What?

What?

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Today is the second in a 3-part sermon series about spiritual gifts entitled, “Plugged In To Heaven.” This series will address the special abilities that God gives all followers of Jesus Christ at the moment they come to faith in Jesus Christ. Today’s message will identify the various spiritual gifts, answering the What? question.

Scriptures Readings: 1 Corinthians 12:1, 7-10, 28-30; Romans 12:4-8; Ephesians 4:11-13

On Friday, 6 of us from church—3 chaperones and 3 middle school youth—spent Friday at Cedar Point. For dinner we went to a 50’s diner called Johnny Rocket’s, where we were crammed into a booth and served by a college student named Maria who’s from Romania, and this is her 3rd summer working at Cedar Point on a limited work visa. She’s been here  all summer, probably working 6 days a week, 8 hours a day, and serving people who are probably more hungry than usual and in somewhat of a hurry to get back to the rides.  It wouldn’t be the biggest stretch of the imagination to see that it’s likely a stressful job where she’s told that the customer is always right.

Try to picture her surprise when, after taking our orders, Chuck genuinely looks her in the eye and asks her, “What can we do for you?” Clearly taken aback, it was the last thing she ever expected to be asked by a customer. And after a few seconds of stunned silence, she simply said that the best thing we could do for her would be to be nice customers. What does that tell us about her usual clientele? Well, we were more than happy to oblige, and hopefully she won’t soon forget us.

What happened there on Friday between our small group and Maria-from-Romania was nothing less than Jesus Christ being at work? Call it simply being kind if you want to, but he fact of the matter is, what happened was a handful of people showed genuine interest in a stranger all in the name of Jesus Christ. The body of Christ at work, making a difference in this world one person at a time. As the body of Christ, this is our collective call.

In my prayer time yesterday I was led to a few verses in Paul’s first letter to his helper, Timothy: I urge, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people….This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 1:1-4).

God’s will is that everyone, including  everyone in Adrian, profess faith in Jesus Christ, and come to the knowledge of the truth of Christ. That’s what God wants, and it’s through those of us who know and love him that he chooses to accomplish this purpose. And we do it by reaching out and loving the people in our community one person at a time through simple acts of love and service.

And by putting to use the spiritual gifts God’s given us.

Just as a reminder from last week, spiritual gifts are special abilities given to every follower of Jesus at the moment they profess faith in Christ. These special abilities are not necessarily natural abilities, though there may be some crossover. And these gifts are intended to primarily be used to further the kingdom of God on earth—to build up and strengthen the body of Christ so that we can carry on the work that Jesus did when he lived among us.

When Chuck asked Maria-from-Romania what we could do for her, he was exercising the spiritual gift of encouragement. Encouragement is one of the 20+ spiritual gifts identified in the N.T. These spiritual gifts, listed in alphabetical order, are:

  • Administration
  • Apostleship
  • Discernment of spirits
  • Evangelism
  • Exhortation/Encouragement
  • Faith
  • Giving
  • Healing
  • Hospitality
  • Intercessory prayer
  • Interpretation of tongues
  • Knowledge
  • Leadership
  • Mercy/Compassion
  • Miracles
  • Missionary
  • Pastor/Shepherd (different than the position of clergy-pastor)
  • Prophecy
  • Serving/Helps
  • Teaching
  • Tongues (speaking)
  • Wisdom

Here’s a document that defines these gifts. I’d encourage you to read it later on.

Every one of these gifts is necessary to do the work of Christ. Every one of them were evidenced in Christ’s life. And so, together, they are what we, the church, use to live into our mission of developing new and maturing followers of Jesus Christ.

It’s probably true to say that every gift is somehow represented in every healthy church—in one form or another. True, we most often associate the gift of Tongues and Interpretations of Tongues with Pentecostal churches. But I can tell you for a fact that I’ve known United Methodists who were gifted with their own prayer tongue. They never used it in public worship, but certainly did in their private time with God. I think it’s safe to say that some of these gifts are more prevalent in certain types of churches than others. But taken as a whole, they’re all important, and together become the means of living into the mission given to the church of making disciples of all nations.

How can you know how God has gifted you?

Good question, to which there’s a pretty straight forward answer. But before I get to that, let me preface it by saying that there are at least two schools of thought regarding the manner in which God imparts gifts.

The first perspective is that like our natural abilities which we pretty much have all our lives, at the time of our spiritual birth we’re given certain gifts which are pretty much ours throughout life. From this perspective, what we might do is look for opportunities over the course of life where we might plug in our giftedness. The strength of this approach is that we can use our giftedness anywhere we go.

For example, if your employment is such that you’re required to move every 3-5 years, you’re going to be a part of lots of different churches. If you have the gift of hospitality, you can be sure that every one of those churches would welcome the use of that gift. This perspective might be summed up by the phrase, “God calls the equipped.”

The other perspective is that God gifts us according to our situation and sphere of influence. From this perspective, our giftedness is a lot less static. It can change according to the situation we find ourselves in.

For example, if your employment is such that you’re required to move every 3-5 years, you might discover that in the first church you exhibited the gift of hospitality, but that in the next church the ability that seemed to come to come to the surface more instinctually was the gift of administration. And then in the next church you found yourself drawn to the prayer team like you’d never experienced before, and discovered that your prayer life was a lot more important to you, and that God seemed to answer your prayers more often than before. This perspective might be summed up the phrase, “God equips the called.”

