About jculler1972

My husband is the pastor of St. Paul's Free Lutheran Church in Leitersburg, Maryland. I have two grown daughters and a granddaughter and am retired after a career in Purchasing. I have published articles in The Lutheran Ambassador, Lutheran Witness, and Lutheran Digest. My Bible study on the Book of Acts was published in 2016 by the Women's Missionary Federation of the AFLC(Association of Free Lutheran Churches).

Feeling God’s Pleasure

I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.

Eric Liddell

If you’re old enough, you may remember this statement from the movie, Chariots of Fire.  It is the true life story of Eric Liddell, and Olympic runner who went on to become a missionary and teacher in China.

When I think about spiritual gifts, my mind always goes to this quote, because I believe that God made us in a certain way, with an aptitude and ability to do certain things well, and when we discover that “sweet spot” for serving, we do indeed feel His pleasure.  There is no better feeling in the world because in that moment we become our true and authentic self, the person God meant us to be.  It’s a taste of heaven on earth.

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

God Himself gave us a purpose and He gave us the spiritual gifts needed to accomplish it.  Our job is to align our life with God’s desire for us.  Only there will we find true freedom and joy.  Will we be able to do this perfectly?  No way!  However, through prayer, through a realistic assessment of our gits and talents and through His grace, we can come closer day by day.

As spiritual gifts coordinator for St. Paul’s, I’m hoping to help others, one step at a time, to discover their gifts and then put them to use.  This excites me because one of my prominent gifts is encouragement.  God made me to encourage others in their walk of faith.  Here’s the definition of the gift of encouragement:

ENCOURAGEMENT:  The gift of encouragement is the special ability that God gives to certain members of the Body of Christ to minister words of comfort, consolation, encouragement and counsel to other members of the Body in such a way that they feel helped and healed. Contributes: Affirmation.

There are so many ways to use the gift of encouragement.  I hope my writing and this blog encourages others;  when I teach Adult Sunday School, I hope to encourage our class to not only learn about God’s Word, but apply it to their lives;  when I send a card or note, my desire is for it to encourage the receiver.

Maybe encouragement is your gift as well.  If so, how have you used it?  I’d like to hear more.

 

 

 

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The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts

“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.”  1 Corinthians 12:4-7

It’s interesting and fun to discover our spiritual gifts.  However, the Bible makes it clear:  the gifts have a purpose, and that purpose is not to puff us up or make us feel superior or special.  Spiritual gifts are given for one reason:  to build up or edify the church.  God did not give us gifts to use to accomplish our own goals, he gave us gifts so that we could spread the gospel and serve others.

When we do a spiritual gifts assessment, we need to be thinking not just, what are my gifts?  We need to ask ourselves these additional questions:

  1. How am I using my gifts?
  2. Am I using my gifts in a way that benefits my church and others in the world?

An unused gift is useless.  A gift that is not used to serve God is also useless.  We don’t all have the same gifts (the verse above makes that clear) and some gifts may be flashier than others;  however, the parable of the talents makes it clear that God expects us to use what we have.   In fact, it’s a use it or lose it situation:  The servant who buried his talents is condemned:

“So take the talent from him and give it to him who has ten talents.  For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance.  But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.  And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”  Matthew 25:28-30

Don’t be like that unworthy servant.  Discover your gifts, use them and feel God’s pleasure when you hear the words,

“Well done, good and faithful servant….Enter into the joy of your master.”  Matthew 25:21

 

 

 

 

Kate’s Gift

My daughter, Kate, has not yet completed her spiritual gifts assessment, but I’m pretty sure when she does, mercy will show up as one of her prominent gifts.  I first noticed this when she was a teenager.  She often had friends who were needy or underprivileged in some way.  She wanted to volunteer at the local rescue mission.  She wanted to help others, even when my husband and I, as her parents, were afraid that doing so was risky for her. I couldn’t understand sometimes, why she was so set on people and activities that might lead her into undesirable environments.  It finally dawned one me– Kate has the gift of mercy!  She is naturally drawn to the people who need her the most.

