Using Our Gifts: Sermon by Pastor Bill Adams

December 19, 2021, I had the privilege of hearing this sermon in person at the beautiful 175 year old Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church in Wilmington, NC.

This sermon is shared here with permission by the author: Pastor Bill Adams


Consider This…


Dr. Oswald Golter was a missionary to China more than 60 years ago.  After World War II he was asked to leave that country.  So his missionary society wired him a ticket and Dr. Golter made his way to India to catch a ship home to America.  While he was there he noticed that there were many Jews living in the area–in attics and sheds and barns.  They were there because India was one of the few countries in the world that welcomed the Jews following the War.  And Dr. Golter was excited to see them and went around and greeted them.

It was Christmastime and he said to them “Merry Christmas to you!”  And they said “We’re Jews.”  “Well, I know,” said Dr. Golter, “but Merry Christmas anyway.”  “I tell you,” they responded, “we’re Jews.  We don’t celebrate Christmas.”  “I know” he said, “but if you did, what would you want for Christmas?”  “Well if we did,” they replied, “then we probably would want some fine German pastries.”  So Dr. Golter cashed in his ticket home and found a shop that sold fine German pastries.  Then he bought up boxes and boxes of pastry.  He took it back to the barns and attics and sheds and handed it out to the Jews saying, “Merry Christmas to you.  Merry Christmas.”

Years later that story was told when Dr. Golter was being introduced to speak at a seminary gathering.  As he got up to the microphone a young seminarian stood up and said to Dr. Golter, “I can’t believe you did that.  Those people aren’t Christians.  They don’t even believe in Jesus Christ!”  Dr. Golter nodded his head and said, “I know.”  Then he added, “But I do.” (modified from a note by Rev. King Duncan) 

There’s a lesson in this for us as we go about our daily lives in an unbelieving world.  We are not to live as the rest of the world does – we’re to live as we are led by Christ, even when it seems like something that most people wouldn’t do

We’re different!  We’re children of God and we’re supposed to be different!

Consider This…

Nicholas was born of wealthy parents in 280 AD in a small town called Patara in Asia Minor.  He lost his parents early by an epidemic but not before they had instilled in him the gift of faith.  Then little Nicholas went to Myra and lived there a life full of sacrifice and love and the spirit of Jesus.
Nicholas became so Christlike that when the town needed a bishop he was elected.  He was imprisoned for his faith by Emperor Diocletian and released later by Emperor Constantine.

There have been many stories of his generosity and compassion: how he begged for food for the poor, and how he would give girls money so that they would have a dowry to get a husband.  The story most often repeated was about how he would put on a disguise and go out and give gifts to poor children.  He gave away everything he had.  And in the year 314, he died.  His body was later moved to Italy where his remains are to this day.
But the story of Nicholas has spread around the world.  There are more churches in the world named after St. Nicholas than any other person in all the history of the church.

People have done strange things to his memory.  The poet, Clement Moore, gave him a red nose and eight tiny reindeer.  Thomas Nast, the illustrator, made him big and fat and gave him a red suit trimmed by fur.  Others have given him names like Belsnickle, Kris Kringle, and Santa Claus.  But what’s important about him is that he had the mind of Christ. Because of his gentle selfless love, he touched the whole world.  And this same mind of Christ can be in us. (modified from a note by Rev. James S. Hewett)

As I pondered St. Nicholas’ life, it occurred to me that we really don’t follow in his footsteps.  By the world’s standards, we are wealthy.  And the people we give gifts to are wealthy.  This was not the ministry of Nicholas –he ministered to those who were poor and needy.  We each need to consider what we can do to make our gift giving more like that of St. Nicholas.           

Sermon: Using Our Gifts                                          

If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

John 13:32-35

We’ve all been thinking a lot about gifts lately, especially what gifts we’d like to get for the people we love.  Some of us may have been thinking about the gifts we’ll be getting.
We love gifts.  Some of us dream about getting a great gift in life – that’s why so many people play the lottery.  They want to invest little and get a lot.  They think, wouldn’t it be great if I won a million dollars?  What a gift that would be!  Well, maybe it would be great, but maybe not.  Not everyone has the same idea of great.  One person’s wish may be another’s person’s nightmare. 
Take, for example, the story of three men who were sailing together in the Pacific Ocean.  Their vessel was wrecked and they found themselves on an island.  They had plenty of food, but their existence was in every way different from what their lives had been in the past.The men were walking by the seashore one day after they had been there for some months and they found an old lantern.  One man picked it up, and as he rubbed it to clean it off, a genie popped out.  The genie said, “Well, since you have been good enough to release me, I will give each of you one wish.” 
The first man said, “Oh, that’s perfectly marvelous.  I’m a cattleman from Wyoming and I wish I were back on my ranch.”  Poof!  He was back on his ranch.
The second man said, “Well, I’m a stockbroker from New York, and I wish that I were back in Manhattan.”  Poof!  He was back in Manhattan with his papers, his telephones, his clients and his computers. 
The third fellow was somewhat more relaxed about life and actually enjoyed life there on the island.  He said, “Well, I am quite happy here.  I just wish my two friends were back.”  Poof!  Poof!  And so they were.  Everybody’s idea of a good thing isn’t the same! But wouldn’t we all like to have a little more money?  Don’t many Americans sit around thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great …if I won the lottery…if I had my dream house…if I was famous….?”  We know its true.  That’s why lotteries make so much money for the state.
But as Christians…as the people of God…what if instead of wishing for money or fame or success or more “things,” we would just wish with all our hearts and souls and minds and strength that we could love the Lord and our neighbor as ourselves?  A wish like that could change the world.

