If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?

1 Corinthians 12: 17

Paul is discussing the various wonderful ways that followers of Christ are different from each other in the forms and the types of gifting that God has given to us. There is no question in my mind that this is what the Apostle is speaking about. Yet, it seems to me that there is more here. As I have been reading Richard Beck’s deep and profound book Stranger God[1],I have come to see this expanded view of the body of Christ a little more clearly. It does seem that God has given to us the gift of people. This is a really simple, yet very complicated subject. People are each different and highly distinctive, too. This differentiation exists in the form of our physical appearances, our personalities, our comfort in various situations, and in our capabilities and capacity to engage in each aspect of living within a community. Some may seem to be able to give more, and some are not as able to contribute, or at least that is how it might seem.

One of the challenges that I encounter is found in the way that my thinking has been conditioned over the course of my life. As I meet new people, I am almost immediately assessing them. While thinking that I am being open minded and accepting of the person as an individual, there are various internal filters and analytical tools at work, and these in-grained devices are busily placing this individual into broader categories that are ordered by preconceived definitions that lead me to draw value oriented conclusions regarding this person. None of this is happening at the level of volitional thought. Yet, it is all quite real and present inside of my mind so that this defining of a person has an effect upon my heart’s rendering of their worth as well. This is not at all how Christ sees people, and it has nothing to do with the way that our Lord contemplates the worth or the value of them, either.

In order to change something as long practiced and deeply held as is this form of thinking, I need to submit my perspective and view of people to Christ in repentance for the way that I have not loved His people well and with an expressed desire to be changed by the work of the Spirit within me. When Jesus met people, He was more interested in their story and in getting to know who they were than He was engaged with determining their role or their worth within the culture. So too should I care more about the life that people are living and the trials and troubles of that journey than I do about their skills or lack of them. Each of us is uniquely and beautifully formed by God to fulfill a role within His body of faith. There are no classes of citizenship in Christ’s community, for each and every person contributes to the whole as the Lord grants to them a place within His kingdom. I pray that as I go about my day that I will love and respect the people that I encounter in a manner that sees each of them as a whole and a contributing person who has a valuable and a vital place within God’s grand plan for His kingdom come to this world.    


[1]Richard Beck, “Stranger God, Meeting Jesus in Disguise” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press: 2017)

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If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.

Mark 4: 23

Although Jesus speaks about a physical feature that almost all people possess, He is not talking about our physical bodies. The Lord is restating a comment that occurs several times in the words of the prophet Isaiah and that also run deep in a Jewish understanding of the way that God desires for His people to respond to Him. I think that a key element in what Jesus says two times in this section of Mark’s gospel is found in the all but universal presence of hearing in people. We were meant to hear. This is the way that God designed people, and that hearing is an important part of the manner in which we are intended by our Creator to navigate our way through this world. People can operate successfully with diminished or even absent hearing, but this takes extra effort, training, and on-going practice to do well. When it comes to hearing, Jesus is saying that God gives us all the equipment with which to hear, the ability to decipher this auditory input, and the capacity to use what we take in in order to live righteously in the manner that God desires for us to do.

The fact that we all fall short of this last aspect of what God intends for us is the result of our own rebellion against God, of our selfishness, and of our unrelenting need to go through life making our own decisions and following after our personally desired and fabricated gods. We don’t hear God’s word of truth and life because we refuse to listen to His voice. We fail to live as redeemed people in this fallen world because we shut off the receptivity that God designed into our hearts and our minds. In too many instances we become the fool, the person who should know better but who still acts as one who does not know Christ at all. This can be true in big things and it can also be the case in the small elements of life. Jesus is saying to those of us who know Him that we need to engage the full concept of the hearing that we have been given as a gift from God. That is, we need to let God’s word in, and we also need to surrender ourselves to obedience to the call to love others, seek justice, grant mercy, and hold righteousness as more precious than breath itself. In addition, people who do not know Christ are provided with an opportunity to hear Him in the expression of our lives when we follow Christ as He would have us do this.

For people who struggle with hearing, and I would guess that this includes most of us, there is hope. Jesus would not have made such a point of this if He were not also providing a way to redemption from the manner in which we have deviated from God’s will. In Christ, we have the indwelling Holy Spirit who grants understanding to us and who counsels us in all aspects of following God. We are also provided with God’s Word and the wealth of truth, wisdom, and descriptions of righteous living that are contained within it. Then, the body of faith invites us into its presence and provides followers of Christ with a place to dwell where support, accountability, instruction, and opportunity to use the gifts that God has given to us are formed together into common worship of our Lord. Thus, Jesus points to the obvious presence of ears on our heads, and He instructs us to truly hear, which means that we are to seek out the face of God, to meditate deeply upon His Word, to pray regularly and routinely, to listen even more intently that we speak, and to engage in the fellowship of the body of Christ even when those associations may seem hard or troubling. As Jesus said to us, “Hear and obey and commit your life to following what it is that God is continually saying to you through the ears of your heart.” At least that is how I heard His words in my heart.     

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.

