Saturday, September 02, 2017

What is Abundance?

Most days, I have a quiet time with God, a time when I consider God's Word and ask Him to reveal the truth He wants me to see in it for that particular day. To see how I approach quiet time, read here.
Look: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)

Paul continues here to write to the relatively wealthy Gentile congregation in Corinth about an offering they had once pledged to give for the relief of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. The latter were impoverished and struggling.

On first blush, one might think that what Paul writes in chapter 9 of 2 Corinthians supports the “prosperity gospel,” which is no gospel but a heresy and is popular these days. NOT AT ALL.

Paul is NOT saying, as the proponents of the heresy say, that if you give a lot, God will make you wealthy. Jesus gave and He wasn’t wealthy. Paul gave and he wasn’t wealthy. Peter gave up what was likely a lucrative business in order to follow Jesus. So did Matthew.

Following Jesus, believing in Jesus, is no guarantee of wealth. The God we meet in Jesus makes no deals for His mercy or His grace. Both are things that He gives to us.

So what is the promise of God to “cheerful givers” (in the Greek in which Paul composed this letter, the phrase is “hilarious giver) that Paul offers here?

Listen: The pertinent passage is verse 8. Paul says: “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

The verse is bracketed by abundantly and abound. This English rendering from Paul’s Greek is accurate. In both instances, the root word is περισσεύω, perisseuo, meaning literally, according to Strong’s concordance, to be over and above, to exceed the ordinary.

The double use of that term, appearing near the beginning and near the end of the verse forms what the scholars call an inclusio (or inclusion). It tells us, if it wasn’t clear enough on the face of it, that the verse deals with the subject of abundance.

The verse gives God’s understanding, the Bible’s understanding of abundance, though.

This understanding of abundance doesn’t mean that you won’t sweat out paying the mortgage some months.

It doesn’t mean that you’ll have the nicest car or bling.

It doesn’t mean that care and struggle with finances will necessarily go away.

Some believers in the God we know in Jesus will be entrusted with wealth. Abraham was wealthy. So were Joseph of Arimathea and Lydia of Thyatira. But some have been poor. Joseph and Mary were poor. So were others already named, including God in the flesh Himself, Jesus.

Some believers in the God we know in Jesus are gifted with a capacity for generating greater wealth or have inherited it.

But with greater wealth comes greater obligations (Matthew 25:24-27).

It also present greater spiritual danger. When Jesus encountered a wealthy man who asked what “good thing” he needed to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus saw straight through the man. (The question itself was all wrong. The rich man wanted to know what he good work he needed to do to gain eternal life. But no good work, not even making big donations, will gain eternal life for us. We are saved by God’s grace through our faith in, our trusting surrender to, Jesus alone.)

Jesus understood that this man’s wealth was his idol. Wealth was a spiritual danger to him. Wealth deluded him into thinking that he had control of everything, even his own salvation. The rich man did many right things, but in his heart, he worshiped money, not God. Radical surgery was necessary.

When Jesus told the man that the only way he could get free of the idol he worshiped and get with God, was to sell off everything he owned, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow Him, the rich man walked away sorrowful. He was sorrowful because he knew that he would never have eternal life; his money was too important to him, more important than God.

This gave rise to Jesus telling the disciples: “I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:16-24)

Wealth might not be the idol or impediment for everyone that it was for that man. But Jesus’ words are a solemn warning against taking anything as our god but the one true God revealed to all the world in Jesus Himself. He’s the only One Who can give us life with God.

This kind of talk is anathema to the advocates of the “prosperity gospel.” They think that following Jesus is a matter of making deals with God: They will follow Jesus and He will put them on easy street. No financial worries. No sickness or disease. No hard times. But one look at the faithful Christians we have known in life will tell you that such immature heresies are all cow pie!

