Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
Text: I Corinthians 12:7
Old Testament: Isaiah 43:1-13
New Testament: I Corinthians 12:4-13
How far back can you remember?
Can you remember that time of innocence when you weren’t aware of life’s trials, tribulations, and temptations? When did you last see with the eyes of a child the wonderful joy in life? That’s why you were given life by God – to see the joy of His blessings in your creation.
Children see the world spiritually. Their spiritual sense of each day being God’s blessing is a gift.
If you don’t mind a moment of personal indulgence, I remember the time of my brother’s birth, when I was three. My brother was born in August. My parents left me with my grandparents at their home in a little town 10 miles south of our home, called North Fairfield. North Fairfield is a farming village in north central Ohio – 20 miles south of Lake Erie. No more than 400 residents live there.
Around North Fairfield sits rolling fields of corn that are separated by rows of fences and trees. Grandma’s house resembled many of the great homes here in Bellevue. Her house was three stories. The first floor was thick limestone quarried in the village.
Above the main door were the numbers, 1848. That was the year the house was built. During the Civil War it was a hiding place of the Underground Railroad. The physician who had lived there helped escaped slaves find freedom in Canada. Her home was the largest in the village when my brother was born.
Grandma Lippert died from an enlarged heart when I was 12. I couldn’t believe it when she suddenly left our family. In spiritual hindsight, I understand. She had a great heart that loved God even when she could have given up on Him. She lost her first husband when mother was two. Her original home in the village burned to the ground when my mother was twelve. Those were days of the Great Depression. They were challenging times for grandma. But she saw life spiritually.
Every Sunday she went to church. I later found out she had encouraged her sister’s daughter to have her baby out of wedlock. Her love for God’s blessing was remarkable. Her soft voice spoke love.
I sensed God was there in my grandma’s gardens when I walked by myself around her beautiful flower beds when my brother was born. From her hands, God’s produce in her garden acre and fruit trees fed us at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, birthdays, and family reunions. I still have her Bible.
Her house was a spiritual place of God’s love. The blessing of God’s love surrounding her home is perhaps the greatest reason why I’m here.
As a three-year old I sensed God was in her garden for me. As a twelve-year-old, I sensed God was still there for me even when grandma had gone to be with Him. She left me with the blessing of seeing the world through a spiritual lens.
Grandma Lippert’s faith in and love for God endured great losses: Grandpa Hoyt and her home. She had kept her faith during the war years when her two sons served in the South Pacific. She continued to trust in God even as America’s changes had made the land a different place than it was at her birth. Through her love for Jesus, God visited me and reassured me at her home that He was with me, no matter where I was, and the circumstances I’ve faced.
Living in the spirit sees God giving you life-long blessings. Not everyone recognizes the spiritual dimension to life. Every day God gives us blessings, not just when we’re three, or twelve. Even at an advanced age God blesses us. But many times these blessings aren’t seen for what they are.
Consider the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. Two spiritual leaders have the capacity to see spiritually. But each refuses to help the beaten man on the side of the road. Only the social outcast, the good Samaritan, sees this encounter spiritually. He sees this as an opportunity God is giving him to be a spiritual blessing to a precious person in need.
Spiritual awareness is a God-given gift. It’s God’s blessing that inspires us to live life with joy. Spiritual awareness can also be cultivated. It can be nurtured to grow like a flower from layers upon layers of profane experiences. Spiritual awareness is the blossom growing from the soil of life.
Remember you are a spiritual being is God’s Word to you today. You were made by God to live as a spiritual person. God has given you experiences in your life to cultivate your spiritual awareness. You were blessed by God with people and events through which you could see God. Their place in your life was meant to enhance your spiritual insight so that you know God is with you. Not only were you to see God is with you, you were to see spiritual gifts God has given you to be a blessing to others.
What do you see with your spiritual lens?
Do you see His daily blessings? Do you see the spiritual blessings in other people He has brought into your life? Do you see how through everything God is working for good in your life when you are aware of His call?
These are the gifts of living in His Spirit.
There are many gifts we receive. Today I want to talk about a few different instances of living in Christ’s spirit. In each of these stories a spiritual encounter with God is occurring that applies different spiritual gifts God has given you for His glory: the gift of your identity, the gift of your direction, the gift of your submission.
Living in the spirit is your identity. This is the first of the spiritual gifts from God’s endowment. Your identity is in Christ. The Apostle Paul describes this in Philippians 4:12-13. “I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of
abundance and want, of plenty and of need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Think about that for a moment. How easy it is to be defined by our needs and desires. We’re happy when we’re well fed – unhappy when we’re not. We’re happy when we have a new car and unhappy when we can’t.
