We Who Are Many Form One

IMG_1153I am a jigsaw puzzle junkie… have been since I was a kid.  There is something that is just so satisfying about connecting pieces that belong together, seeing one image come from lots of tiny pieces.  The more pieces there are and the more challenging the image, the more I like it.

I’ve got a jigsaw puzzle app on my iPad that allows me to do puzzles anywhere.  It is wonderfully entertaining (and slightly addicting).  I never have to worry about losing a piece.  They are all right there in front of me.  I will admit that there are times when I start a new puzzle and all the pieces are on the playing surface that I think to myself… there’s no way all of these pieces are going to fit into one puzzle  But of course they always do.

Romans 12:4-5 says, “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”  Paul, as he did quite often, used the body to help us understand the unity of all believers.  But I see us a a giant jigsaw puzzle.

We each look different and perform a different function, but we are all connected.  I may not be directly connected, that is, physically touching, the believer (puzzle piece) in Uganda, but we’re a part of the same puzzle.  As Paul says, “each member belongs to all the others.”  We have a place in each other’s lives.  We’re dependent upon each other.  We’re a part of the same puzzle.  All of us, uniquely shaped and colored, are chosen to fill a gap in the sphere of influence where the Spirit has placed us and purposed us to be.  No other puzzle piece can fill that space. It’s ours.  It’s where God has us in the world.

One of the many tragedies in the church today are those believers who say, “I’m not gifted.  Sally has this gift.  Frank has that gift.  But I don’t have any of those qualities.”  That, to put it bluntly, is a lie!  The Bible teaches, if you are a believer you have been given a gift.  In that same passage in Romans Paul continues, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.  If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.  If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” (12:6-8)  Nowhere does it say, “Oh, and for poor Gertrude, she can just sit by and watch us as we are about the Lord’s work… poor thing.”  NO!  There is no caveat for the ungifted, because the ungifted do not exist in the body of believers!   None of us have the option of staying inside the puzzle box.  We ALL belong to the same puzzle and we all have a specific role to play.

Just as when I start a new puzzle and feel slightly anxious over all the pieces fitting into place there are times when my mind has a hard time wrapping itself around the concept of one Church united, one Body of believers functioning as such, one Puzzle coming together in order to  point those who have not yet figured out they are a puzzle piece to Jesus.  Today’s Body seems so fractured. Christian denominations refusing to pray with another Christian denomination or participate in the same event.  Churches trying to make their “puzzle” more attractive than the church down the street so they can have the most pieces.  Churches becoming so self-focused they care about nothing more than themselves and their reputation as a church.

But, if I don’t believe that the Church is One I am no better than those believers who say they have no gift.  Paul says to the Ephesians, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (4:1-3)   The Spirit has united us.  God Himself has put us in the same puzzle box no matter how different or fractured we appear as believers all dumped out on the playing surface.  Paul exhorts us to KEEP the unity of the Spirit.  It exists in spite of our humanity, in spite of our differences, in spite of our apparent brokenness.

Our duty then as believers is to live as a puzzle piece.  To know that we are a part of an amazing work of art and live out our purpose to the fullest.  To believe that the Spirit has united us with all believers around the world and in spite of the disunity we might see, our job as individual puzzle pieces must be diligent to be humble, gentle, patient, and above all LOVE every other puzzle piece in His perfect peace.

Lord, thank you for making us pieces of the same puzzle, for connecting us to one another in a purpose that is far greater than all of us put together.  Help us never to deny our giftedness but pursue it with the faith you have given us to fulfill our calling.  And help us not to be discouraged by the fractures and brokenness in our world and in our churches.  Give us the faith to know and believe you have made us ONE and give us the fruit of your Spirit to keep the unity you have created among us.  In your precious name, amen.

Clothes Should Be Tearing

“But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: ‘Men, why are you doing this?  We too are only men, human like you.  We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.'”  (Acts 14:14-15)

The context of this verse is Paul and Barnabus’ visit to Lystra.  While they were there they came across a man who was born with crippled feet and had never walked.  After this man listened to Paul speak, Paul looked at him directly and said, “Stand up!”  The man not only stood up, the Bible says he jumped up and began to walk.  What Paul and Barnbus reacted to was what happened next.  The men of the town saw what happened and they began calling Paul and Barnabus gods.  They rushed to worship them by bringing bulls to be sacrificed and wreaths for them to wear on their heads.  They called Barnabus Zeus and Paul they called Hermes.  In their furvor the people of Lystra said, “The gods have come down to us in human form!”

If you’re unfamiliar with Greek mythology like I was here is a little tutorial.  Hermes was the son of Zeus. He was known as Zeus’ messenger.  He would move freely between heaven and earth and the underworld.  He was the link between the mortals and the Olympians.

Isn’t it ironic?  These men were searching for the exact thing that Paul and Barnabus were there to tell them.  God, the one and only true God, had come to them in human form through His Son, Jesus.  Jesus was the messenger of God’s good news.  Through His death and resurrection they could have freedom, forgiveness, and eternal life.  These men of Lystra were so close to the truth and yet so far.

