I am Useful

Saving Faith vs. Head Knowledge

But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith from my works.  You believe that God is one; you do well.  The demons also believe – and they shudder. Foolish man! Are you willing to learn that faith without works is useless?  James 2:18-20 HCSB

Many years ago, I met a mother who was grieving over her son.  He was living with his girlfriend, involved in drugs, and had told her he wanted nothing to do with “that church stuff” anymore.

“But,” she sniffed, “I know he’s a Christian.  He prayed the sinner’s prayer when he was 5, so I know he’s saved.”

I don’t remember exactly how I responded, but the first part of that conversation has stuck with me.  It seems to me that the Bible is pretty clear that a person who has saving faith in Christ lives it out – that he’s useful for God’s kingdom.  I ache for this mother.  I understand why she would want to cling to that hope – but scripture just doesn’t justify her words, as heart-rending as they may be.

God intends for us to be useful.  To be sure, He saves us from our sins by our faith through his grace.  But repentance is a part of that equation.  A life snatched from the pit of hell is a life saved for a purpose, given a task – the task of godly living.  The evidence of saving faith is a life full of good works.  Someone who prays a prayer and then lives the rest of his life thumbing his nose at God is – well, James says it pretty clearly.  They have the same kind of “faith” the demons of hell have – head knowledge alone.  And that kind of belief never saved anybody.

No Christian is perfect.  I stumble and sin every day.  But my heart’s desire is to please God.  When I mess up, I feel the Holy Spirit’s conviction like fire.  I run back to Him, sometimes multiple times over the same issue, but I always go back.  There’s a big difference in trying to live a godly life and stumbling than in turning your back on God completely and saying “I believe you died on the cross for my sins, and that’s great, but I’m going to live ignoring your rules and your love completely.”

Praise God that our faith makes us useful!  Praise Him that he gives us gifts to use for His glory.  Praise Him that He gives us the strength to use the gifts.

I am useful – because of Him.

 

I am Useful

Useful for His Glory

Not to us, O LORD, not to us,
But to Your name give glory
Because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your  truth. ~Psalm 115:1

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” -Theodore Roosevelt
I recently heard this delicious quote and loved it. It hit me as especially sweet because the young man who quoted it appears to live it. His name is Peter Schriemer, and he has created some fantastic material we have been using for our summer Sunday school program. I could write pages singing the praises of his work, not to mention his impressive list of personal accolades, but that’s not the point. Seeing Peter’s God-given ability propelled by his passion for the Creator and His creation stirs a shout of praise in me. That is the point. Because it reminds me that God uses passion–He delights in it when it is focused on Him and His kingdom.
I don’t have the same talent and skills God gave Peter. But I do love Jesus, and I am passionate about the Word of God and about the youth He places in the path of my life. And when I use this zeal for His glory, I feel His pleasure. Literally. It may be a simple moment; a text from one of my young friends, a sweet ten-year-old smile after several downer-days at camp, or a hug from an over-exuberant hard-to–handle sixth grader. That is when I know I am most useful, when I know that I’m investing what I have, where I am.
Compliments are lovely, and success is nice, but being flooded with God’s delight…there’s nothing like it. Because, even in my ordinary life, He made me to be useful for His glory. Praise be to God!
I am Useful

It’s Not All About Me

Based on the gift they have received, everyone should use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God.  If anyone speaks, his speech should be like the oracles of God; if anyone serves, his service should be from the strength God provides, so that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.  To Him belong the glory and the power forever and ever.  Amen. I Peter 4:10-11 HCSB

My cat is convinced everything is about her.  She’s an outside kitty, so she has a lot to deal with.  Every car has a driver who is contemplating how to swerve up in the yard and flatten the tabby.  Every twig snap is the signal that something is stalking the cat.  Every time I walk out the door, she demands I stop and pet her, because why else would I be outside?  From her feline perspective, the entire world revolves around her.  The cat needs a reality check.  She’s a mere part of the world, not the center of it.

Sadly, I am much like her.  I tend to filter every event by how it relates to me, how it benefits or encourages me, how it hinders or frustrates me.  I’ve even done that with this week’s topic.  “How is ‘being useful’ helpful to me? Well, it makes me feel satisfied, like I’m a part, a helper.  I enjoy having a purpose.”

