“Many of the people of Israel are now enemies of the Good News, and this benefits you Gentiles. Yet they are still the people he loves because he chose their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn.”
Romans 11:28-29 NLT

God is unchanging. The promises He has made, and still makes, are always fulfilled. And one promise He made concerned His chosen people. Deuteronomy 10:14-15, “Look, the highest heavens and the earth and everything in it all belong to the Lord your God. Yet the Lord chose your ancestors as the objects of his love. And he chose you, their descendants, above all other nations, as is evident today”. Paul wrote that God’s gifts and calling can never be withdrawn. And he adds that even though many of the Jews rejected Jesus when He came to Planet Earth, that didn’t stop Him loving them. To God, His chosen people were not like a garment, worn one day and discarded into the recycling the next. They were, and are, His forever people.  

We pilgrims should note two things from Romans 11:29 – God gives gifts and He calls us. When we think about gifts, we immediately associate this with a present or something personal. There are gifts of money, or something that is just for us personally. A gadget or trinket. An object, gift wrapped and hidden behind the packaging. The “wise men” from the East brought gifts for Jesus – we know them well from the Christmas story, recorded in Matthew 2. And we know, of course, that Jesus was a gift given for mankind as a whole. Through His willingness to be sacrificed at Calvary, we receive what is the greatest gift of all, as we read in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord”. Eternal Life is a priceless gift. It costs us nothing, but instead cost Jesus His life. All we have to do is accept Jesus and His message, responding in repentance for our sins. 

Jesus informed His disciples about the Source of gifts. Matthew 7:11, “So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him”. We read in 1 Corinthians 12 about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. …  A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other” (1 Corinthians 12:4,7). And then we read about the “gifts” God gave His church, “Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). In fact, as we look through the Bible, the last conclusion we can draw is that God is reluctant to give gifts. He is so generous and kind, giving us the gifts we need for life here on this planet. Not temporal gifts, received one day and discarded the next, but those that will last for eternity. “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow” (James 1:17).

We too need to emulate our loving Father by giving good gifts to others. And in the process we will benefit in some way. “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back” (Luke 6:38).

We have a loving Heavenly Father who cares for us. Who looks after us. And who will welcome us one day into Heaven. Why does He care for us so much? Because He loves us so much. How else can we respond to Him unless it involves all the gratitude and worship that we can muster.

Dear Father. Thank You for all the gifts You provide for us, through Your grace and love. We worship You today. Amen.

Personal Contact

“One of the things I always pray for is the opportunity, God willing, to come at last to see you. For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord. When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.”
Romans‬ ‭1‬:‭10‬-‭12‬ ‭NLT

We look back at the mayhem of the last two years or so, with periods of “lock down” and societal restrictions caused by the Covid pandemic, and realise how much we depend on personal contact. The opportunity to speak to someone face to face. The opportunity to read body language as well as hear words. The times when a vulnerable person needs a kind touch or hug. Yes, technology helps with the video conference apps, but a lonely old person next door or along the street is denied such methods of keeping in touch. There is no substitute for in-person contact. Mankind is wired for social interaction. God planned it that way.

Paul, in his letter, seemed to be desperate to make personal contact with the Christians in Rome. He had heard much about them, snippets of news carried, word of mouth, by travellers making the long journey between Italy and the lands West of the Mediterranean Sea. Businessmen or merchants trading their wares perhaps. There was none of our modern technological aids in those days, and even paper-based media non-existent. And even no social media. How did they manage?

Paul wanted to visit the Roman Christians so that he could “bring [them] some spiritual gift that will help [them] grow strong in the Lord”. What a lovely reason for visiting. What an expectancy that would have brought to the Roman church. 

The people in Rome would have heard all about Paul. His exploits would have reverberated around the Middle East at that time. The stories of miracles and other events encountered on his missionary journeys would have made news in those days. So the idea that he was about to come with a “spiritual gift” would have greatly encouraged them. Life for Christians in Rome at that time wasn’t easy by any means, and any encouragement should have been greatly welcomed and appreciated.