1 Peter 4: 10

As a result of the many years that I have lived as a follower of Christ, there is at least one thing that I am very clear about, God is very generous. He has given me gifts that are remarkable, wonderful, and beyond measure in their scope and scale. God pours life into His people, and He grants gifts of His Spirit to us. The Lord is also the type of Father that builds a confident sort of strength into us. He lets us go and gives us space to roam this world and to explore its wonders; yet, He is never all that far away should we need advice, counsel, encouragement, or rescue. All of this generosity is founded upon one overwhelmingly great gift that was given to us in the person of Jesus Christ and that was fully unveiled upon the cross and made complete in Christ’s resurrection. Even His return to the Father in Heaven was not a loss for people on this earth, for Christ gave His Spirit to us and in the presence of the Spirit we are each granted gifts to use in service to our Lord and for the sake of His kingdom.

The work of service that we are called to perform is highly varied. It is designed by God to fit the needs of this world as it is in our time, and it is also tailored to be the perfect fit for each of us at that moment. It is important for us to remember that these gifts are not given to us in order to build us up or to create any sense of superiority on our parts. Although they are great and wonderful, and some of them seem to be more significant, important, or powerful in human terms, from God’s perspective these gifts are all of equal worth and none of them are intended to set an individual apart as greater or more valuable than other followers of Christ. The gifts that we are given are intended to be given away in full, and we are called to serve others with all that the Lord has granted to us. There is no need to hold back anything or to attempt to protect these gifts from overuse or from depletion by virtue of giving them away. These gifts and the grace that was poured out upon us by Christ in granting them to us flow out of an unquenchable fountain of blessing that God has freely opened for His people to drink from.

As we have received from God, so we are to give away all that we possess with the sure promise that we will be replenished as we need that resupply. There are times when the burden and the effort of this giving into the lives of others can become very heavy and we can become weary or worn down. These are days when we need the help and the support of other people who claim the same faith in Christ. These are times when we can lean into Christ’s body, the church, and allow others to walk with us, to grant us a safe place to rest, and to provide insight and encouragement that come directly from God’s Word and are poured into them and into us by His ever-present Spirit. Even with the Spirit within us and the gifts that God has granted to us at hand, none of us are intended by the Lord to walk through this life on our own. His design, plan, and intent for the journey that He sends each of His people on is for us to do this traveling with companions and in the gathered strength of His body of fellowship. In this setting, the grace that we require to sustain us can be found, the wisdom that is needed to assess each day is gathered together, and the opportunity to serve others as we allow them to serve us is granted full expression.  

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.

1 Corinthians 1: 26, 27

 

Of the many things that come our way as a result of having a relationship with God in and through Christ, calling is one of the most difficult to grasp and to understand. It often seems to defy the usual processes of analysis and definition. Calling can be very certain for some, but it is most frequently something that floats in the realm of the mystical. Yet, it also serves to define us in many ways, and it also forms the shape of how much of the world views our place in life, especially in life’s economy. I believe that God does call each of His people into service to Him and for the sake of His kingdom. Our calling is specifically related to the gift or the gifts that we are given by Him as a part of the transformative work that the Spirit does in and upon all who come to Christ. So, in part, we are given spiritual gifts in order to enter into our calling.

 

In fact, I would propose that calling is one of the ways that God enters into the life of each individual follower of Christ. Every one of us is unique, different from every other person, and given certain qualities and characteristics that mark out our individuality and that also form and define our role and place within the body of Christ. When it comes to actually entering into the work that we do, there may be many possible courses that we could take that will still follow God’s will and engage in His calling of us. The Lord equips us and then wants us to trust Him and to follow our dreams and our passions into the way that we use His giftedness and the skills that we develop along the way in service to Him and for the glory of His name. This rather vague and general sense of what we are to do in life can be frustrating or troubling, but God wants us to engage with life in a manner that sees it all as a journey of faith so that we continually step out in trust of His provision and guidance.

 

The real calling for each of us who follow Christ is to do exactly that. We are firstly children of the Living God and followers of the one true King. This fact helps to frame in the structure of life so that many of our world’s possibilities are eliminated from our consideration; however, that same framework opens a wide array of other choices for us to make. As we look at, pray over, and seek the wisdom of other people of faith regarding the direction that we might go in life at this time, we can hold one thing before us as certain fact that should help to define our reality, and that is that we are each a unique expression of what God sees in us as possible. We can enter into these possibilities at any point in life’s journey and we can do so with confidence in the will of the Lord to walk with us and to empower the processes of doing the work of this endeavor. These choices and decisions will not always make sense in the world’s view of what should be done with a life, but God’s concept of worth and true value do often seem foolish in that economy of self. Rather, in Christ, we can follow our dreams, engage our passions, and walk through our days with the joy and the satisfaction of serving Christ as our greatest reward.

But God has so composed the body giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.

1 Corinthians 12: 24, 25

 

People tend to grant respect and honor to others who have certain skills or who hold positions within our society that we look up to. This is a normal aspect of structure and of order in our world. Granting this sort of deferential view to those who take on responsibility for the well-being of the whole is even a part of God’s plan and design for the way that our cultures can operate smoothly and peacefully. Yet, like so many of the things that we do in our humanity, this holding up of some people for special honor can get our of balance and become troublesome and even divisive.

