Hold That Note!

Hit That High Note1 Peter 4: 10-11

As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

I don’t believe I’ve ever shared this on my blog, but I love Oldies.  I listen to the 60’s on 6 more than any other channel on Sirius/XM and have over a thousand songs on my Ipod from the 60’s and 70’s.  (I’m listening to Fats Domino‘s “I Want to Walk You Home” as I type this.)  Many of my friends also know that my specialty is quirky stories about these songs.  I hope some day to start a blog called NOTABLES to feature some of these stories.

Here is one today from Tom Jones‘ Discography.  In 1965 Tom Jones began his career with his first big hit, “it’s Not Unusual.”  It went to #1 in England and reached #10 here in the U.S.  He was new and successful so he was asked to sing for the new James Bond movie, Thunderball.  He sang the title cut.  The end of the song features a note that is very high and sustained.  He delivered it all right, but passed out in the recording booth afterward.  Asked about that monster note in a later interview he said:  “I closed my eyes and I held the note for so long when I opened my eyes the room was spinning.”

That is dedication!  To hit and sustain the notes God is calling us to sing in the chorus of life also requires such dedication.  Peter says that we have each been given a gift.  We are to be good stewards of that gift.  In my analogy, we have all been given a voice and we are each called to keep that voice in tip top shape.  Then Peter reminds those that have speaking gifts to speak as though they were speaking “the utterances of God.”  Sloppy or ill prepared oratory isn’t going to cut it.  Peter then reminds those that have serving gifts, to serve as though God were powering their efforts.  A half-hearted sense of duty will not sustain you.  Why not just go ahead and hit that (grace) note of yours and then sustain it!  Put everything into it.  Give it your all!

Maybe you have be doing your particular ministry in your church for a while now.  Maybe you have it down cold.  You don’t have to put as much effort into it as you did when you started.  It practically runs like it’s on autopilot.  Do some evaluation this year.  It might not be on autopilot… it could be on life support!  Stretch yourself and your faith.  Go for that note!  Sing it with all the strength that God supplies you.

Enough said…. I Gotta go…. The Classics IV are now singing “Traces.”  Love that song!

Here Comes the Nominating Committee… Everybody Run!

people running away1 Corinthians 12:4-7

It’s that time of year again for most churches.  The fine members of the local church Nominating Committee are making their rounds.  They are phoning folks, flagging members down in the church parking lot, sending out letters to inform the church about open positions, and are trying to catch your eye across the crowded worship center on Sunday morning.  They have a huge task before them:  to answer the question… “Who is going to serve this church in 2014?”

For those not skilled in the art of nominating committee dodging, (you have to be a Christian a while to get really good at it) you have to come up with a suitable answer when asked… an answer that doesn’t use the word “no” but communicates it just the same.  A favorite answer is:  “I will pray about it.”

Now,  I wonder what it is they are praying about.  If it is for them to make an informed decision about where to serve…  to teach a class or become a youth sponsor or serve as an usher,… then that is fine.  What I hope they don’t mean is whether or not they should serve at all.

The Bible is already clear on this:  Every member is to be a minister.  Paul writes to the Corinthians:  Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.  And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.  But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

Paul is saying, “Sure we aren’t all gifted in the same way, sure not every ministry is going to be our cup of tea, and yes, some ministries have greater impact than others… I will give you all of that.  But EACH ONE of you have been given a gift!  And note that the gift is for the “common good.”

The “common good” requires everyone to contribute.  If we don’t all chip in for the pizza… somebody will be left holding a hefty bill.  (This has happened to me… I have been a youth minister.)  If we don’t all bring our instruments to the recital… Beethoven‘s 5th is going to sound pretty awful instead of pretty awesome.    If we don’t all bring something to the potluck… not everybody is going to get fed!

I had a lady in a former church that came to the pot luck without a covered dish.  Nobody was going to say anything to her, but she offered this excuse anyway:  “I was going to make a fruit salad, but God told me not to.”  Really?  God wanted there to be less food at the fellowship meal?  The logic here escapes me.  But this is the same logic for believers that won’t minister because they need to “pray about it.”  Whatever your reason for a ministry vacation (time off for yourself… the desire to draw closer to family… to spend more time with God… etc.), know that the Bible is clear… the common good outweighs the good of the individual.  God has called you to a family!

Do something for me this Sunday.  When you see that Nominating Committee member in the Sanctuary… approach them and ask:  “Where can I best serve in 2014?”  You just might be the fruit salad they are looking for.

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.”

The Gift of Being “Likeable”?

Romans 1:8-15

Some older but interesting statistics show that some born-again Christians might be a bit confused in regard to what the Bible says about spiritual gifts.  According to the Barna Research Group, Ltd, “… the percentage who say they have heard of spiritual gifts but do not believe God has given them one jumped from 4 percent in 1995 to 21 percent in 2000.  When asked to identify spiritual gifts, only 30 percent of born-again adults listed gifts named in the Bible.  Other respondents named gifts not found in the Bible, for example, a sense of humor, listening, patience, a good personality, friendliness, poetry, church attendance, and being “likeble.”  Nearly half (46 percent) were either unaware of gifts, claimed they did not have one, or could not identify their gifts.”  (Source:  Barna Research Group, Ltd. quoted in Discipleship Journal, July/August 2001, p.14.  – for more current stats (2009) check out:  http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/12-faithspirituality/211-survey-describes-the-spiritual-gifts-that-christians-say-they-have )

I think that some of those newly listed gifts (sense of humor, “like-ability”, etc,) are not Spiritual Gifts in that they aren’t used to serve the body so much as the individual.  A true Spiritual Gift is a gift that you can’t wait to get to church to share with others.  It is the fresh baked cookies shipped to a college dorm room.  It might have one student’s name on it… but it is earmarked for sharing.

Paul had this attitude:  “For I long to see you that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.”  Pauls says that when he gets to Rome he can’t wait to unpack his suitcase so he can show them what he brought them.  He in turn would be blessed with what God had given them to share.  The faith of everyone would be strengthened as a result.

Maybe the reason more people don’t like attending church is because they feel like they don’t have anything to share with others when they get there.  At least 25% of the church feels they are gift-less.  Who wants to go to the party empty handed?

Take time this week to visit the major passages on gifts:  Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, & 1 Peter 4.  If you are a follower of Jesus you have been granted a gift by the Holy Spirit… given to you so that you might help build up the body of Christ.  And it is a gift that goes beyond personality and temperment…

Go ahead… Open your gift!  But remember to share!