What is so inspirational to me about this story is Paul and Barnabus’ reaction.  It was in striking contrast to the worshipful atmosphere that was suddenly surrounding them.  Not only did they not want to be mistaken for the false gods of that culture, they also didn’t want to be mistaken for the One true God they were there to represent. They were so distraught they tore their clothes and immediately began to speak against what the people were saying about them.

Like Lystra, we live in a culture today that is hungry for the Truth.  We are surrounded by false gods in every corner of the American society.  They may not be gods as distinguishable as the Greek gods of mythology but the appetite for fulfillment from those that pursue these gods is no less voracious.  We, as the Body of Jesus, are here as God’s messenger.  We are continuing the mission Jesus started under His authority and empowered by His Holy Spirit. We are here to point people to the Only God who can save them, the only God they can have true relationship with, the only God who loves them more than they could ever ask or imagine.  We may not be in the situation that Paul and Barnabus were.  We may not have people mistaking us for gods and trying to worship us but dare I say, many of our pastors are.

We, as the body, must guard our hearts against the idolatry of our own church pastors.  Too often I hear the praises being sung for them.  Clothes should be tearing at the sound of those praises.  If they are not being torn by our pastors, then we, The Body, ought to be tearing our own clothes. We must be vigilant that above all we are pointing people to the only One who saves, not the man or woman standing at the front of our church on Sunday mornings.  There will be no room for god-like egos in the Body if no one is worshiping them.

Lord, guard our hearts, that we may be completely sold out to You and to spreading Your message of good news to those who need to hear it.  Lord, make all of us diligent in pointing people to you as one Body under one Head, Your Son, Jesus.  Thank you for your love and for your message of salvation that is for everyone.  Make us faithful messengers.  In Jesus name, amen. 

For Such a Time As This

playSeveral years ago while I was a member of a service club I had the opportunity to be in their annual play which we did as a fundraiser for the local theater.  It was a first for me.  I had always wanted to be on stage but never had the courage.  I can’t say I had much more courage as an adult but I managed to show up at try outs and if you showed up you got a part.

It was a small part and I was grateful for that.  I knew the other actors fairly well and it was nice to be a part of a team. After four months of preparation our performance weekend finally came.  We did five shows in 4 days.  It was good.  For the most part we remembered our lines and the audience seemed to laugh in all the right places.  All the preparation had paid off.  It was fun and exhausting.

I share that with you only because the Lord brought it to my mind this past week.  I’ve been given some new responsibilities recently and the list seems to be growing.  Most of it is at work, but there are new responsibilities in other areas of my life as well.  With each new thing I felt the weight of the burden I was carrying increase.  Like the proverbial frog in a slow boiling pot I seemed to get used to the burden, not noticing it much until I found getting out of bed in the morning was becoming a real chore.  I know that sounds a little like depression but having been through that I can honestly say that wasn’t the case.   I just felt paralyzed by my circumstances.  I felt like the burden around me was just too heavy.

Then I remembered the play.  The Lord reminded me, I had one role.  My words had been scripted.  The scenes had been written.  My marks had been placed on the stage for me to hit.  I had rehearsals to be at and performances to give.  I was a part of a team that was telling a story and I had a unique purpose in the story we were telling.

I want to be clear that I believe in free choice.  I don’t believe God hands us a script on the day we’re born, taps us on the behind and says, “Break a leg, kid!” as He plunges us onto the world’s stage.  We have choices to make every day and we are free to make those choices, good or bad.  And yet, there is some kind of beautiful and delicate dance we do with the Lord throughout our lifetime, discovering His will for our lives and seeking ways in which we can walk in that will.  It may not be as cut and dried as a scripted play in our experience, but somehow it is in His.  He knows every choice we make before we make it.  He knows every word out of our mouths before we speak it.  He knows our struggles, our pains; what is difficult for us to do and what comes easy.  He knows every scene, every plot twist, every ad-lib, and the final act.  He knows it all!  And He’s placed us specifically on a “stage” with other “actors” where we can use our gifts to glorify Him and bring His love to others.  He doesn’t hand us script, but He promises us a role in His Greatest Story ever told.

It’s like the book of Esther.  The story is too much to write in a blog post but GO READ IT!  It is an amazing story and it reads just like a play.  But did you know that it is the only book of the Bible where God is not mentioned?  God is not one of the vivid characters IN the story, but He is very clearly behind every scene directing every action.

SPOILER ALERT: Ultimately Queen Esther is the one given the responsibility to save the entire Jewish race from annihilation but she must risk her life in order to do it.  Her wise uncle Mordecai says to her, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)  What Mordecai is saying is, “Esther, here is your role.  If you don’t take it God will provide someone else to save His people.  But, THIS, this may be why you have been given this role – for such a time as this – to save your people.”

With each new responsibility I’ve been given lately I lost sight of the bigger picture.  I have known with each added responsibility that God was behind it.  If I doubted that perhaps I would need to reevaluate my workload but that is not the case.  I know God has orchestrated what He has in my life.  What I forgot, was that He was in charge, directing every scene.  I had just one role to play.