Jesus never promises that following Him will ease the financial strains--or any other stains--of this life. “In this world you will have trouble,” He says truthfully. “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

And Paul warns Christians elsewhere: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19)

That’s why what Paul says in this verse is so important. He tells those who have made up their minds to give cheerfully, not under compulsion, but as a joyful response to the undeserved grace God gives to those who turn from sin and follow Jesus:

“And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

To be blessed abundantly by God because we divest our idolatrous attachment to money doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to be wealthy. But it does mean two other things:
“...that in all things at all times 
1. We will have all that we need. This is what Jesus calls “our daily bread,” what we need. 
2. We will abound in every good work. In other words, when we give to cause of God in the world, when we PUT GOD FIRST--loving God, loving our neighbors, making disciples, God will magnify our giving and living so that it glorifies God and points others to Christ.
We will have what we need. And what we give, whatever we give--our time, possessions, money, service--will contribute the growth of God’s kingdom. We will be empowered to use our lives and all of our gifts for the purposes for which God gave us life in the first place and for which He gives new, everlasting life through Jesus to all who trust in Christ. THIS IS WHAT IT MEANS TO LIVE AN ABUNDANT CHRISTIAN LIFE.

How do I know that this is what Paul has in mind when he wrote this verse?

In the previous chapter, when he begins this appeal to the Corinthian Christians to follow through on their public pledge to help the Jerusalem Christians, Paul mentions an incident when ancient Israel, having been freed from slavery in Egypt and heading for the promised land that God would show them, was in the wilderness. They had no food. But God daily provided them with something called manna, an edible substance like bread.

Exodus 16:1-36 tells about this incident. When God provided it, He told Moses that the people were to collect the manna when it appeared on six days of the week. On the sixth day, they would be enabled to collect more than they needed for that day, double the usual amount, in fact; the people were to prepare all of the manna to eat and not collect on the seventh day, the sabbath, a day of rest. They were all to collect the same amount, an omer. When they measured what everyone had collected, from the oldest to the youngest, “Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.”

(Some got greedy for the world’s version of “abundance” and went out collecting the manna on the seventh day. They trusted this stuff that they could see, touch, and eat, more than they trusted God. Even though God was the One Who had given it to them!)

Paul references this entire incident in 2 Corinthians 8, writing to a church that may be thinking that if they give away money, there will be less abundance for them:

“At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: ‘The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.’” (2 Corinthians 8:14-15)

Paul’s picture of abundance then, is the same as that of Jesus, Who taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

I love how Martin Luther explains this petition of the Lord’s Prayer in The Small Catechism:
God indeed gives daily bread to all, even unbelievers, without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that he would help us to recognize this so that we would receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.
And then, Luther tackles the question of what is meant by daily bread:
Daily bread includes everything required to meet our earthly needs, such as food, drink, clothing, home, property, employment, necessities; devout parents, children, and communities; honest and faithful authorities, good government, seasonable weather, peace, health, an orderly society, a good reputation, true friends and neighbors, and the like.

And where it’s lacking, it isn’t due to a deficiency in God’s creation, but a deficiency in His creatures, His human creatures, the ones intended to be Creation’s caretakers, the ones made in the image of God whose fall into sin impacted the entire Creation over which it was to have dominion.

It’s the condition of sin with which the whole human race is afflicted at birth and from which only Christ can free us--and then only fully in eternity--that lay behind so many people getting their daily bread from God.

Famine and starvation, for example, are problems rooted in human sin. If those who have shared with those who haven’t more completely, including sharing technologies, no one on earth would go hungry.

Wars are the result of the human unwillingness to give a little.

It should also be evident that even many natural disasters are either the result of or are exacerbated by human sin. Climate change, which made the recent horrors brought to Texas by Hurricane Harvey worse, all the result of the hellish pursuit of more and of conspicuous consumption. Bad weather itself results from human sin, since the whole universe has been screwed up by the fall of the species who were meant to take care of it.  
In Romans 8:22, Paul writes that, “...the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time,” awaiting the final consummation of God’s plans in Christ. Christ will return, the old creation will be no more and the new creation--of which those who follow Jesus in this imperfect world are the “early adopters” who will populate the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)--will be brought in its fullness for all who have loved Christ’s appearing (2 Timothy 4:8).

Whether I am wealthy, poor, or of the middle class, I must not be dazzled by the finite wealth of this dying world!

I must use whatever wealth I possess not just for my own daily bread, but with gratitude to God for Christ’s cross and empty tomb and all the promises I have as I follow Him, learn to give. This is how the abundant life is lived.