That helped me tremendously.  As her mother, I still had to guide her until she learned to use that gifts in ways that were appropriate for her age and situation;  but I also had to allow her some room to exercise that God-given ability when she could.

Here’s how the Fanning the Flame workbook describes the gift of mercy.  Do you have this gift?  If so, the Lutheran Ladies would like to hear from you.

 MERCY

 Literal Meaning: To have compassion

Description: The gift of mercy is the special ability that God gives to certain members of the Body of Christ to feel genuine empathy and compassion for individuals, both Christian and non-Christian, who suffer distressing physical, mental or emotional problems, and to translate that compassion into cheerfully done deeds that reflect Christ’s love and alleviate the suffering.

Distinctives:

q     Focus upon alleviating the sources of pain or discomfort in suffering people

q     Address the needs of the lonely and forgotten

q     Extend love, grace, and dignity to those facing hardships and crisis

q     Serve in difficult or unsightly circumstances and do so cheerfully

q     Concern themselves with individual or social issues that oppress people

 

Traits: Cautions:
q Empathetic q Need to be aware that rescuing people from their
q Caring pain may be hindering God’s work in them
q Responsive q Need to guard against feeling “unappreciated,” since
q Kind some of the people helped will not show or express
q Compassionate any appreciation
q Sensitive q Should guard against becoming defensive and angry
q Burden-bearing about the sources of others’ pain

 

References: Acts 16:33-34; Matthew 5:7; Romans 12:8; Hebrews 4:16

ThoughtFull by Dorena Williamson–Book Review

I reviewed Dorena Williamson’s book ColorFull a while back and loved it, so I was eager to take a look at ThoughtFull.  This second book does not disappoint — the story is just as engaging and beautifully illustrated as the first.  Subtitled “Discovering the Unique Gifts in Each of Us” it encourages young children to appreciate the differing personalities and gifts of others.

ThoughtFull: Discovering the Unique Gifts in…

Ahana Robinson, a young Down’s Syndrome boy receives an award for being a good friend.  He has the spiritual gift of encouragement.  His friend, Joshua notices that some kids tease Ahana because he is different.  This empathy reveals Joshua’s own spiritual gift –mercy.

Joshua’s dad comments:

“If kids and adults worked at discovering the unique gifts in other people, we could all be all be thoughtFull.”

On the last page parents and teachers will find a Bible verse to help children remember the main point of the story, as well as some “thoughtful” questions to reinforce the lesson.

VERDICT:  Highly recommended.  I give this book five stars!

Personal Repentance

I know this isn’t our new theme, but it seems God isn’t done with the old one yet, at least where I am concerned.  During last month’s reflections on repentance, some of the posts mentioned that true repentance means turning around, doing something different, returning to God.  It’s not enough to just say “I’m sorry” and then keep behaving in the same way.

At St. Paul’s our leaders have been praying about how we need to repent, individually and corporately.  Here’s one thing God has impressed upon my mind:  a pastor in India, Pastor Duiggi, and his ministries.  We’ve met this man.  He actually visited our church, twice I believe, years ago.  Since then my husband and I have received periodic emails from him, telling us about the things he is doing and asking for our prayers and support.  He runs an orphanage, supports a Women’s Ministry and is now associated with the Lutheran School of Theology in India. Sad to say, I have done nothing.

Why?  Well, I could come up with any number of excuses.  I’ve been busy with many things (like Martha), things that seemed closer to home and more pressing;  he’s not affiliated with our particular Lutheran denomination (the AFLC);  our church is small, not wealthy, and truth to tell I’ve been more worried about whether the church can afford to pay its Pastor (my husband) then suggesting we support a mission in India.  All of these reasons are wrong and just plain sinful.  This is not easy for me to even think, much less say out loud.

So I’m going to repent.  I’m going to start talking to our church about Pastor Duiggi, beginning with our Sunday School class.  I’m going to model the behavior I’d like to see in others.  I’m going to be the change I want to see in the world.

