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"Gifted"

#90-19
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on January 8, 2023
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2023 Lutheran Hour Ministries


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Text: Colossians 1:16

The man finally decided that he was going to do it, he was going to sell it, to sell the old farm. It had been gifted to him as an inheritance passed down from former generations, but now it was nothing but a headache. It was time to sell and do something else. So, he calls up his real estate agent and says, "I'm ready. It's time to wash my hands of this place. Let's put it on the market." "I'll take care of it," the agent answered him. The next day, the agent sends out a photographer to capture the old farm in the best light. He even has a drone fly over to get a bird's-eye view. The agent carefully crafts a description of the property. Then, he calls up the man and tells him, "The website's updated. If you've got a moment, pull it up and see what you think." Still on the phone, the man clicks the link and scrolls through it, reading every word of the description, studying every photo. Then, he scrolls up to the top and goes through it all again. Finally, he says, "You can't sell this place." The agent's chest tightened. Had he done something, had he said something to offend the man? "What do you mean?" He asked. "You can't sell this place. I've been looking for a place like this my whole life."

Gratitude often is in how you see things. Researchers at Indiana University recently conducted a study on how gratitude affects mental health. They worked with 300 adults, mostly college students, all of whom were seeking mental health counseling, struggling with issues related to depression and anxiety. They randomly assigned the people into three groups. All three groups received mental health counseling, but the first group was instructed to write a letter of gratitude to another person thanking someone each week for three weeks; the second group was instructed to write their deepest thoughts and feelings in a journal; the third group didn't have a writing assignment.

Twelve weeks later, when everyone checked in again, they discovered that the first group, the ones who had written the gratitude letters, reported significantly better mental health. They also did MRI brain scans on the participants and found that the gratitude-letter writers displayed distinct levels of brain activity different from the other groups. The researchers concluded that simple acts of expressing gratitude may help train the brain to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude down the line, which may contribute to improved mental health over time. Other researchers have confirmed these findings. Harvard found that saying thank you can make you happier; a Virginia University found that higher levels of gratitude predicted lower levels of risk for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse; the University of Southern California found that a grateful mindset help people build stronger relationships. Clearly, gratitude does good things for us. But where does it come from and what keeps it coming when you've run out of things to be grateful for?

Gratitude has a lot to do with how we see things. If I see my life and everyone in it as a brief blip and a big bang that's bound to burn out, if I'm tired and I've had enough and I'm ready to sell the farm, where does gratitude come from then? Maybe it's as simple as seeing the farm in a new light. The Christian faith is a lot of things, but it is especially a way of seeing. The Christian faith is a lot of things; it's tangled up in a sad history of abuses; it's often distorted and confused; it's taken for granted by those who call themselves Christians, and I include myself in that. But the Christian faith is more than the shortcomings and the struggles of its adherents. It's more because, as is often said, the Christian faith is a relationship. It's a personal relationship with the Creator of the universe through His personal Word, His Son, Jesus Christ.

Because of this relationship with God, the Christian faith isn't just a way of seeing things, it is the light by which we see all people, all places, all things in relationship to God. In my experience, seeing things in this way is an inexhaustible reservoir of gratitude. Now, maybe you don't consider yourself a Christian. Or maybe you do, but right now because of what's going on in your life, you feel miles away from gratitude. We all struggle within ingratitude, with ungratefulness, Christians included. And we're all plagued by what comes when gratitude is absent—feelings of resentment, envy, and self-pity. We've all been there, ready to give up and "sell the farm," so to speak. So maybe we need an agent to help us see it in a new light. The agent you and I need today is God's Holy Spirit working through the Words of the Bible.

