spread some happiness in their lives. It gives me lots of opportunities to talk about God. But… I also love art–creating beautiful things. It’s another way to help people, and I’ve always wanted to go to art school. I don’t know if I should keep going with med school, or leave to do art. I’ve been praying a lot, but God hasn’t revealed His will yet.”

Making big decisions is a hard thing. It’s a topic at the forefront of my mind at the moment. I’m finishing grad school shortly, and because the company I interned with is in a slump right now, I don’t have a job lined up. I have to find a long-term job, and I have to figure out what to do with my time in the short-term. Get a part-time job? Live off savings and do various volunteer work? I want to stay in Austin; if I get an offer elsewhere, should I take it, or wait for something here? How do I know what God wants me to do?

As Christians, committed to serving God and submitting to Him, we know that we should seek His will. When a decision affects our lives in a big way, we want to factor God in, so to speak. So…What do we do when we have a decision to make, but we haven’t heard from God? What do we do when we can’t seem to find His guidance? Do we wait until we get a clear indication somehow? How are we supposed to recognize those indications? Are we even supposed to expect to hear from God in this kind of thing? What if we come up to a deadline? What happens if we make the wrong decision, and miss God’s best?

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To Know God Better

Sunday, July 8th, 2007

The name of this blog, of course, is a reference to 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

The context is 1 Cor. 12-13, on the primacy of love and community in the church. Paul discusses spiritual gifts in chapter 12, how there are many gifts and types of service empowered by God for the common good. (The importance of community was on is mind; he had just chastised the Corinthian church in chapter 11 for the way they profaned the Lord’s Supper with divisions. Instead of being an expression of each believer with Christ and with each other, they ate for their own bellies and they got drunk; those with food ate their own meals while others went hungry.) The whole body is to be joined together so that “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” Each type of service is needed, whether “humble” or “great”. Some are gifted to help others, or to administration, while others are gifted to teach, to heal, to work miracles.

And yet, he says in chapter 13, each gift is a vain and worthless thing if divorced from love. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (v. 1) And even great acts of charity are made meaningless if done without love: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned but have not love, I gain nothing.” (v. 3) Love holds a unique in the world; it will never cease, through all eternity. It has the ultimate staying power; it will last to the end, when Christ comes and this fallen world passes away, when every partial, passing, and imperfect good we now know will be consummated and fulfilled in the new heavens and new earth.

Love and community is a taste of heaven. The sacrifice of Christ was not to give people their ticket out of hell; his sacrifice was to create a unified body of serving believers, of disciples and followers. We are made in the image of God, but fallen and twisted; He transforms us to fulfill the image of Christ, showing mercy and love to those who have rejected Him and lived in rebellious selfishness; He saves us by grace through faith, not based on our own efforts to be good. Salvation is freely given to sinners, but we are His workmanship, created for the very purpose of walking in good works, in service and generosity and love. We cannot earn forgiveness, but we can live transformed lives, working out our salvation through His power. We can be one, even as the Son and the Father are one, as Jesus prayed for the disciples in John 17.

The unity and community that we can know is a taste of the nature of God; community is so fundamental that it is part of His eternal being; He is three Persons, eternally knowing and loving one another. The more we understand love, the better we know God.

And so it is that Paul says in 1 Cor 13:12–after saying that love never ends, as some things will–that, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” The promise of the gospel is not fundamentally about punishment and reward; eternal life is not a matter of never-ending physical pleasures; it is not about the feasts and 70 virgins that some men die to acquire; it is not about the self-centered bliss that some Christians seek. God so loved the world that those who believe in Him should have eternal life–and Jesus defined eternal life in John 17:3: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

Eternal life is knowing God. The ultimate death is not to know Him. The heinousness of idolatry–in all its forms, such as greed & materialism–is that we expend our focus and energy on things that do not matter. It is a tragedy to waste a life created in the image of God for service. We can fritter our lives away, devoted to money, to watching television, to sex, to reading fiction, to science, to alcohol, to drugs, to a romantic relationship, to the next exciting thrill, to food, to fame, to fortune. These things may have good in them, but it is a waste of a life to devote to them all our focus, our time, and our energy. They may be part of a life worth living, but they must not be the whole. The greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

And so, I come to the purpose of this blog: To know and to show God better, in whatever ways I can. It is to share what I learn, to organize my thoughts, to provide resources, to summarize what I study, and to offer up my own best efforts at understanding God and the world. We are called to service, to fruitful labor, to live for the community; I can point to very little in my past or present life where I have answered this call.

This is one thing I can do. I want this blog to be an expression of my own longing to live out whatever grace God has given me. I’ll post a variety of things–anything I’m thinking about, reading, learning. I’ll post simple quotes from books I’m reading, and sometimes I’ll add my own thoughts. I’ll summarize some nugget of information from a subject I’m studying. I’ll present my own observations, whatever they’re worth. And I’ll link to meaningful, interesting, and helpful entries on other blogs.

I want to do what I can to wipe away grime from the glass through which we see God, to wrestle with confusions and uncertainties, to see more clearly the light of who He is, and to be transformed to reflect that light more brightly. I want to reach the end, and to hear the Father say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Bear with me. We’ll see how it goes.