Spiritual Gifts by Thomas R. Schreiner–Book Review

As the newly trained Spiritual Gifts Coordinator for our church, I was excited to review this book the Lutheran Ladies received from B&H Publishing.  It didn’t live up to my expectations.  Don’t purchase this book thinking it will help you identify and use your own spiritual gifts.  Instead the author, a Professor of the New Testament at The Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, addresses certain theological questions about the gifts:  for example, are all of the gifts listed still present in the church today?  What exactly are the gifts of prophecy and tongues?  What purpose do spiritual gifts serve?

I did learn some big theological words (I always enjoy this).  Evidently there are two theological camps when it comes to spiritual gifts.

“Some are continuationists, arguing that virtually all the gifts still exist today.  Others are open but cautious about whether certain gifts still exist.  Still others are cessationists, arguing that certain gifts have ceased.”

The vast majority of Lutherans fall into the cessationist group, agreeing with this statement by the author:

“I believe God gave gifts and miracles, signs and wonders, in remarkable ways at certain points in redemptive history to authenticate his revelation…..Now that the church has the authoritative guidance for faith and practice in the Scriptures, the gifts and miracles which were needed to build up the early church are no longer needed, and they are not common.”

This doesn’t mean the there are no miracles, or instances of healing today, simply that they are rare and individuals should not expect to receive this sort of gifting.  Having been taught this viewpoint from my youth, I found it unnecessary and slightly boring to read an entire book dedicated to defending its validity and parsing every Scriptural reference to gifts to support it.  

Pentecostals and charismatics are those who most often accept the continuationist view. Schriener is quick to say that although he disagrees with them, he does not believe their practices to be demonic.  He also points out that this question of spiritual gifting is secondary, and that we may disagree with fellow Christians about it while still maintaining unity on more basic and important issues.

I also disagree with his stance that Spiritual Gift assessments are not helpful.  He seems to feel they may cause some to become arrogant about their particular gifts; and that our gifts will be discovered in the natural course of doing ministry.  In my own case, I found taking such an assessment years ago encouraged me to concentrate on my strongest gifts, affirmed me as a gifted person with something to offer and gave me the confidence to turn down opportunities that clearly weren’t for me.  Many of us waste a lot of time trying out various ministries, and doing things out of duty or because somebody else decides it’s what we should do.  Why not use the tools available and learn to hone in on the tasks God created us to do?

My verdict:  I give this book only two stars.  For the cessationist, Schriener is speaking to the choir;  and the continuationist will probably not be convinced by any of his arguments.  Ifhttp://www.bhpublishinggroup.com/products/spiritual-gifts you are interested in purchasing it, or learning more, use the link below:

http://www.bhpublishinggroup.com/products/spiritual-gifts

 

 

 

Fanning the Flame #15 –Getting Good

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already obtained. Philippians 3:12-16

A book I read recently stated  that “getting good” at any complicated task takes about 10,000 hours of practice.  Now this author wasn’t speaking about the living the Christian life, but I imagine it still applies.  So if you want to “get good” at being a Christian, simply sitting in the pew won’t cut it.  At the rate of one hour per week, “getting good” will take approximately 192 years!  In case you haven’t noticed, none of us have that long!  To really mature as a Christian, we need to put in the hours –hours of prayer, Bible study, service and more.

This is exactly what the Fanning the Flame process is teaching us.  As a team, we are learning to be more disciplined in our prayer life;  to discover and use our spiritual gifts;  to repent of our sins;  to remember God’s promises;  to study His Word;  to fellowship with one another, and so on.  Hopefully, as we mature in our faith, we will influence others within the congregation to do the same.  We’ll be stronger, better witnesses.

Will we ever achieve complete sanctification?  Lutherans don’t think so.  However, like Paul, we need to press on and do what is in our power to become worthy followers of the gift we have already been given.  Christ died for our sins so that we could be reconciled with God and live with Him in eternity.  Is it enough to plunk ourselves down in the sanctuary once a week, sing a few hymns and drop a few dollars in the offering plate?  Is this a show of true gratitude, or is it just a pious habit we’ve developed over the years?  We can’t stand still in the life of faith, we have to practice.  We have to get good.