Guidance for Spiritual Gifts: part 4 – delicacy and flexibility

spiritual gifts logo-image Contributing to our spiritual gifts series, we pick up from part 3 which emphasized servant-hearted character over the desire for the spectacular or to prove our spirituality through performance. In this part, the emphasis is that the Spirit-gifts are the divine marks of a healthy church and not the foundation of it. Therefore, there is a measure of practical flexibility with one another where other, core doctrines are uncompromisable. We can illustrate it in a general way like this:

  • foundational doctrines require dogmatism. Therefore, we are closed-handed or uncompromising in these.
    • example:  The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity; of the same essence, God, and unique in his personhood.
  • formational doctrines require delicacy. Therefore, we are to be more open-handed and gracious for the sake of brotherly care and unity but we should not support confusion and division.
    • example: The same Holy Spirit urges us to, “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Eph. 4:1-2
    • Now, it is our responsibility to “walk that out together” under his guidance. There is a gracious delicacy (a patience mixed with kindness) in these areas both toward the Holy Spirit and toward his Spirit-born people. The Spirit then graces his church as he sees best and by the measure that his people are rightly-oriented to him in devotion. The Spirit knows what is the most appropriate for his bride because there is nobody who is more zealous for her than the Spirit of Christ himself.

open handed group picture

I’ve found that you can live in harmony and the bond of unity when you agree on the foundational things and don’t make secondary things foundational, which in this case is abusive to the Holy Spirit. A gospel character will be very sensitive to how the Holy Spirit is operating and represented. Simply, you won’t want to make a problematic issue out of a grace-gift — because you honor the Spirit so much.

I’ve also discovered some folks are very rigid in their approach to the gifts. Some don’t look at all for the work of the Spirit in their midst and they are usually skeptical about everyone and often sterile in their missional practice. I’ve also met other intransigent people who demand a certain gift and allow for way too much abuse and confusion in direct violation of the Corinthian corrections found in chapters 12-14.

Richard Lovelace calls these examples the temptations of “spiritual flesh” which can be

“pride in spiritual gifts or achievements, envy of the spirituality of others, a gluttonous dependence on spiritual experience which cannot reconcile itself to an obedient walk of faith independent of sight…It is God’s prerogative to bestow the fullness of the Holy Spirit wherever he wills to do so.” [Dynamics of Spiritual Life, 110-111]

I know I’m treading into highly sensitive territory here so I don’t need to “sort it all out” in a minestrone article. My encouragement to my dear church and friends is be delicate in this area of grace-giftings first toward the Spirit, his holy Word, and then his holy people.

Look, I’m not going to fight you about your view of a certain gift or giftings — unless you fight me first. Then, I’ll go to the mat with you in this order:  1) I’ll put you up against the ropes of the gospel-ring by saying don’t confuse the gospel by making something dogmatic and primary that deserves flexibility 2) I’ll wrestle to show you how you’re actually abusing the Spirit who guides his own giftings 3) I’ll pin you down to show you how you’re confusing his Bride when he wants to build her up. 4) And then I’ll press you on how your service is weak and probably geared more toward the spectacular than the substantive; the experiential more than the sacrificial. Then I’ll pick you up, dust you off, embrace you, pray with you, and help you come to repentance (remember, you started it). Body life restored with dogmatism & delicacy in beautiful balance. See how easy this is? ;-)

Next up in this series: a great variety of needs calls for a great variety of gifts. Do we only get one? Can we have them all?

8 Signs that our African Friends are Receiving the Gospel

Ngwa Smith Isoh from CameroonThey are “ours” because we share life together in this land and church.
They are “friends” because the Good News is for everyone, and then Jesus makes them “brothers“.
They are “African” because they have immigrated by the tens of thousands¹ to find work and they are bringing a very distinct cultural perspective on life and truth. Subsequently, when the Gospel begins to win the hearts of our friends it produces a number of signs that transformational change is occurring. Here are some of the excellencies of Christ that shine through:

  1. Our brothers think more about Jesus than money
    Our brothers have so much cultural and familial pressure on them to perform and become wealthy with European money.  The main motivation is often summarized in the word prosperity. Money — obtaining it, having it, showing it, and sending it — becomes the all-consuming focus. One of our brothers shared with us that he had lived every day for thirteen years trapped in the agony of perpetually thinking about money. At the thirteen year mark, the Savior and Lord Jesus broke in to his life and rescued him. Now, he shares with us that he thinks much more about Jesus each day than he ever does about money. The weight has been lifted and the victory allows his soul to rest.
     
  2. Our brothers repent of being their family or tribe’s savior.
    As mentioned above, our African friends arrive seeking not just for employment for themselves but often for their entire family or tribe. A family in Africa is greatly assisted if their loved-one can send them 30-50 euros each week from Europe. The grim reality is that it is often harder to make money in Europe than what their dreams and ideas had originally informed them. So, this sets up a tenuous system. There is a lot of pride if you do well and a lot of shame if you don’t. When the Gospel comes in, however, that system is up-ended. Our brothers and sisters are no longer motivated on one hand by pride and on the other hand, shame. Jesus buried the first and and bore the second. Now, we see a wholistic and generous love being offered to their families. We also notice that there is much more honesty in reporting their circumstances to their families. They tell them what they can and cannot do — and that Jesus is their family’s Savior, not themselves.
     
