Thursday, August 27, 2015

Building Up

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29

What are your spiritual gifts*?

Are you using them?

If so, how can you use them more effectively?

If not, what steps do you need to take to let the Spirit move you?

These are questions we Christians should ask ourselves regularly, prayerfully, and in community. After all, spiritual gifts are those wonderful gifts given by the Holy Spirit specifically for service to the church. When we allow ourselves to engage fully, positively, and productively with our faith community, great things happen.

What happens, however, when there's a misfit between our spiritual gifts and our involvement in the church? Well, nothing good. And often, because we are in community, our personal missteps hurt the community as much as they hurt us.

God did not give me the gift of music, for instance. If I were to force my way into the choir, the director would do all she could to silence me, cover my voice with stronger, better voices that actually stay in tune. The dissonance caused by my caterwauling would disrupt the harmony.

It's a good thing I know and accept my vocal inadequacies and don't torment others with delusions of grandeur! During worship, I sit right behind the choir and sing softly so they drown me out...a lovely solution to my joyful noise.

Interestingly, our spiritual gifts change over time, though admittedly it's unlikely I'll miraculously start singing in tune. An activity that fills us with joy in one season of our lives might gradually become a drain on our energy. As we become empty and negative, our unhappiness infects others around us. We tear down rather than build up, we see only problems where there are solutions, we criticize when we should encourage.

My top two spiritual gifts are nurturing leadership and mercy...which makes my role as a Stephen Leader a good fit. I'm new to the role, though, and bound to make mistakes. In fact, I've already made several. Thankfully, the other leader, Zandra, has been doing this for years and has a way of reining in my puppyish enthusiasm that is gentle, kind, and positive. She builds me up. I always look forward to seeing her, to working with her, to learning from her.

God gives us people in our lives to grow us as Christians, to build us up. I am so grateful for Zandra, my pastor, and the others in my faith community who not only build me up but build others up as well.

Let our words give grace to those who hear them!

*If you are new to the idea of spiritual gifts or aren't quite sure what they are, you can get a nice overview here on the United Methodist Church website.  There's a link on that page to an online assessment to help determine your gifts, but that assessment is really just a start. Different churches and studies list different gifts...there's not really a single definitive list. I strongly encourage people to participate in a formal small-group study of gifts to get a deeper, more refined idea of what your gifts might be and help in deciding how to use them. Christian community is so important, and small groups are an excellent way of growing in faith!  

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Unanswerable Questions

A friend called me a few days ago to tell me that she lost a dear friend--a 40-something mother of young twin boys--to cancer. In her grief, my friend asked that unanswerable question: "Why?"

Why would a young mother die suddenly? Why did she have cancer in the first place? What possible good can come of out this?

My friend wanted words of wisdom. I don't know how wise they are, but this is what I've learned about grief and loss and the unfairness of life.

Sometimes, things don't make sense and never will. We don't understand. Cells grow out of control or a drunk gets behind the wheel or a heart stops or a foot slips or someone drowns or tectonic plates move or a person takes his or her own life. We want to explain these things away, comfort ourselves with cause, blame, anger. But really, sometimes, things just don't make sense. And they never will.

God doesn't make people sick or kill babies or young mothers or fathers or thousands of people in a terrorist attack or tsunami or concentration camp. God does not do these things. At least, this is what I believe as a good Methodist. Some Christians believe differently.

God does, however, welcome His children home when tragic things happen, and He provides ways for those left behind to turn tragedy into something good. A woman whose 16-year-old daughter died in a car accident opened a half-way house for teenage girls because God wanted her to take all that love for her daughter and help girls in need. I've written before how we see God every time a first responder rushes toward tragedy rather than away from it. God is there in the doctors' hands and nurses' kindness. He's there, even in the worst situations, trying to move us to do good.

I also know that this sucks for us. It takes time to heal and time to see good again. We need to give ourselves that time, to be kind and gentle with ourselves as we grieve, and we need to find people, or even one single person, who will listen to us as we work through our grief at our own pace and in our own time. If we don't find healing, we sink in bitterness. Tragedy--not God--wins.

That's what I know. It's not much, or even enough, but I cling to it as I cling to God.

It's just enough to get me through, and I sure hope it helps you, too.