But it isn’t all about me. And that’s why I love these verses in 1 Peter.  The apostle tells us that God has given us each gifts to make us useful, but our own intrinsic satisfaction with a job well done isn’t the purpose.  To be sure, when God uses me, it satisfies me, but that’s not the goal.  The goal is that God would be glorified through Jesus Christ.  To Him (not me – or my cat, for that matter) belong the glory and the power forever and ever.  God truly is the center of the universe.

God has gifted each of us.  And Peter tells us God expects us to use those gifts.  If we attempt to do the same ministries on our own strength, we will fail, burn out, and flub up.  The tasks God gives us are only doable in His strength, using the gifts He gave us.  No wonder the gifts are called the “varied grace of God.”  The definition of grace is unmerited favor, something we get without deserving or earning it.

God gifts some as speakers, some as servants, some as encouragers, some as pastors and some as administrators.  We do nothing to earn those gifts.  We aren’t even strong enough on our own to use them.  But through God’s strength, we are useful.

Why?  To glorify the Gift Giver.

It’s all about Him.

I am Useful

Do You Think God Can’t Use You?

“…he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.” ~ 2 Timothy 2:21, NASB

I don’t know who to credit this to, but I had to post it. I hope the original author will forgive me–I certainly didn’t write it. I was at my local Bible bookstore and saw it on a tee-shirt and, well, frankly, it made me tear up. Useful? Me? I’m just a simple housewife in the middle of no-where, Nebraska. Useful. He says so.

God is so good, isn’t he?

Do you seriously think God can’t use you?

Noah was a drunk
Abraham was too old
Isaac was a daydreamer
Jacob was a liar
Leah was ugly
Joseph was abused
Moses had a stuttering problem
Gideon was afraid
Samson had long hair and was a womanizer
Rahab was a prostitute
Jeremiah and Timothy were too young
David had an affair and was a murderer
Elijah was suicidal
Isaiah preached naked
Jonah ran from God
Naomi was a widow
Job went bankrupt
Peter denied Christ
The disciples fell asleep while praying
Martha worried about everything
The Samaritan woman was divorced
Zacchaeus was too small
Paul was too religious
Timothy had an ulcer

Lazarus was DEAD

I am Useful

I am Useful: A Joint Post

But you [are] a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9, NKJV

From Jen:

There are some interesting words in that verse…concepts that beckon a deep longing inside me. Chosen. Called. I looked them up in Strong’s, because I’m a writer and that’s what we do.

Chosen: eklektos in the Greek. It literally means ‘picked out.’

Called: kaleō, meaning ‘to invite.’

Makes me think of an elementary school playground. You know, when you’re going to play kick ball and the team captains go through the team selection process. “I pick Joey,” says blue captain. “Okay, I want Sally,” responds the red leader. Why did they pick those two first? Well, Joey has a punting leg and can send that ball to the fence, and Sally never misses a catch in the outfield, so any high floater send her direction is an automatic out. They’re useful to the team.

Peter tells his congregation that they are God’s called out ones, His special team. They’re useful to the Kingdom.

Useful? Me? But I’m just a stay-at-home mom. I live in a lovely middle-of-nowhere town. I don’t have any extraordinary talents. I live an ordinary life. Going back to the kick-ball analogy, I’m average at best, and probably closer to one of the last ones who would have been chosen for the team. How can I possibly be useful to the kingdom of God?

From Susan:

Because He makes me useful.  When God chose me, he gave me the Holy Spirit to empower me to be useful.  In elementary school, I was always the last one chosen.  And I do mean always.  I couldn’t kick, run, or catch.  I was not only “not useful”  to a kickball team, I was a detriment.

Not so on God’s team.  Everyone He picks, He empowers.  But the pitcher isn’t necessarily empowered to be the catcher, or vice-versa. God uniquely equips His children to work together to create a powerful team called the Church.

I sat in an organization meeting for Awana workers tonight.  I’m new at my church, and many of the people in the room were strangers to me.  I just listened as they hammered out the logistics, marveling at the logic of God’s team planning.  One woman was an amazing problem solver, coming up with creative, workable solutions to sticking points.  A man in the room was gifted administratively, offering to take care of all the paper work and point counting.   A third person voiced how much she loved the little ones, while another said he couldn’t work anywhere but with the older kids. They were a team… and every one of them was useful.

