Spiritual Gifts and Spiritual Fruit

Here are some helpful thoughts from Tim Keller regarding spiritual gifts and spiritual fruit in the life of the Christian.

Gifts are abilities God gives us to meet the needs of others in Christ’s name: speaking, encouraging, serving, evangelizing, teaching, leading, administering, counseling, discipling, organizing. Graces, often called spiritual fruit, are beauties of character: love, joy, peace, humility, gentleness, self-control. Spiritual gifts are what we do; spiritual fruit is what we are. Unless you understand the greater importance of grace and gospel-character for ministry effectiveness, the discernment and use of spiritual gifts may actually become a liability in your ministry. The terrible danger is that we can look to our ministry activity as evidence that God is with us or as a way to earn God’s favor and prove ourselves.

If our hearts remember the gospel and are rejoicing in our justification and adoption, then our ministry is done as a sacrifice of thanksgiving – and the result will be that our ministry is done in love, humility, patience, and tenderness. But if our hearts are seeking self-justification and desiring to control God and others by proving our worth through our ministry performance, we will identify too closely with our ministry and make it an extension of ourselves. The telltale signs of impatience, irritability, pride, hurt feelings, jealousy, and boasting will appear. We will be driven, scared, and either too timid or too brash. And perhaps, away from the public glare, we will indulge in secret sins. These signs reveal that ministry as a performance is exhausting us and serves as a cover for pride in either one of its two forms, self-aggrandizement or self-hatred.

Here’s how this danger can begin. Your prayer life may be nonexistent, or you may have an unforgiving spirit toward someone, or sexual desires may be out of control. But you get involved in some ministry activity, which draws out your spiritual gifts. You begin to serve and help others, and soon you are affirmed by others and told what great things you are doing. You see the effects of your ministry and conclude that God is with you. But actually God was helping someone through your gifts even though your heart was far from him. Eventually, if you don’t do something about your lack of spiritual fruit and instead build your identity on your spiritual gifts and ministry activity, there will be some kind of collapse. You will blow up at someone or lapse into some sin that destroys your credibility. And everyone, including you, will be surprised. But you should not be. Spiritual gifts without spiritual fruit is like a tire slowly losing air.

Quote taken from the Redeemer Report March 2007 article, “Ministry Can Be Dangerous to Your Spiritual Health.”

Glorifying God at Work

I read this post on how to glorify God in the work place this morning from desiringgod.org.  Weather you are a student working part-time, married working full-time, or anywhere in between, I think you will find this helpful.

Dependence. Go to work utterly dependent on God (Proverbs 3:5-6John 15:5). Without him you can’t breathe, move, think, feel, or talk. Not to mention be spiritually influential. Get up in the morning and let God know your desperation for him. Pray for help.

Integrity. Be absolutely and meticulously honest and trustworthy on the job. Be on time. Give a full day’s work. “Thou shalt not steal.” More people rob their employers by being slackers than by filching the petty cash.

Skill. Get good at what you do. God has given you not only the grace of integrity but the gift of skills. Treasure that gift and be a good steward of those skills. This growth in skill is built on dependence and integrity.

Corporate shaping. As you have influence and opportunity, shape the ethos of the workplace so that the structures and policies and expectations and aims move toward accordance with Christ. For example, someone is shaping the ethos of Chick-fil-A restaurants with this video.

Impact. Aim to help your company have an impact that is life-enhancing without being soul-destroying. Some industries have an impact that is destructive (e.g., porn, gambling, abortion, marketing scams, etc). But many can be helped to turn toward impact that is life-giving without being soul-ruining. As you have opportunity, work toward that.

Communication. Work places are webs of relationships. Relationships are possible through communication. Weave your Christian worldview into the normal communications of life. Don’t hide your light under a basket. Put it on the stand. Winsomely. Naturally. Joyfully. Let those who love their salvation say continually, Great is the Lord! (Psalm 40:16)

Love. Serve others. Be the one who volunteers first to go get the pizza. To drive the van. To organize the picnic. Take an interest in others at work. Be known as the one who cares not just about the light-hearted weekend tales, but the burdens of heavy and painful Monday mornings. Love your workmates, and point them to the great Burden Bearer.

Money. Work is where you make (and spend) money. It is all God’s, not yours. You are a trustee. Turn your earning into the overflow of generosity in how you steward God’s money. Don’t work to earn to have. Work to earn to have to give and to invest in Christ-exalting ventures. Make your money speak of Christ as your supreme Treasure.

Thanks. Always give thanks to God for life and health and work and Jesus. Be a thankful person at work. Don’t be among the complainers. Let your thankfulness to God overflow in a humble spirit of gratitude to others. Be known as the hope-filled, humble, thankful one at work.

Sink your roots in wherever you live -God has called us to be all in wherever we are.  As Jim Elliot wrote, “Wherever you are, be all there!  Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

APPROVED

Approval is a packed word.  To be approved is to be accepted, pleased with, and enjoyed all at the same time.  We all seek approval from someone.  If you don’t want to be accepted and pleased with, you need to check your pulse to see if you are living or perhaps you’re just in denial.  Weather it’s your boss, your spouse, your parents, your enemies, or whoever -we all desire to find ourselves approved in the sight of someone.

