Archive for the ‘Gifts’ Category


November 4, 2020

No, not vacation, something we all need right now. Rather, vocation refers to the work you do, your career, how you devote your skills and talents. My introduction to the word was in high school. There was a course of study called Vocational Agriculture. It was for the farm kids who were going to go into the family farming business.

I went to college and studied lots of things. Then I was introduced again to the word when I taught 7th grade at a Catholic school. Not being Catholic, I had to pick up on the specific meaning of the word as they used it back then–namely (I think) showing the kids the opportunities for “vocation” meaning becoming a priest, brother, or sister.

Most of us get a job of some kind and perhaps it becomes a career of some kind. Do we think beyond that? Like those Catholic kids I taught, are we encouraged to consider what God might want us to do with our time, skill, talent?

I saw this thought in today’s readings:

Vocation is not evoked by your bundle of need and desire. Vocation is what God wants from you whereby your life is transformed into a consequence of God’s redemption of the world. Look no further than Jesus’s disciples – remarkably mediocre, untalented, lackluster yokels – to see that innate talent or inner yearning has less to do with vocation than God’s thing for redeeming lives by assigning us something to do for God.

Especially American Baby Boomers, but also many people in the world, think about how much money we can make, or how much power we can exert over others, or retiring to a lifestyle of wealthy leisure such as portrayed in countless movies and TV shows.

But no, someday God will call us to account for our use of his gifts. It’s not to late to discover and go.

Let Us Describe Our Congregation

March 18, 2018

A professor of political science loved to condense his tests to three “compare and contrast” essay questions. I’m hooked. Once while teaching seventh-grade writing, I had the class compare and contrast a sonnet from Shakespeare with a poem by Paul Simon.

The song has been going through my head for several days. I hope by writing this that song will go away (only to be replaced by something similar, I suppose).

Paul the Apostle wrote several times about the various people in a church congregation. For example, I’ve been reading Romans 12 almost daily for a month. Here he lists:

  • Prophecy
  • Ministry
  • Teaching
  • Exhorter
  • Giver
  • Leader
  • Compassionate

Does your church resemble this? For some strange reason, I keep thinking maybe it resembles a zoo? “They say it’s all happening at the zoo. I do believe it, I do believe it’s true.”

The monkeys stand for honesty
Giraffes are insincere
And the elephants are kindly but they’re dumb
Orangutans are skeptical
Of changes in their cages
And the zookeeper is very fond of rum
Zebras are reactionaries
Antelopes are missionaries
Pigeons plot in secrecy
And hamsters turn on frequently
What a gas, you gotta come and see
At the zoo

Does Paul Simon come closer to describing your group than Paul the Apostle? How do you cope? Where do you fit?

Yes, we don’t all bring all of our positive characteristics and talents to church all the time. We usually bring our foibles, problems, preconceived opinions, sins. We look for acceptance, change, a mission.

And now, I have passed the song off to you–and maybe I’ll sing with the Monkees “I’m a Believer.”

Praying for the Right Thing

February 8, 2018

The interviewer asked his guest who was promoting his book on mindfulness what his teacher thought was the most important thing for people. “Discernment,” he answered.

Reading in Romans (chapter 12), Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Solomon prayed to God upon becoming King of Israel at a rather young age. God looked with favor on him and granted him one wish. “Wisdom,” said Solomon, “I wish for wisdom.” You have chosen well, said God, and so be it.

Solomon was reputed to be the wisest man who ever lived. Read Proverbs.

However, at the end of his life, Solomon looked back and said that everything was meaningless. Read the end of Ecclesiastes. I think perhaps Solomon regretted not having discernment. He may have been wise, and he talked often of bringing up young men. But his son destroyed the kingdom shortly after assuming power.

Discernment requires the renewing of our minds–constant learning. Being open to changing if we’re wrong. Rejecting old teaching when we learn something new from God.

It requires observing and listening and casting off our preconceived prejudices to allow room for God to speak into our openness. It requires a certain space–time and distance.

And sometimes I think that God does not give us the final answer immediately. Perhaps there are steps along the way where we experience one thing for a season of growth and then God tells us to move on to the next season of growth. We need to be open to discern what God is telling us.

Thinking We Ought To Be In Charge

April 3, 2017

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think…”

“Do not claim to be wiser than you are.”

Paul had never visited the little community of Christ-followers in Rome. Yet,  I wonder what he must have heard about them.

Twice, in consecutive paragraphs, Paul offers these words of humility.

How often do we say, if only I were in charge, things would be different. Meaning, of course, better.

