Stir up the Gift

Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God
which is in you through the laying on of my hands.

2 Timothy 1:6 NKJV

I sat in the ladder back chair, wondering what I should do and feeling a bit useless.

The day prior to our move had arrived, but my wife and I were already at our new residence unpacking boxes. At least, she was. With no internet or satellite, what could I do? If I unpacked, I’d have to wait for her to tell me where to put it. So I sat.

“Is there something I can help you do,” I asked.

“No, just sit there,” she replied. So I did.

A few minutes later, she yelled from the next room, “See if you can find me a magic marker.”

Finally, something I could do. I walked in each room, perusing the boxes. No magic marker. How she expected me to find such a small item among the mounds of boxes and bags sitting in every nook and cranny, I didn’t know, but I wasn’t going to waste this opportunity.

“I don’t see one,” I finally surrendered after searching in vain.

“Well, it won’t jump up and grab you,” came her curt reply. “Look in the boxes.” I searched again. No luck. I failed at my one chance to do something.

Tomorrow would be different. I’d have something to do. Move in the large pieces of furniture and hang pictures.

Paul was Timothy’s spiritual father and had commissioned him into the ministry. Now he reminds him to stir up that gift of pastoring a church.

Sitting around in a ladder back chair twiddling my thumbs isn’t the way to discover God’s gift to me. God has things for all of His children to do, and He gifts and talents us accordingly. There have been times when I’ve wondered what my gift was—or if I had one, but each time God showed up and showed me what it was.

Through prayer and effort, I can discover God’s gift. When I wondered if He had gifted me to teach, all I had to do was try. Had teaching not been my gift, I would have quickly discovered it—or someone would have kindly let me know. Some gifts all believers have—such as serving, but God gifts all believers. Gifts are His presents so we can accomplish His kingdom work in this world.

Don’t sit around wondering what your gift is. Ask God to show you, and then stir it up.

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Little Can Be Much

grandfatherIt is better to be godly and have little than to be evil and rich.
Psalm 37:16 NLT

Both of my grandfathers were friendly and loved their family, but that’s where their similarities ended.

My maternal grandfather was a farmer who hired out most of the hard work to neighbors who were willing to work for low wages. He drank heavily and smoked the same. In his younger years, he also gambled heavily, which explained how he came by some of what he possessed. I never remember him helping me or my family; he just left us stuff when he died. I received his pocket watch and one thousand dollars. When the strokes finally ended his life, he left behind thousands of dollars in the bank, a home, and hundreds of acres of land.

My paternal grandfather was quite different. He worked hard all of his life, beginning at age twelve when his father died and left him to run the family farm. He was as honest as the day was long, never drank, never lied, never smoked, and didn’t hang around those who did. He loved his family and neighbors with a passion and demonstrated it by giving of himself and his goods. He gave money to those in need, he bought for those who needed and couldn’t, and he used his God-given talents and gifts in and outside of the church. He lived a long life, and when he died he left behind a home and mere hundreds in the bank.

According to the psalmist, my paternal grandfather lived as God intended. He gave up the potential chance to be evil and have much for being good and possessing little.

God measures differently than most people do. Just a little can be a lot when measured by God’s standards. My having possessions isn’t what He’s concerned about. Not that He’s against me having stuff. He just knows what normally happens when I do. My attention shifts from Him to the stuff. I tend to hoard rather than help. Selfishness takes over, and selflessness flies out the window. Life becomes about me rather than others.

Initiative is certainly admirable, but God measures what it leads to. When my initiative leads me to Him, forgiveness, love, service, repentance, confession, and heaven, then I’m a rich man indeed.

Don’t measure your success in life by how much stuff you have. Measure it by how much you love God and others.

Being God’s Man

fatherIt was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood.
He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before.
By his faith Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith.

Hebrews 11:7 NLT

Everybody has a father story, and they run the gamut.

I grew up in a traditional family. My father was present, supportive, and loving. Many families aren’t as fortunate. Some fathers drink to excess, abuse or run around on their wives, spend the family’s money on addictions, or simply aren’t around.