We could start with one letter from the Bible, from the New Testament, the letter to the Christians living in the ancient city of Colossae. This letter was sent to Christ followers who were living under the oppressive power of the Roman Empire. Because they followed Jesus, the Christ, as their Lord and not the Roman emperor, they would always be second-class citizens in that state and they would be persecuted, sometimes privately, sometimes publicly. Looking from the outside, this group had very little for which to be grateful. But Paul and Timothy, the writers of this gratitude letter, saw things in a different light. They have a message for these Colossian Christians, a message that they've heard before, a message that they need to hear again and again and again and again. Paul and Timothy called this message the Gospel. The Gospel gives a new way of seeing everything. It's the promise that God's love and life are for all, for everyone, freely gifted in the life, death, resurrection, and promised return of Jesus, God's Son. The Gospel is the source of gratitude for them, for us, for everyone.

After Paul and Timothy introduce themselves in this letter, the first thing they do is give thanks for these Colossian Christians and then they pray that the Gospel would make them all more grateful. In chapter 1, Paul and Timothy tell them, "From the day that we heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and your love in the Spirit, we have not stopped praying for you, asking God to fill you with the knowledge of His will, so that you would be able to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, pleasing to all and giving thanks, giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. The Father who has rescued us from the domain of darkness and has transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son, Jesus. His Son Jesus, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

"Jesus, who is the image of the invisible God, the First-born over all creation, because by Him all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities, all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things. In Him all things hold together. He is the Head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the First-born from the dead, so that in everything, He may be first. Because in Him, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Him, all things, whether things in heaven or things on earth, making peace by the blood of His cross. You, who were at one time alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled you in the body of His flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and free from accusation before Him, if you remain in the faith, grounded, stable, not drifting from the hope of the Gospel, which you have heard" (Colossians 1).

This Gospel gave them and gives us a new way of seeing the world and our place in it. But it's not just a new description of the same old farm, the Gospel takes what is old and puts it in a new story, the story that leads to Jesus. The Gospel story says that the universe was created to be gifted. This gift includes you and me and everyone we meet, everyone, everything was created to be a gift. So, let's talk about what this giftedness means and see what it might do for our gratitude. Consider this gift from three angles: first, it is intentional; second, it is valuable; and third, it is practical. First, this gift is intentional. Colossians 1 says that God created the whole universe as an intentional gift. "Intended for whom?" we might ask. We might answer, "For us," right? God gave this gift to us, and there's some truth to that.

Colossians 1:12 says that God the Father qualified us to share in this gift, in this inheritance, but there's more. Colossians 1:16 says that all things were created for Jesus. God the Father created everything with His Son, for His Son, the universe is God's gift to His Son. Have you ever been a part of a gift intended for someone else? Maybe it was a surprise birthday party, someone reaches out and says, "Hey, we're planning a party for so-and-so and we want to get all their favorite people together, can you come?" When the moment comes and we see the look on their face, the joy that comes from seeing all their favorite people gathered together in one place, and we realize that we are the gift, and we are the gift, you and I were intended for such a gift. Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you believe, whatever you've done or failed to do, this is why you exist. This is the meaning of your life. You were created, gifted, and intended by God to be among the favored people at the party for His Son. This life is no accident; it's an intentional gift. It is valuable, because the greater the sacrifice, the greater the value.

Now, value is determined in two ways: value can be earned or value can be given. In the case of a most valuable player in a sporting context, that value is earned by points scored or plays made, that's earned value, value dependent on performance. But there's another kind of value: value that is given. For example, in 1962, the artist Andy Warhol started making silkscreen images of the recently deceased actress Marilyn Monroe. Warhol created the silkscreen image based on a photograph of the actress torn from a page in a magazine. Warhol and his team of assistant mass-produced hundreds of versions of this image over the years. And in 2022, one of those Marilyns, printed on a sage-green background, was sold at an art auction for $195 million, making it the most valued 20th-century artwork ever. But notice that it's a different kind of value.