As Christians, it is only natural to want God’s approval.  After all, “to live is Christ,” and when this life is said and done all we will have is Christ.  I don’t know about you, but more often that not I look for God’s approval in my circumstances.  Inwardly I ask the question, does God approve me because I read, prayed, and loved enough today?  If you don’t think ask a form of this same question, let me ask you something.

Do you look for small or big wins in life that will confirm God’s approval? For instance, Thank you God for the promotion, I know you love me!  Thank you God our nice home, I know you love me!  Thank you God for McDonalds, this BigMac proves that you care for me (until I get hospitalized for too many BigMacs).  

Now I am not saying that it’s wrong to thank God for the big and small blessings he freely gives us.  BUT is God for us because we get a good job, a financial blessing, or healing from a sickness?  If this is our mentality, what happens when we don’t get the promotion we prayed for?  What if we lose our job?  What’s next if our spouse doesn’t love us the way we were hoping?  Where is God’s approval at when we don’t see it in our current conditions?

Here’s the good news, God’s approval of us has nothing to do with us.  Jesus is the stamp of God’s approval for us.  Because of Christ’s death and resurrection on our behalf, we are Perfectly, Permanently, and Perpetually approved by God.  There’s nothing good or bad we can do to gain or lose our Holy God’s approval.

So don’t live for God’s approval.  Jesus already won God’s permanent approval for you.  Instead live, love, and do everything in life out of the joy that comes with that package of God’s permanent approval of you.

I love my wife.  I desire her well being, her comfort and security, as well as her holiness (I hope to see my wife look more and more like Jesus).  I don’t have children at the time being, but if I did, I’m sure I would desire the exact same for them.  The tricky part isn’t desiring these things, but rather believing that these things will always happen the way I desire them to.  I read this article earlier on DesiringGod’s blog, and found it helpful.  What a great reminder from Richard Pratt:

In recent decades, Christian television has spread what many call the “prosperity gospel” — the misguided belief that if we have enough faith, God will heal our diseases and provide us with great financial blessings. Of course, most people reading this article scoff at the thought that faith can yield such benefits. But don’t laugh too hard.

We have our own prosperity gospel for our families. We simply replace having enough faith with having enough obedience. We believe that we can lift our families out of their brokenness if we conform to God’s commands.

You’ve probably encountered this outlook at one time or another.

Teachers and pastors tell wives that they will enjoy wonderful relationships with their husbands and children if they will become “an excellent wife” (Proverbs 31:10). After all, Proverbs 31:28 says: “Her children rise up and bless her; her husband also, and he praises her.”

At men’s conferences, fathers recommit themselves for the sake of their children because “the righteous who walks in his integrity — blessed are his children after him!” (Proverbs 20:7).

In much the same way, young parents are led to believe that the eternal destinies of their children depend on strict and consistent training. You know the verse: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

Passages like these have been taken as indicating that Christian families experience blessings and loss from God, quid pro quo. We believe that God promises a wonderful family life to those who obey his commands.

Now, we need to be clear here. The proverbs commend certain paths to family members because they reflect the ways God ordinarily distributes his blessings. But ordinarily does not mean necessarily. Excellent wives have good reason to expect honor from their husbands and children. Fathers with integrity often enjoy seeing God’s blessings on their children. Parents who train their children in the fear of the Lord follow the path that frequently brings children to saving faith.

But excellent wives, faithful husbands, and conscientious parents often endure terrible hardship in their homes because proverbs are not promises. They are adages that direct us toward general principles that must be applied carefully in a fallen world where life is always somewhat out of kilter.

As the books of Job and Ecclesiastes illustrate so vividly, we misconstrue the Word of God when we treat proverbs as if they were divine promises.

Suffering Together

I normally don’t try to write a book for a blog post, but it just happened.

The church I serve at is going through some of the broader goals we believe God has for every believer: loving God (soaking in the gospel and responding to it daily), growing up (building our lives on Jesus), and serving all (taking the gospel out into our communities and the rest of the world).  This past weekend we focused on the growing up part of the process.  We are learning that growth comes with individual study and personal communion with God as well as growing through community and living along side other believers.  Let me just say, I have such a sweet small group of people that God is allowing me to find community with.  I might not be speaking for everyone else in my group, but I feel we are learning more and more about one another and starting to feel more and more comfortable with one another.  Through the safe place we desire small group to be, we are attempting to let our guards down and be honest and open with where we are in life.  What’s crazy is, we are finding that we have so much in common.  Included in this common ground share is suffering.

Suffering might not be the most popular topic of conversation, I understand, but it is a theme that is found throughout scripture as well as a theme found throughout the lives of people.  Not addressing suffering and struggle when it comes up is like not addressing a flesh wound during battle.  Yes there is a need to journey on despite our wounds, but I would venture to say that some healing needs to take place if we are going to be effective in battle.  The beauty of community is seen when suffering is shared together.