Noah certainly wasn’t a perfect man or father, but he was good enough that the Bible holds him up as worthy of emulation. In a time when everyone was going the wrong way, Noah went the right way. In a time when water came up from the ground, Noah believed God when He said it would soon come from the sky—and for 40 days and nights.

From the life of Noah, we can build an acronym for FATHER.

F-aithful

Noah was faithful to God, his family, and others. His faithfulness to God is what saved him from the flood. He wanted his family on board with him, and he also warned others of God’s impending judgment.

A-vailable

Out of all the world’s population, Noah was available when God told him about the flood and when He gave him directions to prepare for it. Noah was available to any who wanted to hear about what he was doing and why.

Jesus was continually available to others too, and, as His follower, I must represent His interests.

T-houghtful

Thoughtful involves the ideas of being helpful, trusting, considerate, and mindful of others. Noah must have thought of the thousands who were ignoring what he was telling them about the upcoming flood. He attended to detail when building the ark. Failing to do so could have resulted in their demise.

H-ardened

Noah was solid and dependable. Fathers should be the foundational stone for the family. God holds them accountable for being the spiritual leaders.

E-ffective

We all want to see results. Noah did. Animals came. The ark came together and withstood the flood. God preserved him and his family. Noah put his faith in practice and used effective fatherly methods. The foundation my father laid led me in the right direction.

R-esponsible

Noah demonstrated his responsibility by obeying God, caring for his family, tending to the animals, and warning others about God’s judgment. A responsible father fulfills his obligations and duties in life. He cares for those he has been given responsibility for.

God can give the strength needed to be a good father.

Feast Day

wagonTeach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home
and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed
and when you are getting up.

Deuteronomy 11:19 NLT

Some called it, “Founder’s Day;” others simply referred to it as “Feast Day.”

A church member extended an invitation for my wife and me to join them on their family property for “Feast Day.” Neither my wife nor I understood what she was talking about, but we were looking forward to a Sunday meal. This couple—along with a number of family members, lived on a piece of property purchased 70 years before by their traveling preacher ancestor.

The family patriarch had loaded up his wife and children in a 25 foot trailer turned into a box and left Kentucky, unsure of where they would settle. At each church where he stopped to preach, he asked if there was any land available. Finally, in what is now Greenwood, South Carolina, he was directed to a tract of land that was for sale.

Looking over the beauty of the land—and believing this was where God wanted him to settle, he drew up a contract between himself and God. If God would make the way for him to purchase the land, he and his family would gather once a year to celebrate God’s goodness. God did, and his family has gathered annually for 70 years to honor their ancestor’s contract…and feast.

The nation of Israel observed several feasts during the year to celebrate various historical events. These celebrations helped the people—along with their children and grandchildren, to remember God’s involvement in their lives. But there was one thing they were to do every day: teach their posterity the laws of God.

Leaving behind a spiritual heritage won’t just happen. It requires effort. I must be vigilant in living for the Lord and teaching my children and grandchildren to do the same. While my descendants have the free will to choose or reject God, they are more likely to choose Him if they see my love for Him and observe how I incorporate that love into my daily affairs. Even if they choose to walk away from their heritage, the foundation has been laid through my example and by my teaching God’s commands to them.

Lead the way in helping your family feast on God’s Word.

Hanging on in Difficult Times

difficultiesThen Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from inside the fish.
He said, “I cried out to the Lord in my great trouble, and he answered me.
I called to you from the land of the dead, and Lord, you heard me!
Jonah 2:1-2 NLT

Difficulties are a part of the human experience. From the death of a loved one to unemployment to a difficult school assignment, difficulties run the gamut.

Jonah too found himself in a difficult situation. God told him to go to Ninevah, capital of the Assyrian empire. A very wicked city. God wanted him to tell the people that destruction was on the horizon if they did not repent.

Jonah didn’t want to go there. He had no love for the Assyrians and no desire to warn them about God’s judgment. So he ran to Joppa and hopped a ship going to Tarshish—the opposite direction of where God told him to go.