Respond: Lord, in Your Word, You declare, “ thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8). And sometimes, as one of Your departed saints, Rich Mullins, wrote, You are “hard to get.” But, Lord, help me to live the abundant life You have in mind for me and all of Your people, a life of usefulness and gratitude, of giving what I can from whatever means I have. Help me to be grateful for my daily bread and not to covet what others have. And where others lack daily bread, help me to do what I can to see that they have it. In Jesus’ name.
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]


"If you ever get down about American culture, you might like to remember that there are still more public libraries in this country than there are Starbucks." (David McCullough, this morning at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., aired on CSPAN.)

That is a comforting thought. Reading, widely, is a bulwark of American democracy. The only people who can keep democracy are those who read.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Friday, September 01, 2017

A good warning from Carolyn Arends...

...about how we can turn our pursuit of a spiritual life, a life with God, into the pursuit of being in control.
It’s astonishing how quickly a hunger and thirst for righteousness can distort into something like spiritual ambition. It’s sobering how often spiritual disciplines can be downgraded—from practices of friendship with the triune God into techniques for self-improvement. And it’s painful to discover a longing for a rightly ordered life might just be a spiritualization of the prideful desire to have it all together.
Read the whole thing.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Just a thought

Good leaders have soft hearts, open minds, and tough skins.

In This Moment

Most days, I begin my day in quiet time with God. To see how I approach these special times, go here. Here's what I journaled from today's quiet time:
Look: “...Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.” (2 Corinthians 8:10-12)

Economic calamity had come to the Christians living in Jerusalem. One year before Paul wrote the letter from which the verses above come, the Christians in Corinth to whom he’s writing had expressed the desire to provide their fellow Christians with some relief. But they hadn’t followed through. Paul urges them to do so, using the example of the impoverished Macedonian Christians as examples and prods; the Macedonians had, despite being poor, begged Paul for the chance to help those in Jerusalem.

Then, Paul seems to say, “Look, if you Corinthian Christians feel that you don’t have enough to make the kinds of offerings you want to make or once intended to make, don’t let that stop you from giving. God regards gifts acceptable according to the giver’s capacity for giving.”

Listen: This has broader application to more than giving financially in response to what Jesus Christ has done for me. It applies to my whole life as Jesus’ disciple.

I tend to look for the perfect time to share Christ, to ask people if they would like to pray, to help someone, to call a friend or family member.

In other words, I put off being a faithful Christian until I can find the right time to do it. I do this as though whatever I do has to be perfect: the perfect offering, the perfect invitation, the perfect prayer, the perfect meeting, the perfect telephone call. In this, as in so much in life, the biggest cause of procrastination is perfectionism.

The Corinthians, instead of giving as they said they wanted, procrastinated. Was it because they regretted the offer they’d made of offerings? Was it because they had overestimated their capacity to give? We don’t know. But Paul says, “...if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one doesn’t have.”

I’ve told many people this before, but it’s true: God will never hold us accountable for not using the gifts and blessings He didn’t give to us; God only holds us accountable for failing to use the gifts and blessings that He has given to us.

If I’m not a millionaire and I’m waiting to be generous until I am, I will never be generous. I’ll do nothing useful with my money. Instead, I should be generous with what I have.

If I don’t have the particular gift of evangelism, I still can share Christ with someone else in my own way.

If I feel called to pray with someone and ignore the call, that’s what I will be held accountable for.

If I feel that the time and conditions have to be perfect for me to do what God has called me to do, I’m too focused on my times, my conditions, on what I lack. I’m more focused on me than I am on God.

That isn’t faithful. God calls me to be faithful with whatever time, whatever money, whatever relationships, whatever knowledge, whatever experiences, I have at any given time.

My call is to be faithful to God, trusting in His capacity to make more of what I bring to any call or situation than what I possess on my own. This is the God Who created the universe from nothing (ex nihilo, as the theologians put it). So, He is perfectly capable of making something good of my little capacity if I will just trustingly do what He calls me to do.

I need to quit putting off being faithful in this moment and under these circumstances.

This reminds me of a favorite quote: “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” This isn’t saying we should do shabby work or give God our leftovers. It’s saying that the best time to be faithful to God isn’t in some perfect future that will never arrive on this earth, but right now.

