What's Missing

I fell in love with the oral histories of Studs Turkel when I read “Hard Times” while in college. His premise was simple. Sit down with people who had lived through the depression, set up a tape recorder, and ask questions. My second foray was his book “Working”. In his introduction he explains that a book about work is,

“by its very nature, about violence—to the spirit as well as to the body… It is about search… for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash…for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying. Perhaps immortality, too, is part of the quest (Turkel xi).”

The reason for the nature of violence and meaninglessness is quite simple—human sin. God curses Adam in Genesis 3 “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.” Since then work, even God given work, even good word is hard. He did it so that we would be impelled to turn to him when the thorns get to be too much for us.

The passage in Jeremiah is about God’s call to a particular teenager to a particular task. This kid’s life is about to become complicated. God tells Jeremiah that prior to his parent’s knowing each other he, God, had already “consecrated and appointed” Jeremiah to this task to which God is now calling him.

Just for the record, I find it a waste of time to try to figure out how time works in God’s kingdom because first, time is created therefore God is the creator of it. Secondly, I think it’s like arguing if ‘God can make a rock that he can’t lift’. Third, I’m not that smart and I am willing to let God be God.

What is your reaction to such a call? Jeremiah is quick with “I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But God doesn’t listen to excuses. Moses, Gideon, Solomon, and the widow of Zarephath, whom Elijah cared for, even Jesus’ disciples, all had excuses.

  •   Moses tells God, “I can’t stand up to Pharaoh. I’m only a shepherd. I can’t even talk good” (Exodus 3:12, 4:1).

  •   Gideon tells God, "I’m only the least in my family," when God calls him to deliver Israel from Midian (Judges 6:15).

  •   Solomon faced with the challenges of being king like his father tells God: "I am only a little child" (1 Kings 3:7).

  •   When asked for bread and water by Elijah, the widow of Zarephath replied: "I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug" (1 Kings 17:12).

  •   The disciples, when told by Jesus to go feed the multitude, protested: "We only have five loaves and two fish" (Matthew 14:17).

God doesn’t dismiss our ‘excuses’ as silly or stupid. Instead he answers our need. God touches Jeremiah’s mouth and says, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.” He gives signs to Moses in order to prove that God had sent him. He answered Gideon’s prayer, He grants to Solomon great wisdom and survival to the widow and her son. And, in the case of Jesus’ disciples, they distribute the kids sack lunch to a hillside of hungry people.

How we do what God calls us to do is the easiest question of all. We do it because God has given us spiritual gifts. We do it because we act in faith, trusting and believing that God’s plans work out. Yet…

Kurt Vonnegut’s book Timequake is a bit like if Groundhog Day had been done by Steven King. The same decade forced to do the same thing even though you know what the consequences will be. In his book when the ‘rerun’ ends and people can make their own decisions many are left frozen, unable to act. The words that satisfied the masses and moved them forward was the phrase “You were sick, but now you’re well, and there’s work to do (Vonnegut 124).”

It is the bases of the Gospel. We were sick, Christ has made us well, now we serve our Lord and Savior. We were dead, Christ made us alive, now we are His people…. Consider the various ways you say these facts.

“There is work to be done” to be sure but it is not our work; but God’s work and a great danger is to assume that it is up to us to get the work done. God created us intelligent and energetic, so he helps those who help themselves right? No, he doesn’t. It maybe more truthful to say, God abandons to their own ability those who insist on doing things their way. I have found this out more than once in my life.

When you see evil depictions of God’s people there is usually some ‘leader’ doing what they believe is God’s will. Even though their work always benefits themselves. The most horrendous real-world experience happened in Jonestown, in Guyana. Where “excluding acts of war and natural disasters, it was the biggest single loss of life in modern times (Jones) as 918 people were murdered by Jim Jones.

Here’s why Paul’s letter to the Corinthian churches is so important. These churches are plagued by two problems. The first is that they are centered on personalities not Christ. Second, they are all into the ‘flashy gifts’ that seem cool. Both issues happen today, both happened before and during the reformation, and both issues will happen until Jesus comes back.

So, Paul finishes tell the people all about spiritual gifts in chapter 12. He teaches them that God, the Holy Spirit, is the determiner of who gets which gift and that they are for the whole body of Christ. If God has an ‘order’, of value, to these gifts it would be like that in v 28 “first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.” Witnessing and being sent to share God’s work of Christ, teaching others the meaning of Christ’s words and the works which prove them are more important than tongues. Similarly, in Ephesians 4:11-12, there is a similar list of titles, positions, or gifts God established upon Christ’s resurrection“11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,”.

Of importance for us is the phrase in 12:31, “I will show you a still more excellent way” That more excellent way is chapter 13. The bible was not written with verse and chapter numbers inserted. Each book or letter or psalm was one document without human division. So, read these together and you discover two things.

First, it doesn’t matter if you have the greatest or least gifting of the Holy Spirit if you don’t exercise it with agape love is nothing. It doesn’t matter if have the greatest call of God in the world to do the greatest things, if it’s not undertaken with love, accounting others more important than yourselves, you’re fooling yourself.

I go back to this whenever I am asked about Spiritual Gifts and calling. All of humanity is called to come to faith in Jesus as the Son of God and King of Kings. Most will not do this. Secondly, those who do confess Jesus as Lord and Savior are recreated into the “Body of Christ”—church. Some will be built up into this body and others will cut themselves off from it claiming they don’t need to be part of a ‘church’ or ‘group’. Those who want to worship Jesus in the woods, or bed, on Sunday may well be saved but their lack of involvement with the people of God do not make them strong people for Christ.

Third, are those who are members of the Body of Christ and understand the sense of their spiritual gifts. They are busy keeping Christ’s great commandments. They show they love Jesus by loving God and their neighbor. Then they look for places to become involved in God’s people and the world because of the love they have for Jesus.

BTW If you don’t know what your spiritual gift is after years of listening to me preach about it—I don’t know what to do.

If we are trying to use spiritual gifts, teaching, prayer, generosity, encouragement, even tongues apart from a love for God and others we will fail. Do it to make a name for yourself, or to seem like you’ve got it all together and you’ve lost already. Do it to make yourself look good and you are playing the fool.

That’s God’s point in 1 Corinthians 13, “If I… have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal… I am nothing… I gain nothing” Let me suggest that in the recipe of being useful for Jesus, the ingredients are:

  1. What has our Lord called you to do?

  2. How has he prepared you to do it?

  3. What is your motivation for doing it? And the love is usually the thing that gets forgotten most often.

 Make sure to use all the ingredients. Let’s pray

Works Cited

Jones, David. "Return to Camp Suicide: 30 Years On, Could the Nightmare of Jonestown Happen Again?" Mail Online. 2008. Web. 1 Feb. 2019.

Terkel, Studs. Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About. New York: Avon, 1975. Print.

Vonnegut, Kurt. Timequake. New York: Berkley Books, 1998. Print.

 

Bibliography

Beehler, John. "Press 1 For...." Sermon Central. 2004. Web. 31 Jan. 2019.

Cerqueira, David. "Sarah's Vase." Crosswalk.com.  2005. Web. 31 Jan. 2019.

Jones, David. "Return to Camp Suicide: 30 Years On, Could the Nightmare of Jonestown Happen Again?" Mail Online. 2008. Web. 1 Feb. 2019.

Terkel, Studs. Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About. New York: Avon, 1975. Print.

Vonnegut, Kurt. Timequake. New York: Berkley Books, 1998. Print.