It's not value earned by achievement; the painting didn't do anything. Its value was determined by the desire of the purchaser. The purchaser, for his own personal reasons, determined the value and made the sacrifice to secure it, a $195-million sacrifice. But that sacrifice was small compared to the one revealed in the Gospel. The eternal Son of God became a Man and sacrificed His life, paid with His blood for this gift He created with His Father. See, an enemy had defaced it, took it captive in a domain of darkness, but Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice to purchase it, to win it back. Everyone you meet, everything you see, every place you go was included in that purchase price. God reconciled all things to Himself through Jesus, through the blood of His sacrifice on the cross. Now, that doesn't mean that everybody automatically comes to the party. People can refuse the Gospel. You and I can reject what we were intended for. We can stubbornly stay in our self-determined, dead-end storylines, but that doesn't change your value in God's sight, because it's not value earned, it's value freely given.

God thinks you're worth dying for, you and everyone you meet. And God has not stopped inviting us to the party, into this gift, this intentional, valuable, practical gift. A practical gift is something that you live with. It's not a gag gift that you throw away; it's a gift for daily life.

A few years ago, my wife and I attended a ceramics class. We learned how to create pottery on a spinning wheel. It was my first time and most of my projects fell apart while I was making them, but I did succeed in creating one small bowl. I painted it sage green, and we fired it in a kiln and now, three years later, that little bowl has a prized, practical place in our cupboard. I love seeing my family members use it for small things like holding homemade fry sauce for dipping tater tots or soy sauce on a sushi night. It has a practical place in our life, and it brings me joy, not only because I created it and refined it with fire, but also because it's practical; it's part of our life.

The Gospel says that this world, the universe and everything in it, was created by God with His Son to be a gift for His Son, who sacrificed Himself to secure the gift. Because God intends to dwell in it with us, now by His Spirit and forever in His fullness when Jesus comes again in glory.

Jeff Leininger is a campus pastor I met recently. For 20 years, Jeff has been serving at a Christian college helping students see themselves and the world—this tired old farm that we've inherited—as a gift. In his book titled Callings for Life, Jeff Leininger offers a small picture of what a life lived in the light of the Gospel could look like, from the perspective of a college student named Jamal.

Jamal's phone wakes him up early that morning for practice. His roommate's still sleeping, so he dresses quietly. It had been a rough weekend for his roommate, Jamal had stayed up late with him, talking him through this latest crisis. Before leaving the room, Jamal takes a moment to pray for his roommate and then he sends him a text message that he'd see when he wakes up, a message from God given in Isaiah 43:1, "Fear not, for I have redeemed you," says the Lord, "And I have called you by name, you are Mine."

Jogging from the dorm, Jamal sees a campus maintenance worker collecting trash. Jamal greets him by name and asks him about his daughter's first day of preschool. The man smiled and gave a thumbs up, Jamal flashed back with the same sign and sprinted off, so as not to be late for practice. As captain of the basketball team, Jamal takes it upon himself to set up cones for a defensive drill before the coach arrives. Then he takes a moment to talk to two of the freshmen on the team; they were both far from home and still adjusting. Then he invites them to come with the team to chapel for worship later that morning.

After practice at his 8 a.m. class, his new professor is having technology issues. Again, she can't get the projector to connect. Jamal pops up from his seat and helps her adjust a setting on her laptop, and turning back to his seat, he gives his teammates snickering in the back row a stern look to quiet down. The young professor begins her lecture and proceeds to captivate the class with wisdom beyond her years. It's 8:05 a.m. on a Monday morning, and as Jamal takes notes he becomes intensely aware of his place in the universe and he is grateful.






Reflections for January 8, 2023

Title: Gifted


Mike Zeigler: Today I'm visiting with my friend Don Everts. He's the author of the book Discover Your Gifts, which features original research from Barna commissioned by Lutheran Hour Ministries. Welcome Don.

Don Everts: Great to be with you brother.

Mike Zeigler: This weekend marks the beginning of the season of Epiphany. Epiphany is the time when the church celebrates discovering who Jesus is and who we are in Him. And this of course is the part of the title of Don's book Discover Your Gifts. And Don, in this book you talk about the main idea, or I think you used the phrase, a "biblical assertion," that everyone is a gift. Tell us about what that means, and why that's important.

