What Now?

given on Sunday, July 26, 2009

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Well, did you check out what your spiritual gifts this week?  If you did, great.  If you did not, then I hope you at least read through the descriptors of the spiritual gifts.  As I read through them again this week, I found myself wondering which of you fit which gift.  Then I wondered if you found any surprises.  I suspect some of you may have figured it did not matter, but I think it is good for us to know more about ourselves.

Whatever you did or discovered now needs to be put into some type of perspective.  Why do we have special spiritual gifts?  What are we suppose to do with these gifts?  Why are they different than our natural talents and interests or passions?  Another words, what now?

First, let’s look at scripture.   The Word provides us some insight into why we are given spiritual gifts.  While reading through I Peter 2, beginning with verse 4, we read a section called “The Living Stone and a Chosen People” and it is important to understand the reference to “Stone, the Living Stone.”

The early Christians were raised as Jewish followers and this selection connects the Jewish references to Jesus’ teaching.  In these verses, the reference to a stone in Zion, which was another name for Israel, are modified to referring to Jesus himself as “The Living Stone.”  Listen to these verses with that understanding:

4As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— 5you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

You can continue looking at the verses and recognize that Peter is trying to explain to the young congregation that each of us needs to work together in order to build the church’s foundation.

This is the answer to why is it important to know our spiritual gifts.  If we are going to build a church with a strong foundation, we need to use all of the stones.  Look again at verses 8:

…A stone that causes men to stumble

and a rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.

The study notes in the Life Application Bible states that “Together your individual efforts will be multiplied.  Look for those people and join with them to build a beautiful house for God.”

Reading the Bishop’s books concerning the fruitful practices, I am reminded that a congregation is also a team.  It takes a wide range of spiritual gifts to create a Christ-centered church.  It takes an equally wide range of skills and talents to make the cogs of the church run smoothly.  The churches who are not actively using their spiritual gifts along with their skills and talents are the stagnant or failing churches.

Now look at I Peter 4.  The section is titled “Living for God” and explains the importance of living for God.  This is our purpose.  Knowing our spiritual gifts and understanding the supernatural qualities of the gifts helps us to live for God.  In I Corinthians 1:26-27, Paul told the followers:

26Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

As Christians, we are called to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.  In order to do this we are ‘called’ to this ministry, and God gave us the spiritual gifts we are to use to carry out this work.

So, what now?  Now it is time for us to determine how we use our spiritual gifts in ministry.  Ministry is not just a pastor in the pulpit leading a worship service and giving a sermon.  Ministry is reaching out to others and helping.  Being Christ-centered means we are service-centered.  Ministry is not just in a church’s sanctuary or in the building.  Ministry takes place in our homes, on our streets, at our jobs, and even in our play.  Our spiritual gifts are God-given, and we use the gifts for ministry.  But we cannot do it alone.

Our ministry is lead by God, and the Holy Spirit equips us to do the work.  As a church, the team is a composite of the spiritual gifts needed to carry out God’s mission.  In the Companions in Christ study, the follow up chapter to the spiritual gifts have a number of statements that helps explain how the gifts work to fulfill the God’s ministry:

  • Our spiritual gifts are not necessarily connected to our talents or education or what we do for a living.  Our place in the body of Christ may differ greatly from our place in the workaday world.
  • We engage in mission work wherever we are, in whatever we do.
  • Active members will not spend a lot of time in the church building.  They are to take up their residency in the world.
  • We gather in worship and prayer around Jesus, our Lord and Redeemer.  Then we are sent out until we meet again.  And wherever we go, whatever we do, we are God’s radically available people who consent to be in living reliance on Jesus Christ so that the fruit of the Spirit may be grown through us for the nurture not only of the church but also of the world.
  • Though the personality and particular emphasis in every church will differ, all are called to be communities who enter the rhythm of gathering and sending, nurturing the body while always opening it to expansion.  Every one of us is engaged in mission.

These statements from the study, really answers why we are given spiritual gifts.  What, then, do we do with these gifts?  The answers vary for each congregation.  The answers lie in the communities that surround the church.  The answers lie in the spiritual gifts of the members.  Our responsibility is to identify the needs of the community or individuals in the community that can be our mission field.