This morning I’m going to talk about the gift of love – it’s a gift that God gives to us and the gift we offer back to Him. 

Jesus was a gift of love to mankind.  God didn’t have to send Jesus.  He could have just let us go on killing and mistreating each other.  He could have just let mankind remain ignorant of his love for people.

But, because of God’s love, Jesus came to earth and he literally loved us until his death.  On the last night he was on earth, he washed the disciple’s feet, shared a meal with them and then taught them.
And one of his last teachings that night was about God’s love.  It is our scripture for this morning from John 13:32-35.

You know, out of his love for us, God gives each one of us talents and gifts.  The other day amid all of the Christmas music on the radio I heard Handel’s “Messiah.”  What a gift that music is for all time.
Handel was a gifted man.  He learned to play the harpsichord by age 7 and was composing music by age nine. His father opposed his gift of music – he wanted young George to become a lawyer. But when the dad went off to work, George’s mother made him practice.
George was obedient to his father, and he entered law school. But after his father died, he abandoned law. He kept true to his gift and became an organist at the Protestant Cathedral.  There his talent quickly began to blossom.
God definitely gave Handel a gift and thank heavens he chose to use it! Today, we still recognize Handel’s gifts and are blessed by his efforts.We also need to remember and recognize that God’s gift of talent to Handel was a gift of love to us. Just imaging how much poorer we’d be if he’d stuck with law.

Each person here this morning also has God-given gifts. They may not be a great as Handel’s but you have them. God makes each one of us unique.
But so often we fail to recognize our giftsWe have to discover them.  And once we do, we have to use them.  

History shows us that people who have achieved greatness using their gifts had to persevere.  Your gifts may not even be recognized until you’re gone. How many starving artists never achieved fame in their life times but are now considered to be great?

Robert Frost, one of the greatest poets, wrote poetry for twenty years without fame or success. He was 39 years old before he sold a single volume of poetry. Today his poems have been published in over twenty languages and he won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry four times.

When Enrico Caruso, the great Italian tenor, took his first voice lesson, the instructor thought he was hopeless.  He said his voice sounded like wind whistling through a window.  Today, he is recognized as perhaps the greatest tenor who ever lived.

So, if the world has failed to recognize your talents, you’re in good company.  When God gives us a gift, He doesn’t want us to just sit and admire it, he wants us to use it.

One of the ways we can be happy in life is to keep using the gifts God has given us.  If you have been gifted in music or math, you’ll probably never be happy driving a cab. If you have great hand-to-eye coordination and athletic skills, you probably won’t be satisfied with a desk job. In so many ways, our happiness depends on us using our gifts.

But what if we don’t use our gifts? Not only will we risk our happiness, the Kingdom of God will lose out on what we could have done. It will miss out on all the love and beauty we could have shared.

As Christians, it’s our job to love and to help other people. God loves us not because we are lovable, but because He is love. Nowhere in scripture does Jesus give us a pass on loving other people – any kind of people.  

Even though Judas was going to betray Jesus, Jesus loved him. Jesus even washed his feet.  He told us we’re to love our enemies. God wants all of us to use his gifts and love to change our world. God needs our gifts and love to help make his kingdom the reality we live in each day.  Because life in the Kingdom of God is not created by just a few people. God’s Kingdom is made up of all of His people.
Because God loves us God has given us gifts and it’s up to us to use them. We are each unique and we each have value. God didn’t craft you carefully for you to live casually. You’ve been wondrously made to do wondrous things!

And so use the gifts God has given you.  Don’t worry about the particulars.  If you’ve built a wall around yourself, tear it down and become available to God.
Remember, God has given all of us the greatest gift – the gift of Himself through Jesus. He made Himself available to us because we cannot save ourselves.
Because He made Himself available, and because He made Himself an offering on our behalf, we have salvation.  Our sinful thoughts and acts are forgiven.
In thanks, we need to take our everyday, ordinary lives and place them before God as an offering.  We should serve God because we want to.  And when we do, we’re operating out of our strongest gift – our love.