My guess is that, like everything else with God, there’s no way to say for sure or pigeon-hole how it works. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. It’s probably a cross between the two.

Speaking for myself, one of my spiritual gifts has been constant over the course of my life in Christ. And that’s the spiritual gift of FAITH. Over the years, every inventory I’ve ever filled out has had that as one of my top 3, if not my very top gift.

However, there are other gifts that have come and gone through the years depending upon my situation. The gift of LEADERSHIP has risen to the top in the last few years, whereas in the past it was never a significant gift of mine. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, though, to see a correlation between where God has appointed me and the skills and abilities needed to effectively live into this call. So, it’s probably a bit of both.

Now, back to the question, How can I find out what my gifts are? And the answer to that is complete a spiritual gifts inventory. Better yet, complete 2-3 different inventories. This is like getting a 2nd and 3rd opinion from different doctors; the more perspectives you get, the more likely you are to get the right answer.

If you have access to the internet, then you have access to lots of different inventories. And if you’re a book person, there are lots of books on the market that address spiritual gifts, most of which have a fill-in-the-blank inventory. Depending upon the inventory you take, some of the spiritual gifts I list might not be included. For example, the book/resources, Serving From the Heart: Finding your Gifts and Talents for Service, doesn’t list the gift of Hospitality. Also, the questions in some inventories are worded differently than others, and this can affect your answers, which might affect your final score.

In the bulletin/yellow Connection Card, I’ve suggested a particular online gift inventory (www.spiritualgiftstest.com). The strength of this inventory is that it’s very easy to take (105 questions), and the interface is simple and nice. The drawback is that it only addresses 19 of the 22 gifts I’ve listed. This is why it’s a good idea to find different inventories; you’ll get a fuller picture of how God has gifted you at this time in your life.

Are some of the gifts more important than others?

Another important question. The answer—despite what you may think or what you may have heard—is a strong NO. Even Paul had to address this question. It seems the same particular issue has been haunting the church from the very beginning. Probably the biggest “manifestion” gifts is the gift of speaking in tongues. It’s certainly one of the most visceral gifts. Unfortunately, the gift of tongues often been misused. From the inception of the church, we’ve had to address the mistake of equating giftedness with spiritual maturity. Specifically, it’s often been suggested that the gift of tongues is evidence of spiritual maturity or closer connectedness to God. But Paul vehemently argued against this, because thinking this way always leads to sinful pride, which only harms the church.

Elsewhere in Scripture, in response to the question about whether not some gifts are more important than others, Paul answers by pointing to our physical bodies. Are the ears more important to the functioning of the body than the eyes? Is the nose serve a higher purpose than the hands? The answer is that every gift is just as important as another. And possessing a gift that’s more visceral doesn’t make you more spiritual than someone else whose giftedness is less “visible.”

Can I get better at my giftedness?

Another good question. Like before, there’s no single answer to this question. Which means it’s probably a little bit of both, depending upon the person, the situation, the need, and the gift itself.

Generally speaking, though, I’m of the belief that spiritual gifts need to be used in order to grow in effectiveness. While there probably are exceptions to this, in my experience the more one uses their gift, the better they get at it, and the more effective it is in accomplishing God’s purposes.

Similarly, the gift can be given, but they can also be enhanced with learning and knowledge. For example, if I’m given the gift of evangelism (the special ability to share my faith with others), I will probably discover that the more I step out in faith and talk to others about Jesus, the more people will respond positively to what I’m saying. And, along with that, I’ll discover ways of sharing my faith that are more effective than others—usually learned by trial and error. But the point is, using the gift grows the ability and increases the effectiveness.

Last week I said that one of the things I would talk about today are the various serving opportunities available through this church. And while that was my intention, it occurred to me that it really would make more sense to make this the focus of my third message on this topic. Last week I approached the topic spiritual gift answering the Why? question: why do we have them? Today we addressed the What? question: what are the various spiritual gifts? (and how can I find out what mine are?)

Next week we will address the very important How? question: How can I use my gift so that:

  1. I’m benefiting from doing what God’s gifted me to do?
  2. The church is benefiting from my abilities?
  3. (most importantly) People outside the church are benefiting?

For the past 7 days we’ve been inundated with images, discussions, arguments, news clips, etc. in response to the neo-Nazi event in Charlottesville last weekend. It’s literally been the only talking point on news radio and cable TV all week. Like some of you, I’ve been wondering what the solution is to this kind hate. Take a look at this. It’s a 30-second video ad from the organization, “Life After Hate,” which seeks to help people make the move out of being a part of a hate group. (see video at the top of this page).

One of the co-founders of Life After Hate is Sammy Rangel. Rangel is a former white supremacist, and was involved in violent hate groups for many years. He was filled with hate from head to toe. But now he’s not. Last night, during an interview on TV, he was asked what it was that got him out. I don’t recall the exact words, but it was something very close to this: “It all started when someone didn’t fight back, but showed me love in spite of my hate.”

It’s quite possible that that person, that “someone,” was a faithful Christian. And if so, I would bet my year’s salary that that person has the spiritual gift of mercy/compassion. When the time was right, someone somewhere exercised their spiritual gift of compassion, and in so doing, Sammy Rangel’s whole life of hate began to crumble. And the Kingdom of God was growing.

Your giftedness was given to you to use so that through you God’s kingdom would grow. You have something to offer, something to share. Take the time to discover your giftedness if you don’t already know. Next week, come back to hear about how you can use that gift to further the Kingdom of God on earth.

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