There is a sweet passage from the Old Testament book Hosea.  If you haven’t read the book, go read it -if you have, go read it again.  This book is much broader than suffering itself, which in affect can help us put suffering in appropriate context.  We are going to look at verse one of chapter six to help us learn what to do with our suffering.

Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.

Suffering needs to be exposed:

Some people will disagree with this statement, but I believe suffering in life is caused by God in some cases -and in all cases, it is allowed by God.  If you don’t believe me, it might be because you didn’t read the verse up above (don’t worry, I am guilty of skipping over scripture too).  “He has torn us..He has struck us down.”  Clear enough?  Before you decide to take the advice of Job’s wife to “curse God and die,” I suggest you keep the topic of suffering open in your life and let God’s Word have supremacy in your understanding.

Suffering needs to be shared:

Just as the title of this post would imply, I believe that suffering is to be shared together.    “Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.”  Although us includes singular “you” it also must include at least one other person.  Sharing the burden of suffering is needed if we are going to persevere and grow.  Believe it or not, sharing joy as well as hardship is commanded in Scripture.  Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”  When we share joy it multiplies and grows, when we share suffering it divides and shrinks.  My sister just gave birth to a beautiful baby boy this past Thursday, and I have been bragging on that little dude the past four days.  While sharing burdens isn’t near as easy as sharing joy, it is equally necessary for us to do in order to live a healthy life.

As Jesus was led to Suffer, our Suffering leads us to Jesus:

More could be written on the suffering of Jesus than all of our suffering combined.  Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).  He knew pain better than we will ever know pain, and yet he despised the shame and endured the cross because of the joy that was set before him (see Hebrews 12:2).  The joy that was set before him was to see sinners like you and me return to the Lord.  He took our sins away by the shedding of his blood that we might draw near to God.  In the same way, the suffering that we deal with isn’t meant for us to retreat and pray ourselves out of it, but rather it is meant to bring us back to Jesus.  In the kingdom of God suffering is never wasted, “And we know that for those who love God all things (suffering included) work together for good” (Romans 8:28).

I don’t know what you’re walking through, but I do know that God is greater and he purposes to use your suffering that he may heal you.  So together may we return to the Lord.

Walking Through Life’s Seasons

Hey all!

It has been one day shy of four months since my last post, and I’m excited to (hopefully) start writing a bit more consistently.  Here’s a little bit of what’s been going on in my life lately:

For those who don’t know, I have been the worship pastor at CrossPoint Salina since March of 2010.  When my wife Lauren and I came, the church was averaging between 30 and 40 on any given weekend.  Since being here God has consistently added to our number little by little and we are currently running between 90 and 100 individuals a weekend.  The best part is not how many are coming, but the amount of life change I have been able to witness through the good news of the gospel.  We have baptized 10 people in the 15 months I have been here and we have 2 or 3 more scheduled to be this upcoming weekend.  How miraculous is our God!

A friend of ours from church who owns a security company (access control, fire alarms, camera systems, etc.) hired me on as part time help in February.  This has definitely added to the business of my schedule, but we feel greatly blessed to have the extra income.  Since the beginning of February I have also started back to class at Midwestern Baptist in Kansas City -I will be done for the semester after next Monday!

During this busy season of life I have put off the amount of blogging I would like to do in order that I might be a better steward of my energy in the things I am committed to.  Like I said earlier, I am hoping to start writing my thoughts down more often this summer as I should have a slower schedule.

In light of this, it doesn’t matter where we are in life for joy to abound in our hearts.  Jim Elliot once said, “Wherever you are, be all there.”  Christ calls us to make much of him in every area of life as well as every season of life.  Our contentment in life doesn’t come from our current circumstances but rather from the God that rules over our circumstances.  I hope all you brothers and sisters in the internet world are enjoying God in all of life -this is why we exist!

– 2 Corinthians 8:9

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

A Well In the Desert

By nature, I’m not what you would call a “blogger.”  When I wrote my first blog post, I think my arrogance had me think that people would quickly latch on to my irresistible wisdom -that didn’t happen.  In fact, I haven’t shared any of my thoughts through this WordPress account in quite some time.  The Holy Spirit has his ways of teaching God’s people humility and dependence.  Through his help I’ve come to realize that my best thoughts are always someone else’s which is why it is freeing for me to write this post.  God’s desire isn’t to have great pastors, songwriters,  authors,  and missionaries -God’s desire is to make his name great through His followers.  “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3b Emphasis Added).

I’m beginning to see that the light suffering that comes my way isn’t God’s punishment for the sin in my life -that would be living by karma, not grace (by the way, anything better than Hell is a gift of grace).  God allows us to stagger through the desert so we can learn how to be dependent upon Him.  In the desert our proud, independent spirit becomes helpless and thirsty, we feel the weight of our needs and cry for help, the dry heat of our circumstances has us thirsting for nothing less than the presence of God, and before you know it we are praying like David.

1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

4Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

5You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
forever.

in the midst of bitter circumstance, God’s fellowship is sweet.  When you find yourself in the desert, look for the Wellspring of life: Jesus.