What “spiritual gift” would Paul have brought? He mentioned faith in his letter, but is that what he had in mind? If a man or woman of God was visiting our churches, what “spiritual gift” would we find encouraging? I’m sure we are all at different stages in our spiritual journeys, but God knows what we need. And Paul, through his relationship with God, would have delivered the gift needed in Rome. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul provides a list of spiritual gifts. Gifts such as wisdom, knowledge, healing,  faith, miracles, prophesy, tongues and interpretation. At a God-level, the working of these gifts in people can be transforming, building up faith in the very One who is the Source of the gifts. And in 1 Corinthians 12:11, Paul wrote, “It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.” Paul, through the Spirit, was totally open to be God’s delivery man, equipped to bring to the Roman church what they needed to help them “grow strong”  in their situation.

What spiritual gifts do we pilgrims need? Jesus said, as recoded in Luke 11:11-13, “You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people 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”. God has available to Him the greatest gift of all – the Holy Spirit, and He is unstinting in His willingness to give Him to us. But we have to ask. Is that how we start our days, asking for a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit? By not doing so, are we missing out on the greatest gift of all time? How empowering it is to be able to go into our work-a-day lives with the Holy Spirit helping us at every turn. Giving us wisdom when we are faced with a difficult decision or situation. Knowledge when we need enlightenment. We can see an application for every spiritual gift that Paul listed, but we need to ask for the Holy Spirit to be with us, enhancing and building our faith that He will help us in every situation that we meet. We may need to take small, tentative steps, but as we do, our spiritual faith muscles are built up and extend to more and more of the life issues we all encounter. What a wonderful God we serve! A loving Heavenly Father, the Giver of good gifts to His children.

Dear Father God. We are eternally grateful for all You have done for us. We worship You today. Amen.

A Special Gift

“However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ. That is why the Scriptures say, “When he ascended to the heights, he led a crowd of captives and gave gifts to his people.””
Ephesians‬ ‭4:7-8‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Jesus, the Son of God, is generous. I would say infinitely generous. There is no limit to His generosity. We read in our verses today that each of us has been given a gift through the generosity of Christ. But can you imagine being given a gift-wrapped package? Straight away, you notice that the wrapping paper isn’t that cheap stuff so thin that it tears as you look at it. This wrapping paper is of a quality fitting for a royal person. It looks as though it has been made of pure gold, sparkling with precious stones. But then you notice that in places on the package there are drops of blood. Before I get carried away any further with my analogy, Jesus’ generosity started with the greatest gift of all time at Calvary. There He gave His life for me, the very Son of God dying a horrible, blood-soaked death for the forgiveness of my sins. What a gift! What a Saviour! But I now stand before God as His child. A royal child of a Royal King. And I have this package in my hands. Jesus has just given it to me. Tremblingly, I start to open it, knowing that within is something special. It has to be so, because Jesus’ first gift was infinitely precious. Surely this gift will be something equally mind-boggling. And it is. 

I should say straight away, that this is no worldly gift. It’s not a gift-wrapped Rolex watch. Or some other such trinket. This is a special spiritual gift that dovetails into my natural giftings. What is it? Well, in three places in the New Testament there are lists of spiritual gifts.  Romans 12:6-8 lists prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leadership, and mercy. 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 contains wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, discerning of spirits, speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues. 1 Corinthians 12:28 includes a few more – healings, helps, leadership, speaking in other tongues. And for good measure, there are gifts listed in Ephesians 4:11, gifts given to the church including the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers, but more about them in a future blog.

When we open our package, what do we find? Perhaps our expectation is to find a golden key and a box marked “Spiritual Gift”. Opening it will tell us what our gift is. Or perhaps we hope to find something like a spiritual cheque book, with blank cheques signed by Jesus Himself. An impressive gift enabling us to go out and do amazing things for God. Or perhaps we open it and find nothing there. Disappointed, we turn to Jesus and ask the question – “Where is my special gift”? 

Spiritual gifts are distributed by the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:11 says, “It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have”. However, it is no good sitting back waiting for our spiritual gift to arrive via some Heavenly postman, spending our time unproductively complaining that we can’t serve God because we don’t have the right gifting. We all have a primary calling, which is to serve God in the ways He has ordained. And strangely, as we faithfully and willingly serve Him in every situation that comes our way, He will supply the gifts we need. So if we find ourselves in a situation where someone is sick, we can in faith reach out to God for the gift of healing. If we find someone in a quandary about an important decision that has to be made, we can in faith reach out for a word of knowledge, or wisdom. At other times, as we faithfully use our natural gifts to do what we do well, He will supply that additional spiritual tools we need. 

Let us be a thankful people, thanking God for all He has given us. The unlimited gifts of a generous and loving God, so freely given to those with the faith to ask.