Instructions To Teachers

In June, I’ll be giving my first seminar at a church-sponsored young adult retreat. The last time I spoke in front of an audience was in a college class five years ago, so I’m a bit nervous. On top of that, teaching the Lord’s people is a serious responsibility. But it’s also one I’m grateful to have an opportunity for here on this blog and soon in-person as well.

While the Bible does talk about female prophets, it’s a bit fuzzy on the subject of women teaching. On the one hand, we have examples of prophetesses advising and instructing and women like Priscilla going out and teaching God’s truth. On the other, we have Paul’s admonitions for women to keep silent in the churches. So if I am going to teach in writing or speech, I want to be particularly careful I go about it in the way God intends.

The New Testament contains several instructions, as well as warnings, for teachers. Many are aimed at people in ministry, but I think in most cases we can apply them to anyone teaching God’s way of life. And to a certain extent, that includes every one of us in the church. Even if we’re not a “teacher,” we’re still serving as examples of God’s way and have a responsibility to faithfully represent Him to others.Instructions To Teachers | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Teach Only Truth

The bulk of the instructions to teachers concerns what they teach. They’re given the responsibility to faithfully share God’s words without straying from His truth. Jesus told the religious leaders of His day that their worship was “in vain” because they taught human traditions instead of sound doctrine (Matt. 15:9; Mark 7:7). That’s a trap we mustn’t fall into.

Jesus’ parting command to His disciples, which we now call the Great Commission, tells them to teach the nations “to observe all things that I commanded you” (Matt. 28:20, WEB). The early disciples followed that command by teaching in Jesus’ name the same things He taught (Acts 4:18; 5:42; 15:35; 28:31).

In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he spends quite a bit of time warning him not to get distracted from sound doctrine. There will be people people who teach other doctrines, who get distracted from God’s message, who pollute Christ’s teachings with their own ideas. But that’s not what a teacher of God does. They stick to the scriptures, use the law lawfully, and faithfully practice righteousness (1 Tim. 1:3-11; 4:1-12; 6:3-6). Continue reading

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The Gift of Prophecy

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul discusses a variety of spiritual gifts. But there’s one in particular that he specifically tells them to “earnestly desire.” That gift is prophecy (1 Cor. 14:1, 39, WEB).

A basic definition for this word is to “speak forth by divine inspiration” (Thayer, G4395). Usually when we think of people prophesying, we think about the prophets like Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. We think of men God used to foretell future events, confront sinful Israel, and write books of the Bible. We probably don’t think about prophets in the modern age.Why did Paul tell the New Covenant church that they should earnestly desire the gift of prophecy? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

And yet, Paul wrote that the New Covenant church should earnestly desire the gift of prophecy. He said you should want it and if God gives it to you you should use it. But how do we recognize a gift of prophecy (in ourselves or others), and how should it be used? Continue reading

Be The “Anyone”

There are 3,310 pairs of socks in the men’s homeless shelter.

This past weekend, I attended a young adult service and enrichment weekend. After a Friday evening and Saturday of discussion questions, seminars, Shabbat services, and good fellowship we spent Sunday on a service project. Nearly 100 of us descended on a homeless shelter to help tackle some of their needs, including wall painting, deep cleaning, window washing, and sorting the donations room.

I spend quite a bit of time trying to figure out what my gifts are and how to use them effectively. That interest in personal growth and development is, in part, why this blog exists. But somewhat surprisingly (to me, at least), this weekend’s focus on filling your role in the body of Christ barely touched on spiritual gifts and individual talents. Rather, the take-away was finding your identity as a servant of Christ and then following His example no matter what.

Photo: “Helping Hands” by Valerie Everett, CC BY-SA via Flickr

While I’m a staunch advocate for finding, developing, and using your gifts (that’s why you have them, after all), it doesn’t really take any particular gift to count socks. Perhaps someone with a gift for math could have worked more quickly, or a person with a gift for organization sorted them more efficiently. But really the only thing absolutely essential was showing up and doing the work.

In focusing on where we fit best, perhaps we sometimes close ourselves off to areas where anyone could serve. Maybe we think, “Anyone could do that, so I’ll focus on what I do best.” But that doesn’t mean “anyone” will actually step-up and do it.

