This is my May, 2013 newsletter article to the saints at Good Shepherd Lutheran.
I was driving back from the Central Illinois District pastors conference in Quincy last week, listening to episodes of Issues, Etc. I listened as the guest on this particular interview segment recounted a brief encounter he’d had with the Rev. Dr. Norman Nagel while at seminary. Only one brief phrase had been uttered, and that by Dr. Nagel: “God has gifts to give.” In this case, it was in regard to attendance at the daily chapel services on campus. But the statement is profound in its simplicity and universality. God does have gifts – a multitude of them – to give to all of creation.
Let’s take a bit of a survey and reflect together on some of the gifts God gives, according to the Scriptures:
“…everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.” (Ecclesiastes 3:13, ESV)
Here “The Preacher” (most likely Solomon) speaks of the gift of every day and the labor found within it as a gift from God to us. This is comforting. All the myriad tasks and jobs that you have throughout your life are a gift from God. This is the basis of the doctrine of vocation – God puts each of us in various offices with specific tasks to do in order to serve our neighbor. There is true joy to be found here, for God uses each of us to care for one another. What a gift!
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:6-8, ESV)
God bestows different gifts upon us, according to the “grace given to us.” It is good for us to not look in envy or jealousy at the gifts that our brother or sister in Christ has received. Instead, we ought to rejoice at the grace of God being revealed. Besides, we each have our own differing gifts.
Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. (Psalm 127:3, ESV)
Within the vocations that we each have, some are called by God to be married as husband and wife. Within that particular vocation God then gives gifts: children! One of the challenges we face today is a temptation to refuse any of God’s good gifts, but especially children within marriage. But what a blessing and gift they are from God. Who seeks to refuse God’s gift?
Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”… And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers…” (Ephesians 4:8, 11, ESV)
The festival of the Ascension, always 40 days after Easter, is very important because upon ascending into heaven, Christ comes to us in a different way. He comes to us through His gifts. One of those gifts He gives, which builds up the Body of Christ, is the gift of your pastor. Seriously! That’s what Paul is writing of here in Ephesians. All these offices that Paul lists are those whom Christ sends to proclaim His word to the world, and particularly to the Church.
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)
Another gift of God is His Holy Spirit, given to us in another gift, Holy Baptism. Baptism is the saving-bath-gift that Christ instituted for our reception of His gift of forgiveness, and also as a gift of assurance to us. Paul writes, “He saved us…by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-8) and “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit…” (Ephesians 1:13).
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19, ESV)
Jesus bids us to “Take, eat” and “Take, drink.” Here is another way in which the ascended Christ continues to give Himself to us. What is this gift? His very body and blood, for the forgiveness of our sins. In this gift Jesus gives us forgiveness, life, and salvation, received by faith.
In closing, let’s reflect on the greatest gift God has bestowed upon us: His very own Son.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, ESV)
This is certainly an incomplete list, but I pray that these will provide ample material for reflection and thanksgiving during this month and in the months to come. Let us not refuse the gifts of God, but make use of them. I’ll see you at the Service, where Christ’s gifts are in abundant supply!