God wasn’t happy about Jonah’s disobedience. He sent a great wind that threatened to break apart the ship. The sailors were afraid and cried out to their god. They threw cargo into the sea to lighten the load. Meanwhile, Jonah was below the deck sound asleep. The captain finally awoke him and told him to call on his god. Then the sailors cast lots to find out who is responsible for this storm. The lot fell on Jonah. They questioned him to see where he was from and what he had done to cause such a difficulty. Jonah confessed and told them to throw him overboard so the sea would be calm again. The men didn’t want to take such a drastic action, so they rowed harder. Finally, making no progress, they prayed to the Lord, asking him not to hold them responsible for the loss of this man’s life, and tossed Jonah into the sea. Immediately the sea stopped raging.

Jonah in the meantime found himself in a difficult situation. Even in his anger, the Lord was kind and prepared a large fish to swallow Jonah. Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. While in this difficult situation, he gives us the keys for handling difficult situations.

REMEMBER THE LORD

Jonah said; “As my life was ebbing away, I remembered the Lord.”

Life in the belly of the fish was no doubt unpleasant. Slime, seaweed, stench. A disgusting place for a prophet of God to be. While in this place of meditation, Jonah must have remembered all the Lord had done for him. Though a difficult situation, Jonah remembered the Lord. Here, the magnanimity of his disobedience must have taken hold.

When we find ourselves in difficult times, we too need to remember the Lord. Straying from God’s will and finding ourselves in difficult situations is easy. Sometimes it takes discipline from a loving heavenly Father to help us remember him and all he’s done for us. We have the tendency to forget God in the good times and rely on ourselves.

When that difficult time comes in your life, remember the Lord as Jonah did. Remember he will see you through these times as he has in the past. Trust in him in the good and in the difficult times. Remember what he has done for you.

PRAY

Jonah testifies to having done this also. He said; “As my life was ebbing away, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer came to you.”

Prayer is important. We need to pray on a regular basis. The Bible says to pray without ceasing. This means for us to be in an attitude of prayer at all times. It is especially important that we pray in difficult times. Prayer will carry us through the difficulties of life just as it did Jonah.

We need to pray as individuals. Prayer is our lifeline to God and the only way we can survive as Christians. In spite of our busy schedules, we also need to pray as families. Family devotions are important. We also need corporate prayer. Churches need to pray together.

We need to praise God through prayer in the good times and for the good things he provides for us, but we need to be close to him in the difficult times as well. Instead of letting the difficult times drive you away from God, let them force you closer to him through prayer.

GO TO CHURCH

There was no church in Jonah’s time, but there was the temple. Jonah said; “And my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.”

Church is a wonderful place to be anytime, but it is a special place to be in difficult times. Don’t wait until the difficult time comes before seeking God. Be in God’s house in the easy times and in the difficult times. The church is a loving family that seeks to give love to those who are hurting.

What will you do the next time a difficulty strikes?

Defining Disciple

discipleTherefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 28:19 NLT

Over the years, definitions of words have changed. Artificial once meant full of artistic or technical skill. Now it means not real. A nice person was someone who was ignorant or unaware. Now nice people are sweet. To be awful meant something was wonderful, delightful, or amazing. Awful now means terrible. When something was manufactured, it was created by craftsmen. Manufactured items currently include items created by machines. Counterfeit meant a perfect copy of something, but now something counterfeit is not a perfect copy. Tells original meaning was to count, like a teller. Sharing information is now considered telling.

Individuals and churches that want to be transformational must know an accurate definition of disciple. A disciple is someone who trusts Christ as Savior, grows in their relationship with him, and follows his guidance in witnessing and serving.

Disciples Have Trusted Christ as Their Savior

Recognizing one’s sinfulness, repenting, and following Christ are necessary to become a disciple of Christ. Apart from doing those things, no one can be a Christ follower. Family heritage, baptism, church membership, good works, or charitable giving have no bearing. It’s all about a relationship. No one can make disciples who is not one first.

Disciples Grow in Their Walk with Christ

People pass through spiritual stages: spiritually dead, spiritual infant, spiritual child, spiritual young adult, and spiritual parent. Everyone must determine where they are. Am I where I am because I should be or because I’ve failed to do some things that propel me forward? Am I an infant or child when I should be a young adult or parent? Am I where Christ expects me to be?