During your quest to find the best way to use your gifts, don’t overlook the importance of being the “anyone” who will step in and fill needs. Move from theory to practice. Whether it’s in your family, your church, or your community, let’s look for opportunities to help and then actually take them.

Lies That Isolate Us

Lies That Isolate Us | marissabaker.wordpress.com We know how important a relationship with God is to our Christian walk, and last week we talked about how important it is for us to also have relationships with other believers. For some of you, that comes fairly easily — you have a church home where you feel welcome, and good friends who share your faith. Many of you feel much more isolated, through. Maybe there aren’t any options for fellowship in your area, but if you’re online reading this blog post you have at least one way to connect with fellow believers, if we’re willing to take advantage of it. Peter describes our “adversary the devil” as a “roaring lion” who walks about “seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). When predators like lions hunt herd animals (like the sheep we’re so often compared to in scripture), they try to isolate one before going in for the kill. One of the tools our adversary uses to do this to us if the lies we tell ourselves that keep us from seeking out fellowship — things like “I’m not good enough,” or “I have nothing to offer,” or “No one values me.”

Let Them Love You

No matter how true these thoughts feel, they are not an accurate reflection of how God sees us. You say, “I have no value,” God says you’re so valuable that Jesus traded His own life to save you.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8)

Jesus Christ’s was the most valuable human life ever, and that’s the price He and His Father paid for you. They didn’t do this because they “had to.” They did it because they thought you were worth it. Paul tells us that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief,” and He came to save you as well (1 Tim. 1:15).

 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. (John 15:13-14)

Jesus said this to His disciples, but He meant it for us as well. He died for you because He cares about you, and if you’re following His commandments you have the right to claim friendship with Him as well.

In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:9-11)

Because of the love of God for us, we as His followers should have love for each other. This applies to us having and showing love, but also to us receiving love. You should be able to walk into a group of people who are following God and find love and companionship there. Sure there’ll be a few bad apples in most groups, but don’t focus on them — there’s usually more good people there who will love and befriend you if you give them the chance.

Accept Your Gifts

God loves, values and wants you, and He expects people following Him to love you as well. And that’s not where it ends. You might think you have nothing to offer God or a church group, but God tells us we’re each necessary to His family. God sees value in every life, and it is His desire for “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). He doesn’t give up on people, and He can work with anyone who seeks Him, including you. In fact, if you turn your back on Him, you’re depriving His family of someone He thought was important enough to call into relationship with Him. You’re not doing anyone a favor by “getting out of the way” or thinking they don’t need you.

But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all (1 cor. 12:7)

You might think it seems like everyone except for you has a spiritual gift, but God doesn’t say He makes exceptions in this. You do have gifts (click here to start discovering them), and He did have a reason for inviting you into His church.

For in fact the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. (1 Cor. 12:14-18)

This is one reason that comparing ourselves among ourselves is not wise (2 Cor. 10:12). There is a wide range of available gifts, and you will fit much more comfortably into the body if you recognize your value and discover your gifts rather than trying to mimic other people. You are needed in your own unique way. If God wanted everyone to be the same, He wouldn’t have created so much variety.

And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. (1 Cor. 12:21-25)

God doesn’t want you to feel like you don’t fit in the body, and He doesn’t want anyone else to tell you that you don’t fit. His goal is unity, mutual respect, and genuine concern between members of His church. That’s what He wants for you, whether or not you think you deserve it. The truth is, none of us are “good enough” for God. That’s why Jesus had to die for us. Once we accept that sacrifice and repent, though, God does not intend for us to wallow in inferiority. He wants us to take the amazing gifts and opportunities He gives us and use them boldly. He wants us to take our place in His church and stop sabotaging ourselves with lies that keep us away from Him and from our brethren.

Finding Your Gifts

Do you know what your gifts are?

Sometimes when I ask people this, their first response is to ask “What gifts?” or to stall and say something flippant like “I can fry an egg.” I think that’s one of the most heart-wrenching things I hear on a fairly regular basis. So many of us believe that there really isn’t anything unique about us, that there’s nothing special we can offer the world, that we don’t have an aptitude for something useful or interesting. We think we’re boring, normal, or mundane, and even if we do recognize some good qualities in ourselves, we think they are too small to do any good. Gifts? me? I don’t think so.