In addition to remembering my experience with the play, the words of Mordecai echoed in my mind this week.  I could chose to walk away from it all and God will raise up someone else to accomplish what He wants to accomplish.  Or, I can believe that for such a time as this I’ve been called to have a few more responsibilities for a purpose I may not know yet, but one that will bring Him glory and show others His love.

This reminder really changed my outlook and I am so grateful.  The responsibilities that felt like a burden too heavy to bear have suddenly turned into a lightweight covering floating over me shielding me from the elements of my circumstances.  I am making a conscious choice to walk under that covering knowing that my role has a purpose in the story He is telling.  I may not know with clarity yet what that is, but someday I will.  For now I am content to accept the one role He has given me.

Lord, thank you for having a plan and a purpose for each of our lives.  Thank you for placing us on the “stage” that you have for such a time as this.  Help us to walk in that role you have designed, looking to you, our Director, for grace, wisdom, and assurance.  May we always bring you glory and show others your great love for them.  In Jesus’ name, amen

SUGAR!

c-h-granulated-sugar-lrgEvery Sunday morning about 25 members of a small Spanish-speaking church gather in their meager church kitchen to make burritos.  Using a combination of food taken from their own refrigerators as well as donations they’ve received, they cook whatever they have and form an assembly line to make as many burritos as they can.  They pack up whatever they’ve made and travel to one of the poorest neighborhoods in the area.  There they meet those who are homeless and give them everything they’ve made.  They set up tables and chairs and shade covering so that everyone has a place to sit and eat and fellowship with one another.

When I asked if I could come with them one Sunday I asked the leader of this small group, Gloria, if there was anything I could bring.  She said simply, “We need sugar.”

“Sugar?” I asked.

“Yes, for the coffee.”

It seemed so simple and so small.  I knew that this church was poor.  Gloria told me that herself.  She told me they would come together on Sundays never sure how much they would have to give.  I felt guilty.  I persisted in asking her, was there something more I could bring?  Was sugar enough?  She assured me it was.

I have to admit I struggled a bit with this task.  In the days leading up to that Sunday it just didn’t seem like I was bringing enough.  I reluctantly went to the store but the whole time I wondered if I should be doing something else, something more.  Even that morning I was a little embarrassed to only be carrying a 5 lb. bag of sugar as I walked through the back alley to the church.

As I walked up to the kitchen one of the ladies spotted me and the bag I was carrying from several yards away.  She yelled out, “SUGAR!” as she came running out of the kitchen.  She joyfully grabbed the sugar from my hands, graciously patted me on the back, then called out to Gloria in Spanish, “We’ve got SUGAR!”  before running back inside.

It was the warmest and most unusual greeting from a stranger I have ever gotten.  It also put me completely at ease.  So much joy from a simple bag of sugar.  It was what they needed and I was so glad I didn’t let my doubts sway me from following through with that simple request.

That morning was an unforgettable experience.  The amount of food this small group was able to provide was amazing.  Although Gloria had told me they were never sure how much they would have each week she also told me they always had enough.  God provided enough each week, sometimes from the most unusual sources.  She said she would often get calls the day before from bakeries or markets asking her to come by to pick up food that would otherwise go to waste.  Every Sunday was a surprise as to where the food would come from, but there was always enough.  God made sure of that.  That week I was a small part of God’s miracle.  They had no sugar until I arrived.

I recently read the story in John 6 where Jesus fed the five thousand.  What stood out to me most in this story was the faith of Jesus’ disciple Andrew.  After seeing the large crowd gather Jesus challenged his disciple Philip with this question, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” (Jesus already knew what he was going to do.  He was only testing Philip with his question.)

Philip responded, “Eight months wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

But then, here comes Andrew.  Andrew said, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far with they go among so many?”

5-loaves-2-fishEven though Andrew wasn’t sure how far it would go, he at least had faith enough to see the potential in this boy’s lunch.  How easy it would have been for him to ignore those measly scraps,  chalking it up to impossible and joining Philip in the “we don’t have enough” rant.  But Andrew didn’t do that.  He brought to Jesus what he had.  As we know from the story it was more than enough.  With that small offering, Jesus was able to feed the 5,000 (which was most likely 15,000 if you include women and children) and have 12 baskets of leftovers to boot!

How many opportunities have I missed because I think what I have to give is too small?  Whether I am coming from a place of wealth or a place of poverty nothing is too small for God to use in miraculous ways.  After all it’s not about me!  It’s all about Him and bringing Him glory.  It’s about offering what we have no matter how big or how small and giving it to the Lord to do with as He wishes.

Lord, forgive me for the times that I have missed being a part of your miraculous touch in someone else’s life. Forgive me for making it about me.  All I have is yours.  Help me to live that way, not just say it.  Lord, put me in tuned with your Spirit so intimately that I know His nudge, His voice, His urging to reach out with little or with much to show others your great love for them.  Continue to bless Gloria and the ministry you started in that little church to make an eternal difference in the lives of so many.  Thank you for their faithfulness and their example.  Use me and what you have given me everyday for your glory.  In Jesus name, amen.