Today is the third in a 3-part sermon series about spiritual gifts entitled, “Plugged Into Heaven.” This series address the special abilities God gives all followers of Jesus Christ at the moment they come to faith in Jesus Christ. Today’s message will focus on how and where each of us can apply our giftedness, highlighting the serving opportunities available to us in and through this church.
Scripture Reading: Ephesians 4:11-16
Every organization has people in it who know how to get things done when the rest of us aren’t sure where to begin. If you put them in charge of getting a big project done, they’re able to figure out all the steps necessary to accomplish the task. These are the people who know the end point – Z – and can figure out steps A through Y. Me—I’m the person who sees Z, the desired endpoint, but I generally am lost when it comes to figuring out the game plan details.
In my church in Mackinaw City, we had Gerry. Gerry knew how to get things done. I remember one time we had a big youth event to which youth groups from all around were invited, so there were a couple hundred kids there. And we needed to feed them at some point, and we wanted to do in on the cheap. That was point Z – dinner for everyone on the cheap. If it had been left up to me to figure out how to do that, they would have all gone home hungry. And since we didn’t want that to happen, they didn’t ask me to figure it out. So they asked Jerry, who went to work talking to all the restaurant owners within 20 miles who served pizza. And he pretty much talked every one of them into either donating lots of pizza to the youth, or giving it to us at a really reduced price. He made great use of his spiritual giftedness that day.
As I mentioned earlier, today we’re finishing up our sermon series on spiritual gifts. Very quickly, spiritual gifts are special abilities that God gives to every person who professes faith in Jesus Christ. These special abilities, named in the New Testament, of which there are about 22 or so commonly agreed upon gifts, are similar to natural skills and abilities (which, by the way, are also God-given), except that whereas we’re born with our natural abilities, spiritual gifts are given at the moment we come to faith in Christ. Also, spiritual gifts are primarily intended to be used for the purpose of building up the Church, the Body of Christ, so that we can effectively fulfill our mission of developing new and maturing followers of Jesus Christ.
So, here’s my question—when it came to what Gerry did, who benefited from him using his giftedness? Lots of people! First, he himself benefited. I remember how happy he was watching all those kids eat, knowing that he’d been a big part of making it happen. Clearly, all those youth benefited; they got a free meal! And you know who else benefited? Those who donated or nearly donated that food? They’d be the first to tell you that it made them feel good to help out.
This is a really important point to remember: when you and I used the gifts God’s given us, the benefits are many. Why do teachers teach? Is it because teacher’s salaries are historically a major draw to the teaching profession? Is it because there’s only a minimal amount of training that’s necessary to teach? Is it because the day-to-day task of teaching a classroom full of high energy 2nd graders with short attention spans is walk in the park? Is it because throughout the day there’s all sort of free time to take care of personal errands? Is it because both students and parents are always sending notes and emails telling them what a wonderful job they’re doing? No! to all of these. Teachers teach because they love teaching. And because they get a huge reward from seeing the difference it makes in the life of their students. Also, they know that what they do makes a big difference in the lives of many people beyond themselves.
It’s been said that if you spend your life doing what you love to do, then you’ll never “work” a day in your life. We might borrow the thinking behind that sentiment and say, If you spend your life utilizing the gifts God’s given you, then you’ll discover the meaning of life. When you know how God has gifted you, and you find ways to put those gifts to work, then you’ll quickly discover the joy in life. Jesus said, “I came that you might live life to the fullest” (John 10:10). Contrary to what many think it means to “live life to the fullest,” it doesn’t have anything to do with parties, drinking, carousing, or even traveling all over the world. Living life to the fullest means living the life God designed for you. And when you live the life God designed specifically for you, it feels good. You know joy and happiness. You know what it means to be blessed. And a big part of living life to the fullest is using spiritual gifts to building up people, and to build up the body of Christ.
As a congregation, we’re attempting to be guided by a vision of something that’s really, really big. In fact, you could even argue that it’s impossible. And this is our vision: the utter transformation of the city Adrian and the surrounding communities. As a church, we’re trying to visualize what a transformed Adrian might look like. If you haven’t heard, we have a huge heroin epidemic in Lenawee County, including Adrian itself. We have homeless men, homeless women, and homeless youth and children. According to a number of online sites that show statistical date, the Adrian crime rate is higher than both the Michigan average crime rate as well as the national average crime rate. We have lots of single parents, and divorced people. Within a mile of our church, there are high number of people living at or below the poverty line. Are we the only community with these realities? No. But it’s the only community in which you and I live.
Here’s the thing: we’re bold enough to believe that with God’s help, we can be a part of transforming this city. We believe on account of God’s people in Adrian—including us—actively living into our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ, this city will see transformation taking place. Marriages becoming stronger and divorce rates actually going down! Crime rates actually falling! Homelessness falling! Illegal drug use decreasing! Poverty effecting fewer and fewer! Most importantly, and explosion of people coming to faith in Jesus Christ.
In Matthew 9:7, Jesus say, “the harvest is bigger than you can imagine,” he was talking about Adrian. Using agricultural imagery, the community outside the walls of this church is our field. And what Jesus said is true. Today, the harvest is bigger than we can imagine. The needs are huge. The brokenness is great. The hurting is real. The harvest is big.
And guess who it is that’s called to be a part of the solution? Us!! And one significant way this city is going to see some turn-around is every person here who’s able commits him/herself to participating on some level beyond coming to worship. Coming here each week is where it starts, but out there (pointing outside) is where our work gets done.
I’m talking about serving. Using your spiritual gifts for the benefit of others. Sometimes the service we provide is directly related to helping people outside the church, and other times in indirect. Both are important. In Nascar and Formula 1 racing, what’s the goal? To be the first to cross the finish line. How many people are actually driving the car down on the track? One. So there’s one person who’s directly responsible for driving that care across the finish line. But there are a slew of others doing important support beyond the scenes to make sure that the car is able to actually get to the finish line. Likewise, in church life, some serving opportunities will put you in direct contact with the people we’re trying to help. And other serving opportunities keep our system well lubricated. Both are important.
Let’s briefly look at the various ways you can put your giftedness to work. So let’s first look at the list of serving opportunities available through this church. (review the list). Serving within our church is what allows us to do the bigger work of making disciples and meeting real needs of people.
The second list I’d like you to look at is the one that read “Examples of how to use your gifts” across the top. (review the list). This is not an exhaustive list of ways you can use your spiritual gifts; it’s intended to just get you thinking. You’re limited only by your own creativity.
If I may, I’d like to take just a moment to highlight what I believe are the most urgent and immediate serving opportunities we need filled. They are:
- Nursery workers
- Pre-school small group leaders
- currently: only during worship time
- run the projector
- create the presentation (using ProPresenter)
- coffee servers
- members of the children’s team
- members of the youth team
- Worship Design Team
- Adult small group leaders/teachers
Ephesians 4:12 is the key idea behind all of what I’ve been talking about. Paul writes: “His purpose [for giving spiritual gifts] was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son” (vv. 12-13). To be clear, spiritual gifts are given for the purpose of serving, and for building up the body of Christ. And the goal is spiritual maturity for all of us. Verse 16 pulls it all together: “The body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does its part.” My take-away from this verse is that the body of Christ doesn’t grow automatically; it grows when we take steps to make it grow. And growth happens when each person within the body does its part. The growth of our church, both spiritual and numerical, depends upon each of us utilizing our unique spiritual giftedness.