But everyone really does have gifts. Some of this is part of our personalities, and if you’re a Christian you probably believe in Spiritual gifts as well. I guarantee that there’s at least one thing (and probably several) gifts that you have. Even if you can’t see it yet there really is something that you are ridiculously good at, or a core part of yourself that offers something good to you and the world, or a talent just waiting to be used.

Hidden Gifts

Finding Your Gifts | marissabaker.wordpress.comI recently read an article titled How Your Greatest Insecurities Reveal Your Deepest Gifts by Ken Page (a psychotherapist, lecturer, and author who studies intimacy). He argues that the core parts of ourselves that we try to hide because we think we’re “too much” or “too little” are where our gifts dwell.

Over the years, I realized that the characteristics of my clients which I found most inspiring, most essentially them, were the ones which frequently caused them the most suffering.

Some clients would complain of feeling like they were “too much”; too intense, too angry, or too demanding. From my therapist’s chair, I would see a passion so powerful that it frightened people away.

Other clients said they felt that they felt like they were “not enough”; too weak, too quiet, too ineffective. I would find a quality of humility and grace in them which would not let them assert themselves as others did.

In his definition, your gifts are essential qualities that make you who you are. Most of us distance ourselves from our gifts and create “safe” versions of ourselves that don’t show the world who we really are. Ken Page’s focus is on expression our core gifts in intimate relationships, but if we discover who we are and what we have to offer it will impact other aspects of our lives as well.

His tips for discovering your core gifts are to look at the things that cause you the most joy, as well as the things that cause you the most pain. You will be most moved and inspired by positive experiences related to your core gift, and most hurt by negative experiences that touch on those sensitivities. For example, if one of your core gifts is honesty you will be drawn to other people who are honest and hurt deeply when someone you’re close to violates your trust. Here’s a link to one of Page’s more in-depth articles exploring this topic.

Personal Strengths

We spend quite a bit of time on this blog talking about personality types. Since I’m an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs scale, I’ll use my personality type as an example yet again. We can’t all be equally good at everything, and different personality types have different strengths. Some gifts that would be consistent with an INFJ personality type are a talent for reading other people, easily practicing empathy, and generating an inspiring vision for the future. On the other hand, most INFJs will not have a strong gift for impersonal evaluation of pros and cons in a situation, or for interacting with huge groups of people. For those tasks, you’ll need to track down a thinking type with a gift of logic or an extrovert with a gift for interacting with people.

Learning the strengths and weaknesses of your individual type is a good way to start tracking down your own unique gifts. The profiles on 16 Personality Types have a list of typical strengths and weaknesses associated with each type, and there’s also a free test you can take if you don’t know your type yet.

Often, the strengths of our personality types come to us so easily that we don’t think of them as a gift. It’s so easy for INFJs to pick up on other peoples emotions that it can seem like a slightly annoying thing we do automatically, rather than a unique gift we can use to relate to other people. ETSJs take charge of situations almost without thinking about it, and might not list leadership as a gift because it seems so normal to them.

Spiritual Gifts

God doesn’t make useless people. You are a child of God, and no matter how weak and helpless and even useless you feel God can work with you and make you strong (2 Cor. 12:10). If God is calling you and working with you through His Holy Spirit, then you’ve also been given one or more spiritual gifts. Paul tells us that “the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all” (1 Cor. 12:7) and trust me, you’re not the exception to that rule.Finding Your Gifts | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Finding out what your particular spiritual gift is can be quite a challenge. Live Your Calling: A Practical Guide to Finding and Fulfilling Your Mission in Life by Kevin Brennfleck and Kay Marie Brennfleck has a chapter devoted to a spiritual gifts questionnaire. It’s more of a guideline than a definitive answer, though. When I took the evaluation, it told me I had and potentially used somewhere between 2 and 8 spiritual gifts. Didn’t really narrow it down much.

