Thankful Saints

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. 1 Thess. 5:18

We’ve adopted a new routine in our adult Sunday School class.  Each week before we begin the lesson, we try to answer this question:  Where have you seen God at work this week?  Most of the time, we see God at work in the good things that happen to us — someone recovers from illness;  we enjoy a beautiful day;  a friend encourages us;  and so on.   Today I’m reminding myself that God is at work in our difficulties also.

Our lesson last week was the story of Joseph.  Things just seemed to get worse and worse for him.  He’s sold into slavery, accused of rape, cast into prison.  It would be easy to feel that God had forgotten him.  Yet this was far from the truth!  God was at work.  He had a plan to bring good out of all the bad.  We all know that in the end, Joseph is becomes a respected advisor to the Pharoah, and is able to save his family and others from famine because of his God-given ability to interpret dreams.

The verse above tells us that, as saints,  we should give thanks in all circumstances.  God has a plan, and He’s working things out in ways that will ultimately benefit us and others.  We just have to trust Him.  I admit this is hard for me.  I’m sure it’s hard for you as well.  Keep this verse in your heart today as you give thanks.  Thank God for the good things, and also for the bad things He will use to bless you and others in His good time.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

Have a blessed Thanksgiving.  God loves you and so do I!

 

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Living With the Saints

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18

Let’s face it, the saints aren’t always easy to live with.  If they were, St. Paul would not have to give us the instruction above from the book of Romans. They gossip and brag, complain and criticize (sins of the tongue are so easy to come by).  They can be stubborn, impatient, hypocritical and unreliable.  Some have personalities that just don’t jive with our own– maybe they seem blunt, controlling, demanding or unreasonable.  These things are all part of our “sinner” nature.

Funny, isn’t it, that Paul doesn’t tell us to change them  He also doesn’t tell us to give up and leave the church.  He tells us to be peaceful within ourselves. What does that mean?  Here are some ideas:

  1. Empathize with others as human beings.  You don’t always know what sort of day, or life, another person has been enduring.
  2. Give people the benefit of the doubt.  Something that offends you may not have been intended in the way you understood it.
  3. Don’t respond in anger.  You’ll probably regret it later.  Take time to cool down before you speak.
  4.  If you are truly upset by something another said or did, go and talk to them privately and nonconfrontationally.  You may be surprised at the results.
  5. Remember that everyone isn’t like you (my husband tells me this all the time!).  We all have different levels of spiritual maturity, different priorities, life experiences and interests.
  6. Remember your own sins.  I know I have my full share of irritating habits, so I should be willing to forgive as I have been forgiven, by other people and by God.
  7. Finally (and I should have put this first), pray.  Don’t ask God to change the person, but pray that they would be blessed, and that you will come to love and understand them.  Then leave them (and your hurt or anger) in God’s hands.

These are some things that have helped me, but I’d like to hear from others.  What are your strategies for living with the saints?

Do You Have a Saintly Worldview?

In the sermon last Sunday, my husband talked about having a Christian worldview.  A study by Barna research revealed some disturbing results.  Only 9% of American adults answered the questions in a way that indicated they hold a biblical worldview– even sadder, only about 1 in 5 of the people who described themselves as “born again” hold such a outlook!

Well, you might be saying, what were those questions?  Maybe they were tricky, or too theological or difficult to understand.  I’m going to post them below.  They look pretty basic to me:

  1. Do absolute moral truths exist?
  2. Does the Bible define absolute truth?
  3. Did Jesus lead a sinless life?
  4. Is God an all powerful, all knowing creator of the universe and is He still active in the world today?
  5. Is salvation a gift that cannot be earned?
  6. Is Satan real?
  7. Do all Christians have a responsibility to share their faith with others?
  8. Is the Bible accurate in all of its’ teachings?

If you answered “no” to some of these questions, the culture may be influencing you more than your Bible.  If you said yes to all these questions, are you living as if you really believed them?  There can still be a gap between our intellectual assent and our actions.   As saints, we’re called to be Christ’s ambassadors, and an ambassador represents a different country than the one in which they live.

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  Romans 12:2

As sinners, we’ll often fall down.  Our transformation is incomplete. We say we believe one thing, then behave as if we don’t.  Every day we need to pray:

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9:21

Ask God to give you a saintly worldview and the strength to live in its grace.

 

 

 

Working Together

“Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many for one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”  Romans 12:4-5

It’s exciting and interesting to learn about your own spiritual gifts, but another great benefit of this kind of assessment is you learn about your weaknesses and where you need help.  Our gifts are meant to complement one another.  No one person has every gift, so we must work together to accomplish God’s mission in the world.

One of my gifts (not my highest, but it’s in the mix) is leadership.  Here’s the definition of this gift:

LEADERSHIP: The gift of leadership is the special ability that God gives to

certain members of the Body of Christ to set goals in accordance with God’s purpose for the future and to communicate those goals to others in such a way that they voluntarily and harmoniously work together to accomplish those goals for the glory of God. Contributes: Direction.