Remember the story of the boy who offered his loaves and fishes.  They were offered as a gift to God and God multiplied them.  Five loaves and two fishes were multiplied to feed over 5,000 with leftovers to boot.
But that’s what God does with gifts that are being used; He multiplies them and does even greater things! 

God offered the gift of salvation to Charlie Soong in this very place.  Charlie Soong then carried that gift to China and used it to change the world for millions of people.  God multiplied his efforts!
No matter where we are in life, or what situation we’re in, we can contribute to God’s Kingdom.  God needs every gift in this room to be used to advance His Kingdom.
God needs you and me.  If we don’t open the gifts God gave to us out of love, things will not be changed.  Don’t leave His gift unopened.  It’s one of the most special gifts you’ve ever received.
So, this Christmas go ahead and open His gift, give thanks, and offer your own loaves and fishes up to heaven!  Give the gift of yourself to God.
Open the gifts He has given you and use them and just watch what God will do.  I think you will be amazed.

In the name of Jesus – who was, and lives, and is to come.  Amen.


For more inspiration, visit 5th Avenue United Methodist Church in person on Sundays at 10:30AM at 409 South Fifth Avenue, Wilmington, NC.

Warrior Woman Part 1: What It Means To Be A “Helper” Of Men

Eve is given to Adam as his azer kenegdoor as many translations have it, his “help meet” or “helper.”…But Robert Alter says this is “a notoriously difficult word to translate.” It means something far more powerful than just “helper”; it means lifesaver.”The phrase is only used elsewhere of God, when you need him to come through for you desperately…. Eve is a life giver; she is Adam’s ally. It is to both of them that the charter for adventure is given. It will take both of them to sustain life. And they will both need to fight together. –Ransomed Heart Ministries

I remember the first time I ever learned about the “help meet”. I was doing a deeper study of the creation story in Genesis through a book from the Matthew Henry Bible Commentary. These books were massive, by the way, and filled shelves in my dad’s study as well as the studies of several other pastors I would come to love and admire over my lifetime. They weren’t just popular, they were the resource pastors were taught in school to consider a go-to for understanding the word of God. But Matthew Henry’s style of explaining the Bible was different. He was smoothly poetic at times and, other times, fiercely wordy. He read like a cross between Shakespeare and C.S. Lewis, and I imagined if I saw him, he’d have a long white beard and a gentle smile because that’s what wisdom looked like to me when I was a child. So this kind old Moses told me that there was a divine purpose for why Eve was made from a rib of Adam in the creation story.

…the woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved. —Matthew Henry, commentary on Genesis 2:22

I grew up with this knowledge that I was something truly designed to be special and treasured in this world. I was anxious to find my Adam and, like most little girls that feel this way, walk out the relationship of love and nurturing that God intended for us. I remember filling journals with my ramblings and questions: Is it this guy? Is it that guy? Again, like so many of my peers, I filled myself with shame for this longing. I felt utterly pathetic to not have a date by my sixteenth birthday, and completely worthless when he still didn’t show by my twenty-first. It is embarrassing how much I searched for him—and how much I had to say about it. I walked head first into a lot of hurt because of what C.S. Lewis calls the vulnerability of love.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”  –C.S. Lewis “The Four Loves”

Our hearts were meant to love, but sometimes love is a battlefield.

Pat Benatar would say love and romance is about fighting with and hurting the one you love, but it’s really supposed to be more like how Warren Barfield sings it; love is not a fight but it’s something worth fighting for. That song came out of a place of real hurt and real healing. A change of perspective didn’t just save the Barfield marriage; it saved the marriages of others who heard the song. You can read more about that here.

Women everywhere are uniting in excitement over a new Hollywood heroine: Wonder Woman. In this film, the role of a kick-butt rescuer is given to a woman. There is a scene in the film where Diana–Wonder Woman–goes out into battle in World War I to rescue enslaved people on the other side of the Germans. To rescue them, she has to cross No Man’s Land, a place where no man has been able to cross alive. No. Man. While the men are telling her not to go, Diana drops her cloak and runs into the war.

Wonder-Woman-Movie-Concept-Art

Images credited to the film “Wonder Woman”, Gal Gadot. Warner Brothers, 2017.

Diana is a fierce defender of truth and justice. She fights for love because she sees fallen mankind from a godlike perspective and wants to restore them. She can see the victory before it happens because she knows the source of her strength is with the gods, and she trusts that the gods want mankind to be healed. Diana is a symbol of what the Christian woman is supposed to be.