One spiritual gift that can be used by each of us in some degree and that is compassion.  Looking at the descriptor, the possibilities of its application begin to develop into missions.  From our definitions last week, we see that compassion as a spiritual gift “transcends both natural human sympathy and normal Christian concern, enabling one to sense in others a wide range of emotions and then provide a supportive ministry of caring.”

Each time we bring prayer concerns forward, especially for those beyond our congregation, we are using compassion.  Each time we hear a story on the news that touches us deeply and causes us to lift up a prayer for someone in pain, we use compassion.  Each time we hear the sirens of ambulances or fire trucks, compassion stirs us to pray for those in need and for the care providers rushing to them.  The mission is there and the individuals will never know that God has been called to care for them.

What causes us to use compassion as a spiritual gift?  The Companions study adds a descriptor that takes the average sense of compassion to a spiritual gift:

“Compassion moves us beyond our comfort zones to offer practical, tangible aid to all God’s children, regardless of the worthiness of the recipients or the response we receive for our service.”

As a spiritual gift, we are “moved beyond our comfort zones.”  I think the practical and tangible aid given in the form hygiene kits, flood buckets, or school backpacks are examples of compassion in action.

I expect John Wesley was particularly concerned with the gift of serving or servanthood.  Remember this quote:

“Do all the good you can,

By all the means you can,

In all the ways you can,

In all the places you can,

At all the times you can,

To all the people you can,

As long as ever you can.”

In the descriptors for serving, one learns that this is a ‘task-oriented ministry,’ meeting the ‘spiritual and material needs’ of others, and ‘giving comfort and aid to all who are in need.’  Serving as a spiritual gift puts the needs of others before one’s self.  This is the way Mother Teresa lived her life.  The needs of the poorest and the sickest of people were more important than her own needs.  Serving couples well with compassion, too.

We might be wondering how long our spiritual gifts last in our life.  From the Church Growth website we used for one of the spiritual gift surveys, the definition of spiritual gift stated that the gifts are given at the time of salvation.  Another words, when we accept Jesus as our Savior, the Holy Spirit gives us our spiritual gifts.  From that point on, we are able to use those gifts.  The gifts remain as long as you believe.  I believe that we are empowered by these gifts in a manner that improves as we age.  In fact, as we continue to study and to worship, how we use the gifts expands.  As we become aware of the supernatural level of our gifts, we use these gifts in even better ways to serve God.

We need to take our individual spiritual gifts and develop a team to meet the needs.  Sometimes the need does not need a full team, but it needs one Christ-centered individual who has a spiritual gift that can handle the need.  Maybe it is a spiritual gift coupled with a talent or skill that meets the need.  The list of needs, the missions, and the spiritual gifts is endless, so we must undertake a mission carefully.

The Companions study warns:

“Others may be starving for the hope within us, and in their need they may gobble up our time and attention. … We need to return to the fellowship of the body [Sunday worship] to replenish our spirits through community, worship, and study.  And we need to turn daily to God for renewal through prayer, meditation on scripture, and spiritual friendship.”

As we learn about our spiritual gifts and we find ways to use them, we must also take care of ourselves.  We must pray daily.  Prayer will keep us listening to God as well as talk to God or to intervene for others.  We must worship together finding renewal each week.  We must study God’s words because we will learn more about our faith.  We are gifted, so now we must use our gifts to bring others to know God.  The more we bring into the Christian family, the more we will transform the world.  It is just like the Bishop said, we must ‘paddle or die.’  We must use our spiritual gifts or we will not be doing …

“…all the good you can,

By all the means you can,

In all the ways you can,

In all the places you can,

At all the times you can,

To all the people you can,

As long as ever you can.”

Dear Lord,

We thank you for giving us each special spiritual gifts, but we have been slow to understand how to use our gifts.  We now know a little more about these gifts and why we have them.  And we have asked, what now.  Guide us as we go forward learning how to use the gifts.  Help us to identify the needs of those in our communities.  Help us to find a means to meet the needs.  We believe in you, in Jesus and in the Holy Spirit.  We want others to experience the joy that comes with faith in you.         –Amen

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