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.”

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.

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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!

The Great Bible Heist

BibleMark 4:1-20

“And He was saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (v.9)

It was Easter Sunday morning in my church back in Petaluma, CA.  I was dressed in a nice new dress shirt… unusual for me in my northern California church. (I usually wore a polo.)  I entered the sanctuary from the front and was humming to myself “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” when I heard :  “Pastor, come quick.  I need you!”  One of the women of our church was calling me from the back.  I quickly perceived that my church member was engaged in an altercation with a strange woman I had never seen before.  It seems that this woman had wandered in the front door and exhibiting signs of mental illness became obsessed with our Bible on display in the foyer.  It was one of those large coffee table Bibles.  When my church member called me, the woman suddenly grabbed it and was made off with it.

“Stop her!” my church member yelled to me as I approached… “She’s stealing the church’s Bible!”  As I reached the back of the church she was already half way across the parking lot.  I suddenly caught a vision of me scuffling on the blacktop with this Bible thief… in my nice clothes… on a Sunday morning… just as Easter worshipers were arriving.  It responded:  “Let her go.  It’s hers!”

As I watched her with this 50 pound Bible tucked under her arm making her getaway… I had another thought:  “At least now it might get read.”  It reminded me of the coffee table Bible we had in our home as I grew up.  Never saw it opened.  Never saw it read.

Jesus once told a parable:  A farmer went to sow seeds:  some on the path in full view of hungry birds, some on a rocky hillside where the plants could not put down roots so they withered in the sun, some were sown  among thorns where the plants grew up but were then choked to un-fruitfullness… but some were sown on good rich soil where the plants grew tall and plentiful.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be the soil that grows the big crop.  I don’t want be some sickly garden; I want my life to be robust and healthy.  I want there to be fruit in my garden to share with others.  But I’m not sure my soil is always soft.  You see, I get seed slung at me all day long… and most of it is not God’s word.  My email inbox, the Nightly News Cast, a casual conversation with a friend, or a blog about something that interests me, they each throw at me… opinions, ideas, theologies, and world views each hoping to raise up a crop in me.

What happens after being bombarded day after day?  My soil gets hard.  I become less a student and more a skeptic.  And yet… I still want that good crop!  How do I get it?

There is a word that can help you and I get to a rich crop of righteousness… that word is “receptivity.”  In Jesus’ parable, the seed is sown… and all the soil can do is accept or reject the seed.  Are you adept at accepting the Word of God?   Or does it sit unopened week after week… its life changing message doing nothing for you.

Soren Kierkegaard reminds us:  “To truly hear the word of God is to say over and over again to yourself, ‘It is talking about me, and it is talking to me.’”  He who has ears to hear… let him hear.  Yes, Jesus was talking about you, and he is talking to you.

What condition is your soil?  Do you have ears to hear today?

(By the way, this heist wasn’t unique apparently.  Read:  http://999thepoint.com/woman-busted-for-stealing-a-bible-from-bookstore/)  Blessed reading!

Taking Your Response to the “Christ-like” Level (A Christian’s Response to Evil – Part 5 of 5)

forgivenessMark 11:25

Typical response to evil in this world:  bitterness.   Our Christ-like calling:

Forgiveness…

As Matthew West put it in his recent song: “It’s the hardest thing to give away.  And the last thing on your mind today.  It always goes to those that don’t deserve.  It’s the opposite of how you feel when the pain they caused is just too real.  It takes everything you have to say the word.”

I’m not going to suggest to you that this will be easy.  This is Christianity 401.   An advance course.  You need a little righteous anger, a little enduring hope… in order to get to Christ-like forgiveness.  But it has to come.

There is a whole host of Scriptures I can share at this point, but one will do…  Mark 11:25 – “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.”

Christ hasn’t called you to some mamby pamby religion.  The one who said “Come follow me” walked the Via Dolorosa.  He let his enemies beat him mercilessly and murder him on a wooden cross and used one of his last breaths to pray:  “Father forgive them.  They don’t know what they are doing.”

You might be thinking right now:  “I CAN’T FORGIVE!”  (You may be one of those people for whom it does NOT come easy.)  You are right… you can’t forgive.  You have to let Christ do it for you… and through you.

He is working even now to reconcile the world to himself and calls us to be ministers of that reconciliation.

God can change the hardest of hearts.  While the world cries out for vengeance… we cry out for justice… and offer hope to both the victims and amazingly to the perpetrators as well.

Philip Yancy in his book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” wrote: “…in the final analysis, forgiveness is an act of faith. By forgiving another, I am trusting that God is a better justice-maker than I am. By forgiving, I release my own right to get even and leave all issues of fairness for God to work out. I leave in God’s hands the scales that must balance justice and mercy.

One of the most moving interviews I have ever witnessed was that of Robbie Parker, the father of Emilie Parker, one of the grade school children killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary story.  He was a believer that reached out to comfort victims, to offer hope to those in need and to  offer the first words of forgiveness just a day after the tragrobbie parkeredy.  Here is a portion of what he had to say to reporters:  (see video at http://www.godvine.com/Father-of-a-Sandy-Hook-Victim-Offers-Forgiveness-to-the-Troubled-Shooter-2560.html)

“It’s an horrific tragedy, and we want everybody to know that our hearts and our prayers go out to them. This includes the family of the shooter. I can’t imagine how hard this experience must be for you. And I want you to know that our family and our love and our support goes out to you as well. At this time, our thanks go out to so many people, so many friends and family. And complete strangers who we don’t know. For all the love, condolences and is support that you have given to us.

My daughter Emilie would be one of the first ones to be standing and giving her love and support to all those victims. Because that’s the type of person that she is. Not because of any parenting that my wife and I could have done. But because those were the gifts that were given to her by her heavenly father. As the deep pain begins to settle into our hearts, we find comfort reflecting on the incredible person that Emilie was, and how many lives she was able to touch in her short time here on earth. Emilie was bright, creative and very loving. Emilie was always willing to try new things, other than food.

Here at the church last night, there was a special meeting, and I was given an opportunity to be able to speak at that, as well. And in that, I just mentioned that, you know, the person that chose to act in this way was acting with a God-given right that he was given by God to — with his own free agency. And that free agency is given to all of us to act and choose to do whatever we want. And God can’t take that away from us. And I know that that’s something that he was given and that’s what he chose to do with it.

And I know that God can’t take that away. I’m not mad. Because I have my agency to make sure that I use this event to do what I can to do whatever I can. So, I want to make sure that my family and my wife and my daughters are taken care of and that if there’s anything that I can do to help anybody at anytime, anywhere, that I would be willing to do that.”

Not mad… but resolved to serve.  That is the response of a mature believer.

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This concludes my “A Christian’s Response to Evil” series… please comment if it touched you in any way.  Thanks again for reading!