 

When individuals within the church are held up as superior to others by virtue of their position of authority or due to the role that they fill, damage can be done to the entire organization. Now, I am not saying that we should not respect the authority of leaders that God has called and established in those essential roles. However, I am saying that even these pastors, teachers, elders, deacons, and bishops are not to be held in greater esteem or granted greater respect than are others who may serve the body in less obvious and widely visible ways. In the body of Christ, His church globally and locally, all of us are given gifts by God and each of us is called upon by God to use those gifts for the sake of the functionality and effectiveness of that church and to demonstrate these gifts for Christ’s glory in our world.

 

If you are granted a simple or a humble gift, then use it with confidence and with joy as an offering of yourself to God. If you have been given one of those more public and outwardly noticeable gifts, then hold it as the precious outpouring of Christ’s love upon His body that it actually is, and use this gift in order to focus all praise and honor upon the One who gave this great blessing to you. Each and every one of our spiritual gifts and all of our capacity, skill, and talent is something that God has poured into each person as a part of His careful and purposefully creative crafting of us. We are made to bring the Gospel of Christ into our world in ways that are accessible and real, every person is made in God’s own version of His image for this purpose, and we can each live out our lives at peace with who we are and in the confident expression of our giftedness while we also value and honor the same in all others.

Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in your book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.

Psalm 139: 16

 

There is a perfect balance and symmetry to the number of days that each person is granted in this life. Admittedly, that idea seems to be absurd to people who are faced with the end of those days, but it is a fact that has remained unchanged throughout human history. It is something that we can do nothing to change; yet, we are granted the opportunity every day to determine the effect that those days will have on our world. God, the Father, has granted to each and every person certain aspects of Himself; these are the qualities, characteristics, and talents that define our God-image bearing selves.

 

We get to put those gifts of the Lord to work. We are granted the freedom to choose to enter into relationships with others and to love them. The impact that our days will have on our world is something that God trusts us with. He provides the basic material for us to use in seeking after His way, and He grants to each person the opportunity to be a world changer. How we go about this is up to us. The most powerful thing that anyone can seek to do is to live in a manner that reflects the most basic and foundational of God’s character qualities. We can enter into life with an uncompromising passion and a commitment to care about and for others, to protect the weak, to support righteousness, and to love everyone regardless of what they return to us.

 

God entered into my life; for, He came to experience all of the joy and all of the pain that life affords, and Christ took Himself to the end of those days with purpose and with the intent clearly defined that His death would bring about my life. Christ engages with me during every moment of each of my days, and He grants me the ability to follow His lead by entering into the lives of others in a way that brings them into contact with life, itself. This is the nature of those days that God has ordained for me and for everyone. We can choose to follow Christ and make the moments impactful. God has given us the gift of Himself invested totally into each of us, and He has granted us exactly the right number of days in which to use that gift.

 

How great are your works, O LORD!

Your thoughts are very deep!

Psalm 92: 5

 

If I must confess, I really don’t have a hard time with God’s greatness. I readily accept the idea that God is great, but I also don’t think about it much. I can sing choruses that talk about how great God is, and I just go about living with this idea in the background of my days. However, the idea of just what that means might be something that is worth considering further. Here is God; He is both in this world and above it at the same time. Here is God; He is simultaneously within me and Creator of all. The hands that I use to craft these words are the work of His own hands, and the ideas and concepts that grant meaning to these words are something that God fashioned in order to bring about our ability to communicate with each other and with Him. God’s presence and the touch of that existence in the lives of people are remarkable beyond the capacity of these words.

 

The Lord rules over the entire world in a manner that grants purpose and dignity to people and that values each of us in ways that we seldom approach ourselves. He has granted life itself to us, and He gives gifts to each person so that we have capabilities beyond all human reason. God then presents to us various opportunities to use those gifts for the glory of His name, the benefit of this world, and in service to His will. It seems that we enter most fully into God’s greatness as we use the gifts that He has given to us in these ways. In serving others we do not become like God; rather, we become more and more submitted to Him and to His purposes in our world. Regardless of our skill or capability, our intellect or wit, or our strength and prowess; God is always greater than us; yet, He continually values us and our contributions to the expression of His Gospel of love, grace, and restoration.

 

God’s greatness is both expansive and voluminous. He is present in all and touches everything that exists in the universe. There are literally no bounds on the Lord’s presence. So, He is engaged with all that we think and do in this life, and that engagement has no beginning and will know no end. God, Himself, is the definition of eternal and frames what we can contemplate as being eternity. God cares about the souls of all people out of His greatness, and He reaches out of His glory and into our brokenness in order to save us from our chosen path of separation and death. God answers the desires of our hearts with the fulfilling truth of His unceasing wisdom, and He responds to all of our questions with the unrelenting yes of His love and mercy. As I consider it, the greatness of God fills my physical world with comprehension and perspective, it grants peace and rest to my troubled and weary heart, and it brings my soul into the glory of God’s Kingdom come!