Friday, January 19, 2007

Unwrapped Gifts? No Way!

Maybe I am just simple minded. I said maybe. I like (need?) things to be simplified. Not simplistic, per se, but broken down into understandable parts, easy to grasp and go with.

It takes little skill to make things complicated. Jesus – thank God – was noted not just for His profound depth, but His understandability. The common folk loved to hear Him teach.

Spiritual Gifts are yet another Christian teaching that we have made complicated and confusing – a sad propensity of Jesus’ followers, not a gift. “How do I know which gift I have? Which gifts are still active, most important, needed, spiritual, trustworthy…?”

I guess that is why Simon Peter’s simple take on the Gifts appeals to me. In his to-the-point style, Peter lays out two big categories of gifts that God’s Spirit gives to His children: speaking and serving. He makes clear our gift’s source, how we are to use them, and their goal. Read it for yourself:

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:10, 11 ~ NIV).

Now, isn’t that refreshingly straightforward and forward moving? Here is my simple summary of this teaching on gifts from God’s Spirit to His people: You’ve got one, so use it to His glory. Questions?

Peter is writing to scattered, suffering Saints. Though on the run because of persecution, they are not exempt from using their giftedness to serve God and others. Knowing that Christ could come at any moment, these praying, loving, hospitable people (see 1 Peter 4:7-9) are to be faithful stewards of God’s diverse gifts, using them to God’s glory.

Whether you knew it or not, you have one too. Congratulations! May I offer a definition? Spiritual gifts (Greek word charisma) are the special empowerment and abilities given by God’s Spirit to each believer to do ministry that builds up Christ’s body (the church) and blesses others to His glory (see also 1 Corinthians 12:7-11).

God Himself has picked out the perfect gift for you - no one size fits all. He gives it to you to help others. It is a gift to others from God that resides in you. So, as Simon Peter simply says about spiritual gifts – you’ve got one!

We have five kids, all still at home. Could I in any way convince you that they leave unwrapped Christmas gifts laying around the house well into February or March? Would you buy it if I told of tripping over ignored presents, having to move still-in-the-gift bag goodies? No?

It is as unthinkable that God’s children would leave His gifts to us unwrapped, unused, and undeveloped. We are to be servants with and stewards of His gifts. A major method God uses to get His truth and love in people’s lives is through His people. If Jesus Himself served others, so must we (see Mark 10:45; John 13:1-10; Luke 19:11-27).

Reviewing: Spiritual Gifts, you’ve got one, so use it and, lastly, do so to magnify your Master. Everything, even our giftedness, is to be for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).

With more Petrine precision, Simonic simplicity – humor me – we find two broad categories of gifts: speaking and serving. You are gifted to either share God’s truth with words or serve up God’s love via deeds.

A speaker of God’s truth are you? Great! Here are the parameters: speak as if you were uttering the very words of God. No pressure. If God didn’t say it in His word, if God wouldn’t concur with it, don’t offer it in His name. Seen any Christian TV lately? Lord, forgive us.

Have you ever faced the holy fear James 3:1 offers? “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” Again, no pressure. See also 2 Corinthians 5:20 and Acts 7:38.

More of a serving kind of person, are you? Super! If God spiritually outfitted you to serve others, make sure you do by His strength, in His will and name (Matthew 20:25-28; John 15:1-7). When you lend a hand, cook a meal, fix, sit and cry with, give, baby sit, clean, count, organize, do so by His grace, to His praise and glory.

Spiritual gifts are not trophies to be polished and displayed, but tools to sharpen and use! If the use of your gift leaves people more impressed with you than God, something is amiss. We are signs. A sign that does not point to something beyond itself fails at its main task.

Is this a big deal? Well, for starters, a most full expression of God’s glory is at stake. Not to mention hurting people who need God’s truth, God’s hands, feet and hot casseroles. Could that explain that extra money you came into, that truth you learned from God’s word, those needs you saw that griped your heart? Talk about a need for a troop surge!

Need help diagnosing your gift? Ask the Christians around you. They have probably seen it in you. What do you find yourself doing – almost automatically - when there is need? What do you do for God and others that builds them up and brings you joy? What floats your ministry boat?

For further study, dig into these lists and examples of gifts, none of which are given as exhaustive: Romans 12:1-8; Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Corinthians 12. Give the Spirit some tools to work on in your heart and mind by memorizing 1 Peter 4:10, 11 and 1 Corinthians 12:7.

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