A while back when we were giving gag gifts at a congregational luncheon, the group gave me a certificate naming me Joan “I have a great idea” Culler.  This confirms my gift of leadership.  I am the person with a million ideas about what individuals, groups and the entire congregation might do.  However, there’s one small problem.  I don’t have the gift of administration, and that’s a really necessary part of the process, as you can see:

ADMINISTRATION: The gift of administration is the special ability that God

gives to certain members of the Body of Christ to understand clearly the immediate and long-range goals of a particular unit of the Body of Christ and to devise and execute effective and efficient plans for the accomplishment of those goals. Con­tributes: Efficiency.

I can often see the direction or place I want to get to, but all the steps to get there, the many details, the “how” is not easy for me.  I get frustrated and stressed by trying to work through all the details.  It might take me days to get to the plan a good administrator sees in an instant.  As a leader, I do my best work when I have someone with the gift of administration by my side.  This is not true of everyone– some individuals will be blessed with both gifts.  However, it is true of me, so spiritual gift assessment has taught me not only my own gifts, but how to seek out those with the right gifts to work with me.

Is one gift more valuable?  As the apostle Paul would say, by no means!

And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 1 Corinthians 12:16-17

All the gifts are important.  All the gifts are given by God.  Each one has its’ part to play.  We need to work together.

 

 

With Sober Judgement

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.  Romans 12:3

Paul puts this statement right before he talks about the differing gifts in the church, and how they are meant to be used together, to create a body, a unity.  I don’t think that’s an accident.  I believe what Paul is trying to tell us is that we should be aware of our gifts, and not be fearful about using them.  We’re not to become puffed up and proud, but rather realistic, knowing our own gifts, and appreciating the contributions of others as also necessary and valuable.

Now, we might discover our gifts through the normal course of daily life;  but then again, we might not.  Often we become caught up in the expectations and perceptions of others;  we don’t listen to God as carefully as we should.  We get caught up in what seems to be our “duty” and neglect the things that are really most important (shades of Mary and Martha!).  I can do this so easily.  There are so many good things in the church that need doing, how can I choose wisely?

One way is to know your gifts.  This has helped me tremendously, especially when I need to say no.  One author I read recently said, “Do the things that only you can do.”  At the very least, we should be giving those things priority.  I’m trying to apply this to my own life.  What are the things, at home, at church, in the community that I can do best?  What are the things that will probably go undone, if I don’t take up God’s challenge to get them accomplished?

If you haven’t taken a spiritual gifts assessment, I’m going to provide a link so you can do this.  It will help you say yes to the opportunities that are right for you.  The things God wants you to do in the body of Christ.  Think about your gifts with sober judgement.  You can start here:

https://www.lifeway.com/en/articles/women-leadership-spiritual-gifts-growth-service

Then click on Spiritual Gifts Survey to find an assessment of your gifts.

What Have I Learned?

After a couple of weeks of enduring a chaotic life, I’ve stopped asking God to speed up the rebuild process so I can get back to “normal” and started asking Him, “What do you want me to learn?”  Hmmm… would things have gone any faster if I’d been in a listening mode right away?  I’ll never know.  Anyway, here’s what I’ve come up with:

  1. Remember to be thankful for the basics:  a bed to sleep in, food, companionship, transportation, and yes, just waking up and being healthy every day.
  2. Focus on Jesus.  Problems and distractions will always be there, and our environment will always be challenging and changing.  He is the constant and the anchor we can depend upon.
  3. Establish spiritual disciplines before your environment becomes chaotic.  Prayer, worship, reading the Bible will be easier if you already have a habit ingrained.
  4. Be compassionate.  This experience is teaching me how little control we really have over our lives.  If I am suffering through upheaval, what must it feel like to be truly homeless?  To live in your car, on the street, or in a shelter?  To wonder how to provide the next meal for yourself or your children?  To be without friends and family who have the means and desire to help?  How about those who are living, not temporarily, but permanently with another family — those who are elderly or disabled, for example.  It’s not easy to adjust to somebody else’s routines or life style. I’m pretty sure I’ve become more empathetic and ready to help others as a result of this experience.
  5. Accept that God is in charge, and He is good.  He has a plan even if it’s not obvious to me.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

As Karen reminded me in her comment, this is God’s will for me right now.  He will lead me, guide me and use even the most frustrating environment in a way that will be good for me and for others.

 

Fanning the Flame #12

As I reviewed my Via de Cristo talk on Environment, I began to see what our Fanning the Flame project is really all about.  Our team has been called together to change our environment, and just as we are told in the talk, that change must start with us.

First and foremost, we are learning to be more prayerful people; to rely upon God and look for His leading.  We are discovering our spiritual gifts and how we can use them to help others, in our church and in our community.  We are being taught how to become better planners and to work with a goal in mind – the goal of bringing Christ into the lives of those around us.

None of this is easy.  It means changing old habits and stepping out of our comfort zones.  There are not many of us; most of us are not young; all of us have other responsibilities.  It is a daunting responsibility.  However, we have one big thing going for us, and that is the most important thing of all.  As long as we are seeking to God’s will, He is on our side.

As the apostle Paul says in Romans 8:31b-32:

“If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

And as the angel told Mary,

“For nothing will be impossible with God.”  Luke 1:37

I ask our readers to continue in prayer for us, and our church.  May we follow God’s leading and be molded in accordance with His will for us.