But how do we grow? Growing is an individual responsibility. No one is responsible for us, nor will God make us grow. God’s desire is to conform us to his Son’s image, but we must cooperate in the process. When we don’t grow, we are challenged.

The requirements for growth are simple but challenging: Bible study, prayer, fellowship with other believers, and using our gifts.

Disciples Follow God’s Guidance as They Witness and Serve

Disciples want to follow, learn, and impact. They are spiritual parents, or at least moving in that direction. They want others to experience what they have and are not interested in keeping the good news to themselves.

Questions to consider include whether or not hell is even aware of our church, or whether the demons discuss it and conclude it’s not a threat? If our church shut its doors, would anyone notice? And then there’s the matter of my personal life.

Discipleship is not an option, nor is it synonymous with entertainment. It is the business of the church. Jesus instructed us to go and make disciples.

What are some steps you could take to increase your discipleship activities?

Women of Faith

motherWhen Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more.
Ruth 1:18 NLT

The contributions mothers have made over the years are innumerable, and the struggles women have faced and overcome are worth remembering and studying as well. Thousands of single moms struggle to make ends meet and provide for their children, often with the ex-husband, father, or boyfriend giving little if any help at all. Even when the husband and father is in the home, the mom often takes care of many responsibilities around the house. And many countries’ histories are riddled with stories of how women have fought for equal rights.

Ruth has some characteristics that should describe all women of faith.

WOMEN OF FAITH ARE INDUSTRIOUS

An industrious person is a hard worker, and Ruth was that. She decided to leave her homeland and return with her mother-in-law to a foreign land. We begin to see this aspect of Ruth’s nature in chapter two: One day Ruth said to Naomi, “Let me go out into the fields to gather leftover grain behind anyone who will let me do it.” Being two widows with no man around to provide for them, they probably needed some things.

Ruth found a field where people were harvesting and began to follow those who were gathering grain. God had commanded his people in the law to leave some grain behind for the poor to gather. So Ruth did. Unknowingly to her, she chose a field that belonged to Boaz, a relative of her father-in-law.

When Boaz came to the field, he noticed her and asked, Who is that girl over there? In his reply to Boaz, the foreman said, She has been hard at work ever since, except for a few minutes’ rest over there in the shelter.

Numerous Bible verses praise hard work and industriousness. Making time for leisure, fun, and hobbies is equally important, but we should work diligently at what we do. We need to work hard at home, at church, at work, at school, and in any community organizations we belong to.

WOMEN OF FAITH ARE FAMILY ORIENTED

Family was important to Ruth. When her husband died, she could have stayed in her homeland, but she decided to go with her mother-in-law to a foreign land even though her sister chose to stay behind. When Naomi tried to persuade her to return to her homeland, she said, Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. I will go wherever you go and live wherever you live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. I will die where you die and will be buried there. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!

Later in the story, Naomi encouraged Ruth to ask Boaz to marry her. He was a close relative, and in Israelite culture, had this responsibility so that the name of her dead husband could be preserved. Boaz said of Ruth, The Lord bless you, my daughter! Boaz exclaimed. You are showing more family loyalty now than ever by not running after a younger man, whether rich or poor. Now don’t worry about a thing, my daughter. I will do what is necessary.

Having healthy families takes all the resources one can muster, and then some. Many things in our world assault the very structure and fabric of our families.

The apostle Paul deals with the basic structure that must be in place for families to be successful. To wives and husbands, he says, You will submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Then he tells the children to obey their parents. Mutual submission and love on the part of parents—as well as obedience by the children, is necessary in families that expect to be successful.

WOMEN OF FAITH ARE NOT AFRAID TO MAKE THEIR FUTURES

Ruth did this in at least two ways. First, she decided to leave her homeland and confront a very uncertain future with her mother-in-law. Then, at Naomi’s suggestion, she decides to make her own future with another husband after her first husband died.

Women and mothers should not be afraid to make their future. With God as your guide, there is nothing you cannot do. Dream big, and allow God to guide those dreams. Don’t limit what God wants to do in your life.

