Tag Archives: gifts

Jolly old St Nicholas

When I was a child, December 5 – St Nicholas Eve – was an important and tremendously exciting date on our family’s holiday calendar.   In the evening, we children sang our songs to Sinterklaas and put our wooden shoes by the fireplace in expectation that the kindly old man would visit us with gifts of chocolate, mandarin oranges, and other treats.  And he never failed.  At some point during my growing up years, I began to notice some clues that my parents seemed to have a lot to do with Sinterklaas’ annual visit, and it dawned on me that Sinterklaas might not be real.  I remember being quite disappointed at this revelation.

Several weeks later, when Christmas arrived, the centrepiece of our family celebration was a Christmas Eve carol service.  This event took place not in a church building, but in our living room by firelight and candlelight, and was followed by a story which usually conveyed a message of kindness, mercy and hospitality.  And so, in our not-very-devout home, we nevertheless heard each year the age-old story of the coming of Jesus into our world as bringer of forgiveness, light and hope.  Somehow, I absorbed the message that Christmas was not about stuff.  It was primarily about Jesus, and secondarily about showing kindness to each other and to others in need.  My parents were wise enough to realize that it wouldn’t work to completely insulate their children from North American ways, so in deference to the customs of our new land we did also exchange gifts with one another on Christmas Day.  However, I remember the gift-giving as relatively modest – although still accompanied by lots of fun and excitement.

In eighteenth century New York (formerly New Amsterdam), where Dutch and English speaking settlers lived side by side, Sinterklaas morphed into Santa Claus and became part of North American Christmas tradition.  Over the years, many layers of mythology and tradition were added.  My wife having grown up in a more typical Canadian home, the Santa Claus tradition was deeply embedded in her family’s Christmas observances, and as a young married couple we had discussions about how we would observe Christmas.  Both of us wanted the main focus of our Christmas celebration to be on Jesus, not Santa Claus.  I also had a concern about telling our children stories which we would later have to retract.  So, after much discussion in the early years of our marriage, it was decided that in our home, we would give Christmas gifts to one another and to those in need, but there would be no gifts from Santa.

We did, however, read our children a variety of Christmas stories.  Among them were a couple of renditions of the life and deeds of the historical St Nicholas, who was a pastor in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) during the fourth century AD.  Although it’s difficult to accurately separate legend from history so many years after the fact, the web site of the St Nicholas Centre paints quite a believable picture of what the real Nicholas may have been like.  If the stories are reliable, it seems that Nicholas was known as an advocate for victims of injustice, and a friend to the poor who often gave financial help to those in distress.  Was he jolly, as the Santa Claus legend indicates?  I don’t know, but I hope so.  The Bible says that God loves a cheerful giver.  When our children were young, our family went through several years of living on a very modest budget.  Still, as a father, one of the Biblical values I wanted to impart to my children was the value of giving to those in need.  We used to have an offering box for missionaries, to which our children all contributed out of their allowance and other earnings.   I loved the story of St Nicholas partly because it reinforced this core Biblical value, and helped provide a balance to the consumerism that has infected Christmas in our culture.

My children are grown up now, and two beautiful granddaughters have been added to the family circle.  I love giving gifts to my children and grandchildren.  I know that the best gift of all is Jesus, and I know that he takes great delight in lavishing His mercy on us.  But I also know that he doesn’t care only about me and my family.  He is delighted when our lives overflow with generous love towards those in material or spiritual need.  I’m grateful for the example of Nicholas, a man who was a generous conduit of God’s love to the lost, poor and oppressed.  I want my family’s values to reflect the generous heart of a good God who has taught us that it is more blessed to give than to receive.




In God’s image : different gifts

One of the aspects of the way God has created us that can be either frustrating or rewarding is the fact that everyone is different.   You may find some people frustrating to deal with because they don’t respond to situations the way you would.   But this may be just an expression of the way they are “wired”.

In his letter to the Christians in Rome, the Apostle Paul listed different gifts – called motivational gifts by some,  Life Languages  by others – that are built in to the way we are designed by the Creator.    Part of being made in God’s image is that each of us reflects a different facet of God’s character.   This can be frustrating if we let the differences irritate us – but it can be very rewarding if we learn to recognize that the people in our lives all have their own gift to offer.

One of the keys to learning to live in community – for that matter, one of the keys to being happy and having a productive life – is learning to accept the way God has made you and the way He has made others.   There is a reason why we don’t all have the same strengths.   This is not a mistake!  We were not created to be independent of each other – we were created for community (more on this in a future post).