  3. Our brothers seek to bless the city and not just take from it
    It follows simply that if you are here in Europe to prosper yourself,  your family, and your tribe back home, you are most likely not interested in integrating into the city or looking to spend your time and resources to benefit the people around you. However, the Gospel settles us and helps us to look around at others. It causes us to give and to seek the good of the society where we live. Our brothers from Africa begin to take an interest in the history of our cities as well as the social conditions. What a surprising message is broadcasted when the natural outsiders seek the benefit of the indigenous insiders who are predisposed to not want them here. Only the Gospel brings our African brothers to say with eager humility, “We are all here.”
      Continue reading

Food and Ministry: Problem 3

Ghanaian_food

I don’t even know how to spell it, but it sounds like “watch-it” and our Ghanaian church family members were excited about it. I’ve had Fufu, tasted red-red, and enjoyed plantanes & rice but watch-it was new. For weeks, we had been talking about our inter-cultural meal (read: awesome potluck) that we were planning and they wanted me to try their favorite dish. The day came. Their enthusiasm was high along with my anticipation — and the first bite…. well … ya …  I had to watch-it. It was completely foreign to me; an acquired taste in the making.

As I was working my way through that first bite, one of the brothers said, “Pastor, I like it with piccante sauce.” My eyes lit up as I mumbled through my watch-it, “Hmm…ya… div-me-thum-o-that … hmm… lots…ya… kee-it-comin.” Then, our dear sisters asked me, “Pa-pa, do you like it?” To which we westerners all respond, “It’s different, a bit unexpected.” And then they had a good laugh. 

So, would I eat watch-it again? Yes, because I like my brothers and sisters much more than I like the dishes that appeal to me. You might be saying, “But, it didn’t appeal to you!?” And you’re right. The dish appealed to them, and so it is part of their joy and identity. If I don’t watch-it, I’ll miss the ministry to the Africans because I’m only comfortable with the food of the Italians. 

Problem #3: Culture Comfort

Culture comfort with our food basically says that I’m not willing to try food that isn’t what I’m used to. The point is not just to try different, international foods but to see who those foods are connected to. A good bit of a person’s identity is wrapped up in their food. It is like a chain of links. If you reject someone’s food or type of food, you reject their culture. If you reject their culture, then you reject a part of them. 

Ministry Impact

Over the years of eating and ministry, we have noticed that more of our African brethren struggle with this problem. What happens when we concentrate on eating only the foods that are comfortable to us is that we communicate that we are just fine with keeping exclusively to ourselves. We actually begin to close down our thinking toward other groups of people and we strive to maintain our own cultural identity even more. Through the different “tastes” of food that we don’t like, we start to think of the people in this way too. We will say things like, “I don’t understand them” and we will seek to avoid the awkward experiences again. Therefore, even how we eat and share our food will stop being missional. Once we build our comfort zone, we will see others as invaders in our lives and not included. Then, to protect our comfort zone and identity, we will have to sneer at the intrusions or sneak away from them. 

Recommended Solution:

Try different foods that people make and offer you. Try the plates for the people. Go missional with food and see those tastes as gateways into people groups. Train yourself to be open to others and their cultures through food. Watch-it on purpose.

Food and Ministry: Problem 2

Jesus_feet_house_of_simon

“I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet…You gave me no kiss…You did not anoint my head with oil…he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Jesus (Luke 7:44-47)

How we conduct our meals and share our food does reflect on how we practice and give the Gospel. The passage above is from the account where Jesus is invited to Simon’s house. In the end, Simon does not have the good news of forgiveness (his meal conduct illustrated that), and Jesus does have the good news of love and forgiveness (his meal character revealed that). Both how we eat and who we eat with are ministry practices of grace.

Problem #2: Food-Pride

What’s the last meal that you sat down to that left you saying, “Hmm, that just wasn’t all that good?” The last meal like that which I can remember had chicken involved — I think it was chicken (kind of tasted like chicken). Now, I can whip up a great bowl of cereal or a tasty bag of chips, but cooking isn’t my forte. Eating is my forte. I’ve studied and practiced it for many hours over the course of many years. And, living in Italy is like eating in the big leagues. 

However, one hindrance in utilizing our food for ministry that I’ve encountered is that of a certain food-snobbery. The Italian kitchen does have bragging rights. Each region merits an appreciation for how it takes every-day ingredients to a whole new level. But when it is made evident at a meal that the pasta wasn’t cooked to the optimum consistency or a certain sauce lacks an ingredient or the after dinner coffee just doesn’t have the taste like mamma mia’s coffee — we are entering the realm of personal acceptance and gracelessness

Ministry Impact

Through the years of ministry, we have noticed that more of our Italian brethren have struggled with this problem. What happens when we concentrate on the standard of the food is we are communicating that we are just there for the superiority of our culture. Often, the message is subtle but it is there that you are not one of us. Anybody can practice this when they take too much pride in the food they have prepared and how they have prepared it. A meal that shares the ministry is one of inclusion. As Christians, we need to communicate that our table is open. Grace shows favor, welcome, appreciation, and forgiveness (pretty much like Jesus). Using food as an instrument of pride shows exclusivity, superiority, and how to be a jerk (pretty much like Simon).

Recommended Solution:

We should humble ourselves before others — through food. This means allowing the food to be what it is. If food becomes the focus, then simpler is better here or we will really close the doors on future opportunities to bring friends to Jesus because we want them to praise us first.

See the meal as a means of acceptance and of being equals at a table. The Christian church is greater than any one culture and our tables can model that. Talk more about the qualities of the persons at the meal than the qualities of the recipes and ingredients of the meal. Enjoy the people God has made more than the food or how it has been prepared.