Life and death don’t depend on what car we drive, or even if we can drive at all. Life and death does depend on whether or not we can eat. Somehow these very different life experiences can be made equally important in a life missing spiritual vision. Needs and desires become confused when we don’t see the world spiritually.
Life and death doesn’t depend on whether or not we have access to an IPhone. Life and death does depend on whether or not we have good health. For people missing spiritual vision both can be equally important. They can replace our spiritual identity and become the only identity that matters.
When Christ is your identity, none of these very different circumstances matters. Our identity is not in whether or not we drive, have an IPhone, have food, or good health. Our identity is in Christ. Christ is who defines us. Christ gives us worth, not what we have or don’t have.
I’m always amazed at people who have come from the most trying of circumstances who respond very differently to challenging circumstances. I once had a woman at our church whose parents died. She was put in an orphanage during the 1930s. She was in the most challenging of circumstances. She didn’t have a family and went to bed each night alone with other girls who didn’t have families.
Yet this woman celebrated life. The nuns who took care of her taught her about Jesus as a little girl. Jesus was her comfort at night in the foreign world of the orphanage. Jesus was her light in the middle of the day when she saw how little she had. Jesus was her peace when she didn’t receive love.
When she raised her son, she smiled each day for Jesus. When her husband died before her, she celebrated his victory over death because of Jesus. When her son had problems with his first marriage, she reminded him Jesus was his hope.
Her identity was in Jesus. Her spirit was joyful because of Jesus. She didn’t see want or abundance. She didn’t see plenty or need. She saw Jesus. She tried to teach her son to have his identity in Jesus. She wasn’t an orphan. She was a child of God because of Jesus.
Think about what it meant for David Boudia and Steele Johnson to say their identity is in Jesus this past week at the Olympics. They had just taken the silver medal for the U.S.A. in 10 meter synchronized diving. David had been asked by a reporter how he had been able to cope with the pressure of the Olympics and performing for the U.S.A.
He said there was pressure and there were expectations. But he concluded, “My venue is in Christ . . . When I think about my identity being diving my mind goes crazy . . . But [Steele and I] know our identity is in Christ and we are thankful to dive before Brazil and the United States.”
His teammate Steele Johnson said, “The fact that I was going into this event knowing that our identity was in Christ and would not be determined by the results of this competition gave me peace . . . it let me enjoy this competition.”
David Boudia had lived without Christ for most of his 27 years. At age 22 he had almost been killed hitting his head on a diving platform during a dive. He had faced thoughts of taking his life. He had been drinking and smoking. Then he found Christ. His identity was in Christ.
Both of these athletes have devoted the greater portion of their lives just on diving. Their daily schedules have been dedicated to the next competition. Parents, coaches and corporations had invested heavily in their success. They represented our nation. Diving ought to have been their only interest, their only concern. Diving was their identity – you would think.
Yet despite all of the pressure to succeed as divers, they believed what mattered most to both of them was being Christ’s disciple – representing Jesus Christ. Their athletic success was simply the platform for them to give a global testimony to Jesus Christ as the reason for their living. Diving was the means for them to point others to living in the spirit of Jesus Christ.
Living in the spirit of Jesus Christ is our identity. This is the most fundamental gift of the spirit from God’s endowment. We are meant to share who He is to us for people all around us. Our successes, failures, and responsibilities in life are meant by God to bless others with the spiritual gift of seeing Jesus Christ. The people in our lives will see Jesus Christ when our identity is in Christ. Then we are living the spirit.
Direction is the second of Christ’s spiritual gifts to those living in the spirit. Living in Christ’s spirit is our direction. There is no other direction for us to go other than living for Jesus Christ.
This is critical for us to convey to our children and neighbors. Our compass is set by the North Star of Jesus Christ. He is the one who leads and guides us in life. He is there to lead and guide others in life as well.
Christ is present in every circumstance to give us direction. Paul writes in Colossians 3:1-2, “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
Setting you mind on things that are above where Christ is seated sets your direction for life. Gratitude for Jesus Christ fills your mind with the joyful things Christ has offered you through His resurrection. His resurrection points us heavenward every day with thanksgiving. We smile daily because He is our direction.
We aren’t directed by luck or circumstance of being the right person at the right time. We aren’t directed by our DNA. We are directed by Christ.
Two years ago Michael Phelps was arrested a second time for a DUI. His life was spiraling out of control. He was giving up on living. I’m not talking about some anonymous man from North Side Common Ministries. I’m talking about the most decorated athlete in Olympic history.
Michael was struggling with his identity he said during an interview with the Today Show. He said he didn’t know who he was or where he was going outside of a swimming pool. He was losing his will to live. Ten months ago, he entered a psychological trauma and addictions treatment center.