That, I think, is Paul’s message to the Corinthian Christians and to me. I’m accountable to God now. I have the opportunity to serve God and to serve others now. And whatever I’m able and feel called to do right now will be acceptable to God.

Respond: God, free of me unreasonable expectations of myself. Let me live in the comforting, empowering reality of Your grace given through Christ right now. And help me not to put off what faithfulness I can live out today until a tomorrow which may never come. Whether it’s my time, money, talents, spiritual gifts, or opportunities, even if I see them as negligible or insignificant, help me not to squander the chance to use them for Your glory today. In Jesus’ name I pray.
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

How we can help the victims of Hurricane Harvey

For the disciples of Jesus who make up Living Water Lutheran Church (and anyone else who might be interested):

How can we help the victims of Hurricane Harvey?

The North American Lutheran Church (NALC) disaster response team is already on the job. A shipment of items from our denomination’s went from our Caldwell, Ohio warehouse yesterday. Items included were flood buckets, cleaning supplies, bottled water, and other emergency supplies.

If you would like to donate money to the NALC disaster relief efforts or make a flood bucket or provide other items, go here to learn how you can connect online.

If you’d rather donate money through Living Water, we will be receiving special offerings for Harvey Relief during worship for the next two Sundays, September 3 and September 10. Make checks payable to Living Water Lutheran Church and write NALC Disaster Relief or NALC Harvey Relief on the MEMO line.

Most important of all, please pray for the victims of this historically severe storm. Ask God to bring them safety, relief, and encouragement. Pray for the safety and inspiration of rescue teams. Pray similarly for those neighbors in Texas who are joining first responders and others in rescuing people from waters that continue to rise. And please pray that God will use this event to draw people to the God we know in Jesus Christ. He is our only true refuge and help. Thanks and God bless you!

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

An Anniversary Forgotten

The media are full of Princess Diana stories in anticipation of the twentieth anniversary of her death, which occurs on August 31. I understand that the Royals make for big ratings, lots of internet hits, and ad revenue.

But I'd like to point out that five days after Diana died in 1997, so did a woman who had a sustained and positive impact on the life of the world, who was more than a symbol, but someone who fought to save lives, whether those of the dying beggars of Calcutta or children not yet born, and whose struggle to remain faithful to God makes her a true hero: Mother Teresa.

I know that she wasn't wealthy or young, didn't wear expensive designer clothes, and hadn't been through a spectacular divorce from the future figurehead king of a country. But it seems to me that Mother Teresa's death and life are worthy of at least as much attention and remembrance as are being given to Diana.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

My Dad, the Romantic

I spoke on the phone with my dad on Monday night. He mentioned that he was watching 'You've Got Mail,' which is one of my favorite movies. As we were talking, dad said things like, "Oh, here's the scene where the elevator gets stuck." And we would talk about the scene.

A bit later, after I'd did an online order for film for dad to use during his upcoming honor flight, he said, "Here's the part where she's got a cold and he comes to visit her at her apartment." "Yeah," I said, "and she's baffled because she can't imagine how he can be a nice guy." "Right."

We talked about how 'You've Got Mail' was a kind of remake of 'Shop Around the Corner,' the 1940 film with Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan. Dad said, "That one's not as good as this one. It was good for its time. But I like this one better."*

I said something about how much I enjoyed the music and dad said, "Oh, yeah, it's good, really good." That wowed me a bit because it features music by the late Harry Nilsson, who's always been one of my favorites and more of my generation.

We talked some more and, as I prepared to sign off, I apologized for interrupting the movie. "That's OK, Bub," he said, "I practically know it by heart." I thought: I do too.

I had no idea my dad loved that movie as much as I do. In the grand scheme of things, it's just a little surprise, but a nice one. Here I thought I was the only man in the world who liked what some might call chick flicks, romances. My dad does too...he's a romantic, like me. My old man, he's OK.

*One point of disagreement I have with my dad is about the relative merits of the two films. I love them both and couldn't choose which one I like more.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Monday, August 28, 2017

Using Your Spiritual Gift

[This message was shared during both worship services of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio yesterday.]

Romans 11:33-12:8

What do you think of when you hear the term, spiritual gifts?

As a pastor, I’ve sometimes had conversations like this with Christians. “I wish I knew what my spiritual gift was; I don't think I have one” they say, usually at the door from the sanctuary after I've preached about spiritual gifts.