Other tests, like Spiritual Gifts Test, can also give you an idea of what your spiritual gift might be. It ranks your top three gifts, and gives a description of each. Ultimately, though, I think to discover what your spiritual gift really is requires prayer and action. Thinking about your spiritual gifts only gets you so far — you have to start using them and serving and seeing if you have a gift for that particular way of serving.

Learning about your particular gifts can give you more confidence in yourself, improve your relationships, and give you an idea of how you can serve others more effectively. I’m still discovering my gifts, but they’re already bearing fruit, including this blog. I wish you a similarly exciting journey!

Spared No Expense

When I hear the phrase “spared no expense,” the first thing that comes to mind is John Hammond advertizing his Jurassic Park. But recently I heard it twice in a completely different context — in two different sermons just a couple Sabbaths ago. In one message, the speaker was talking about showing hospitality, and in the other the subject was David’s generous offering when he welcomed the Ark in to Jerusalem (1 Chr. 16:1-18).

But anything humans can come up with when we “spare no expense” can’t begin to compare with what God can accomplish when He “spares no expense.”

With One Sacrifice

We all know John 3:16 — probably have it memorized. But please take the time to read it again with me.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

Talk about sparing no expense! God delivered up His only Son to die in our places. Let’s think about this for a moment. We believe that God and the Word are Eternal and didn’t have a beginning point — They’ve always been there. It follows, then, that God the Father had never been alone before. Imagine how long those three days that Jesus spent dead in the grave must have seemed!

And now think of it from Christ’s perspective. He was the Word who “was with God, and the Word was God. … All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:1, 3). He had equality with God and the power needed to make all things. And what did He do with that power?

made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Phil. 2:7-8)

Christ gave up all this power, and risked His eternal life (for if He had failed there was no one else to sacrifice for sin), all to save us. That sacrifice was so valuable that “by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:14). His life was so precious — so “expensive,” if you will — that it could cancel out forever the debts of the whole world. Christ and the Father truly “spared no expense” in freeing us from captivity.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Rom. 8:31-32)

Given All Things

What does “all things” in Romans 8:32 include? Well, having given the most valuable thing they could — Jesus Christ Himself — the Father and Son continue to “spare no expense” in blessing us. We touched on this last week when talking about god rewarding prayer, and promising “no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly (Ps. 84:11). Eternal life is one of these gifts, and a direct result of Christ’s sacrifice.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 6:23)

Another extremely important gift that God gives through Jesus is His Holly Spirit. Peter calls it “the gift of God” in Acts 8:20, and John 7:39 notes that the Holy Spirit was only given after Christ was glorified, tying it directly to the greatest gift.

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him! (Luke 11:13)

You can finds lists of some spiritual gifts which God gives in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 and Romans 12:6-8. Jesus told His disciples, “it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven,” so all His teaching to us are also a gift (Matt. 13:11). James says we can ask God for anything we lack, like wisdom, with faith because God “gives to all liberally and without reproach” (James 1:5). We don’t have to worry about God thinking our requests are silly or not worth His time. He wants to give us things.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.  (James 1:17)

God is happy to pour good things our on us. Having already given us the most valuable gift ever — eternal life through Christ’s sacrifice for sin — He just keeps giving us more and more of the good things we want and need.

Present Yourselves

Our response to God’s generosity should involve following His example of giving. With this context, the following verse takes on some additional significance, I think.

So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor. 9:7)

This is typically read in the context of monetary giving. But God is not focused on giving us physical prosperity (though that does happen sometimes), so why should we only focus on giving God physical things?

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. (Rom. 12:1)

Paul describes sacrificing ourselves as “reasonable.” Knowing God has freely given us “all things,” it does seem reasonable that we should freely give Him all that we are and have, particularly since He promises to increase His generosity to us as our generosity increases toward others.

Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you. (Luke 6:38)

We see a perfect example of this in Matthew 25, where Christ tells us how He will divide the sheep from the goats. The people who gave food to those who were hungry, water to the thirsty, and clothing to those who needed it, who took in strangers and gave up their time to visit prisoners — those are the people Christ will have in His kingdom. Giving sacrificially of our time and resources to any of Christ’s brethren counts as giving it directly to Him.