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About Faith - The Girls Come to Town
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I have two granddaughters, Maia and Audrey, who light up my life. I treasure their sweet smiles and big hugs.

The problem is, they live in Nevada, 2,000 miles away. Work schedules do not permit us to see each other as often as we want. While the miracle of Skype allows me to see those beautiful smiles between visits, it does not bring me the warmth of their hugs. So when the girls come to town, it is indeed a great gift. As I write this, I am hoping their plane is not delayed by our recent winter storm.

We have just finished the season of gift giving, and are now into the season of gift exchange. The line at the returns desk can sometimes be longer than the line at the cashier. But we all know that the greatest gifts are the ones that need no exchanging, except to return to the sender in kind: good cheer, a generous spirit, a listening ear, a caring touch.

When the girls come to town, I am showered with gifts such as these. In addition to the joy of the moment, I have the added gifts of excited anticipation beforehand, and precious memories afterward.

The apostle Paul shared with his Corinthian friends some timeless wisdom about gift giving. It begins with God as the original bearer of gifts. There is nothing tangible or intangible we have that was not first given to us by God. Chief among them are "spiritual gifts" like faith, hope and love (1 Corinthians 13). We Christians are often reminded that we have all been endowed with certain gifts, as the Spirit chooses, and we should claim them. I often meet people who are obviously very gifted, but their modesty prevents them from making use of these gifts. Perhaps they are uncomfortable with the reality that such gifts carry with them the obligation to use them for the benefit of others.

This is why Paul insisted that the greatest spiritual gift is love. Love is the yeast that brings all other gifts to rising. Love keeps us from arrogantly flaunting our giftedness over others. Love does not permit us to withhold our gifts, but activates us to engage them in service to others. Love makes any other gift useless as a weapon of power or coercion.

In my particular faith tradition, when someone joins the church, they pledge to support the church "with their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service, and their witness."

We begin each year by renewing this vow. But this presumes we are gifted with some measure of love which compels us to share our gifts with others. Failing this, we become just another noisy gong in a dysfunctional orchestra. Please, Lord, give us a double portion of love!

I will relish the time I spend with my son and his wife and daughters. But as I ponder this gift, I am mindful that I have gifts of my own to give. As God lights up my life, whose life will I light in return? This is the question we all should ask ourselves as we embark upon a new year of discipleship. It is the question which defines the community of faith and brands us as Christians recognizable by others. They will know we are Christians by our love.


Brian Dale is the pastor of Allen Memorial Methodist Church in Oxford.