Saturday, October 21, 2023

 The Body

My son loves hunting.  In fact, I have come to believe that he loves hunting more than I love hunting, and that is saying quite a great deal.  Even as a young boy, he would insist on wearing his camo pants and his camo shirt and even his snot covered camo fleece hood whenever at all possible.  He would prefer that such items would not get washed, so that they could always be ready for whenever the need arose to disappear into the wilderness. 

His young obsession with hunting would last deep into the late fall of every hunting season.  Even after the Christmas tree had been set up, and most of my hunting equipment had been put away for the season, you could still find the boy dressed in his camo, hiding within the pine boughs of the Christmas tree armed with his suction cup bow and arrow waiting for his little sister to come by.  When she did, he would launch his arrow at her and if he hit her, she would graciously play dead while he dragged her out of the living room by her arms.  His excessive imaginative play would abruptly end when he began to speak of field dressing and his younger sister would hop up and bark, “Oh no! You are not field dressing me!”

Inevitably challenges arrive that limit hunting opportunities, such as…school, work, girlfriend, chores, football and of course…broken bones.  In 2021, my hunting loving son broke his clavicle during a football game of his sophomore year.  It was the night before the bow hunting opener.  He resiliently endured the pain in his shoulder as I waited alongside him in the ER.  He seemed to be handling it well…until…the doctor said, “No hunting for you this year.”  Tears welled up in his eyes as his pain went from his shoulder to his heart. 

Sure enough, his bow hunting season was done.  Yet, he was determined to spend some time rifle hunting,and so spent time practicing shooting from the hip…shooting left handed…putting the butt of the rifle against his bicep instead of his shoulder.  As I was practically hauling him into a stand to hunt one evening he said, “Oh man! I wish I had broken my foot instead of my shoulder! Then I could still hunt.”

Well…in 2023 his wish came true and he has found that it is just as difficult to hunt with a broken foot as with a broken shoulder.  I have to practically carry him to his stand…and haul him up into that stand, and then do the same upon exit.  He said to me just yesterday, “You know…I thought the shoulder was bad…but I didn’t realize that how much of life is affected by a broken shoulder or a broken foot…everything is affected.”

He is right.  The principle in his observation also carries on in the spiritual realm.  Paul speaks of charismata, (Gifts of Grace), in 1 Corinthians 12.  Paul emphasizes how each part of the body, has received this gifts of grace and is to use these gifts of grace to build up the body.  In verse 26, Paul says this, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.  My son has encountered this reality first hand.  My wife and I have felt the effects as well.  His football team will feel the effects during the rest of the season.  His sisters have felt the effects as they already have had to do more chores around the house than before. (On an interesting note…they usually complain that he doesn’t do anything around the house. Now??? Huh…interesting).

The bottom line I guess is this.  As the body of Christ, we are called to build up and support and encourage the body as a unified body.  When one suffers, all suffer…and when one rejoices, we ought all to rejoice.  We are a body with many parts and sometimes these parts can be broken and hurting.  This will affect the whole body.  Let us follow the leading of the Spirit, as we use our gifts of grace to build up this body for God’s glory!

Saturday, October 14, 2023

 “Ta Ta Ti Ti Ta”

Ms. Shoemate entered my 1st grade classroom wearing one blue shoe and one red shoe…the irony was lost on me at the time.  She wheeled a shelving cart stacked with bins containing a vast array of rudimentary musical instruments.  I could see blue sticks and green sticks, black wooden boxes, mallets with long skinny handles, a few different styles of drums, a variety of bells, and even a triangle. 

I instantly began salivating upon spying the triangle.  I had watched enough episodes of Gunsmoke to know that the triangle was primarily used to call for victuals.  Not only did my tummy rumble with hunger, but my gut longed for the opportunity to play such a splendid and unique instrument. 

Before we could get to the distribution of the instruments, Ms. Shoemate began working through the regular music instruction, cuing the class on proper rhythms and tempos. 

“All right class…listen carefully and repeat after me and follow my lead.”

Ms. Shoemate then clapped her hands together once and sharply inserted the word, “ta,” at the same time.

“Ta.” We clapped and repeated.

“Ta, Ta.” Ms. Shoemate called out…clapping her hands to the rhythm.”

The class copied her perfectly.

“Ta, Ta, Ti, Ti, Ta.”  The Ti, Ti’s were quicker, but we managed the challenge fluidly.

After spending an exorbitant amount of much time mimicking this musical binary code, the time came for the instruments to be distributed.  My hand instantly shot into the air and waved around as if trying to hail a cab in down town Chicago.