WOMEN OF FAITH GUARD THEIR REPUTATION

When Ruth went to Boaz’s threshing floor to ask him to marry her, Boaz spoke of her reputation. Now don’t worry about a thing, my daughter. I will do what is necessary, for everyone in town knows you are an honorable woman.

In another place, the Bible says, Choose a good reputation over great riches, for being held in high esteem is better than having silver or gold.

An author friend once remarked, “Being a mother doesn’t always mean she’s given birth. A mother is the woman, who regardless of your faults, has loved you unconditionally. She’s made a difference in you. Knows you. Cares.”

Ask God to enable you to be a woman (or man) of faith.

Giving That Transforms

givingOut of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy
and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.
2 Corinthians 8:2 NIV

A farmer who had never been to the big city decided to introduce his son to city life. After perusing the luxurious hotel where they would stay—and watching a rickety old lady get on an elevator and a sumptuous blonde emerge 10 seconds later, he nudges his son and says: “Hey, Junior, go git Mama.”

Though the story is somewhat humorous, it illustrates how greed often consumes us. We want something for nothing—and instantly. In sharp contrast, God’s Word instructs us to give rather than gather and to direct our concern to others rather than ourselves.

Giving is an integral part of living transformed lives and experiencing transformed churches. Recognizing that all we have comes from God, belongs to God, and should be used for God’s work transforms our way of thinking and thus our actions.

OUR GIVING SHOULD SET AN EXAMPLE FOR OTHERS

Others provide good and bad examples of giving. If we have given ourselves to God, all we have belongs to him. He wants us to be good stewards of our time, talents, skills, and finances. God loves it when our example of giving demonstrates voluntary and cheerful giving. He wants us to give freely and gladly. No one should have to beg us to give so God’s work can flourish.

LET CHRIST’S EXAMPLE BE THE MOTIVATING REASON FOR GIVING

Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary—and the Father’s willingness to allow it, shows the supreme example of giving. Though Jesus possessed all the glory and majesty of heaven, he became a servant. Though he was rich and owned all things, he gave it up. He possessed a heavenly home but traded it for a stable. He chose persecution, suffering, and shame. He gave up heaven’s glory for a sin cursed world so people might experience forgiveness through faith in him.

HUMAN NEED DICTATES GIVING

Paul’s idea seems to be that no Christian should live in poverty when other believers could help alleviate it. Believers whom God has blessed should help those who suffer. Paul doesn’t infer Christians should give so much that they become poor. We should joyfully give to our brothers and sisters in Christ. This giving should come from a generous heart, not selfish motives.

PROMOTE GOOD WILL THROUGH GIVING

Giving shouldn’t be limited to fellow Christians but should include all people regardless of who they are. Giving this way and in the name of Jesus points them to him and affirms our love for him and them. Giving gives us an opportunity to tell of his love and may lead to witnessing encounters.

Martha Snell Nicholson wrote a poem entitled “Treasures.”

One by one God took them from me,
All the things I valued most,
Till I was empty-handed;
Every glittering toy was lost.

And I walked earth’s highway, grieving,
In my rags and poverty,
Till I heard His voice inviting,
‘Lift your empty hands to Me!’

So I turned my hands toward heaven,
And he filled them with a store
Of His own transcendent riches
Till they could contain no more.

And at last I comprehended
With my stupid mind and dull,
That God could not pour His riches
Into hands already full!

Going the Extra Mile

running1aDon’t you realize that in a race everyone runs,
but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!
1 Corinthians 9:24 NLT

Though I have been walking for exercise for a number of years, there was a short time when I tried running. I suppose I wasn’t thin enough because I seemed to keep shin splints almost all of the time. Even though I wore support mechanisms to relieve some of the pain, I could never heal. No sooner had the pain left than it would return. 5K’s were my races of choice. By the time the finish line came into view, I had exerted all the energy I could muster. I couldn’t have imagined having to run another mile in addition to the miles I had already run. Though I never won a race, the prizes for first, second, and third places were simple ribbons—and occasionally a small trophy.

