by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

January, 2017

As many of you already know, I’m a sucker for Christmas specials, including animated ones. This season, there was a new one called “Albert,” about a young tree who was convinced he was destined to be the official Christmas tree of Empire City. But he had only seen the official Christmas tree on television. Of course, when he arrived, he found that he was much smaller than the other trees. One tree remarked that “I’ve got pine cones bigger than you, little sprout.” And the big trees laughed at poor Albert.

As you might expect, Albert saved the day when the top of the official tree was cut off. Albert was chosen to replace the top of the larger tree, and was hoisted into position high above Empire City, where he wore the Christmas star with pride.

“Albert” isn’t bad, as these things go, and there are enough plot twists to keep things from being completely predictable. Along the way, he meets a nasty cactus named “Pete,” who is jealous of Christmas trees, and learns a valuable lesson about friendship. In the end, Albert finds his place, what he was meant to do.

Of course, we know the focus of Christmas isn’t—or shouldn’t be—Christmas trees. It’s not presents (as Rev. Mike Slaughter rightly points out, Christmas isn’t our birthday so we shouldn’t be the ones receiving presents). It’s not family or friends, as important as they are. The focus of Christmas is Christ.

Still, it’s undeniably important to find your place in the world. When we’re young, many of us fantasize about what we’ll do or be “when we grow up.” When I was younger, at various times I wanted to be an astronaut (of course, I conveniently ignored the fact that I was afraid of heights), a scientist, an author, and various other things, some of them rather silly in retrospect and others somewhat more serious. Sometimes it seems as if I still haven’t “grown up” (and my wife can verify that).

The earliest disciples were originally fishermen, tax collectors, political activists, businessmen, and other occupations. But one by one they became something more: “fishers of men.” (Matt. 4:19, Mark 1:17, Luke 5:10, also sometimes rendered as “fish for people”). Each of us is called to “fish for people” too. The Christ who is at the center of Christmas calls each of us to leave our “nets”—our human, earthly pursuits—and “fish for people.” There’s a place for each of us in God’s kingdom, a vital job that’s just for us. In the previous installment of Person-2-Person, we talked about “the full armor of God” (Eph. 6:10-18 NIV). Each part of this armor is vital: “the belt of truth . . . the breastplate of righteousness . . . your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace . . . the shield of faith . . . the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit”. We’re not fully protected unless we have each part of God’s armor. All these parts work together to protect us and make us better “soldiers” for God.

But there’s more to serving God than being a “soldier.” So, in the same way, God takes different people and gives us various spiritual gifts to enable them to serve God and others (1 Cor. 12:4-11). These gifts include leadership, administration, teaching, encouragement, faith, helping, generosity, hospitality, and others. Each of us has at least one gift. God makes people apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Eph. 4:11) “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (vs. 12 NIV). God calls each of us to work, to build, to defend, and to teach by example. God has a big world and each of us has a place in it. We can be “fishers of men,” “accountants of men,” “teachers of men,” “nurses of men,” or anything else God wants. May a new year bring each of us new opportunities to grow, witness, and serve.

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. . . . From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Eph. 4:11-13, 16 NIV.)

Copyright © 2017 by David Phelps