Friday, September 30, 2011

Gifts: Given and still giving

Image from Bestuff.

You turned on the light

"The love you give brings so much light,
like a beacon in the night.
removing the fear and the fright.

Confronting shadows, blacked strife,
defeating death, reviving life,
fanning the ash, defending my heart.

Hearts are breaking, souls are aching,
but you turned on the light.

You turned on the light, and made things right
when they were broken and you removed the dark
and lit a spark that was smoldering.

How can it be I have a life?
How can some good come from such strife?
Something in me can turn out right.
Giving value to the slight.
Fueling dreams, inspiring sight - burning a path to realties might.

Lives are changing, hope is gaining -
because You turned on the light

You turned on the light, and made things right
when they were broken and you removed the dark
and lit a spark that was smoldering.

Hearts are breaking, souls are aching,
but you turned on the light.
Lives are changing, hope is gaining -
because You turned on the light."

Words and music T.L. Eastman 2003

Gifts that are given in sincerity and love are ones that we usually remember and cherish the most. Like the mystery gift from my brother or the books of poems from my Grandmother - theses are ones that we can't forget.

Several years ago I was working half time in a church in youth ministry and was asked to consider working another 20 hours a week in a social work program helping kids in need. At that time, I was unsure if I could help kids in really hard circumstances - the additional work hours - and the stress of such difficult and emotional work. I told the director that I'd consider the offer, but I'd like to think about it over the weekend.

It so happened that weekend I was headed to a retreat with some of the youth from my church. All weekend long, I was challenged with the message that God gives us gifts not so that we can store them away in hiding - but so that we can serve Him, the people and opportunities he places in our path. In response to this message, I came away from that weekend inspired to try out working in the social work program, as well as begin working on better learning how to play guitar and develop as a musician.

I prayed a great deal about starting the new job and working on music - both of the challenges seemed impossible for me to fullfil, but I was going to give both of the goals an honest effort.

The work on music was slow, but with each newly learned chord I felt my confidence growing as well as my ability to piece together a few worship songs and eventually being writing a few songs of my own. The music did not develop in a vacuum, and as I began working in the social work program I was amazed to see how that work inspired my music efforts. The two gifts that I felt God asking me to devote some time to were ones that complimented each other in ways I never could have dreamt!

Before to long, I was asked to add some music elements to the social work program and the time I spent working on music for the program helped improve my playing skills so much that I began leading a worship team at my church each week. My connection to mission became fuel for creative efforts and the creative efforts were ones that could be used to help people in the church and also on mission.

After a few months of effort in both areas, I was sitting in my church office thinking about how God was working in the lives of youth in the program and in the church and the words, "It's like a light was being turned on! " came to my mind. I frantically started writing the words and chords that eventually would become the song "You turned on the light." When I played this song in church - people were encouraged. When I played this song for the program staff, they insisted that I record it so that we could give it to each child in the program at the end of the year. As it turned out, we had a wonderful party, made a movie of the activities we had worked on all year and the director placed my song as the soundtrack for the short movie. As hoped, each child did receive a copy of the song on CD as a way to encourage them in between group meetings.

In the years since then, there have been many more songs written; but this song will always be special to me because it is a great reminder of how God can take what we think are small things and make something wonderful out of them.

Matthew 5:14-16 is a great reminder for us to take our gifts, no matter how small they may seem, and allow God to work in them to bless others and lead people to the creator of all gifts...
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

You all have gifts that God can work and move in and through. You may have the voice of an angel, the mind of healing that can help to restore people to heath, the heart to love others - even the most difficult to love, the strength to encourage those weighed down by dispair, or the hands to create a shelter for someone in need of a home. Everyone has a gift that can give and keep on giving with God's help and direction.

This week at youth group, we visited a retirement home take some time to play board games with the residents. I had brought my guitar in case we needed it for closing worship, but I was not really prepared to play many songs as I'd accidentally left my song book at the church. We played some games for a little while, but I could not stop thinking about how I'd love to sing some songs for the people. I pulled out an old song sheet - that did not have the guitar chords printed on it, and asked some of my teens if they'd be willing to give singing a try.

I was nervous that I'd make too many mistakes without the chord sheet, but something pressed me on to keep trying one song, then another, and after 30 minutes or so, I played my song "You turned on the light", completely from memory. I was amazed that some of the youth knew the words to the song and the audience seemed as if each note filled them with joy. For those few sacred minutes, it was as if a brighter light had been turned on in all of us! We closed our time of singing with the song - "This little light of mine." The elderly folks sang along, the teens sang loud and proud and we were united in the grace and love of God in this tender moment.

The journey of receiving, identifying and sharing of the gifts God gives us is one that lasts out entire lives. I pray you will be brave and willing to step out in faith with the gifts God reveals to you over time. Don't hesitate to ask God to show you the gifts he desires you to develop and use. I believe that even seemingly small gifts can make a difference in the lives of others - with the grace and help of God.

Embrace your God-given gifts, grow in how you use them, and give them to others so that God's great gift of love can keep on giving!

Matthew 7:9-11 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"

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