“You know,” I tell them, “the New Testament says that all baptized believers in Jesus have at least one spiritual gift. You’re a baptized believer in Jesus, right?”

“Yes,” they say, “but I don’t think that I have a spiritual gift. Maybe I’m not a good enough Christian.”

And usually before I can continue the conversation, they’re gone.

Now, I have a sneaking suspicion that at least some of the people with whom I’ve had that conversation over the years were really dodging something.

Most church members in today’s world have little interest in being disciples. In fact, some appear to have a deathly allergy to following Jesus with day-in, day-out devotion.

Discipleship entails something people hate these days: commitment.

The only clubs we’re apt to join are retail warehouses like Sam’s Club or Costco.

We shy away from commitments to employees, employers, marriage partners, family members, friends, neighbors, or the Church.

I suspect then that many Christians who claim not to have a spiritual gift, even though God’s Word insists that they do, are basically saying, “I only want Jesus as heavenly fire insurance; the flames of hell don’t appeal to me. But I don’t want to get involved with the Church or finding my spiritual gifts. If I did that, it might change the way I live my life. And, really, my life is way too busy right now for me to add the complication of discipleship or being accountable to God or the Church for whatever spiritual gift God may or may not have given to me. I don’t have a spiritual gift. Now, I’m off for lunch and the game.”

In today’s Gospel lesson, Peter confessed that Jesus was and is the Son of God--that phrase meaning that Jesus is God--and the long-awaited Messiah, God’s anointed King. In subsequent verses of Matthew and in the other gospels, we see that Simon Peter, whose nickname of Peter, petros, given to him by Jesus, means Rock, was about as dumb as a rock when it came to understanding all that his confession of Jesus meant.

But as clueless as Peter was before Jesus died and rose, do you imagine for one moment that he thought that faith in Jesus didn’t mean changing the way he lived and thought? 

To follow Jesus as a disciple is to submit to a process of continual change. 

And, if we honestly survey our lives, we must readily confess that there are lots of changes to be made! 

Every Christian needs, at some time, to deal with an important question: If Jesus died and rose to give all who turn from sin and believe in Him new life, how do we dare not put our whole lives at His disposal to heed His call as His disciples?

All Christians are called to believe in Jesus, to live in daily repentance and renewal, to seek, in the power of God’s Holy Spirit, to love God and to love neighbor and to make disciples.

But the spiritual gifts our second lesson addresses today are God’s imprint on your life as a disciple. Spiritual gifts are the topic of the middle part of today’s second lesson.

Take a look, please, at Romans 12:3-8.

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you,” Paul writes in verse 3. “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.”

Disciples saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ are enabled to look at themselves with clear-eyed judgment. They don’t affect a false humility. And they don’t see themselves through the prism of self-righteousness, either. God helps us to see ourselves as we are: Sinners saved by grace, loved by God, still evidencing imperfection, but given a particular design for serving in God’s kingdom as saved and confident children of God.

Whatever the maturity of our faith, Paul is saying, God will help us to see exactly what we need to see when it comes to our role in His Church at any given time.

Read on, please: “For 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, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”

Listen: Christianity has nothing to do with the rugged individualism our culture so often celebrates.

It’s not us against the world.

It’s not even God and us against the world.

For the Christian, it’s we believers in Jesus in the world, together, praying for each other, encouraging each other, being accountable to each other, growing together, each of us parts of one single body, the Body of Christ.

The Church is not meant to be an association of individuals who show up for weekly Sunday worship 1.3-times a month (the current average attendance record of North American Christians); the Church is a mosaic God is fashioning into a single, eternal organism with one purpose--to be and make disciples--by reaching up to God, reaching into one another, reaching out to others to make disciples and serve neighbor.

Each of we believers in Christ belong to God and to each other.

When any of us who are part of Christ’s Church neglect the unique role God has given to us in the congregational fellowship, that fellowship is less than what God intends for it to be, for its members and for the world He calls us to reach for Him.

When each of us who are part of the Church fulfill our unique roles as the Body of Christ, the Church is whole, able to be and do all that God has called us to be and do, both as individuals and as the Church.

