Gift Exchange

gift exchangeRomans 1:11-12

“I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong– that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”

Not too long ago, Saddleback Church in Southern California surveyed over 8,000 of their new members and asked them why they joined.  Their results:

#10 – Special Events and Activities
#9 – Location Near Our Home
#8 – Missions
#7 – Different Styles of Worship
#6 – Small Groups and Discipleship Classes
#5 – Pastoral Care
#4 – Children’s and Youth Ministry
#3 – Service Opportunities
#2 – Worship
#1 – Preaching and Teaching 

Interesting list!  There is a lot for church leaders to take in here.  But can I offer one more to the list.  One that might entice you to a church that doesn’t have half of the others:  a place to minister.  (I realize “service opportunities” might provide this.  But I’m trying to hone in on something more specific.)  Every person that joins a church must discover their God given “ministry.”  The purpose of their personal existence and their reason for being a part of that specific body.

I heard many years ago from a popular Christian leader that churches should have “human scaffolding.”  What he meant by this was that there needed to be some that just came and supported the ministry with their money.  I cannot find a Biblical support for this ministry strategy.  Everyone is called to bring their gifts to the body and to find a ministry in which to employ them.

And yet, what do people look for when they visit a church?  Good teaching, cleanliness, friendliness, something for the kids, etc.

In this introduction of his letter to the Romans, Paul informs them that he would like to visit them.  But he is clear on his intent!  He isn’t going to Rome to see the Forum or the Coliseum.  He comes bearing gifts!

What does Paul mean by this?  I don’t believe that Paul is bringing with him a certain spiritual gift that they had been lacking, such as tongues or another manifestation of the Spirit.  Paul never claims to “institute” a specific gift anywhere… that is the job of the  Holy Spirit.  By “impart,” I believe Paul refers to the benefit that they will receive when he exercises his own spiritual gifts among them.  Why does Paul want to do this?

1)     That you may be established.

The Greek word is sterizo (stay-rid’-zo):  “To make stable, firm and to strengthen or fix.”  This is the word that Jesus used in Luke 16:26.  He told Peter that he would deny him three times that encouraged him by saying:  “…but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again strengthen your brothers.” Luke 16:26

The Christian life is one of stability and strength.  But we need the help of others to get there.  Paul’s goal in life:  Colossians 1:28-29 – “to present every man complete in Christ.  And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.”

We tend to listen to experts on fitness, diet and health (sometimes) as authoritative.  Bur preachers, teachers and evangelists… not so much.  We get defensive.  We get that American pioneer spirit.  “If it is to be… it’s up to me!”

We are forever pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps.  But we need to receive the gifts that God gives us by way of fellow believers.  They are instrumental in our reaching God’s goals for our lives.

Would you have the humility to do that?  Paul did.

2) “…that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.”

NIV omits “both yours and mine”… maybe because it is repetitive… but Paul repeats it to make his point stronger.  This is a gift exchange… not a one way receiving.  Paul says:  “I learn from you as well as you learn from me.”

We need to be encouraged by the gift others bring to the body.  We shouldn’t get jealous or envious… or critical.  We must mutually encourage each other!

So what are you looking for in a church?  We should see if their doctrine is sound and if they are strong in outreach, etc.  But we should also ask… do they need the gifts that I would bring there if I joined? 

Remember, Jesus told us to pray that the Father would send more laborers into the vineyard… but not once did he request any “human scaffolding.”

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Moved to the Core

saying it well2 Corinthians 12:7-10

     I have been reading through Charles Swindoll‘s book on preaching, “Saying it Well.”  It is autobiographical in a lot of ways and there is a reason for that.  He gives three principles in regard to good preaching:

1)  Know who you are.

2)  Accept who you are.

3)  Be who you are.

Authenticity is not a luxury in preaching, it is an essential.  I know this, I really do.  So why is it that I need such frequent reminders?

I remember years ago that I preached a sermon that included my testimony at a church in Tennessee.  I shared about what it was like to be unemployed as your infant daughter goes in for brain surgery.  I share what it was like to see God miraculously supply your needs when you are drowning in medical bills.  I shared as best I could and from my heart.

I wasn’t feeling particularly well that day and stumbled quite a bit in my delivery.  Afterward I was discouraged and expressed that to my wife in the car on our ride home.  I went over every tongued moment and lamented my performance over and over.  Finally she responded:  “Will you be quiet for a minute!”
I was shocked at her tone!  But she then said:  “I have been trying to tell you something.  Do you remember that lady in the wheelchair in the audience?”

I did remember her but didn’t get a chance to talk with her afterward.  Janine continued:  “She tried to come up to you but couldn’t get close enough.  She wanted you to know that words could not express how much what I had said meant to her.”  I was tongue-tied again as tears filled my eyes.

She was moved to the core… and it wasn’t because I was eloquent.  It was because, on that particular day, I knew who I was, accepted who I was, and shared out of the depth of who I was.  With that formula you can hit a home run every time.

Dorothee Soelle once wrote something to remind us that sermons can’t be detached oratory…   She wrote:  “…one of the strange things about the language of religion and theology is that it does not permit itself to be used.  The reason is this is fairly clear.  It is not something neutral, a mere instrumentality.  When we use such language simply for the sake of using it, the result is sheer nonsense, garbled communication.  The language of religion is the vehicle of collected experience and it is meaningful only when it speaks of experience and addresses itself to experience.”

If I am going to share something, I first have to have something to share.  How many “God moments” am I experiencing in my day to day walk with Him?  Without that touch from God in my life… the sermon preparation well dries up pretty fast.

Authenticity… why do I have to be reminded of it so often.  Thanks for the reminder, Chuck.  It moved me to the core.

_______________

P.S.  Swindoll’s book, Saying it Well, is on sale this week (6/12/13) at Lifeway for only $5 as a part of their father’s day sale.  Well worth the 5 bucks!