But, do we have the gifts to be in charge?

It is so much easier to criticize than do. Criticizing puts you above the doer, at least in your mind.

But, actually making the decision and living with it–that’s an entirely different matter.

That’s why we respect those who have accomplished something. They have something to say. Yet, they seldom do. They understand the difficulties.

It is so worthwhile to pause at intervals and “view ourselves with sober judgement”.

Those who know their gifts and use them are the happiest.

Give It All Away

December 7, 2016

“You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Mark 10

Giving. ‘Tis the season.

The Magi were what passed in that day as combination scientist, astronomer, spiritual seeker. They spotted conditions that told them there was a disturbance in the Force. A baby, but more than a baby. 

They traveled maybe 500 miles, maybe 1,500 miles. But they didn’t just pop in an airplane or even a car. It would have been a sizable caravan most likely. Three gifts (we don’t know how many Magi).

How far would you travel under what hardships to give precious and costly gifts?

Well, for the rich young man, not very far. Actually, not at all.

There are people who give when they hear about a specific need. The church building needs a new roof. You just heard an emotional presentation about the plight of children or women somewhere.

Then there are the people whose very life is organized around being generous. 

I think maybe Jesus was touching on that idea with the young man. Sure you can follow the commandments. And, yes, that’s not easy. And it is devotional.

Something is lacking. Something called the orientation of your entire life. The status of your heart. Am I focused on me? Am I focused on loving my neighbor? (Remember, that’s Jesus’ second commandment.)

Most of us will give gifts at Christmas. That is no moral wrong. But what drives us? Tradition? Obligation? Generosity?

Can we say, “I give because of what I am”?

Living Within Your Gifts

October 25, 2016

Jesus was concerned with the state of  our hearts. Paul taught that, as well, but he became focused on how we live in community. I think maybe he obsessed on it.

Part of living in community is for each of us to work within our spiritual gifts. He talked about it in letters to the Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians.

Have you ever tried something for which you are neither well prepared or particularly talented in. You tried playing the piano (thanks, mom) but you have no particular feel for music. You tried management, but your heart was really in doing the work more than organizing others to do the work.

What happens when we are living out a role for which we have not gifts?

  • Our stress levels go up
  • We begin losing friends
  • We cannot sleep well
  • Worry is our constant companion.
  • We work harder and longer, yet it’s never enough
  • People tell us we don’t laugh like we used to
  • We catch ourselves blaming others as things go wrong
  • We begin to sense a distance developing between ourselves and others

Some people have the blessing of knowing early what their gifts are and what they want to do with them. Others of us struggle through our 20s and even 30s. Maybe our experiences are laying a foundation for later, but we haven’t found that calling.

Then, we find work and role that for which God created us. And we do it.

  • We have joy in service–for that’s what it feels like
  • We have joy in learning more and more about this new role
  • We attract people rather than repel them
  • We may work long hours, but it doesn’t seem like work
  • We can see success and progress even when it looks like we may fail
  • We take responsibility for our own work

Are you unsure of just what your giftedness might be? There are many self evaluation “tests”. I’ve taken a number over the years. I know my Myers-Briggs profile. I’ve had others as part of employment processes. You can go to Google and find evaluation sites.

Or maybe you know, because what you are doing is a joy. That is a great blessing.

Being True To Your Calling

August 5, 2016

I once thought that religion and spiritual formation were concerned with meditating until you had a Godly Spiritual experience.

And I did. And I did. I was in my 30s. Now what? That’s why I’m so concerned that we teach people after a conversion experience what comes next.

I’m reminded of a Zen master saying, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

I’m reminded of a Zen master saying, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

Paul was concerned with that very thing.

In his letter to the Ephesians after praying that his listeners be filled with God, he says, “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”

We are all born with some gifts. They constitute a calling. Some are  called to preach because they can speak well. Some are called to teach because they understand the subject and can transfer that knowledge and enthusiasm to someone else. Some are called to one from among various types of service.

Bill Hybels and Steve Carter spoke this spring at Willow Creek about finding your gifts. Try one out, said Hybels. See how it fits. If it doesn’t seem right, then try out another one. You’ll find what you are made for.

The commentator in my Bible translation says of Ephesians 4:1, “Spiritual formation is largely dependent upon our capacity to live a called life. Calling presupposes a God who graciously speaks and a people who willingly listen. In Revelation, the letter sent to the Ephesians ends this way: ‘Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.’ Listening is a primary spiritual formation practice.”

And if your spiritual gift is leadership, then the most important of the practices you should be working on is listening.