To put it simply: We need each other. When we hold back from using our gifts for the good of the Church and its witness to the world, the Church itself isn't fully alive to all that God calls it to be.

When we’re all in, we’re all alive.

Verse 6: “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” In other words, every Christian has a spiritual gift.

Paul goes on to talk about seven spiritual gifts, “If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”

Do you know what Paul is saying in a nutshell? You have at least one spiritual gift from God, use it. To paraphrase Nike, “Just do it!”

“But what’s my gift?” you might be wanting to scream right now. Let me give you a few “field-tested” ways of finding your gifts.

First, try to participate in a ministry of the congregation. If it works, it might express some aspect of your spiritual giftedness. If it doesn’t, move on to try something else.

Some of you have heard me tell how at the church I served in Cincinnati, I got behind a local chapter of Habitat for Humanity in a big way. I encouraged our folks to help build a home in New Richmond. I felt that I needed to lead by example. So, I showed up, along with about fifteen of our folks each Saturday morning to help out.

Finally, one Saturday, a member of our congregation, Steve, pulled me aside and said, very lovingly, “Look, Mark, we all have our gifts. This isn’t yours. Please don’t come back or you’re liable to get yourself or someone else killed.” I knew that construction work didn't express any spiritual gift I had.

Second, and this was exemplified in my interaction with Steve, listen to the feedback of other committed Christians.

“Do I have the gift of leadership?” a man asked a pastor. “The easiest way to make a determination on that,” the pastor said, “is to turn around and see if anyone’s following.” The man said that no one seemed to follow him and was a bit disappointed.

That’s understandable; we all like to think of ourselves as the general not the buck private. But our spiritual gifts don’t make us any more or less important to God or the Church; they simply give us the tools to do the specific calls God gives to us within the Church.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:24: “...God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it…”

I think that we’re all going to be surprised when we believers in Jesus arrive at the heavenly banquet after we’ve risen from the dead to see how many unassuming people with gifts like servanthood are sitting at the dais, while the preachers who strove to exercise gifts like teaching, leadership, and shepherding are sitting in the very back, just inside the door.

All who believe in Jesus will be there of course, saved by God’s amazing grace. But, as Jesus says “...the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16)

So, to find your gift, first, participate in a ministry and find out if it fits and second, listen to what other Christians tell you. Third, pray and really ponder God’s Word.

I began to suspect I had the gift of teaching when, as I considered the words of Bible, I found myself standing up, pacing around, struggling to find ways to teach others what God was teaching me in His Word.

I never wanted to be a pastor. Never. In fact, when I was growing up, my grandfather, to whom I was close, always warned me to stay away from pastors. "They're all lazy," he told me. "They work one day a week and then want to take your money for it." He told me about pastors he'd known who he said had basically run easy money-making rackets, but really didn't care about God or people.

So, I really didn't want to be a pastor. I had other plans.

But, increasingly, I sensed God telling me--and mature Christians were confirming--“This is My gift to you. This is your calling. This is what I made you for. This is your obligation to Me and to the Church.”

I tried to say, “No.” But God would not let me go.

When I finally bowed to God’s will and recognized the gift that He was giving to me for the good of Christ’s Church, I felt a great burden lifted from me. I told a friend, who was also wrestling with his place in God's kingdom, “It’s like a boulder’s been taken from my shoulder.” I felt that way even though I was working two jobs in order to go to school and support our household. I remember one night being in the stock room of Sears, where I'd taken a part-time job and just praying, "Thank You, God" for finally showing me how He wanted me to use my gifts to His glory!

Look: It isn’t just preachers who are given gifts or calls from God. As a baptized believer in Christ, you’re part of Christ’s body, the Church. You have an indispensable gift and calling from God. God has given you your gifts and your life experiences to be used by God in the ministries of the Church in this time, in this place, in this congregation. Truly, if you don't exercise your spiritual gifts, the special calling God has just for you will not get done. And that would be tragic!

So, please, if you feel that don’t have a gift or have never sought to find it, begin praying today that God will help you find your gift. Risk failure by trying a ministry in which you’ve not been involved before. Listen to the wisdom of fellow Christians. Pray and ponder God’s Word.

Your spiritual gift given to you by God, for the good of the Church and the glory of God, is just waiting to be unwrapped. Amen

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]