The Captain had chosen them all.

I am Saved

Saved from Fear of Death

After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were robed in white with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb! Revelation 7:9 HCSB

This scene is from heaven.  I’m so thankful John recorded in Revelation.  Death holds no sting for me.  That’s one of the things I’m saved from – fear of dying.  And I’m not the only one.  History is full of tales of Christians who died rejoicing.  One elderly musician who had spent his life praising God with his voice opened his eyes one last time to utter: “Wow. Wow!” and then he was gone.  Lottie Moon, famous missionary to China, was said to spend her last breaths uttering greetings to Chinese believers who had gone before.  Can’t you just see her in the throng this verse from Revelation describes?

O!Mag, a Bible study and commentary blog, records some more Christians’ last words.  You can find the orginal post here http://www.oh-mag.com/in-between-studies/last-words/

John Pawson, minister:“I know I am dying, but my deathbed is a bed of roses. I have no thorns planted upon my dying pillow. In Christ, heaven is already begun!”

Adoniram Judson, American missionary to Burma:“I go with the gladness of a boy bounding away from school. I feel so strong in Christ.”

John A. Lyth:“Can this be death? Why, it is better than living! Tell them I die happy in Jesus!”

Martha McCrackin:“How bright the room! How full of angels!”

Mary Frances: “Oh, that I could tell you what joy I possess! The Lord does shine with such power upon my soul!”

Sir David Brewster, scientist and inventor of the kaleidoscope: “I will see Jesus; I shall see Him as He is! I have had the light for many years. Oh how bright it is! I feel so safe and satisfied!”

But it’s not so for unbelievers, for those separated from Christ forever … for the unsaved.  Many years ago in Africa, my husband returned from a visit to a nearby village, visibly shaken.  He sat down, pale, and told me this story.

An African woman lay dying on a mat in her mud hut.  She had spent her life sacrificing to ancestors, trusting in amulets, and worshipping carved masks, but it was obvious none of that was going to help her now.  Her family called my husband in to pray for her.  He stepped into the gloom of the hut just as she opened her eyes for the last time.

“I watched her face — as she stared into hell.  She uttered a horrible cry, and was gone.  I’ve never – never – seen an expression on someone’s face like that before,” he told me.

The unsaved have no peace at death, or for any moment thereafter.

These words, also drawn from O!Mag post above, are attributed to non-Christians at their moment of death:

Edward Gibbon, author of the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire:“All is lost, irrecoverably lost. All is dark and doubtful.”

David Hume: The atheist died in utter despair with an awful scene crying out, “I am in the flames!”

Karl Marx: Was on his deathbed surrounded by candles burning to Lucifer and screamed at his nurse who asked him if he had any last words, “Go on, get out! Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough.”

Sir Thomas Scott: “Until now I thought there was no God or hell. Now I know there is both, and I am doomed.”

I am saved from doom.  Saved to a life of rejoicing around the throne with others from every tribe and tongue and nation.

Praise God. I’m saved.

I am Saved

By Grace Alone

“But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ ~Luke 18:13, NASB

When I was younger, I insisted on doing everything myself. That way I could do it the way I wanted, and at the end of whatever I was doing, I could say, “I did it myself!”

A little time, little age, four kids, and a weak back have diminished quite a bit of that independent drive. There are things that I simply can’t do. Moving large rocks, for example. Opening stuck jars. Making big decisions. I can’t do these things on my own—some of them I can’t do at all.

At some point in our lives, I think, we all have to come to terms with our weaknesses. Weaknesses that seem to increase as time ticks by. Spiritually, however, we have to come to terms with our total inadequacy. Anything more than a completely humble heart who throws himself on the mercy of God is pride.

Pride doesn’t work for salvation. If I come to God with a list of virtues and a ready argument for my qualifications for His kingdom, I will be disqualified. He doesn’t want my resume.

Jesus relayed the story in our verse for today as an illustration, and He followed this tax-collector’s humbled prayer with this commentary: “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

I am not qualified for the Kingdom by my own merit. My resume is stained and unworthy. Yet I am saved. Saved by grace alone.