It’s All Gift

photo by Jane Means

What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why then do you boast as if you did not receive it?

1 Corinthians 4:7

Do not be deceived my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…

James 1:16-17

In the previous post, I described a period in my early Christian life when I had returned to following my sinful passions, and not just by way of slip up, but involving a persistent rejection of God’s clear direction. I was continually inattentive to the Spirit’s prodding – choosing instead to go my own way – until the Lord graciously smothered me under overwhelming conviction so that I had no choice but to turn back to him in repentance. At first, I was not sure he would have me back, but through a dear friend the Lord reminded me of the full and final forgiveness of my sins in Christ. I was beginning to understand the magnitude of God’s grace. And let me emphasize beginning. As Christians, we will be growing in our understanding and appreciation of God’s grace for all eternity. If grace is an ocean I was learning to swim close to the shore.

Even after God so refreshed me in the forgiveness of my sins, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had blown it. Though I was now convinced that I hadn’t lost my salvation, there was still an under layer of despair that convinced me, for example, that I would never find a good wife. I had sinned too much. And not only as a non-Christian, but I had also sinned egregiously and repeatedly as a Christian. Yes God forgives me eternally, but there was still a belief that I would need to be paying for my sins during this life. What goes around comes around.

The Lord was getting ready to blow that notion to smithereens. It was early January when he drove me to repentance. In February he gave me my first ministry assignments and in March he gave me my wife.

In April of 2008, Franklin Graham (son of Billy) was coming to town for a “crusade” that would fill the basketball arena at UT. Leading up to the event, my friend Rick asked me to share my testimony at a small rally in February, which I did. He then asked me to preach for 5 nights on a mission trip to the Katrina ravaged Gulf Coast, which would take place at the end of March. That was my first preaching assignment. It is also where I fell in love with my wife.

Tiffany and I grew up in the same town and went to rival high schools. I actually remember the first time I saw her from across the room at a party my senior year. She was dating someone else, as was I, but I vividly remember the first impression she made on me, which involved something like picking my jaw up off the floor. I saw her again at UT a year later, and remembered “the girl with the eyes” but thankfully we didn’t get together until much later. It never would have lasted. A few years later, we became Christians around the same time and started seeing each other at church and at a ministry on campus at UT. Running in the same group of Christian friends, we spent a lot of time together, but I wouldn’t let myself think about dating her. I thought we both knew too much about the other’s past. Too much collective baggage.

That all changed on the mission trip to the MS Gulf Coast. Tiffany and I were in the same work group, and most of my work (besides teaching at night) involved figuring out how to do whatever she was doing on the work site and how to sit next to her in the van on the ride back. Over the next month I spent as much time around her as possible and became convinced she would be my wife. Now I just had to convince her! So as we were studying for final exams I told Tiffany I wanted to marry her, and told her if she thought that was a good idea then we should probably go on a date. After a painful couple days of silence, she gave me the green light and we went out for the first time. A month later I had a ring, which I gave to her a couple months after that, and we were off and running.

The point in sharing this is to highlight the fact that two of the biggest parts of my life (marriage and ministry) were given to me directly on the heels of a many month backslide. This is obviously not the way I would encourage someone to pursue a wife and ministry… go blow it for a while and that should do it! Not at all. But the Lord was teaching me that my marriage and my work are gifts from his hands. I do not have a good wife because I deserved her. Neither do I have a call to the ministry because I am such a good guy. Those facts were very clear to me then, and by God’s kindness they will stick with me to the end. The truth is it is all gift. What do you have that you did not receive? Name one thing. You might be tempted to say you worked really hard to get where you are professionally. And I don’t doubt that. But where did you get that work ethic? Where did you get those opportunities? What about those mental capabilities and the blood pumping through your veins and the breath in your lungs to make it all possible? Behind every good and perfect thing in our lives is the Giver of every good and perfect gift. It’s all gift that we are called to receive with thankfulness to God and steward for his glory.

QUICK APPLICATION: Where in your life are you discontent? At the root of that is a refusal, or at least a reluctance, to give thanks to God. In a hard marriage? Try thanking God for your spouse every day for a month. Pray for their well being and ask God to change your heart. In a dead end job? Thank God for the abilities he has given you and the opportunity to work. Pray for the people you work with and ask God to transform the way you see the whole situation.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

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