In Christ, we have a higher calling to love and battle. We are called to intercede for the lost as representatives of Christ in the world (Ephesians 5:1-33; 2 Corinthians 5:20). We are called to fight for others with strength and courage (Deuteronomy 10:17-19; Deuteronomy 31:6). Why? Because Christ is calling back his Creation from the fall (Colossians 1:15-23).

I’ll admit that my first experience with this symbolism did not set well with me because she was fighting like Azer-Kenegdo (pronounced Azur-ned-go) with or without a man beside her. She didn’t stop to have a pity party that her Adam was not there to fight life with her (what I would have done). No, Diana ran out to battle alone because she knew who she was and what she was fighting for. I believe Christ is calling us to be bold for him and, in the same way, pursue our purpose in the world.

wonder_woman_battlefield_no_mans_land

Images credited to the film “Wonder Woman”, Gal Gadot. Warner Brothers, 2017.

The good news is that Diana isn’t left to fight alone. An Adam does show up for her. The point, though, is that she was not dependent on him to live out her purpose in this world. In fact, sometimes she has to fight alone even when she has him (that’s a story for another day). In the same way, ladies, God is calling us to rise up and see and join the fight.

To learn more, consider following the 14-Day FREE Devotional, The Heart of the Warrior, on the YouVersion Bible app. This devotional is based on a great book by this title written to tell the man’s part of the story. You can read more about it here. The Eldridges are well-known for their books on this subject for both women and men: Captivating, Becoming Myself, and Wild at Heart. You can read more on their website here.  Last but not least, you may want to consider a full getaway emersion experience here.

Why Art Matters

Over five years–and five lifetimes–ago, I was on the streets making art with the homeless. I can’t remember how I learned this, but I learned that there were homeless artists on the streets no longer able to make art because they couldn’t afford their supplies. What I did after that was a series of intentional choices that made me feel fully alive.
Let me explain.
I became very intentional about finding a way to empower the artists to create again. I found ways to use throw away things like coffee grounds and flowers to create paints and dyes. I found cheap colored pencils and wood (less than a dollar each) from a local craft store to create with. Then I talked to some church leaders about what I was doing and I was asked to teach a class. I took what I’d discovered–and my own craft supplies–and taught them about ways to be creative with stuff they see on the street. I told them God had a plan and purpose for their lives and for their gifts to be used to bring Him glory.
The class was such a hit, I was asked to teach again at an outreach event. This time, I took a bag of wooden apples I got at a yard sale and told every artist in my class, “you are the apple of God’s eye. He loves you and has a plan for your life. Now paint or decorate this apple any way you choose. This is your apple, your reminder of how God feels about you.”
At the event, the class was so popular that I ran out of supplies in the first day. I was given a small budget to buy more supplies and continue classes.

There were other events and holidays and days when my church intentionally stepped out into the community with art as an outreach tool. I look back on it now, and think it was so effective because it was doing Christianity in a way people weren’t used to but could grasp.

That’s why Art is so important.

That’s why Art matters.

Art is an expression of the soul. It is a pulse on the thoughts, ideas, and passions of our culture. Other fields like medicine and business may be necessary, but art is the only field that captures what all of us are working for. As we are trying to discover our place in the world, art gives us a voice and a guiding light along that journey.

That’s why Art is so important.

That’s why Art matters.

Art is also a gift from God to intimately connect with Him. Creativity has a source, and the best artists have been the ones with a God-given knack to do what they do.
Sometimes, however, they get distracted by other influences and lose the ability to really project God’s heart. Sometimes they are shunned by the church and feel equally shunned by God.

It’s time art was reclaimed for God.

It’s time artists felt they had a place and purpose in the church.

Follow Your Heart: What All These Success Stories Have In Common

As I travel–and connect locally–I meet a lot of interesting people with stories to tell. They are independent business owners, artists, crafters, teachers, stamp collectors, etc. Some are single. Sone have been married for years. Then I ask, “what’s been the one secret to your success?” Most of the answers come back to this one phrase: follow your heart.

Follow your heart.

That means follow the gut feeling you have on the issue and trust it.

There is some science to this idea too. When we educate ourselves about anything, part of the process of learning involves thinking about how we think. This is called metacognition. We think through patterns; Metacognition is recognizing those patterns and learning to trust them.

There is some spiritual truth to this idea as well. If you are a Christian, and you are following what the Bible teaches, you have the Holy Spirit inside you to help you make decisions that follow God’s will for your life. Your desires and wants can still get in the way, but “following your heart” for a Christian should actually follow the spirit of God.

Regardless of how you approach this issue, we all need to become more self-aware and take responsibility for our decisions. Learn to be true to yourself and “follow your heart” into the good future God has for you.