Of course, one might use this legitimate insight as an excuse for being obnoxious and selfish, claiming “that’s just the way God made me”.   But if you and I are honest with ourselves, we know that’s a cop-out.  We can’t use our created differences as an excuse to rationalize our selfishness, stubbornness, pride, or any of the other forms of sin.   We’re called by God to use our different gifts to serve others – not to justify our own self-interest.   But as someone who genuinely wants to serve God, I have found it very liberating to realize that it is OK to be different from others.  I find that I am much more effective, and my life is much more satisfying, when I stop trying to be like someone else, and learn to make the most of the way God has made me.

That doesn’t mean I can’t acquire new skills or cultivate new strengths.  I’ve grown and changed in many ways during the course of my life and I expect this to continue.  But the basic truth of the way God has made me is still there, and I find it much easier to work with this basic set of gifts rather than trying to change it.   In any team or community, I believe we will find that we function more effectively together if we allow the members of the team to be who they are, and learn to harness each person’s strengths.   This isn’t just common sense – it’s a recognition of the grace of God reflected in the way we are made.


Questions about spiritual gifts

I am preparing some notes for a seminar that Marion and I will be offering to the small group leaders at our church.  The seminar is titled Understanding and Releasing Spiritual Gifts.  In preparation for this I have been asking myself some questions about spiritual gifts.  I am going to list some of the questions here.

Some of these questions I have answers for, others I am still pondering, but I am going to resist the temptation to answer the questions here.  I’m just going to list the questions as food for thought.

I’ve been using three passages of Scripture as my main resource for this seminar, so if you are prompted to study, you’ll find answers to the first set of questions in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, Romans 12:3-8 and Ephesians 4:7-13 (although the answers to some of the questions may not be obvious at first glance).

The second set of questions are the ones that don’t have hard-and-fast Scriptural answers – they’re more subjective, intended to encourage you to examine your own life as I am examining mine.

I may offer my answers to some of these questions in future posts as time allows.   I’d be interested in your answers if you want to share them in a comment.   If you want more than that – come to the seminar!

Questions with clear Biblical answers

  • Why does God give spiritual gifts?  What is their purpose?
  • Which person of the Trinity (Father, Son and Spirit) gives these gifts?
  • Does each person only have one spiritual gift or can you have several gifts at work in your life?
  • Why are they called spiritual gifts?
  • What are motivational gifts and are they different from spiritual gifts?
  • Do you have any part to play in determining whether these gifts are at work in your life, or is it all up to God?

Questions that are more personal

  • Do you know what your gifts are and are you using them? Why or why not?
  • What hinders you from using your gifts more than you do?
  • What enables or encourages you to use your gifts?
  • In your church or small group, is it easy or difficult for you to utilize your gifts?  Why?
  • Are you motivated to grow in understanding and releasing your gifts?  Why or why not?

Gift-based ministry

Are you good at everything?  I’m not.   Like everyone, I have strengths and weaknesses.

I spent many of my years in ministry trying to fulfil a role for which I was not really all that well-suited.  I was like a square peg in a round hole.  There are many reasons for this, but one reason is that there was no-one to help me recognize my true calling and learn to function in it.   That’s why I am so excited about the opportunity to work with small group leaders on how to identify and cultivate the natural and spiritual gifts of the people in their small groups.

As a leader, it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that what comes naturally to you should come naturally to everyone.   When you are flowing in your gifts, ministry is a pleasure, but when you are trying to imitate what someone else is good at, and operating in their gifts instead of your own, you have a recipe for frustration.  Of course, there’s a learning process in developing your natural gifts, and a somewhat different sort of learning process in learning to cultivate the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit.  In both cases, a certain amount of trial and error is inevitable.  But when you are learning to develop your gifts, along with the trial and error there is the joy of discovery.   By contrast, when you’re trying to do something that you just aren’t “wired” for, it can be very discouraging.

We all want our small groups to succeed.  Usually you will have a mix of people in your group with a variety of gifts.  Some of those gifts will be latent, undeveloped and perhaps even unrecognized.  Others will be in various stages of development.  My dream is to see small groups that have an appropriately challenging vision, faith for that vision, and a team that is functioning well together, where each member has something to contribute and is operating in his or her gifts.  Can we get there?  I believe we can, or at least take steps in that direction.  I’m excited about the possibilities!