Runners today receive medals, recognition, and perhaps money, but it wasn’t so in Paul’s day. A garland wreath was about the extent of their prize. Paul uses the race metaphor to illustrate the Christian life and talks about going the extra mile in this race. Transformed Christians and transformational churches go the extra mile for God. They do more than what is required.

Going the extra mile in the Christian race can be accomplished through several means and by adopting a few attitudes.

Strive for Success

Paul says to run in such a way that we win. We can live the basics of the Christian life—obeying the bare minimum of what we think God requires, or we can run in such a way to achieve success. God wants us to enjoy his best, but he also wants us to do our best—no leftovers

Do the Training

No one who decides they want to run or begin any exercise program does so without warm-up exercises. Failing to warm up leads to injuries—or at the very least much soreness. For us to be successful at something in life, we must do training. Just as most jobs require training, working for Christ requires the same. Training involves regularly studying God’s Word, prayer, fellowshipping with other believers, working in a local church, living out our faith each day, and taking advantage of every opportunity God gives to serve him.

Set Priorities

Without priorities, we will not know the success we could experience. In life, it is important to set priorities; otherwise, we aimlessly wander or don’t accomplish what we could. God, family, church, and then everything else is a good place to start.

Be Willing to Change Directions as God Leads

Be open to change as God directs. It may be God’s will for you to serve in a certain capacity for a time, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have other areas of service for you. Most people are adverse to change, but if we are to run the extra mile, we need to be willing to change as God directs.

Run Only for God

Jesus constantly reprimanded the religious leaders of his day for doing their religious work for show. They wanted praise and recognition from people. We should do God’s work for God, not for a pin the church might give, or for a plaque, or because we want to impress others in the church. Our aim in serving God should be to please only him.

Be an Encourager

Has anyone ever given you so much encouragement that you wanted them to stop. We all need encouragement. The Bible tells us to encourage one another, and all the more as we sense the nearness of Christ’s return. A word of encouragement is like a breath of fresh air. Christians are in this service together, and we need to encourage one another, not be jealous or try to compete with each another.

Our Spiritual Journey – Martin Wiles

path1Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins.
Ephesians 2:1 NLT

Journeys can be enjoyable or dreadful.

I’ve taken many journeys during my lifetime. Having lived as a preacher’s son and then being a preacher myself, I once calculated that on average I had not lived for more than one year in any given place. Though that part of my life journey was not enjoyable, I made many friends along the way, but left them all too quickly. And then there’s been that part of the journey which included death, sickness, disease, broken relationships, and financial meltdowns. None of those were enjoyable.

More important than any life journey we might take—willingly or not, is our spiritual journey. This one we have no option but to embrace. Living transformed lives begins by examining where we are spiritually and altering what needs changing. We pass through spiritual growth stages just as we do physical growth stages. Those who don’t advance in the physical are referred to as challenged, and those who don’t in the spiritual are as well.

Our spiritual journey includes the following stages—some of which we choose and others that we don’t.

  • Spiritual death. We all start here. No one has a head start. The Bible says, For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23 NIV). We’re not as bad as we could be, but we are all bad nevertheless—sinful. We can’t live up to God’s expectations and standards without divine assistance.
  • Spiritual infant. There’s nothing wrong with being an infant if that’s what we should be, and we are this when we accept Christ. Everyone grows at different rates. God works to conform us to his Son’s image which will take us to spiritual maturity and abundant life, but we determine in large part how much we grow and how quickly by our response to his work.
  • Spiritual child. We can get stuck here if we’re not able to see the big picture or our need to be involved in it. Phrases we hear that help us identify the speaker as a child are similar to the ones that reveal a person is a spiritual child. Jesus wants us to be disciples and make disciples. This involves looking outside our little worlds and getting outside our comfort zones.
  • Spiritual young adult. Of the two greatest commandments, Jesus said loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and being was the first and greatest. As young adults are seeking knowledge and experiences to help them survive in the world, so spiritual young adults are concerned with what will help them grow spiritually.
  • Spiritual parent. A disciple is one who knows Christ, is growing in their relationship with him, and wants to see others enjoy the same. One who is growing is a young adult, but the one who wants others to enjoy the same is a spiritual parent.

What stage do you find yourself in?