While he was there, he discovered Pastor Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life. He read that God had created him for a purpose in life. He read this purpose was God’s blessing for him to embrace and fulfill. God had set a direction for him that was uniquely his to fulfill. He simply needed to complete the purpose for which he was blessed.
God’s purpose for Michael Phelps freed him from the loss of a relationship with his biological father. God’s purpose freed the most decorated Olympic athlete from seeing his gifts as a prison that entombed him. Michael Phelps learned to embrace his purpose and let it be a heavenly blessing that directs him into a future beyond Olympic competition.
We don’t need to be Olympic champions to have a heavenly direction for our lives. Our heavenly direction can come in multiple forms – being a father, being a son, being a mother, or a daughter. We can be a compassionate friend or a loving neighbor. Each of us has been given direction from God to fulfill His purpose for our lives. That blessing isn’t just for this life. It can be a blessing that gives direction to others long after our lives have ended.
I had a teenage boy by the name of Christopher who sang beautifully in the high school choir. His parents weren’t going to church. They were trying to keep up with their son’s busy schedule as a teenager, and their daughter’s decision to get married to a boy who worried them.
It was spring, and the roads were wet from a rain storm. Christopher’s car missed a curve on the road and crashed into a telephone pole. He was killed instantly. His mother and father received that phone call every parent dreads.
Our church was packed with teenagers struggling to understand. The high school choir sang beautifully through their tears. Christopher’s parents were still in shock, groping to comprehend how God was guiding their family. They spent many nights and days crying over the loss of their son.
We prayed together and the days turned into weeks and months of asking why. Christopher’s father questioned God, no longer interested in talking about his son’s loss. He continued to work in construction, torn apart and feeling lost. Then the walls of the trench in which he was working collapsed on him, burying him under four feet of dirt. By God’s grace, he survived.
Bruised and battered an answer emerged for him and his wife. They had named their son, “Christopher.” It means “Christ-bearer.” They suddenly realized his life’s purpose was meant to direct them back to Jesus.
They recovered the purpose God had intended for their lives by spiritually understanding the direction for their son’s life. He had become for them the image of Christ leading them back to His communion table. They were thankful to return to the house of the Lord. Christ had restored their direction for their lives through their son’s death.
When you are living in His spirit – you receive direction for your life that is the fruit of His spirit inside you. But not only do you receive direction for your life through the spirit, you can be a blessing for others to receive direction to God. Direction for life comes through living in the spirit. It is the second spiritual gift God gives each of us.
Finally, living in Christ’s spirit submits to Him. Submission is the fruit of living in Christ’s spirit. Every spiritually mature person isn’t consumed by being satisfied in life. No spiritually mature person believes satisfaction is the goal of living. Spiritual maturity seeks growth through submission to Jesus.
Yielding to Jesus Christ gives joy from living in His spirit.
Submitting to Christ motivates His people to generous giving of themselves to His mission. Submitting to Christ separates the joyful from the discontented. Submitting to Christ illuminates the grateful in a world of ingratitude. Submitting to Christ frees the humble from worshipping themselves. Submitting to Christ attributes to Christ achievements that are extraordinary and inspirational.
Submission isn’t a word Presbyterians use easily. Our approach to Christ tends to emphasize independence. “God alone is Lord of the conscience and has left us free from the dictates of people.” That’s the first principle of Presbyterianism.
This first principle has led Presbyterians to resist government intrusion in Christian faith. That first principle has motivated Presbyterians to separate church from state. But it has also led Presbyterian into such terrible debates over interpreting the Scriptures that we can’t see Jesus Christ.
Our conversations are dominated by us and them. Us is the correct side of some church debate. Them is the incorrect side of some debate. Church division is not what the first principle of Presbyterianism is meant to promote.
We forget this principle is first and foremost a principle of submission to Jesus Christ. God is Lord of our conscience. We are to submit to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. When we all submit to Jesus Christ, we will thank Jesus Christ for the spiritual unity we are experiencing through our faith in Him. When we submit to Jesus Christ, we will stand united on common ground.
For Christ isn’t divided against Himself. He’s the source of all that is good that Christians experience in a spirit-guided faith community. Christ also directs sends us out into the community to make disciples. Jesus is a spiritual blessing to give the residents of Bellevue, Avalon, Brighton Heights, and beyond that can only be given spiritually.
Jesus’ blessing opens spiritual vision for why we gather. We don’t gather out of tradition or the number of years we’ve worshipped in this spot. We gather because Jesus has brought us together by His everlasting hands. We’ve submitted to His invitation to join His mission.
Identity, direction, and submission. Each is a gift received from living in the spirit of Jesus Christ. All teaching, preaching, healing, and prophecying are expressions that come from identity, direction, and submission to the spirit of Jesus Christ.
May His spirit continue to uplift and inspire you as you serve others in His name!