“Ooooh, uuuh, eeeeh,” I cried trying to get my hand to touch the louvered fluorescent lights secured to the white, concrete ceiling. 

“Yes, Ryan…do you have a question?”

“Yea, ummm, can I have a triangle?”

“You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit,” Ms. Shoemate curtly replied.

I slumped back into my seat and anxiously awaited my assigned instrument.  As if to add insult to injury, I watched Ms. Shoemate give the triangle to Julie…the obvious teacher’s pet…as the first instrument to be handed out.  As each student received their offering, I continued to hope beyond hope that I wouldn’t get the sticks.  Anything was better than the sticks. Though the triangle was gone, a drum would be nice…even the wood block or the bells…but not the sticks.  They are so boring.

As Ms. Shoemate approached my desk, I saw her pull out a pair of blue sticks and extend them to me.  Reluctantly, I received them.  Once all of the students had their instruments, the music teacher then orchestrated a first class rendition of “Ta Ta Ti Ti Ta” that is yet to be matched to this day. Each student played their given instrument as instructed, and as a whole, the production was a passable success.

I did not receive my instrument of choice, yet, I was just as much a part of the symphony as everyone else.  I can’t help but reflect on Paul’s teachings about the gifts of the Spirit as found in 1 Corinthians 12.  In this passage, Paul addresses one of the problems that the Corinthian church was facing.  It appears  that people were fighting over who had the better gifts.  It was as if the people in this church were all asking for the triangle and no one wants to play the sticks.  However, what Paul clearly lays out for them…and for us…is that EVERY person in the body of Christ matters and is given a gift to be used to encourage the church.

In the same way that I did not get to choose my instrument, I do not get to choose my spiritual gift.  That is the work of the Lord.  My responsibility is to use whichever gift is given to me, for His glory and purpose.    

May we come to, willingly, receive what God offers us and then use every gift faithfully…no matter how great or insignificant the gift may seem. 

Saturday, October 7, 2023

Gifts of Grace

There are certain days of the year that ring of the utmost importance.  Christmas and Easter ought certainly to top the list.  Thanksgiving would closely follow, just below the ultimate duo.  Then…we come to a series of holidays that we just don’t know what to do with…namely, Halloween, Presidents Day, St. Patrick’s day, Columbus Day…or should we say Indigenous People’s Day, and of course…Valentine’s Day.  Of these holiday’s, Valentine’s Day is NOT one of my favorites.  I struggle with having Hallmark tell me to spend my money to purchase flowers and candy for my wife on this specific day…or else.  What gives Hallmark this kind of power?  It can’t be their movie making skills…cuz seriously, if you have seen one Hallmark Christmas movie…then you have seen ONE too many Hallmark Christmas movies.  Yet, I know that if I don’t obey the Hallmark rules…then I may NEVER see another Hallmark Christmas movie…but, let’s be honest…is that really a bad thing?

In protest to Hallmark, I briefly created my own annual holiday. I called it June Day.  June Day would take place on the 1st of June every year, and it was celebrated by me…giving my wife a surprise gift of some form.  It began with flowers and maybe some chocolates.  Then as the years progressed the holiday developed into the giving of shoes and taking her out to eat and sometimes having to do different jobs around the house. 

June Day has now officially and permanently been cancelled due to a variety of reasons including, finances, busyness, forgetfulness, children and likely politics. 

As I look at my history as a husband, I must confess that I have often given gifts to my wife out of “obligation.” I have given the flowers, and candies, and jewelry etc…because I “had to.” I hate to admit it, but it is true.

There have been other times however, that have been different.  For example, after seeing my wife endure a particularly hard day of stressors including, children, work and the like, I surprised her by taking care of supper.  No…I didn’t cook…I ordered pizza, but to her, you would have thought that I had baked a beef wellington. 

There is something different about a gift that is given out of grace as opposed to a gift given out of obligation. 

The Apostle Paul speaks extensively about gifts in the New Testament.  Specifically, he speaks about “Charismata.” Charismata is literally translated to “gift of grace.”  Paul uses this phrase to speak about the gifts of the Spirit.  We find this phrase in many of Paul’s writings including 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4.  I believe that if we look closely to Paul’s writings we will see how he draws our focus to what is behind the gift rather than just the gift itself.  For example, Paul reveals the need for love to be behind our every action (1 Cor. 13).  The heart behind the gifts…is grace!    

Believers are given these gifts of grace, so that we may use them…as gift of grace to others, that they too may experience God’s grace.     

May the gifts of grace that have been bestowed upon us, be expressed in grace to those around us, not out of obligation, but rather for what it literally is…a gift of grace.