Don Everts: We're getting into the realm of biblical anthropology. What does the Bible have to say about humans? You could think of this if you want, as the doctrine of creation. What does the Bible teach us about God as a Creator and how He has created humans? And one of the things that it teaches us, one part of the biblical anthropology, is that God is a really good Creator. We read in Psalm 139 that David is contemplating his own life and how God has created him. He says, "I praise You for I'm fearfully and wonderfully made." And he uses fascinating language in there about God has crafted me. And so one of the things the Bible teaches us is that every single human being is made by God and that God is a good Creator. And so one of the natural implications of that is everyone is a gift. Everyone is created with dignity and beauty and on purpose. And just coming to terms, Mike, with that one reality can have a lot of implications for us.

Mike Zeigler: And you mentioned in the first chapter of the book that one of those implications is that this truth, that God's a good Creator and that everyone is a gift, is that it counters our low self-esteem. Tell us what you mean by that.

Don Everts: We found 3.5 percent of Americans, when we asked them "Rate yourself on a scale of 0 to 10, how gifted are you? How many gifts do you have?" 3.5 percent of all Americans put 0. They perceived that they had no gifts at all. Now we know that's not true because God is a good Creator and He makes everyone beautifully. And so the great thing about reading what the Bible has to say about this in particular is that it confronts those lies inside of us. Those lies that I don't have any value; I don't have any dignity; I don't have any gifts. Reading what the Bible has to say in Genesis, in the Psalms, etc. it has a way of that God's Word actually starts to kind of unseat those lies. And God can speak into us through His Word to say, "Actually, you are a gift. I made. You are fearfully and wonderfully made." And when that starts to seed inside of someone, then they become curious and they think, "Well, then what are those gifts?" And that can lead to all sorts of wonderful blossoming experiences in someone's life. And this is one of the beautiful implications of exploring a biblical anthropology, is to see ourselves in the mirror and be able to say, "I praise You, Lord, for I'm fearfully and wonderfully made. I am a gift with gifts to share."

Mike Zeigler: Now, as it goes with so many things in the Christian life, there's one error, but then there's the opposite. So, we can think too little of ourselves, who we are in God, but we can also think too much of ourselves. And so, you talk about this other implication of it counters our tendency to show partiality. So tell us more about that.

Don Everts: There's this thread throughout the Scripture about showing partiality, and showing partiality is not a great thing, right? We're told in the Old Testament, God shows no partiality like He looks at you and deals with you as you are. He doesn't treat you differently than He treats someone else. And in the New Testament, we're told you should show no partiality. Don't treat a rich person differently than you would treat a poor person. Don't treat a Gentile Christian differently than you would treat a Jewish Christian.

We know, you and I both know, Mike, that we're all tempted to show partiality. We all have people, whether it's individual people or categories of people or types of people that we are tempted to look down on and see as less. And the biblical teaching about the doctrine of creation that God has made everyone, that not only has the power to confront our low self-esteem, it has a power to confront how we show partiality. And if we believe what the Bible says about God as a Creator, it's harder to hate people. It's harder to look down on people. It's harder to be mean to people, even on social media, because you realize when they were in their mother's womb, God was knitting them together. That's what the Bible says. And when you start to realize that it can change how you see people, which has a direct effect on how we treat people.

Mike Zeigler: So, the biblical assertion that I am a gift also applies to everybody else. And so is everybody else that I ever will meet and can know, they also are a gift.

Don Everts: That's right. That's right. And that's a powerful thing to be confronted with.

Mike Zeigler: Don, thank you for joining us briefly here. We are going to have Don on again in the weeks to come. So listen for that. And in the meantime, if you want to check out his book again, it's called Discover Your Gifts. Available wherever you find books, and also through Lutheran Hour Ministries at lhm.org. Thanks for joining us, Don.

Don Everts: Thanks for having me, Mike.






Music Selections for this program:


"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"We Give You But Your Own" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.

"We Praise You, Jesus, at Your Birth" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House) Used by permission.

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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